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

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

Pianist

. . . "The Song of the Flea"15 created a sensation in the circle and brought an uproar of applause from the audience. Here Musorgsky's skill in picturesque accompaniment was vividly demonstrated, and at times one could almost hear the flea jump. The arpeggios in the middle of the song resounded splendidly, smacking of something positively Rubinsteinesque. [Nikolai] Lavrov had never before and has never since heard such a performance of arpeggios: during the terrific fortissimo of the piano Leonova's voice was not obscured for a second, each word of the song was audible.

At one of the soirées in which Musorgsky and Leonova took part the audience became so enthusiastic that they all crowded up to the platform and begged Musorgsky to play something of his own. Leonova prompted the audience to ask Musorgsky to play his Storm [on the Black Sea].16 At that time Lavrov didn't realize that Musorgsky could play solo, and was amazed when he saw the latter sit down at the piano and begin his Storm. By the performance of this composition Musorgsky greatly puzzled not only Lavrov, who was comparatively unacquainted with new music and unaccustomed to it, but even [Anatoli] Lyadov as well. Lavrov was in complete perplexity because he could find no music in the Storm. But what he could not deny in it was its amazing perfection of onomatopoeia. When in the pealing passages Musorgsky reached the highest notes on the keyboard the complete illusion of waves breaking against a cliff was achieved.

Neither Lavrov nor Lyadov ever again heard this piece, nor did they know if it had been written down, even in sketches. With all their amazement at this piece they still didn't know what attitude to take towards it. Lyadov's face, at least, always showed some perplexity whenever he mentioned the Storm . . . --VICTOR BELAYEV


207a. VLADIMIR STASOV to NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV [Extract]

November 25, 1879

. . . After the rehearsal today I was at Musarion's and found him in perfect order. The orchestration of "Marfa" was already finished, and he was expecting the arrival of Gridnin (Leonova's husband), who was to come, take away the score and give it to be copied in a day (as he assured me). Musorgsky asked me to tell you, in addition, that all

____________________
15
Composed on the tour. The Russian translation of Goethe's text ( Faust, Part I, Scene 5) is by Strugovshchikov.
16
No sketches of this work have been discovered, unless we can assume that Musorgsky used the idea given him by the storm at Tzarskoye Selo (see p. 343). The storm itself is probably that reported by him from Nikolayev in Letter 204.

-396-

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