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

By Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky; Jay Leyda et al. | Go to book overview

An Impersonal Note

FOR NO very obvious reason there is less responsibility exercised in writing about Musorgsky than about any other Russian composer, even including that victim of fiction, Tchaikovsky. Our popularizing writers have surpassed even Musorgsky's contemporaries in factual carelessness and misguided opinion. As late as 1944 a program note for a metropolitan American orchestra packed this amount of misstatement into a brief space:

Moussorgsky worked on "Boris Godunoff" for more than 12 years. The score remained in part fragmentary and Rimsky-Korsakoff, as musical executor, completed missing portions and orchestrations from sketches left by the composer.

As editors of Musorgsky's documents, we were determined to be unusually cautious in gathering and arranging in chronological order all the known nonmusical facts of his life. These facts, many of them familiar to music students, have been gathered from their original sources, whether these be personal documents or the testimony of Musorgsky's friends and acquaintances. This variety of voice-- Balakirev, Cui, Stasov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Tchaikovsky--not only gives body to a vital period of Russian musical thought, but gives, as well, a third dimension to the familiar flattened figure of Musorgsky. His is no simple nor easily defined personality. If one is eager and willing to learn the motivations and workings of his character, one will have to go beyond the complexities of Musorgsky's music, into the complexities of Musorgsky's letters. None of his contemporaries, alone, can adequately sum up this character for the reader; for example, Madame Rimskaya-Korsakova, whose acquaintance with Musorgsky extended over his last fifteen years, tells us little more than this:

Musorgsky was an enemy of every sort of routine and commonplace, not only in music but in every phase of life, even in trifles. He disliked using ordinary simple words. He always contrived to alter and distort

-ix-

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