The Musorgsky Reader: A Life of Modeste Petrovich Musorgsky in Letters and Documents

By Jay Leyda; Sergei Bertensson et al. | Go to book overview

A Meeting at Dargo's

My acquaintance with Musorgsky began at Dargomizhsky's. This was when Dargomizhsky, in a blaze of creative inspiration, was composing with unprecedented speed one scene after the other of The Stone Guest, as if they had been prepared somewhere by him and were suddenly flourished before us like a magician's tricks from a bag. The second scene had just been written. My sister A. N. [Purgold] was studying the role of Laura, and I was accompanying.86 Dargomizhsky set a day for the rehearsal and, in telling us this, said that the role of Don Carlos was to be sung by Musorgsky--a composer and singer. At that time we knew nothing of him and had never seen him. On the appointed day and hour we were at Dargomizhsky's, interested in making a new acquaintance and excited by the approaching performance, before a new authoritative person, of the difficult scene at Laura's. Musorgsky's personality was so unusual that, once having seen him, it was impossible to forget him. I shall begin with his appearance. He was of medium height and well built, with elegant hands, beautifully brushed wavy hair, and rather large and somewhat protuberant light gray eyes. But his features were very plain, particularly the nose, which was always reddish--owing, as Musorgsky used to explain, to its having been frostbitten once on parade. Musorgsky's eyes were by no means expressive; one might almost have called them tinny. On the whole, his face was not very mobile or expressive; it was as if it concealed some enigma. Musorgsky never raised his voice in conversation, but rather lowered it to a mezza voce. (I can still see him speaking, as if to himself, or mumbling some witty or piquant word, or chuckling, purposely abusing one of his friends when it was obvious that he was actually praising him.) His manners were elegant, aristocratic; he had the air of a well-bred man of society.

Musorgsky's personality produced an impression on both of us. And no wonder. There was so much in it that was interesting, peculiar, talented and enigmatic. His singing delighted us. He had a small but pleasant baritone and his power of expression, his subtle understanding of every shade of the soul's movement, and at the same time, the simplicity and sincerity of his interpretation, without the least exaggeration or affectation--all this had a fascinating effect. I was later convinced of the many-sideness of his talent as a performer; he was just as good in lyrical and dramatic as in comic and humorous things. In addition he was a splendid pianist; his playing was marked by brilliance, strength and elegance, combine with humor and vigor . . . --NADEZHDA PURGOLD (RIMSKAYA-KORSAKOVA)

____________________
86
Alexandra Nikolayevna, the older of the two Purgold sisters, was a voice pupil of Mme. Nissen-Saloman. Nadezhda Nikolayevna had studied the piano under Musorgsky's old teacher, Herke, and composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Zaremba. Their elderly uncle, Vladimir Fyodorovich Purgold, had taken their dead father's place, surrounding the two girls (and himself) with lively musical events. He occupied a high post in the Department of Appanages.

-106-

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