Something of special meaning and import occurred in the fall of that year of my freshly-begun, independent, personal and creative life: Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov inducted me into the musical family of Russian composers who were rallying behind his artistic flag and around the well-known Russian publisher and patron, Mitrofan Petrovich Belaieff, founder and proprietor of the Belaieff publishing company in Leipzig. Belaieff expressed readiness to publish my music and to include it in concerts of the Russian Symphony (an organization that he had founded). At the time, Rimsky-Korsakov himself was its artistic director and principal conductor. This assured that not only would my compositions be available in a world-famous music center like Leipzig, but also that they would be performed. Anyone who is a composer can recognize the great meaning of these two incredible opportunities for a fledgling young artist. All the composers whose music was published by Belaieff also received a quite generous stipend for the times. One must add that only in a great country like Russia, and only with the strong support of Belaieff, its supporters, companions-in-arms and friends like Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Liadov, was it possible to realize, implement and secure forever the important business of introducing a Russian composer to serious, professional, creative artistic work. (And until that time, this composer depended on timid, dilettante-like amateurs who doubted his music’s intellectual value.) Thus by means of his artistic work, the Russian composer had the possibility of support for his and his loved ones’ material welfare, in addition to complete, real spiritual satisfaction.
Much has already been written in loving detail about Mitrofan Petrovich Belaieff, about his glorious musical circle, about his hospitable family and warmly welcoming home, and about his Quartet Fridays105 that were celebrated and immortalized in Russian music circles. I will therefore limit myself to personal reflections and impressions from my experiences in this gifted, benevolent group of Russian musicians among whom I found so many collegial, kindred spirits. Many of them, like Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Liadov, were popular in Russia and enjoyed world-wide fame.
Fortunately, I quickly became accepted as their close musical associate, and as a fervid and beloved performer, interpreter and proponent of their symphonic and theatrical works. For the rest of their lives I was and remain their devoted friend and admirer.
A special characteristic of the Friday assemblies at the Belaieff house was that even the hosts felt (and in fact were) guests. Belaieff himself emphasized that this was the case. Although I was usually an eager, diligent guest at these events, I once took offense at his unfounded (so I thought) critique of my “String Quartet,” op. 2 (although I must confess the just-completed performance, from manuscript, was not very good). Thus aggrieved, I ceased attending the Friday gatherings. Soon thereafter, meeting me at a concert, Mitrofan Petrovich noted that I had not been seen at “the Fridays.” “It must be said” (such was Belaieff’s usual little turn of phrase), “well, if I somehow offended you, then why, therefore, do you deprive yourself of conversation with your musical friends, and deprive them of yours?”
The purpose of the Friday assemblies was essentially musical; I am not kidding when I say that five quartets were performed during the course of an evening. Listening to the music, however, was not obligatory. In the host’s cozy parlor, one could look at magazines, play chess, or even simply relax after a music-filled day and chat on the wide, over-stuffed green divan, as Liadov and Scriabin, who were close and affectionate friends in life and in art, loved to do.
Because of the nature of their activities, whether a performance or concert or finishing their household chores, many of the usual attendees of the Fridays, like Nikolai Andreyevich, could not arrive until late in the evening. So the evening meal that invariably ended these soirees occurred in the wee hours of the morning, when finally no more arrivals were expected. The supper was abundant and varied, and was served in a relaxed, casual manner. We sat “by rank.” At the head table sat the host and hostess, and beside them, on both sides, were Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov. Then not infrequently sat “the Fridays:” Vladimir Vasilevich Stasov, Liadov, Vitol, Sokolov,106 Winkler, the Blumenfeld brothers, the pianist Lavrov, and others. At the opposite end of the table were those “without rank,” mainly the “young Turks,” a young composers group to which I belonged, and also the performers, members of the quartets. The cheerful, talented composer and cellist, Viktor Vladimirovich Yevald, who was also an interesting conversationalist, was among those members. An engineer by profession (he later became the director of the Institute for Civil Engineers), he was a quite a joker and prankster who would always entertain us with his rather spicy jokes. The friendly, unusually sweet little old Mikhail Romanovich Shchiglov, who was Dargomyzhsky’s student and Borodin’s friend,107 also invariably joined us. He taught music theory in the Court Chapel Choir.108
The “fair sex” was not especially numerous at these Belaieff Fridays, but nonetheless, the composer Winkler’s wife, who was a French woman from Besançon, and the extremely elegant female photographer, Mrozovskaja,109 were always there. Occasionally the wife of Mitrofan Petrovich’s brother Sergei Petrovich Belaieff, who was a gypsy by ancestry and a very beautiful, intelligent and interesting person, would attend. Belaieff’s adopted daughter, Valia, a great friend of Liadov, was still a teenager and would not attend the supper.
Muscovite visitors included Scriabin, a close personal friend of Belaieff and his family, and S. I. Taneyev, whose music, especially his chamber compositions, Belaieff championed. They were heartily welcomed with honor into the “Red Corner.”110
More important than the physical nourishment offered to the guests at these Friday suppers was their spiritual nourishment. Speeches were given, toasts were made, perorations to health were given, complimentary telegrams were composed to prominent members of the “Fridays Fellowship” who were out of town, telegrams received from them were read, etc. Frequently Belaieff himself, who was a consummate orator and who was accustomed to speaking publicly in the various community organizations to which he belonged, would speak seriously on topics of interest. Glazunov was also a willing speech maker. His sometimes witty, and always intricately florid style of speaking and giving toasts inevitably received enthusiastic applause. Stasov, speaking in his animated, bombastic way, would make note in his speeches of this or that significant event in the life of the Belaieff company: the issuance of some beloved publication, the outstanding success of a publication either in Russia or abroad, etc. Sometimes even visitors of the quartet gatherings, who might include representatives of high culture like Professor K. A. Posse111, would speak. Besides Belaieff, other quartet members were not without their own oratorical gifts. Such people included Doctor Glelbke, Professor Gezekhus,112 and V. G. Valter, who was concertmaster of the Mariinsky Theater. The latter was also Belaieff’s close associate in the Chamber Music Society, and a frequent participant in quintet, sextet, octet and other performances.
Of all these orators and speech givers, however, the most gifted was the composer Nikolai Alexandrovich Sokolov. He had a wonderful versatility and rich imagination in his stories, which were usually improvised on the spot. He was able to describe, supposedly from “dreams,” things seen by his very sweet Court Chapel colleague, Mikhail Romanovich Shchiglov, who had apparently communicated them to him in confidence. You had to see how the shy, timid Mikhail Romanovich disowned them, while Sokolov delivered them with imperturbable seriousness and arch humor. This dream life cast Mikhail Romanovich in a completely different light, for example, as a courtier. It brought to mind some trips Mikhail Romanovich had taken across the wooden Trinity bridge with the Empress Maria Fedorovna and her retinue on the imperial horse-drawn tram.113 The bridge had become dangerously misshapen due to the spring thaw. I also remember the menacing challenge posed by Emperor Alexander the Third when someone passed him the salt at the mahogany dinner table:
“What kind of salt is this?” asked the Emperor.
“Cooked salt, your Imperial Majesty.”
“As opposed to sodium sulfate, your Highness,” said Mikhail Romanovich, comprehensively making the case.
I also remember some of Mikhail Romanovich’s dramatic encounters with the director of the Imperial Theaters, Prince Sergei Mikhailovich Volkonsky,114 because of the somewhat unseemly behavior of prima-ballerina Kshesinska’s beloved dog near the Glinka monument across from the Mariinsky Theater, as well as in several other places.115
Sokolov’s forebears were clergymen, and he had spent his youth on the grounds of the Sailor’s Cathedral (the Orthodox church dedicated to St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, i.e. Nicholas of the Sea in St. Petersburg, on the border of the Kolomna district). His father was the honored arch-priest and abbot of the cathedral. In his inspired Friday improvisations, Sokolov would regale us with unforgettable tales of quotidian life at the cathedral. One of them was a tale about the period when he, his uncle (a cathedral deacon) and his cousin would take train trips from St. Petersburg to Kronstadt: he would imagine himself as Jonah in the whale’s stomach. Another favorite was about a certain deacon who was also parish clerk. He suffered from scarlet fever and would attempt to heal himself by cruising back and forth between the cathedral grounds and the nearby pub. The intense application of the vodka ration he obtained there was an effort to weaken the effect of the scarlet fever. He would, with difficulty, regain his balance after regular visits to the ambulatory clinic in the shade of the holy cathedral. Nikolai Alexandrovich recounted this heroically and with his usual humor.
Sokolov’s ability to tell stories was similar to Gorbunov’s. But alas there were few among Sokolov’s listeners and idolators - and among musicians, practically no one, neither a Koni, nor a Maksimov, nor any Sheremtevs - who did even a smidgen to honor and remember him, compared to what the afore-mentioned did for Gorbunov both during his life and afterwards.116
“With tears of tender emotion, in destitution I weep” was the first line of a Sokolov poem that he wanted me to set to music. Nikolai Alexandrovich handled verse beautifully and he wrote many well-written programmatic descriptions to symphonic works by Glazunov and many other composers of the time (including my “Le Royaume enchanté”).
Belaieff deeply loved Sokolov, called him Kolenka, and published all of his musical works. At the end of supper, Mitrofan Petrovich would often turn to Sokolov and ask, “Well, now then, Kolenka, so how about that “Scottish Ballad?” This referred to a distant time when Nikolai Alexandrovich had mystified us with some “Scottish Ballads,” giving us to understand that these works were very interesting and significant. Whether or not they were real, I do not know. I only remember that once the “Scottish Ballad” story had commenced, Mikhail Romanovich Shchiglov began to breathe more easily, since he probably believed in his confused state that this ballad existed beyond his dreamworld. Who knows? Perhaps he was mistaken because there really were no limits to the flights of Sokolov’s dinnertime fantasy.
I really liked Shchiglov. I admired his conversation and his unassuming, humble outlook as a composer, and I tried to be his dinner companion at these Friday soirées. Later on, during my orchestral classes at the Imperial Chapel, I would have the orchestra perform his unpretentious, neatly composed short orchestral works. This completely delighted both Mikhail Romanovich and the players. They were his students and adored the pieces because of their sweet, gentle character.
The cozy, comfortable evening would draw to its close and Nikolai Andreyevich was usually the first to leave. The women would leave the dining room but the remaining guests would fall under the rather “spicy” influence of that jokester Yevald, whose completely fantastic stories were not the kind that could be told in the presence of either Nikolai Andreyevich or the ladies.
Nikolai Andreyevich would stay later if new pieces were going to be performed after supper. Sometimes Glazunov would play some new art songs, so new that the ink had scarcely dried. Sigismund Mikhailovich Blumenfeld, who was a reasonably good singer and a talented vocal composer, would usually sing. At other times, the very gifted Felix Blumenfeld would play through his brilliant transpositions of numbers from Glazunov’s ballet “Raymonda,” etc.
During the leave-taking, someone or another would talk to their kindly host about some personal musical matter. Belaieff would make a date in the near future for another meeting, and everyone left with the joyful feeling of belonging to a very worthy family of Russian composers, a family in which there was no place for spite, anger, envy or machinations. Each family member was aware of his place in it and gladly made his great contribution to the general Russian musical scene.
The composers N. N. Amani, F. S. Akimenko, V. A. Volotariov117 and S. A. Barmotin were introduced to the Belaieff circle at roughly the same time as I, and were included in his catalog. They also graduated from Rimsky-Korsakov’s class at the Conservatory around the same time I did. It seems to me that it would be not uninteresting to impart some biographical information and personal impressions about them, especially since the first two were not only my colleagues with similar musical tastes, but also my friends.
Nikolai Nikolaevich Amani was the adopted son of a very well-known, well-to-do person who looked after him to the very end of his life. Amani did not like to speak of his relatives, and we thought of him as a man unto himself. He was very intelligent, quite attractive and well-bred. He died prematurely (of pulmonary tuberculosis at a comparatively young age), but he was unusually musically gifted. He did not leave much behind, but everything he wrote is marked by an authentic, graceful, sincere, and distinguished style. His incredible pianistic talent (he was a student of Anna Nikolaevna Esipova)118 indicated he could have had a brilliant career as a virtuoso, but the instability and frailty of his health denied him that chance. As a result, everything he wrote for the piano has a charming, fragrant character.
Mitrofan Petrovich Belaieff immediately recognized Amani’s refined, artistic nature. He frequently played piano four-hand works with him, and invited him to his apartment in addition to including him in “the Fridays.” At one of the regular Belaieff chamber composition competitions, Amani won first prize for his “String Trio,” op. 1. I remember that this trio, in which the composer used double and triple stops, sounded more like a sextet. It was a far cry from the usual transparent lightness of sound of Beethoven’s string trios, but the music contained in it was of a very high calibre and its renowned thick texture was unique.
Text selection for his vocal compositions, including “John of Damascus,” “The Novice,”119, and old Italian canzonettas, reveal the composer to be an erudite man with good literary taste. All of Amani’s lamentably few compositions are published by Belaieff-Leipzig. After Amani’s adopted father died, oversight of Nikolai Nikolaevich’s affairs was transferred to M. P. Belaieff. Mitrofan Petrovich continued his ceaseless and enduring support of Amani’s interests, as he always did in similar undertakings, in secret and with his own funds, until his own death. When Belaieff died, his Board of Trustees (the Board of Trustees for the promotion of Russian composers and Musicians – see M. P. Belaieff’s Last Will and Testament), took care of Amani’s affairs, since he was then gravely ill. Even during Mitrofan Petrovich’s life, Amani, on doctor’s orders, moved to Yalta on the Crimean Sea. About two years before he died, while I was staying in Yalta, I frequently visited him. When I left, I promised that when I returned I would conduct a little suite of the best of his piano compositions, which I would orchestrate at his request. Fate was kind in giving me the opportunity to give him this musical pleasure in person, even if it was not at my next visit. Fortunately he felt well enough and the weather cooperated so Nikolai Nikolaevich was able to attend both the rehearsals and the performances, where he was roundly applauded by the musicians and audience. Soon after my departure, we received the bitter news in St. Petersburg of his death. Nikolai Nikolaevich was buried in a Yalta cemetery. Alexander Afanasevich Spendiarov120, author of the opera, “Almast,” the symphonic poem “Three Palm Trees” (after Lermontov and for which he received the Glinka Prize) and many other inspired and ambrosial works, arranged to have a beautiful monument placed on his grave.
An Armenian by birth, Spendiarov belonged to our musical family: we both studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, whose lessons and advice he regularly enjoyed during his yearly trips to Petersburg. He was greatly liked in the Belaieff circle, as much for his splendid talent as for his unusually pleasant and likable manner. As his friends, many of us took advantage of his family’s kind hospitality during visits to that southern coast. In addition to erecting the monument on Amani’s grave, thanks to Spendiarov ‘s pains and diligence, the Yalta cemetery was also graced with a beautiful monument to the composer Kalinnikov,121 who, like Amani, died that year. I remember that Spendiarov invited Antonii Stepanovich Arensky122 and me to conduct a concert in the Yalta Public Garden to help establish a fund for the construction of the monument.123
Fedor Stepanovich Akimenko, who is now safely and healthily ensconced in Nice, was born in the Ukraine. His father was a singer in the Kharkov Cathedral choir. I made a summertime trip to Kharkov to visit Fedor Stepanovich and stayed with his venerable parents in their cozy little white house on the outskirts of Kharkov in the “Novye Mesta.” In Petersburg, Fedor Stepanovich was admitted to the Imperial Chapel youth choir and sang in it for several years until his voice changed. He worked as an administrator in the office of the Imperial Chapel and received general music education at the Chapel, which as fate would have it, was led at the time by Mili Alexeyevich Balakirev. Akimenko was friends with Volotariov and Barmotin, since they all sang in the choir and were classmates. The latter two were, like Akimenko, admitted to the choir by audition. During the course of the required classes and general music education, Mili Alexeyevich made a point of developing their musical abilities. He took a special interest in them, and they became close. He imbued them with that sacred fire of love of great music with which he himself burned all his life. Balakirev became their idol, their musical deity; he fascinated them. With the twin goals of musical development and education, Mili Alexeyevich did for them everything that he did in his younger years for Mussorgsky, Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov. He inculcated in them a love of Glinka, Schumann, Liszt, Berlioz. He would play piano four-hand versions of Schumann overtures and symphonies with them, introduced them to Liszt’s oratorio “Legend of the Holy Elizabeth” as well as his symphonic poems, and to “The Flight into Egypt” and other works by Berlioz that he had taught to Rimsky-Korsakov. In a word, he developed their musical taste regarding anything they were likely to hear on the Free Music School programs124, some of which he conducted. He also imparted to them his sarcastic disrespect of Wagner’s music, and his contemptuous loathing of Rubinstein, whom he still called “Rubinsteen.”125 “Look, Fedenka,” he once said to Akimenko who was living at the time near the Conservatory on the Krioukov canal, “Rubinsteen wrote “The Ocean;”126. Perhaps you, Fedenka, could try to write the “Krioukov Canal.” Balakirev was known to use the same mocking tone when evaluating works that his students brought: “Sit in the bassinette and splash your hands, Fedenko,” uttered Balakirev, playing through one of Akimenko’s piano works that overflowed with arpeggios. I think Balakirev willingly and joyfully devoted his time, energy and expertise to the musical development of a new, young brood of Russian composers. Furthermore, the hated “Rubinsteen” had departed to his great reward, and the business of the musical upbringing of Russian composers was in the loving hands of his former confederates and pupils, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, and Glazunov.
Upon completing their studies at the Chapel, in addition to their general education courses, Akimenko, Volotariov, and Barmotin, future composers all, took the well-known “instrumental classes” that had been organized in accordance with Rimsky-Korsakov’s pedagogical theories and that were taught personally by him during the time he shared responsibilities with Balakirev at the Chapel.
Akimenko and Barmotin (especially the latter) were good pianists when they completed their studies at the Chapel, and Volotariov was a good violinist, which was good preparation for his later chamber compositions. Later, when they were Rimsky-Korsakov’s students at the Conservatory (with Balakirev’s knowledge and approval), they all retained their deep feelings of love and gratitude for their former teacher.
Soon thereafter Balakirev left his teaching post at the Chapel, but he never lost sight of his musical fosterlings. He followed their musical successes, frequently invited them to visit him, and would also occasionally invite me to come with them. But I must admit I was uncomfortable with both the musical and the general atmosphere at Balakirev’s house and I never became a “Balakirevnik.” Of the three, only Akimenko was my classmate at the Conservatory; Volotariov and Barmotin graduated after I did.
Even now Akimenko’s compositional activities are quite varied. The Belaieff company in Leipzig published his earlier vocal and instrumental compositions. He later decamped to the Moscow publishers, P. Jurgenson, who published several volumes of his piano works, among many other things. Soon after the Revolution, Akimenko moved to Paris, where several of his piano works (among them a collection of pieces dedicated to Flammarion127 were published by Leduc and other French publishers. The collection was inspired by Akimenko’s interest in astronomy and influenced by that great scientist, with whom Akimenko was very close. For the last seven years or so, Akimenko and I have been conducting business correspondence on behalf of the Board of Trustees for the Advancement of Russian Composers and Musicians that Belaieff founded, and of which I am President. The Board has also looked after Fedir Stepanovich for several years and afforded him sustained material support for his difficult life as a composer living in a foreign country.
In the Belaieff circle, Akimenko and Volotariov kept to themselves and made no effort to endear themselves to the others. At the Friday gatherings, both of them listened intently to the quartet performances. Volotariov always maintained a studied, stiff pose, with half closed eyes. At the meal they were usually unsociable and silent, and left early. Their friend at the Chapel school, Barmotin, was completely different: he was sociable, affable, and gentle in his manner. A fascinating pianist, he was the author of piano works that are singularly charming. These were published in due time by Belaieff. Barmotin played them marvelously, with artistic feeling and enchanting sincerity. This young artist’s music and his vitality, at least as far as I was acquainted with him, resembled that of Franz Schubert.
In order to conclude my unintentional biographical digression on the character of my Belaieff Circle friends and contemporaries, who entered that family of Russian composers almost simultaneously with me, and who rallied around the Rimsky-Korsakov flag and Belaieff, it occurs to me to answer the following not uninteresting questions: Were the young composers of my generation, whose works were published at that time by Belaieff, completely free? Was there not in the musical atmosphere surrounding the Belaieff group a certain clannishness, some kind of “Neo Mighty Five” thinking, so to speak, that was necessitated by the desire to be included in the catalog, a certain more or less similar and uniform style that guided their musical thinking? It seems to me that the answer to these questions is “yes and no.” It was not, and certainly could not have been the case in reference to those composers whose works immortalized the Belaieff catalog. Those are the leviathans, so to speak, on which even today it depends. It also was not the case in reference to those so-to-speak “outsider” composers whom Belaieff and his colleagues introduced to the catalog; composers like Scriabin, S. I. Taneyev and some others also became, in time, pillars that adorn the catalog. No doubt it was also considered quite natural for those composers who were Rimsky-Korsakov’s students to be accepted into the catalog, and, eventually, for those who were his “grand students.”
Perhaps even subconsciously the catalog’s creators and custodians, who took appropriate measures to ensure the artistic integrity of new works to be included in it, required that the works submitted for publication have a similarity of sound, of musical conception, of musical character and style. The measure of musical quality that the Belaieff board developed and even required could be stated thus: “Not lower than the average piece in the catalog.” They assessed a composer’s new works using the above-named qualifications. This was understood to mean “Well, we have taught you to compose and you should therefore compose as we taught you so that the general musical contents of the catalog will fittingly increase, continue, and develop in accordance with our artistic goals.” The major and overarching concern in the development of Belaieff’s catalog was based neither on his personal taste nor on his affection for a specific composer. He put his entire trust in the musical directors of his firm, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, A. K. Glazunov, and A. K. Liadov, in whose talent, taste, and knowledge he had complete confidence. Each of these founding members of the soon-to-be-established Board of Trustees of the Belaieff Company brought something of his own personality to his work: Nikolai Andreyevich, his genuine empathy and compassion for the artistic efforts of the new generation of Russian composers; A. K. Glazunov, his customary benevolence, fair-mindedness and impartial critique, particularly in regard to technique. A. K. Liadov was the group’s real Aristarchus,128 whose most rigorous and occasionally overly-enthusiastic critiques centered on aesthetic aspects and absolute artistic value. Because of his demanding musical nature, Liadov was extremely sensitive to anything new and idiosyncratic in art; he ceaselessly aspired to it in his own music and readily welcomed any manifestation of originality and novelty in the works of young Russian composers, irrespective of their school or style. He was as painfully strict with others as he was with himself. If he began to appreciate and develop a fondness for the works of one of the younger composers, however, he became their devoted, faithful friend and their active proponent. He included their work in the catalog, played their works in his concerts, and even personally edited their works (as he did for Scriabin, in view of Scriabin’s great inexperience in this regard), etc. Belaieff thought the world of Liadov, and had a high opinion of his musical judgment. As a result, Liadov’s support of this or that composer increased his reputation and established a certain standing for him in the Belaieff circle.
From my very first attempts at composition, I was happy to realize that Liadov liked my music. Indeed, he proved this with my more notable orchestral works of the period like the “Scène dans la Caverne des Sorcières de Macbeth,” op. 12129, “Fantasie Dramatique,” based on verse by Tiutchev, op. 17, and the suite from the ballet “Le Pavillon d’Armide:”130 all these works were published by Belaieff, with Liadov’s direct involvement, and the support of his colleagues on the Board, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.
I had become close to Antonin Konstantinovich on a musical basis, and we soon became close personally and continued as sincere and devoted friends until his unfortunately premature death. Antonin Konstantinovich became our family’s most beloved and welcome guest and his visits, during which he would sometimes play the piano, were times of great fun for us. He also liked to join us in visits to my hospitable and kindly sister Tania, who, like her husband, Nikolai Petrovich Tcherepnin, a young scholar who had written an outstanding history of the St. Petersburg Smolny Institute during the reign of the tsars,131 were his enthusiastic admirers. I remember one time at the end of a cozy little dinner at their house that my sister asked Liadov if he would like something else to eat. He replied, “No thank you, Tanechka, at the moment I can only grin like an idiot.”
Liadov had complete confidence in my conducting ability, so he gladly reserved the premieres of his orchestral works like “The Enchanted Lake” and “About Olden Times,” for those Russian Symphony concerts that I conducted. These were always anticipated with great interest and received great acclaim.132 Such premieres usually happened like this: About thirty minutes before the first rehearsal, at about 9:30 AM, Gregory Karlovich Sholtz, our amazing “mistake free” copyist and by profession the night club conductor at a Novodervensky pub, would appear in the green room of the hall at the Assembly of the Nobility where the concerts were held.133 From his portfolio he would draw the latest, just-completed orchestration of Liadov’s new work, and hand me the manuscript, which I had not seen before. Roughly a minute before 10, before the beginning of the rehearsal, when the orchestra members were almost all on the stage, Liadov, who was sleepy, grumpy, and slightly confused due to his having to get up so early, would enter the green room and would hastily acquaint me with the tempi in his new composition. Shortly after this introduction to the piece I would take my place behind the conductor’s stand.
Strangely enough, the enchanting, elegant charm of Liadov’s music was instinctively communicated to our wonderful, sensitive opera orchestra. The music’s simple, Attic clarity, the finish of the presentation, and its not overly-complicated technical means would, as it were, quell any anxiety over the enormity of such an undertaking, and made the study and performance of Liadov’s new works interesting and joyful affairs that were tiresome for neither the conductor nor the orchestra.
The public invariably greeted with fervor the new works by their beloved composer, and rare was the occasion that the new works were not immediately reprised due to the audience’s unanimous insistence.
Liadov wished to associate his well-known name with mine, and dedicated to me such gems as his “The Enchanted Lake” and “Kikimora.” I was able modestly to return the favor by dedicating to him my first ballet “Le Pavillon d’Armide,” whose music he liked. I remember with special pleasure the festive closing night party of the first production of this ballet at the Mariinsky Theater. The party took place at the famous Petersburg pub, “Maly Yaroslavets,”134 which was closely associated with Mussorgsky and was adorned by the presence of dear Anatoly Konstantinovich, who was especially vivacious, lovable and witty that evening.
Returning to the subject of Liadov as the Aristarchus of the Belaieff jury and the most active and inquisitive of the Belaieff Board, I would like to mention that Liadov was extremely cautious in recommending his former students for inclusion in the firm’s catalog, and as far as I can remember, allowed only one of them to be included: the gifted, thoughtful, incredibly talented pianist, Pogozhev, who, like his professor, was very strict with himself when it came to his compositions.
Due to his extraordinary critical instincts and a sincere interest in everything new and original in art, Liadov was an invaluable advisor to Belaieff in the awarding of the Glinka Prize. Belaieff had initiated this competition and, while he lived, chose the winner himself. When he died, Belaieff left a list of pieces to be considered for the prize that included my “Scène dans la Caverne des Sorcières de Macbeth,” op. 12,135 which had been published by the Belaieff firm. It was not, however, among the six pieces chosen by the Board of Trustees that year to receive the award. The Board’s original members were Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Liadov and later consisted of N. V. Artsybushev, Glazunov and Liadov.136
I would like to point out that the “Suite from Le Pavillon d’Armide” op. 29 was the only one of my prize-winning pieces published by the Belaieff firm. The others, “Contes de fée,” op. 33 to texts by Balmont, the op. 30 “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in C-sharp minor,” “Esquisses pour un alphabet Russe d’Alexander Benois,” op. 38, “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Goldfish: six musical illustrations for piano,” based on the Pushkin fairy tale “The Fisherman and the Goldfish,” and “Narcissus and Echo,” mythological scenes for orchestra (“Poème Mythologique”), op. 41 were published by the Jurgenson firm in Moscow.137 This exemplifies the commendably independent and conscientious relationship of the members of the Board to the task of selecting the prize winning compositions from all recently-composed Russian works, irrespective of their publisher.
I do not mean to complain about Rimsky-Korsakov’s insufficient attention or dislike of my music, or about the help and advice given to me by our great composer, Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov, who later became my close musical colleague and friend. Generally speaking, during my musically creative, public and personal life people have given me far more love and support than I have been able to return. I truly believe, however, that I am deeply indebted to dear, unforgettable Anatoly Konstantinovich Liadov for his frequent and multifaceted support of my musical activities and for his continual interest in and artistic empathy for my music, which put me on the path to winning the Glinka Prize.
Since I have been away from my motherland for twenty-six years, I do not know what Russian musicologists have done during that significant period of time to immortalize that great Russian musician and high-minded, brilliant, wonderful man who was simultaneously my trusted advisor, colleague, co-worker and friend. I feel an undeniably urgent and melancholy need to lay this modest gift of my memories on the eternal grave of this composer who was so beloved by all Russian musicians.
As my composing and then conducting skills gradually developed, my friendly relationship with my old friends in the circle strengthened. When I asked Glazunov to accept the dedication of my “Scène dans la Caverne des Sorcières de Macbeth,” he said, “Listen, do not forget to write ‘To my friend Glazunov.’” Both our friendship, and our mutually collegial work continued uninterruptedly, both at home and abroad, until the end of his life. I also became close to Sokolov, whose multifaceted, gifted artistic personality I had always sincerely admired; and with Vitol, Winkler, Spendiarov, Artsybushev and many other members of that glorious, friendly, and talented family of composers. Because of Nikolai Vasilevich Artsybushev’s proper outwardly appearance and elegant manner, Belaieff jokingly nicknamed him “The Baron,” which, to his close friends, he remained for the rest of his days.
The close, friendly artistic aspect of my relationship with my dear professor greatly changed. Like Glazunov, Nikolai Andreyevich willingly entrusted me to perform his compositions on Russian Symphony concerts that Belaieff, with great faith in my conducting abilities, called on me to conduct. I always included many compositions by the great national school of Russian composers on programs that I conducted with the Imperial Russian Music Society138 (in Petersburg, Moscow and its branches in all the provinces), and also with the Moscow Philharmonic Society. I was especially fond of the works of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Liadov, Glazunov, Mussorgsky and Borodin.
During my regrettably short stint as conductor at my native Mariinsky Theater, I had the happy occasion to participate in the premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Tale of the City of Kitezh,” which was directed by its composer in cooperation with my old friend at the podium, one of the most gifted Russian conductors, Felix Mikhailovich Blumenfeld. Blumenfeld conducted the first production of “Kitezh,” which was hailed as a triumph for its great composer and its conductor. Thereafter, both Felix Mikhailovich and I worked on other productions of that perhaps most brilliant of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operatic creations. Each of the various productions of “Kitezh” in which I participated invariably provided me with the most inspired, happy, artistic experiences of my conducting career.
Once, shortly after Belaieff’s death, Rimsky-Korsakov dropped by to see me about some music business, and found me playing through a newly-published work by Scriabin. After we had finished business matters, we returned to the Scriabin pieces, played them again, and shared our impressions of them. A few days later, Rimsky-Korsakov stopped by again and made the following appeal to me: “Well now, Nikolai Nikolaevich, during my previous visit, I ascertained that you are interested in new Russian music. Keep an eye on that and familiarize yourself with it. It is very important and valuable to the Belaieff company, and I want to ask you to be my deputy.” I must confess I was astonished at this proposition, and not a little flattered, but also a bit embarrassed. I felt completely unprepared for such an undertaking, and considered my credibility inadequate in the face of such unusual and heavy responsibility. But Nikolai Andreyevich pressed me not to refuse his proposal. Willing or not, I was compelled to consent to his request after learning from him that according to the bylaws and Belaieff’s will, nothing very important or fundamental to the general running of the Belaieff firm was delegated to deputy members of its Board.
Since Nikolai Andreyevich left for summer vacation in the country soon after that, I wrapped up the necessary formalities and began the Belaieff board duties for which he had deputized me. These rather simple duties essentially involved familiarizing myself with the material that related to the board’s activities, such material being submitted to me weekly for signature by the Board Secretary, who was dear Fedor Ivanovich Grus139, Rimsky-Korsakov’s good friend and my sincere admirer. When Nikolai Andreyevich returned to St. Petersburg in the fall and resumed his activities as president of the Belaieff board, my services, modest as they were, were no longer required.
I was greatly surprised one day, when conducting Rubinstein’s stupendous “Nero” at a Sunday matinee, to meet Rimsky-Korsakov in the tiny conductor’s room. I offered him a cup of coffee and with amazement asked him what could have brought him to the theater for such a dismal, pedestrian performance, especially on a Sunday morning when he otherwise would be free of responsibilities. The off-stage bell then reminded me it was time to go to the pit and I had to postpone the satisfaction of my curiosity until the intermission. At that time, nervously stroking his beard in his customary fashion, and, it seemed to me, with a little embarrassment, Nikolai Andreyevich announced the following: “Taking into account all your evolving artistic activities, I see that you have a great conducting career ahead of you that, naturally, will require you to travel a lot, and often will require you to be away from your ongoing activities in St. Petersburg. This will undoubtedly distract you from your future responsibilities to the Belaieff firm. Besides, I have come to the opinion that it might be useful for the Board to have a person who, besides being a musician, also has the necessary expertise. N. V. Artsybushev has these qualities, and I have approached him about taking your place as my deputy to the Board.”
The history of the Belaieff firm during the revolution showed how prescient dear Nikolai Andreyevich was in his wise decision, since soon after Rimsky-Korsakov left the board, Artsybushev’s colleagues elected him President because of his indefatigable energy. It was because of his iron will, his persistent, dogged work, and his great expertise and juridical gifts that the great Belaieff firm not only survived the devastating storm of the Revolution but, in response to the times, grew and achieved a new significance and reputation not only in Russia, but also in Europe and the rest of the world. Transferred to Paris, the Board of Trustees for the Support of Russian Composers and Musicians, endorsed by official decree of the highest legal authorities in Germany and France, continues to this day.
Even while still in Russia, I had maintained close artistic and personal ties with Artsybushev, the Board President. At the end of the 1920s the Board consisted of himself, A. K. Glazunov, and J. I. Vitol. It was then that Artsybushev invited me, in accordance with Vitol’s expressed wish, to join the Board as Vitol’s deputy. J. I Vitol himself, at that time the director of the conservatory in Riga, his homeland, was able only occasionally to take part in Board activities. Soon even this became difficult; he let the Board know that this precluded him from further participation in the Belaieff firm. As a result I took his place and named my son, the composer A. N. Tcherepnin,140 as my deputy. With this configuration, Artsybushev, Glazunov, and I, the Board continued to do its work until Glazunov’s death, after which his deputy, the composer F. A. Hartmann, took his place. When Artsybushev died (in April, 1937), his deputy, composer V. I Pol replaced him. At the same time, my friends on the Board honored me by electing me Board President. And so as President,I became, so to speak, Nikolai III (Nikolai Andreyevich [Rimsky-Korsakov], Nikolai Vasilevich [Artsybushev], Nikolai Nikolaevich). The point of all this? Who could forget Gorbunov’s General Dityakin141? With the current configuration and with the participation of my deputy, composer Alexander Tcherepnin as Board Secretary, we are now fulfilling the duties and responsibilities conferred upon us by the management of this impressive Russian firm, which is now more than fifty-years old.
Even in the first years of his tenure, Artsybushev was true to Belaieff’s underlying precepts. The last years of Artsybushev’s wise, thrifty administration saw a rise in interest in Russian music both in Europe and the rest of the world. This allowed him to establish (and for us to continue) a considerable amount of savings for our company. According to our by-laws, and with the help of both of the above-mentioned members of the Board, these savinvs were deposited into and guaranteed by the banks of one of the most creditworthy governments in Europe. The growth of these savings held out hope that our Committee could restore at least in part the charitable and other capital that was mentioned in Belaieff’s will and was lost in the Revolution. This supplyed the firm with the necessary liquidity that the Board had temporarily supplied from the cash at hand. Though our great firm had previously seen constant good fortune, inexorable destiny saw fit to present the Board with several problems of varying significance. In January 1944, our Procurist (the manager of the Leipzig office), communicated to us that our entire warehouse - some 4,000 volumes accumulated over decades, comprising our rich and seemingly inexhaustible catalog - had been a victim of the December 1943 bombing of Leipzig, and was completely destroyed.
For the purposes of historical inquiry, the following should be mentioned: as a consequence of the aerial bombing of Leipzig that took place in December 1943: this first-class, world-famous center of European industry and commerce saw more than twenty million books and almost all of its rich and seemingly inexhaustible backlog of musical scores perish in the fire. All of the similarly rich and seemingly inexhaustible collection of scores maintained by the world-famous and important German firm Breitkopf & Härtel also perished in the blaze. The best editions of the great German and world-renowned musicians disappeared and God only knows how much time, talent and work will be required to compensate for the truly immense damage that was inflicted on the world’s musical culture as a result of that brutal, senseless, ruthless attack during those calamitous December days in 1943.
Breitkopf & Härtel’s misfortune, unprecedented in its 233 year history of musical service to the entire world, drew the attention of many foreign music publishers, including those in Russia. These firms entrusted it with the distribution of their European and foreign publications, and had in Breitkopf a major warehouse for their catalog products.
I cannot judge how much European publishers suffered from the disappearance of the entire Breitkopf archive, but with utmost sorrow I must affirm that for Russian companies that were operating during the revolution from outside the country, it resulted in a total loss of the decades- long accumulation of Russian classical and contemporary musical scores.
The fire consumed the entire warehouse of the Moscow publisher K. Guteil, which is now owned by Serge A. Koussevitsky. Guteil was publisher and friend of Rachmaninoff, whose works were also destroyed in the blaze. Since I am insufficiently acquainted with this firm’s vast catalog, its breadth compels me at least to mention this very significant loss for the Russian and world music market.
The entire Bessel142 warehouse was also destroyed. Bessel’s collection included such early masterpieces by Rimsky-Korsakov as the opera “The Maid of Pskov,” and many other later works like “The Tale of Tsar Saltan,” “Kashchey the Immortal,” etc. Almost all of Mussorgsky’s most celebrated and most inspired works and much of Cui’s diverse output, e.g. his opera “A Prisoner in the Caucasus,” “William Ratcliff,” “Angelo,” were also lost, as were poetic, charming early works by Liadov and many other gifted creations of composers of the Russian nationalist school.143 In addition to the above-mentioned material, I must include elements of personal sorrow: my only string quartet, Op. 11, perished, as did all the lyric church and choral music I composed after 1921 and entrusted to the Bessel firm. Mussorgsky’s opera “Sorochintski Fair,” which I had completed and orchestrated, was also lost.
Ju. G. Zimmerman’s warehouse was also destroyed, resulting in the elimination of a whole group of very valuable works by M. A. Balakirev and his gifted student, disciple and friend, S. M. Liapunov.
In addition to the catastrophe in Leipzig, I must add that, as a result of the bombing in Berlin, the warehouses of Berlin publishers S. A. and N. K. Koussevitsky were leveled. These had contained almost all of Stravinsky’s most significant and valuable works, as well as many of Prokofiev’s compositions and those of Medtner144 and other well-known Russian composers.
From the above it is impossible not to conclude that the material losses borne by Russian music in connection with these ill-fated events were particularly heavy; and that present and future students of Russian music face the enormous problem of restoring all of the great and rich Russian music that was produced and collected over decades, and that was so senselessly destroyed by the implacable laws of war.
The lodestar that can, to a great extent, focus this insatiable grief is the realization that some if not all of the various material that was located, and as a result of the times, created abroad (and then destroyed in the fire) is safe in various places of our blessed homeland, Russia; that this disaster did not mean the total loss of Russian musical culture. From recent documentation we have discovered that most of the important business records, as well as rental symphonic and operatic scores were saved from the blaze.
Belaieff’s By-laws allowed free choice of the country in which to organize his firm. But the one problem that Belaieff’s otherwise wise counsel was unable to foresee was the precondition that the manuscript collection always remain in Leipzig. The present Board repeatedly debated the question of whether or not to move the entire operation to France. This question seemed expedient for several reasons, but the above-mentioned paragraph in the By-laws, as well as our unwillingness to break our more than fifty-year connection with the excellent music publisher, Reder, restrained us from taking this step. At present it is difficult to say and useless to guess whether this would have been better or worse for the organization. Nevertheless, in anticipation of all possibilities, the Board has established a local warehouse in Paris for archival purposes. This warehouse includes a full complement of all the compositions that we have published, with one example of every item in our catalog. Above all, we maintain a transparency of every important, often-ordered and lucrative item, e.g. “Prince Igor” in this warehouse. We also maintain an inventory of all holdings from each of our catalogs that at any specific time were located in Leipzig. This allows us to make a more or less precise account of the damage the firm incurred as a result of the loss of the Leipzig inventory.The saying goes, “It never rains, but it pours.” But having experienced the deluge, one must look the results squarely in the eye. For the firm and anyone closely connected with it, the loss in Germany is difficult, even catastrophic. But one can think optimistically and hope that it is not irreparable. In that regard I must report the presence and confluence of the following circumstances:
The complete preservation of all legal documents that confirm the ownership by the firm of all its publications.
The complete preservation by the firm in its Paris office of all the items in our catalog.
The existence of the Belaieff firm’s above-mentioned accumulation of material resources at least allows it to recover, if not to reconstitute all of those items in our immense catalog that are so important to Russia and world musical culture. This reconstitution will again be controlled by the Board.
The resolute purpose of the Belaieff Board is to dedicate all of its forces and capabilities toward the actualization of what is most important and necessary for this company, and to use every possibility of support for the following propositions:
That music is imperishable.
That musical culture is also imperishable.
That musical culture’s ability to shine eternal radiance upon people is imperishable and
That the light it sheds can only burn more and more brightly and increase in spiritual meaning after everything that humankind has survived and is now experiencing.
That the eternal, imperishable, brilliant Belaieff firm and its music catalog, inspired by musical geniuses of our great country and recognized and accepted the world over, must again take its proper place in the future reconstruction and development of the world’s musical culture.
I particularly remember the autumn of 1898 because of the preparatory work on the performance of my “Symphony No.1,” which was included on a Russian Symphony concert that season. Nikolai Andreyevich spent a great deal of time on this piece that, admittedly, was not entirely mature and independent. He studied the work assiduously, drew beautiful sounds from the orchestra, and conducted it with enthusiasm and affection. Although I was, as is the custom, called to the stage after the performance, my symphony evoked no particularly strong response from either the musicians or the audience, which lack of response was, in my opinion, basically justified. It is also true that the reviews of the symphony, while sometimes positive, were in general also not particularly favorable. Since this was the only performance of the symphony, I was not inclined to further work in that area. Although after a certain period of time I sketched out a complete second symphony, I soon cooled to the idea and did not even bother with the orchestration. During that period I was busy with teaching, accompanying, preparing works that had been accepted for publication, composing new works, all of which sweetly filled my musical daily work.
Fate soon added to those activities the teaching of “secular” choral singing and music theory at the Empress Maria’s Department of Institutions. First at the Mariinsky Institute, then the Alexandrovsky Institute, Smolny Institute, and finally at the Elizabetinsky Institute.145 The Empress Maria’s Department used to attract the best music teachers in the city to teach music to young women, and put them in charge of the students’ musical education. The responsibilities of these “musical inspectors,” as they were called, then included teaching the young women to play the piano and managing all other aspects of their musical development. One such inspector, V. V. Kjuner,146 invited me to join him there as conductor of secular choral music and music theory. This started me on my rather long tenure there that continued until I became conductor of the Imperial Mariinsky Theater.147
Vasili Vasilevich Kjuner taught music to the children of Grand Duke Konstantine Nikolaevich. The Duke loved Kiuner very much and was his patron. A German by birth, Kiuner had become completely Russianized due to his many years working in Russia. He was a reasonably good pianist, a good teacher and above all, a composer. He wrote a five-act grand opera based on Gogol’s “Taras Bulba” that, due to his connection with the Court, was produced at the time at the Mariinsky Theater. It was, however, not a success, and had only three performances.
When I began to work at the Theater, Vasili Vasilevich presented me with a piano reduction of this opera and asked me to take a look at it. He added that if I liked it and was interested, he could get a revival, counting on me as director. When he delivered this weighty tome (which reminded me of the piano reduction of Serov’s opera), he asked me to pay attention to how the style of the music, beginning with the scene in the church of the beleaguered town,148 becomes completely different. He explained that this had happened because of his exposure to Wagner’s music on a visit to Bayreuth. Not wanting to embarrass this dear old man, with whom it was so easy and pleasant to work, I was obliged to swallow this huge, indigestible score, in which there was nothing that corresponded to the Gogol tale, and almost nothing that was Russian in its music, except for the following gem:
A chorus of tipsy, dancing Zaporizhians:
A cossack loves war,
A cossack splits and slashes.
Refrain: Slash, split
The rhythmic construction of this chorus is such that the beat in the musical text is always on the first syllable and not on the second, which is the normal pronunciation