Under the canopy of my life artistic, creative, musical pedagogy, public and private

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It seems ghastly that these mindless ‘Slash, splits’ flew from the stage of our classic, traditional opera house and that the chorus performed with all seriousness. The audience (comprised of august friends of this sorry, foreign composer) was completely delighted. Our venerable director, the very respectable Alexander Jakovlevich Morozov, who has worked in the theater for more than sixty years, said that Kjuner’s “Taras Bulba” was the biggest fiasco ever to take place on the stage of our great theater. Since becoming acquainted with this work, I do not doubt this is the case: this opera fulfills all the requirements for a most spectacular and well-deserved failure.

Turning again to the students in Petersburg, I would like to recall a sweet and touching tradition (a sweet and touching custom) that was invariably practiced in the Empress Maria’s Department of Institutions.

At the solemn annual graduation ceremony, before the final-year students left the Institute that had nurtured them, they sang a “Farewell Song” to a text that one of them had written. This text expressed their feelings of affection, gratitude and appreciation for the Institute’s efforts on their behalf. Beginning with Glinka and his contemporary Kavos, almost all Russian composers donated their services to this long-standing tradition and wrote music for the graduation song. They not infrequently participated in its performance either by conducting the chorus or accompanying on the piano. Balakirev, Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Rachmaninoff, Liadov, Glazunov and others made their musical contribution to this sweet custom. It fell to me personally to write the farewell song of the Mariinsky Institute’s graduates, and also to compose a “Gala Graduation Song” for the 250th anniversary of the Elizabeth Institute to the text of on` of the students, Mme. Lerkhe. I conducted the “Graduation Song” or “Cantata” for solo voice, double chorus and piano on the day of the Jubilee, in the presence of Empress Maria Fedorovna. The piece was subsequently published in honor of that day by the Moscow firm, P. Jurgenson

I was happy to work at the Institute and I liked the rigorous, austere educational atmosphere that I found there. The sincere love of music evidenced by the students touched me, and their interest in my activities made me happy. Subsequently, many of the students of this period, especially those who studied at the Elizabeth Institute, became professional artists, great pianists and well-known concert and operatic singers.

Each class at the Mariinsky Institute was assigned its own tutoress or “class madam” at the beginning of studies. This was the case in all the institutions of the Empress Maria’s Department of Institutions, and this person guided the students’ education, and stayed with the class until its last day. The “class madam” of the class for which I wrote my “Farewell Song” was very young, especially sweet and likable. She had remained at the Institute after her studies were over and this was her first class. She doted on them -- or in the Institute’s language, she was deeply attached to them -- and willingly overindulged them.

I will share a personal experience from a sweet evening that my students and I spent after a rehearsal of my farewell song. At the end of the lesson, the pupils, with their tutoress at their head, invited me to stay for supper and to eat with them. Each graduating class had a special area in the Institute’s big dining room. Their tutoress was the Institute attendant that day and had kept watch over all the students entering the dining hall. So I found myself in this secluded, congenial and sincerely affectionate society of my “farewell song singers.” They very much liked the song and we had had a reasonably good rehearsal. Our isolated location in the cafeteria and the supervision of our table, perhaps intentionally superficial, resulted in the fact that we had delicate appetizers that were not on the regular menu for that meal, mince pies and, unbelievably, a bottle of excellent Kronovsky Madeira wine. The latter, of course, could not appear big as life on the table, but nonetheless was amicably and happily enjoyed in little tea cups that were filled by a mysterious cup-bearer who hid the wine from indiscrete eyes. It was a happy, sweet and informal meal. We wondered aloud whether we would see each other again later in life and expressed appropriate wishes to do so. As fate would have it, I was to meet some of my “dinner companions” later in my career: some in lovely Georgia, some in London and Paris.

At the graduation ceremonies, as a memento of that dear class I was given an elegant, touchingly inscribed silver and black cigarette case that was artfully-engraved with an image of Sadko playing a harp. I liked that cigarette case very much, and used it constantly until I happened to lose it in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet during a rehearsal of the Sea Kingdom scene of the opera “Sadko.” What can one do? Sadko giveth and Sadko taketh away, but I am grateful for the memory.

The beginning of 1899 was marked by a happy event that brightened, and continues to illumine and beautify our lives: the birth of our son, Alexander on January 8th. Destined by his nature to be a musician, he was able, thanks to his lucky stars, to strongly develop his innate musical skills and to become an outstanding artist. By the grace of God a composer and an outstanding, inspired pianist, he is surely and steadily making a brilliant name for himself in both the Russian and international music world, to the delight of the public and to the great comfort of his devoted and loving parents, who keep close tabs on personal and artistic events in his very important and productive life.150

Finally, the year 1899, having begun so happily, also saw the publication of the following works by the Belaieff company:

  • my “Romances,” op. 1: some of which, for example, “Lucid stars” (to poetry by K. Fofanov),151 and “Do not be angry with yourself” (to poetry of my University friend, Vladimir Zhukovski) soon became well-known among singers;

  • two mixed-voice a cappella chorus pieces, op. 2: “Lazy noon,” to poetry of Alexei Tolstoy; and “Heavenly Little Cloud,” to poetry of Lermontov;

  • two duets for female voices with piano accompaniment: “Autumn” (a setting of E. Bartinsky’s “Where are the sweet whispers of my forest?” and “Springtime waters” (a setting of F. Tiutchev’s “Spring is coming”)152;

  • “Prélude pour la pièce d’Edmont Rostand ‘La Princesse lointaine’” for large orchestra, op. 4;

  • “Chant de Sapho” for soprano, chorus and orchestra, to A. Zorin’s poetry;153

  • “With what shall I compare thee, beloved fair young maiden?” (an excerpt of my graduation cantata, “Sardanapal”).

New works from that year were:

  • two mixed-voice choruses with orchestra: “La nuit” to poetry by V. Iurev-Drentelna and “La vieille chanson” to poetry by A. Koltsov (published subsequently as Opp. 5 and 6);154

  • six romances (op. 7) of which some -- “Autumn” to text by K. Fofanov, and “Falling Leaves” to text by I. Lialechkin;155 “Jewish Lullaby” to A. Maikov’s poem “Zion rocked my cradle”; and “Lullaby” to Lermontov’s poem “Sleep now, my beautiful baby boy” -- eventually became quite popular.156

  • Finally, four romances, op. 8: “Human tears,” “Billowy clouds,” “Quiet night,” “Vernal peace,”157 and O put me not into the cold, damp groundto words by Tiutchev.

During that same period the followings works were performed at the Russian Symphony concerts:

1899: the published version of “Prelude pour la pièce d’Edmont Rostand ‘La Princesse lointaine.’” The performance of this piece, which Nikolai Andreyevich had closely studied, was particularly rewarding both quantitatively and qualitatively. It was auspiciously well-received both by musicians and the public, and was also received very warmly by the music critics. This reception both surprised and delighted me.

1900: my two mixed-voice choruses with orchestra: “La nuit” and “La vieille chanson” were performed by our acclaimed opera chorus on a concert with another premiere, the well-known “Poem about Alexei, the Man of God and Glory” by Rimsky-Korsakov. Nikolai Andreyevich drew an excellent performance from his orchestral and chorus, and I was especially pleased by the way my choral works sounded. In particular, “La vieille chanson,” set to Koltsov’s vivid Russian texts, sounded terrific and made quite an impression.

Stylistically, “La vieille chanson” was my first piece in a Russian style which was informed by Russian folk song material but did not include actual melodies. With very few exceptions, I have adhered to this principle in my subsequent instrumental and vocal works, especially in my operas and ballets on Russian subjects all of which were composed so to speak “in the shade of” Russian folk influence.

The year 1899 began very happily, and by autumn, another event ocurred that had significant influence on the course of all my musical/artistic activities. The orchestral teaching position that Rimsky-Korsakov had created in the Imperial Chapel Choir became free.158 This position had first been held by Rimsky-Korsakov himself, then by professor Krasnokutski (a well-known violinist)159, and then by Felix Mikhailovich Blumenfeld. When the latter left to conduct in the theater, the gifted composer A. S. Arensky suggested that I assume this important and significant position. At that time Arensky was director of the Imperial Chapel. I sincerely admired his music as much as I did the man himself, for his perpetually good-natured, sunny disposition. But I was hardly prepared for the job.

With the invitation, Anton Stepanovich promised to supervise my first few rehearsals with the students until I had gained the necessary experience. He fulfilled this promise with consistent and attentive presence at the orchestral rehearsals, and by having long talks with me about them in his office afterwards. I am eternally grateful to this benevolent artist and accomplished musician for the essential, technical understanding that formed the foundation for my subsequent conducting experience. He set me on my path to conducting.

The orchestra placed under my care was quite large, with a full complement of technically accomplished musicians. It was able to perform many classical works as well as some works by Russian composers that were not too difficult or complex. Among its musicians were good instrumentalists who provided their conductor with the opportunity to learn works for soloist and orchestra, and gave him the chance to become familiar with and master the art of orchestral accompaniment, which is so important to a conductor. Preparation of these works sometimes presented unexpected difficulties given the conditions under which the Chapel operated. For example, the enormous, thick-set, distinguished German cello professor, K. K. Markus, with unruly coal-black hair down to his eyes, had the habit of visiting our rehearsals when his students were preparing their solo works. Only moderately familiar with Russian, the distinguished professor would nonetheless offer some kind of advice during the rehearsal, usually like this: “Voevod (the surname of the student was Voevodin, who went on to become a wonderful bass in our opera’s chorus), ya, this play much.” (Probably for the word “more.”) Having received this suggestion, “Voevod” began to play more quickly. So I took “much” to mean faster. Imagine my surprise when at the next rehearsal, after complying with the professor’s shouted instruction, “much,” Voevod played significantly slower and received in response an approving nod from his teacher. So, what is a conductor to do? How is he supposed to wriggle out of this? It was all a great learning experience.

After my first Moscow premiere, S. V. Rachmaninoff, who, in addition to all of his great musical gifts is also a first-class conductor, said to me: “You have an undoubted gift to become a conductor, only you must soon learn how to accompany. Without that ability, one cannot succeed, especially in the theater.” Rachmaninoff’s wise counsel has stayed with me my entire life. I have put this into practice in my conducting and have persistently, unflinchingly worked in this regard with my conducting students at the Petersburg Conservatory.

When my thoughts turn to Antonii Stepanovich Arensky, the willing or unwilling author of my involvement with conducting (more likely a willing author, since it was he who caused me to be engaged to conduct concerts of the Russian Music Society), I always remember the absolutely inspiring achievements and gifted creative life of this estimable, gifted Russian composer. I was connected to him by deep artistic sympathies and close personal friendship until the very end of his lamentably short life. His name will long be remembered and his compositions even today grace the programs of pianists, violinists, singers and chamber musicians. His piano trio, his piano quintet -- in which he masterfully performed the piano part -- are exemplary works, some of the best Russian works of this genre.

I remember the great joy I invariably experienced when conducting his opera “Nal and Damajanti,” a work of great lyricism, imagination and melody.160 Arensky also made great contributions to our religious music: many of his religious works, reprinted in America some time ago, have entered the standard Anglican repertoire. His opera, “Dream on the Volga,” entered the treasure-trove of our national opera and even today needs to be considered for Russian opera companies.161

To give an “a priori” assessment of the longevity of this composer, who recently left this earthly vale, is a thankless affair. If it is done in such a manner as Rimsky-Korsakov did in his “Chronicles of my life,”162 it becomes an unkind, even unjust matter that undeservedly offends the memory of this great composer , who furthermore was his student. If the famous author of “Chronicles” dashed off these lines in a fit of pique or for some other reason, then it was the duty of the editor of this historical document to keep them from the light of day, since they are equally severe in regard to the perception of the one about whom they are written as they are about the writer.163 Arensky died in February, 1906, and an edition of “Chronicle” appeared in 1928 that was edited and expanded by the author’s son, A. N. Rimsky-Korsakov.164 This was certainly enough time for a comprehensive re-analysis of the material and an opportunity to offer it to the readers in a more objective and unprejudiced form.

One should not judge a composer by the amount of wine he drank or the number of nights he spent at a gambling table or anywhere else. To mention this was frivolous and unworthy of such a significant musical/historical document as Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Chronicle.” Even if for only a moment one grants that such criteria may be considered, then why does “Chronicle” mention it only in relation to Arensky and Mussorgsky? And why not publicize for posterity well-known information about the many other eminent Russian musical figures of that period, whether composers or conductors, who had a predilection for the bottle or who were no strangers to the gambling green?

My artistic and friendly relationship with Anton Stepanovich brought me much happiness. We would frequently share the conductor’s stand, as, for example, in Yalta, where we would participate in various concerts, usually for some kind of charity. I recall intimate suppers either at our place or at the home of a mutual friend, Siloti165 or others. His sweet, radiant, humane image is embedded in my memory, and his cheerful, witty, lively personality easily won the imagination of his companions. There were times when he would gladly sit at the piano and captivate his friendly listeners with the charming originality of his piano compositions and with the innate perfection of his soft, subtle touch at the keyboard. In January 1906 we received information about the ominous developments of his condition (tuberculosis of the lungs) and about the inevitable approach of his demise. I was supposed to leave soon for a guest conducting engagement in Odessa, and I made a point before I left to visit him in Finland where he was staying at one of the best sanatoriums. At his sad bedside I encountered his devoted friend, Vera Pavlovna Siloti,166 who adored him and who brightened his last days with her selfless attention and affection.

Anton Stepanovich, overjoyed to see me, became quite spirited and jolly. In honor of my arrival, he ordered some wine, which neither the doctor nor his devoted nurse refused him. After a glass of good wine, we had a cozy, lively chat. Knowing that I was going to Odessa, Anton Stepanovich told many interesting stories about the friendly city that he and I dearly loved, both as a place to visit and to perform. We talked about his new work, “Memories,” a vocal suite base on poetry by Shelley. He had the galley proofs with him and had been making corrections to them. That day there was no evidence of the nearness of his demise. But none of us knows what life has in store for us.

The program of the Imperial Russian Music Society that was dedicated to his memory included both the aforementioned suite “Memories” that was performed by our noted prima donna Madame Volska (Countess Brokhotsky)167, who was the incomparable Ludmilla in Glinka’s opera, and later, originator of Damayanti168 on the Mariinsky stage. Volska’s superlative, heartfelt performance and the appealing intimacy of Arensky’s music made this concert an unforgettable experience in my conducting career.

We buried Arensky on a sunny, but windy, frosty day at the end of February. It was a stately burial in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.169 The Mass of the Resurrection seemed endless, as they sang every note. The monastery’s cantor, the famous Ternov170, was a great admirer of Arensky, and the chorus often sang his religious compositions.

Before the service there were several lengthy eulogies. The service itself was quite long and dragged on interminably. Since his legs were swollen from standing such a long time, Rimsky-Korsakov left the church to stretch his legs on the monastery’s wooden bridge. Spying my face among the crowd of incorrigible smokers who had also temporarily left the service, Nikolai Andreyevich made his way toward me and said, “My God, how tiresome, how complicated, and most of all, how long all this is! Just how much time does it take to leave this world? Listen, Nikolai Nikolaevich, when they bury me, promise me that you will stay at home and take out, say, “The Snow Maiden,” or something to play through, and think of me.” I was unable to fulfill this request of my dear teacher and friend.

On a hot, dusty June morning we accompanied Nikolai Andreyevich’s remains to their last resting place in the Novodevichy monastery on the outskirts of the city. We were relatively few, in fact, far fewer than one might have expected. The reasons were both the stifling summer weather (when one would rarely stay in the stuffy city) and the completely unexpected nature of the sorrowful event. One of the attendees who was following the hearse and obviously had some experience in this regard, sadly remarked: “Yes, well, obviously, if one is going to die, one needs know-how, and good timing. When we buried Peter Ilyich (Tchaikovsky), or Anton Grigorievich (Rubinstein), it was during “the season” and everyone was there, Anton Stepanovich (Arensky), as well. But in June, what a stuffy, useless, even offensive time . . . ”

So I did not have the chance to open the score of “Snow Maiden” as he had asked, but I did have the opportunity, in the presence of a rapt audience, to open his last opera, his “swan song,” the amazing “Golden Cockerel.” With care and pains undertaken by his nearest and dearest, as well as by his musical admirers and friends, this opera was first performed under my direction in the St. Petersburg Conservatory Theater.171 Supreme beauty abounds in this inspiring score. “The Golden Cockerel” also came at a very propitious time in the life of pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg, and therefore had an even greater success. In rapid time the theater was the site of a whole series of productions that played to continuous ovations from the public. Some time later, I staged a performance at the Paris Grand Opera, in a beautiful French translation by Calvocoressi, a great admirer and friend of the composer.172 The Parisians immediately took a liking to the piece, and it still graces the repertoire of that company.

For several years after the birth of our son our summer peregrinations were limited since we wanted to be near his maternal grandmother, Maria Karlovna Benois, the beloved professor at the Conservatory and my future colleague. She generally spent the summer at her place on the Finnish seaside in the town of Ollila, near Kuokkala. The area is well-known to Russian art lovers because of I. E. Repin’s long-time residence there.173 At that time Maria Karlovna was married to her second husband, the engineer Yefrom. They had two sons, the younger of whom was born ten days before our Sasha. Both our son’s mother and his doting grandmother, whose beautiful pianistic gifts he inherited, provided a serene, warm atmosphere that was full of love.

We took a dacha near our relatives, obtained a fairly good instrument, and I cheerfully worked on several pieces that summer. I completed a scene for baritone and soprano from Heine’s “Almansor” (the scene with Almansor and Zuleima) and sketched out, in addition to the introduction, an interlude and entr’acte to a later act of “La Princesse lointaine.” Unfortunately, the scene from “Almansor,” in which there was some rather interesting and, for me, novel music writing, remained unfinished, and I never performed it. Even now, however, I still remember some of the passages. Such was also the fate of the entr’acte to “La Princesse lointaine,” which failed to provide sufficient artistic satisfaction. So it was that the two compositions I worked on during the summer of 1899 remained only “manuscript musings.” Then I composed “Poème lyrique,” op. 9 for violin and piano, which was of interest to several violinists, including first of all the venerable Auer.174 Practically speaking, it was this piece that brought my music to the attention of European musicians, since the list of my compositions in European music reference books typically begins with it. The rest of my compositional activities during that sweet, pleasant summer comprised “Two choruses,” op. 10 for unaccompanied mixed chorus to Tiutchev’s texts, (“Leaves,” and “Oleg’s Shield”) (soon to be reprinted with English translations by the Schirmer company in New York), and the revision and preparation for publication of my earlier “String Quartet in a,” op. 11.

With the beginning of fall, I resumed my usual activities, to which were added, as I mentioned above, my responsibilities at the Imperial Chapel, which were very interesting, but not easy at first. A vexatious disagreement arose with M. P. Belaieff in the course of an otherwise generally successful and busy season. Belaieff had published or was planning to publish ten of my compositions. The disagreement arose over my “String Quartet in a,” about which he had expressed to me, with his usual directness, his not completely favorable opinion. In light of that fact, I was uncomfortable submitting it to Belaieff for publication and instead sent it to Bessel. In haste that was quite unusual for that firm, they published it immediately. To be truthful, the printed manuscript did not meet very high technical standards and they did not pay me a fee. Shortly thereafter, Mitrofan Petrovich communicated to me with irresistible sincerity that he had changed his mind about the work. It began to appear at the “Friday” events in its published form. I remember attending one performance there when it was played for Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev. It was also began to appear on Russian Quartet Evenings and quartet gatherings of the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society that were organized by Belaieff. I like the two middle movements of this quartet: the heartfelt, tuneful Andante and the large development section of the Scherzo, which is frequently played on radio broadcasts.

Because of my responsibilities leading the orchestral class at the Chapel, I conducted a series of scheduled public concerts. As I appeared behind the podium with increasing frequency, I had notable successes in this field that were recognized both by the good Anton Stepanovich Arensky, my conducting “sponsor,” and by many friendly audience members who attended my first forays into the world of conducting.

We spent the summer of 1900 in Ollila, as we had the year before. This comfortable, music-focused village life was interrupted twice a week by work-related trips to Peterhof. The Imperial Chapel spent summers in the Peterhof English palace, as it was called even in Nikolai Andreyevich’s reign.175 I enjoyed working in those conditions, and at that place, as had my dear teacher. It was a pleasure to follow in his footsteps conducting the Chapel musicians.

Nikolai Martinovich Shtrup (a great admirer of Russian music and Nikolai Andreyevich’s good family friend) frequently visited our summer place, along with other cultured, accomplished, dear acquaintances who loved art as we did. Next door, in a small dacha with a sickly little garden, a Deacon’s large family spent their summer. Every morning the pure, limpid Finnish air would ring with loud prayers prescribed by his office: he would let loose with loud proclamations of “Long may he live,” beginning in a low register and continuing to the uppermost limits of his God-given voice. I remembered this worthy neighbor Deacon when I later included him in my composition “La Descente de la Sainte Vierge à l’Enfer” (Descent of the Blessed Virgin into Hell).

That summer also saw the completion of an orchestral idea (or as Nikolai Andreyevich was fond of saying, “an orchestral design”) that I had been contemplating, and had already begun to sketch during the previous winter season. During that season176 the St. Petersburg Little Theater (Suvorinsky) mounted a beautiful and dramatic staging of “Macbeth.” I have often attended “Macbeth” performances, and with each performance I become more and more entranced by the combination of astonishing structure, malleability of form and dynamism in the first scene of the fourth act (the witches in the woods scene). Its content gives it a unique place in the overall development of the work. I can imagine removing all aesthetic content from the text or stage activity in this scene and staging it solely with music that ideally would establish greater or lesser musical space to generate interconnections based on basic laws of musical form. This would refine and solidify the ultimate corresponding dynamics of the scene’s musical content, and highlight both the important relationships and the play’s essential ambiguities. I was very happy with this gradual musical awakening of my new orchestral idea and was impatient for summer to arrive in order to begin fleshing out the details. Work on the composition “Scenes” proceeded just as I hoped: fruitfully and quickly.

Having finished the first draft of “Scenes,” I immediately proceeded with the orchestration, or more accurately, to the first sketches of an orchestral score. Once I returned to the city in the fall, I used these sketches to complete the final orchestration of this three-movement piece for full orchestra. Writing our the final score required frantic, all-night sessions in order to give Sholtz enough time to compile the parts, because “Scenes” had already been scheduled on one of that season’s Russian Symphony Concerts.

That fall, and indeed the entire season, was marked by incredible developments in my extra-heavy activities. What and whom did I not teach?! I worked at the Chapel and at all three Institutes, plus I worked at the progressive and fashionable177 Lokhvitskaia-Skalon Gymnasium.178 I taught some students piano and music theory, and taught composition to others. I rehearsed repertoire with male and female singers, accompanied, etc., etc. Not without an inner shudder do I recall my daily schedule that year: from 8:45AM to 12:30PM, and from 1:45PM to 4:00PM, lessons at Lokhvitskaia-Skalon; from 5PM to 7PM at the Mariinsky Institute; then hopeless piano instruction of a Siberian engineer’s numerous youngsters of both genders. We lived quite a distance from where I taught, so to return home for lunch or dinner was out of the question during those days when one could only get about by tram or cab. One had to eat in any snack bar that happened to be convenient, or eat dry cereal in the intervals (or in teachers’ parlance, windows) between lessons. I would not return home until around eleven in the evening, when my dear attentive wife would serve me a fragrant dish of steaming borscht. I would gather my wits a bit after the bothersome, trying day. It is not surprising that in the midst of this I sometimes felt, if not quite ill, at least not completely well. So I felt I had a moral right to cancel my lessons and dedicate a day to writing music or to other composition-related matters. Besides the “Macbeth” scenes, during that period I composed only “Reverie,” op. 13 for violin and piano, and sketched a series of piano pieces that proved useful later on.

A. K. Glazunov conducted the Russian Symphony Concert program that was scheduled to include “Macbeth.” Despite the difficulty179 and length of the program, Alexander Konstantinovich scheduled enough rehearsal time for my piece at each of the three rehearsals to learn the rather epigrammatic, complex score. There were even sectional rehearsals at the first reading, a thing seldom done because of the high quality of the players and their teamwork. During the entire preparation of the piece Alexander Konstantinovich proved himself to be my good friend and colleague: he sought my opinion in every way possible in both technical and musical matters. For its part, the orchestra was very good-natured toward me and closely followed all my interpretive ideas and suggestions. The piece clearly interested the orchestra, probably because of the relatively complex technical challenges it presents.

As usual, our entire musical syndicate, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Sokolov, and Vitol, as well as Mitrofan Petrovich (Belaieff), attended the rehearsals. My piece obviously interested Belaieff, mainly due, in my opinion, to my handling of the orchestra, and my skill at eliciting my exact musical intentions from the players. He drew appropriate conclusions from this. Liadov’s sincere appreciation of “Scenes” was evidenced by the fact that he prevailed upon Belaieff to publish it quickly. This was done in such short order that the Russian Music Society performed the work in its printed form during the following season.

Both Sokolov and the censorious Vitol endorsed the work, as did many other Russian musicians who were regular visitors at the rehearsals for the Belaieff concert. The concert itself received similar kudos. I was in a very good mood, and the orchestra gave the piece an enthusiastic, technically secure reading. The subsequent curtain calls and presentation of garlands, which lasted at least as long as the piece itself, confirmed my impression that “Scenes” had touched its audience and achieved success. This impression was further confirmed by the favorable reviews of the piece in the press.

This concert held great meaning for me: it was really my first completely successful debut as a composer and conductor. Rimsky-Korsakov was apparently a little puzzled both by the choice of subject matter for “Scenes” and by its musical content, which came as a complete surprise to him. He justly reproved me for calling the composition “Scenes,” saying the piece was not scenic. He did acknowledge, however, that the theatrical construction of the Shakespearian play certainly allowed me the possibility to portray it in clear, vivid contours of purely musical form. “Well, yes,” he said, “perhaps this subject is the exception; you will not find another like it.” He approved of the use of the orchestra as much for its expressiveness as for its color.

Several years later I happened upon a German review of my “Scenes,” which had been performed on a concert program that also included Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem “Macbeth.” Critics, comparing my work to the one by the German composer, reproached me for deviating from the musical development of the idyllic essence of the tragedy’s hero, Macbeth. They attributed this to the special “Slavic nature” (recalling the notorious French “l’âme slave”)180, inclined to resolve deep psychological problems through the medium of lyric, lyrico-fantastic, and sometimes even dance-like figures in the musical structure. I think neither the Slavic soul nor Strauss’ tone poem are at issue here. Strauss wrote his tone poem hoping to acquaint his audience with his interpretation of Macbeth’s character. For me, however, the hero in the witch’s cave in “Scène” is only one of the characters in the piece, and his personal experiences are only represented to the extent that I considered them necessary and requisite for the organic musical development of the piece.

I later had the opportunity to rework one of my compositions that I had originally intended for the theater, revealing its musical and psychological essence using only musical means and forms. I am talking about my ballet, “Le masque de la mort rouge,” which is based on Edgar Poe’s short story. I composed this ballet for Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes,” which group I was conducting in London during the summer of 1911. I had planned for Bakst181 to design the production (and had consulted with him to design the set), and the ballet was already included in the next season’s program. Unfortunately, this collaboration was never realized due to competing demands made by the artistic personalities that lead the enterprise. Diaghilev’s solution was to hand over set design for “Mask” to a talented Russian artist who was not an original member of the company.182 For some reason this did not work and my ballet was withdrawn from the repertoire. By then, however, the Moscow publishing company, P. Jurgenson, had already published it, since they were counting on that production. Afterwards I conducted a suite drawn from the complete ballet on concerts organized by A. Siloti.183 These performances were given a hostile reception by both the public and the press. Albert Karlovich Kouts, a leading conductor beloved by the public and a theater director, made a self-sacrificing attempt to mount a production of “Red Mask” at the Mariinsky Theater. Ballet-master M. Fokine, my long-time associate in ballet performances both in Russia and abroad, was to lead this production. The management of the theater, however, would not accept the piece for performance there “in light of the fact,” as it was explained to me, “that the ballet’s subject is quite different from the general type of ballet approved for presentation on the Imperial stage.” I suppose, in point of fact, it was. Later, during the Soviet period, I found out that the well-known director Tairov184 mounted a production of my “Mask of the Red Death,” under the pseudonym “Red Laughter,” at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.185 I do not know what befell that production, but I know that I invested no little imagination and labor in the piece, and I consider it to be one of my favorite and significant achievements, both for its music and its technique. So I decided to acquaint listeners with the work in another, symphonic, form, diverting attention from its theatrical roots, and subjecting its exposition to fundamental musical principles while adhering, however, to the general contours of Edgar Poe’s short story. Thus my “Trois Fragments Symphoniques pour une ballade d’Edgar Poe pour grande orchestre”186 came to be.

Immediately after I finished it, S. A. Koussevitsky conducted “Fragments” in London and New York. Koussevitzky’s support, the American reviews, and the audience reaction to its repeat performances proved to me that “Fragments” was a popular piece, which made me truly happy. I had, therefore, another subject whose original “raison d’être” no longer existed, but nonetheless made an impression. Perhaps it made even a greater impression as a musical work. I felt that now I had taken “Fragments” in this condensed incarnation to the dynamic limits of its form and had liberated it from the various conventions of balletic detail and padding. Most curious of all, once I completely understood its compact and concentrated musical contours, I sensed it presented newer, richer material for balletic interpretation. I imagined the possibility of a new entity called “Destiny,” which could be created either as a choreo/symphony or as a choreo/drama. It appears that such an experiment with the music of “Fragments” is close to fruition. So I must admit that even in art, there are times when “by its pathways the wind returns.”187 At the present time (July 1944), “Fragments” (“Destiny”) appears in M. P. Belaieff-Leipzig’s catalog. They retain all rights to this work, both in its symphonic incarnation and in its future new choreographic form, “Destiny.”

The orchestral score of “Fragments” and the parts have been engraved and made into transparencies, edited by the composer, and are “at press.” As luck would have it, all the corrected galleys of “Fragments” were not in the Leipzig warehouse during the time of our firm’s measureless catastrophe. Instead they were in the Parisian archives and therefore were spared the fate of being burned or lost during the bombing. I hope once the war has ended that the galleys will be published in the near future. Unfortunately some of my orchestral and other compositions that were published by Belaieff, e.g. “Scenes from Macbeth,” shared the same lamentable fate as the other entries in our great, universal catalog that was so rich in quality and quantity.


 Any text in italics is omitted from the Soviet version. To avoid confusion, I have surrounded with quotation marks the titles of pieces mentioned in the text instead of putting them in italics. Major keys are designated by capital letters, minor ones by lower. I have taken the titles of Tcherepnin’s works from the Tcherepnin Society website. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Susanne Grace Fusso, Chair, Russian Language & Literature Russian Department, Wesleyan University, and to John Malmstad, Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University for their help in navigating the sometimes dense thicket of Tcherepnin’s prose.
Tcherepnin wrote this manuscript some twenty-five years after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It is interesting to note that Tcherepin still uses pre-Revolutionary orthography and spelling in the typescript, not employing the changes in orthography and spelling that the Communist authorities imposed after 1917. This was apparently not unusual for Russian émigrés. For an outline of the various changes undertaken by the Communists, see <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reforms_of_Russian_orthography>

and <http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Reforms-of-Russian-orthography>. A good interactive map of St. Petersburg is at <http://www.st-petersburg-life.com/map/map.php>.

2Poet and critic Nikolai A. Nekrasov (1821-1878) was acquainted with many other writers of the period. See <http://wildtyme.blogspot.com/2008/04/9-poor-old-nekrasov.html>. The excerpt here is from a lengthy poem called “The Disconsolate.” Tcherepnin seems to have quoted this from memory since the line breaks are different from any published version that I could find, and the final word in the original is “obnovi” (regenerate, renew or replenish) whereas Tcherepnin uses “ozhivi”(resuscitate, reanimate, revive). I have used the line breaks and punctuation of the Nekrasov original.

3Konstantine Dmitrievich Balmont (1867-1942) was “one of the major figures of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry.” See <http://biographies123.blogspot.com/2007/10/konstantin-balmont.html>.

4“The Voice” was a political/literary daily published by A. A. Kraevsky (1810-1889) from 1863-1884. See the Russian-language pages at <http://www.encspb.ru/article.php?kod=2804027632>

and <http://www.rulex.ru/01110257.htm>.

5Alexander Nikolaevich Serov (1820-1871) was a composer and music critic. His last opera, “The Power of the Fiend,” “drew on the Russian popular song idiom, [and] remained unfinished at his death.” See Jonathan Walker, ‘Serov, Aleksandr Nikolayevich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 23 September 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

6This could be Alexander Arkadevich Suvorov (1804-1882), a well-known nobleman and government and military figure. See the Russian-language page at <http://www.encspb.ru/article.php?kod=2804024941>.

7The Corps de Pages (Pazhesky Corps) an exclusive military academy in pre-revolutionary Russia that prepared the offspring of the nobility for military or civil service, was established in 1759. See the Russian-language page at <http://slovari.yandex.ru/dict/bse/article/00056/78100.htm>.

8Olga’s married name was Gavrilov and she was a French teacher. She died in Leningrad after the Second World War; Tatiana married her second cousin, Nikolai Petrovich Tcherepnin and worked as a guide in a Russian museum. She died during the evacuation to the Urals in the Second World War. According to Antonin Nikolaevich Tcherepnin, Nadezhda was musically gifted, but she did not become a professional musician. See N. Tcherepnin, Vospominaniya muzïkanta [A musician’s reminiscences] (Leningrad, 1976), p. 120 note 6.

9Tcherepnin is referring here to Hoffmann’s unfinished Lebensansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern [‘The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr with a Fragmentary Biography of the Music Director Johannes Kreisler in Accidentally Intermingled Pages’] (2 vol., 1819–1821) in which Hoffmann “portrayed himself in the guise of Johannes Kreisler - the hypochondriac, antisocial and moody but brilliant musician.”

See <http://www.iblist.com/book16501.htm>.

10Until relocation to its present location, the St. Petersburg Conservatory was housed in various places. Theater Street was its home from 1867-1986. See N. Tcherepnin, op. cit. p. 121, note 8. The present Conservatory was built on the grounds of the old Bolshoi Theater and “still preserves a grand staircase and landing from that historic theatre.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Petersburg_Conservatory>.

11Tati-tati is a simple piano piece similar to ‘Chopsticks.’ See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chopsticks_(music)>.

12Anatoly Konstantinovich Liadov (1855-1914) was a composer, teacher and conductor. His father, with whom he first studied, was a conductor at the Mariinsky Theater. Connected with the “Russian Five,” he was on the advisory board of the Belaieff publishing house, as Tcherepnin discusses later in this memoir. See Jennifer Spencer/Edward Garden, ‘Lyadov [Lyadov], Anatoly [Anatol] Konstantinovich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 11 June 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

13Vladimir Vasilevich Stasov (1824-1906) was a well-known art and music critic.

See <http://www.encspb.ru/en/article.php?kod=2804029700>.

14Dimitri Nikolaevich Solovov (1843-1910) played an important role in Russian music education. Like Tcherepnin, he studied at the St. Petersburg University, but in the philology department. See Tcherepnin, op cit., p. 121 note 10.

15Ignác František Vojáček (1825-1916) was Czech and moved to St. Petersburg in 1855. He apparently also played bassoon at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. See John Tyrrell: ‘Vojáček, Hynek (Ignác František) [Voyachek, Ignaty Kasparovich]’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 24 May 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

16Vasili Ivanovich Sergeyevich (1832-1910) graduated from the law school of the Moscow Conservatory in 1857. His dissertation topic was “The Veche and the Prince.” See the Russian-language page at <http://www.spbu.ru/History/275/Chronicle/spbu/Persons/S_ergeevich.html>. The Veche was a medieval Russian political body comprised of local citizenry. See George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (Yale University Press: 1976), p. 85 and <http://tinyurl.com/5tyw9y>.

17Such a degree was “a privileged legal status which exempted its holder from military service and poll tax.” See Robert W. Oldani: ‘Conservatories, §III: 1790–1945, 4. Russia and eastern Europe’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 18 May 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

18Egor Ivanovich Ivanov-Smolensky (1849-1917) graduated from the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1878 and taught there from 1888-1917. See the Russian-language page at


19Kordeliya (‘Cordelia’), Solovov’s “Gounodesque” “magnum opus,” is based on Victorien Sardou’s play “La haine” (“Hatred”). See Richard Taruskin: ‘Solov’yov, Nikolay Feopemptovich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 29 May 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

20“In 1874 [Solovov] competed unsuccessfully against Tchaikovsky for the prize awarded by the Russian Musical Society in memory of Serov for the best setting of Polonsky’s libretto after Gogol, “Kuznets Vakula” (‘Vakula the Blacksmith’); Solovov’s . . . Vakula kuznets . . ., was performed on 29 April/11 May 1880 by an amateur opera club in St Petersburg as a benefit for Bulgarian war orphans.” Ibid. Later in this memoir Tcherepnin discusses the competition for which Solovov wrote this opera.

21Apollon Nikolaevich Maikov (1821-1897) was a respected poet known for “pure art” poetry “during an age when socially engaged prose dominated the Russian literary landscape.” See

<http://www.bookrags.com/biography/apollon-nikolaevich-maikov-dlb/> and the Russian-language page <http://writerstob.narod.ru/writers/maikov.htm>. For a portrait, see


22This is a Russian proverb. See the Russian-language page at <http://tinyurl.com/4ex42h>.

23Mikhail Mikhailovich Ivanov (1849-1927) studied with Tchaikovsky at the Moscow Conservatory. “His often ironic and scathing reviews of new music earned him the dislike of many composers.” See Jennifer Spencer: ‘Ivanov, Mikhail Mikhaylovich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 31 May 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com> According to Spencer’s article, he wrote four operas.

24“Wit Works Woe” (1823) by Alexander Griboedov (1795-1829) satirized post-Napoleonic Moscow . It was required reading in Soviet schools and is still popular. See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woe_from_Wit>. An English translation is available in “Masterpieces Of The Russian Drama,” Vol.1 (Dover Press, 1960). See <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5768051>.

25Edmond (Eugène Alexis) Rostand (1868-1918) was a French poet and playwright. His most famous work is “Cyrano de Bergerac.” See <http://www.theatrehistory.com/french/rostand001.html>. The play mentioned here ran during the 1895-1896 season. See Tcherepnin, op. cit. p. 121 note 11.

26This is a paraphrase of and reference to a poem “Spring” by Apollon Majkov (1821-1847). See the Russian-language page at <http://www.stihi-rus.ru/1/majkov/11.htm>.

27Now Lomonosov. See <http://www.lindsayfincher.com/russia/lomonosov.html>.

28A verst is about two-thirds of a mile.

See <http://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/units/length/length.verst.en.html>.

29Vasily Zhukovski (1783-1852). His elegy “Slavianka” was published in 1815. See Tcherepnin, op cit., p. 121, note 12.

30Russian Tsar Peter III (1728-1762), whose other titles were Duke of Holstein-Gottorp and King of Finland, admired Frederick the Great and tried to force Prussian order on his army. See Tcherepnin, op cit., p. 121, note 13. “He detested the Russians, and surrounded himself with Holsteiners".

See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_III_of_Russia>.

31Contralto Daria Mikhailovna Leonova (1829/34-1896) studied in St. Petersburg, Berlin and Paris. She was particularly interested in Russian folks songs and in the vocal works of her contemporaries. She performed in Russia and abroad and convinced Mussorgsky to tour with her shortly before his death. See the online full-text version of the “Encyclopedia Of The Great Composers And Their Music Volume II” at <http://tinyurl.com/5qtbuu>,

the Russian-language page at <http://slovari.yandex.ru/dict/bse/article/00042/00900.htm>, and Robert W. Oldani, ‘Leonova, Dar’ya Mikhailovna’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 3 November 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

32Pavel Ivanovich Melnikov (a.k.a. Andrej Pecherski) (1818-1883) was a late-19th century Russian writer who often wrote about Old Believers, a sect of the Russian Orthodox church. See Thomas H. Hoisington, “Mel’nikov-Pechersky: Romancer of Provincial and Old Believer Life,” Slavic Review, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Dec., 1974): pp. 679-694.

33A kursaal or “cure hall” was a public building at a resort or spa. See <http://www.answers.com/topic/kursaal>.

34In the 1976 Soviet version of this memoir, the text says “Two years previously.” See Tcherepnin, op cit., p. 32.

35Vasily Vasilevich Bessel (1843-1907) was a Russian music publisher who studied violin and viola at the St. Petersburg conservatory. See Geoffrey Norris/Carolyn Dunlop: ‘Bessel, Vasily Vasil’yevich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 3 June 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

36Tcherepnin uses “penat” here for “home and hearth” (my translation). This is most likely a reference to the Penates, Roman household gods. See <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/p/penates.html>.

37Sergei Mikhailovich Liapunov (1859-1924) studied in the Nizhni-Novgorod branch of the Russian Musical Society from the age of 14. At 19, he entered the Moscow Conservatory where studied piano and composition. In 1893 he began work with Balakirev and Liadov to collect folk songs for the Imperial Geographical Society. See Edward Garden, ‘Lyapunov [Liapunov], Sergey Mikhaylovich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 26 July 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>

38Apparently there is a mistake here. The piece on the program under discussion was Liapunov’s “Solemn Overture on Russian Themes.” See N. Tcherepnin, op cit. p. 122, note 15.

39A Vyborg krendel was a large, soft, sweet pretzel. See <http://www.baking911.com/cakes/coffee.htm>, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A873885> (search for “krendel” at each of these pages), and the Russian language page <http://arbitr.msk-arbitr.ru/fasmer/p118.htm> (search for выборский крендель).

40A reference to Pushkin’s 1831 poem “To Russia’s Slanderers.” See N. Tcherepnin, op. cit. p. 122, note 16.

41Mitrofan Petrovich Belaieff (1836-1903) founded his music publishing house in Leipzig to promote Russian composers’ works. It was taken over by C.F. Peters when Belaieff died. See <http://www.tchaikovsky-research.org/en/people/beliaev_mitrofan.html>.

42Jean Richepin (1849-1926), was a French poet, dramatist, and novelist. His naturalistic verse had the same effect on contemporary poetry as Zola’s novels had on the literature of the period.

See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Richepin>.

43Vitol’s last name is also spelled with an “s” at the end. Joseph Vitols (1863-1948) studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and taught composition at the Petersburg Conservatory from 1901-1918. After the Revolution he returned to his native Latvia where he founded the Latvian Opera and Conservatory and composed “the first Latvian symphony (1888), string quartet (1899) and piano sonata (1885).” See Joachim Braun and Arnolds Klotiņš, ‘Vītols, Jāzeps [Wihtol, Joseph]’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 7 July 2008), <http://www.grovemusic.com>, and Leslie East, ‘Alberts c, The Musical Times, vol. 129 no. 1742 (April, 1988): 181.

44Alexander Alexandrovich Kopilov (1854-1911) was a soloist at the court chapel when he was 12. Although failing his entrance exams to the Petersburg Conservatory, he studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov. See M. Montagu-Nathan/Jennifer Spencer, ‘Kopïlov, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 7 July 2008),
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