RICHARD TARUSKIN | Columbia Univenity
True vocal music is written to a pre-existing text, to a work of artistry, of poetry, capable of inspiring a musician. It is moreover essential that the music faithfully transmit the general mood of the poetical work and that it serve as its beautiful and well-fitting attire. It is essential that in quantity the music correspond to the dimensions of the poem, so that the music does not dangle on it like a gown on a hook, so that the text need not be artificially prolonged by repeating stanzas, verses, or individual words, and so that by such repetitions the artistic and elegant form of the poem be not distorted. It is essential that, in singing, the pronunciation of every word be suitably rendered, and that the phrasing of the text and the observance of its punctuation be correct. Besides that, the rhythm of the music and its meter must be in direct correspondence with the meter of the verse, the length of the musical phrase with the length of the text phrase, and, in fine, that the music in every way blend with the word so as to form with it one indissoluble, organic whole.1
So wrote César Cui, then Russia's doyen of musical criticism, when Igor Stravinsky was seven years old. Like all such dogmatic pronouncements of Cui's, these are framed as rules dictated by sheer Ciceronian common sense, and yet the author attaches an explicitly programmatic significance to them when he notes that "remarkably, before the present time a majority of composers and of the public did not realize the importance of all of the foregoing and willingly deprived themselves of this powerful force of expression and impression." It was a specifically Russian and a specifically realist aesthetic he was summing up, one that had found its prime exponent in Mussorgsky, and that was exemplified par excellence in a style of vocal
César Cui, "Neskol'ko slov O sovremennykh opernykh formakh" ( 1889), in Cui, Izbrannye swei, ed. I. L. Gusin (Leningrad, 1952), PP. 406-8. Translations from Russian are mine.