On Russian Music

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On Russian Music

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On Russian Music

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the generous contribution to this book provided by the Ahmanson Foundation Humanities Endowment Fund of the University of California Press Foundation.

On Russian Music Richard Taruskin

UNIV ERSITY OF CA LIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley

Los Angeles

London

University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit www.ucpress.edu. University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University of California Press, Ltd. London, England © 2009 by The Regents of the University of California

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Taruskin, Richard. On Russian music / Richard Taruskin. p. cm. — (Ahmanson Foundation humanities endowment fund imprint) Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-520-24979-0 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Musical criticism. 2. Music—Russia—History and criticism. I. Title. ML300.T38 2009 780.947—dc22 2007052243 Manufactured in the United States of America 18 10

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This book is printed on Natures Book, which contains 50% post-consumer waste and meets the minimum requirements of ansi/niso z39.48-1992 (r 1997) (Permanence of Paper).

To Lenochka, Lorochka, Milochka, Ritochka, and especially to Malcolm Hamrickovich on his jubilee

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contents

introduction: taking it personally /

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1. Some Thoughts on the History and Historiography of Russian Music / 27 2. For Ukraine, He’s a Native Son, Regardless / 3. “Classicism” à la Russe / 4. A Wonderful Beginning /

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5. Dargomïzhsky and His Stone Guest /

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6. Pathetic Symphonist: Chaikovsky, Russia, Sexuality, and the Study of Music / 76 7. Chaikovsky and the Literary Folk: A Study in Misplaced Derision / 105 8. The Great Symbolist Opera / 9. Chaikovsky as Symphonist /

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10. Russian Originals, De- and Re-Edited / 11. A New, New Boris? /

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12. Christian Themes in Russian Opera: A Millennial Essay / 13. The Case for Rimsky-Korsakov /

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14. Kitezh: Religious Art of an Atheist / 15. Sex and Race, Russian Style /

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16. Yevreyi and Zhidy: A Memoir, a Survey, and a Plea / 17. The Antiliterary Man: Diaghilev and Music /

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18. From Fairy Tale to Opera in Four Moves /

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19. To Cross That Sacred Edge: Notes on a Fiery Angel / 20. Prokofieff’s Return /

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21. Tone, Style, and Form in Prokofieff’s Soviet Operas / 22. Great Artists Serving Stalin Like a Dog /

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23. Stalin Lives On in the Concert Hall, but Why? / 24. The Last Symphony? /

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25. For Russian Music Mavens, a Fabled Beast Is Bagged / 26. Restoring Comrade Roslavets /

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27. When Serious Music Mattered /

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28. Casting a Great Composer as a Fictional Hero /

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29. Shostakovich’s Bach: A Pill to Purge Stalinism /

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30. Five Operas and a Symphony / 31. Hearing Cycles /

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32. Of Mice and Mendelssohn /

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33. Current Chronicle: Molchanov’s The Dawns Are Quiet Here / 34. The Rising Soviet Mists Yield Up Another Voice / 35. Where Is Russia’s New Music? Iowa, That’s Where / 36. North (Europe) by Northwest (America) / index /

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Introduction

Taking It Personally

This book shares its title with another. Its namesake, Gerald Abraham’s On Russian Music: Critical and Historical Studies of Glinka’s Operas, Balakirev’s Works, etc., with chapters dealing with Compositions by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Glazunov, and various other aspects of Russian Music, was published in 1939 and has been a foundational part of my personal musical consciousness since about 1958, when as a high-school student I began to frequent the New York Public Library’s circulating music branch (then located on East 58th Street in Manhattan) in hopes of slaking what was becoming a tormenting thirst to learn, and learn about, every composer’s every composition. Abraham’s book was like this one in two distinct ways. It covered a lot of the same ground. Here too one will find mention of Glinka, Balakirev, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky (here spelled Chaikovsky in keeping with a personal quirk of the present author, who cannot abide reminders of the former dependent status of Anglophone musicography on that of the continent; if we’re past Tchekhov, why not get past Tchaikovsky?), Mussorgsky (spelled Musorgsky in accordance with the Russian orthography; the English—or is it just American?—word “busing,” once a battle cry in Boston, refutes the alleged spelling rule that mandated the double “s”), and Glazunov, though there is as much or more here about Prokofieff (spelled that way, like Rachmaninoff, because that is how the composer spelled it during his years abroad), Shostakovich, and their contemporaries—composers who (but for a single contribution to the Allied war effort, a 1943 booklet called Eight Soviet Composers) never interested Abraham, for reasons, then widely shared, that are well spelled out in the one exceptional book. The other way in which my book resembles Abraham’s is in the fact that they both consist of recycled material: articles previously published in 1

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periodicals and, in my case, program books and CD booklets as well, plus the odd festschrift. On Russian Music was Abraham’s second such compilation. The first, Studies in Russian Music: Critical Essays on the Most Important of RimskyKorsakov’s Operas, Borodin’s “Prince Igor,” Dargomizhsky’s “Stone Guest,” etc.; with Chapters on Glinka, Mussorgsky, Balakirev and Tchaikovsky, had been published in 1935, when the author was thirty-one years old, and it included essays composed when he was as young as twenty-four. (The earliest piece, “The Elements of Russian Music,” reprinted as “The Essence of Russian Music,” was both one of the most ambitious and one of those that has best stood the test of time.) An even greater feat of unbridled youthful self-assurance was Abraham’s first book, yet another volume exemplifying the fashion of those days for long-winded subtitles: Borodin, the Composer and His Music: A Descriptive and Critical Analysis of His Works and a Study of His Value as an Art-Force, with Many References to the Russian Kouchka Circle of Five—Balakirev, Moussorgsky, César Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov with Borodin (London: William Reeves, 1927), published when the author was twenty-three. (His very first published essay, “Wit in Music,” appeared when he was seventeen!) Abraham revised this early effort for a second edition in 1935 and disavowed it in later life, but that did not prevent the first edition’s being reprinted (New York: AMS Press, 1976) and in this way sharing the fate of all but six of this remarkable author’s twentyone books.1 Already some of the reasons should be apparent why Gerald Abraham was for me such a powerful inspiration, role model, and target of emulation. His lifetime output of books authored and edited, articles and essays, dictionary and encyclopedia entries, editions of music, and ephemerae totaled upward of 250 items, and quantitative measures, any honest author is bound to admit, do provide a spur, the more so since I was not nearly as precocious a musicographer, having been sidetracked by early and intense interests in both composition and performance. But Abraham’s prolificacy was really (really!) the least of it. Two other attributes counted for more. The first was, after all, the cause of his prolificacy—namely, his powerful sense of purpose. When he discovered Russian music at the age of twenty, there was practically no literature in English on the subject, and what little there was, chiefly by Montagu Montagu-Nathan and Rosa Newmarch, was riddled with errors.2 Abraham seems to have conceived of a life’s work—that of supplying the missing literature single-handedly—in a flash. He taught himself Russian, then a very exotic language, and became a missionary, apprenticing himself to Michel Dmitry Calvocoressi, a French-born British writer of Greek ancestry who had worked as Diaghilev’s press agent during the earliest years (1907–10) of the great impresario’s musical enterprises in Paris and was personally acquainted with most of the leading lights of Russian music in those days.3 His home became Abraham’s classroom, and Abraham repaid his mentor with collaboration, coauthoring two books with

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Calvocoressi: Masters of Russian Music in 1935; and, posthumously, in 1946, the Master Musicians volume Mussorgsky. In his obituary Brian Trowell is perhaps a bit mischievously frank, though no doubt accurate, in his assessment of the young Abraham’s motives: The discovery of Borodin’s music, which was to become the subject of his first book four years later, sparked off his lifelong admiration for Russian composers. It came at the right time: he knew that as a young writer, with a reputation to make, he would need to find some special area of expertise.4

Not that there is any necessary contradiction between such calculation and sincere devotion to a field. I know this introspectively, my own career having recapitulated the Abraham scenario in almost improbable detail. True, my family background might be thought to have predisposed me to an interest in Russian music; but in fact my path to it was circuitous, and calculated to a degree that may strike the reader as downright cynical. As I explain in greater detail in chapter 16, my ancestry goes back to Russia geographically but not ethnically. Most of the relatives I knew as a child had been born in Russia, but I never heard Russian being spoken around me. The mother tongue of my Russian-born grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles was Yiddish—two different Yiddishes, in fact, reflecting the broad geographical dispersion of the Jewish pale of settlement on the fringes of the Russian empire. My father’s family hailed from the town of Dvinsk (now Daugavpils in Latvia), the birthplace, as I found out much later, of Mark Rothko. Their Yiddish was northern, or “Litvak” (Lithuanian). My mother’s family was from Yekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine), the birthplace, as it happens, of a number of famous musicians, including Gregor Piatigorsky and Leonid Kogan. Theirs was southern, or “Galitsyaner” (Galician), Yiddish. When my parents spoke Yiddish to each other (i.e., when they needed to keep a secret from my siblings and me) I could hear how their pronunciations differed (he said bruder for “brother,” she said brider; he said bucher for “books,” she said bicher; I was his zun, her zin), even if I did not understand what they were saying—and as soon as my sister and I did begin to understand, they stopped speaking Yiddish, as their parents had stopped speaking Russian. I once asked my father’s father straight out whether he could speak Russian. He said it was the tsar’s language and Jews used it only (to give it a contemporary paraphrase) when speaking to The Man. That, of course, surrounded the language for me with an aura of mystery. It was the language of hostile power, a forbidden tongue, and I longed to hear what it sounded like. Once, when I was about seven, I asked a friend of one of my mother’s many aunts, when we both were visiting in the latter’s house, to “say something in Russian.” She complied while stroking my cheek tenderly. I have no idea what it was she said, but I’ll bet it was something like milïy mal’chik (sweet boy). On another childhood occasion, looking through

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the books on the living room shelves, I was amazed to come across a book in Russian. It was the first time I recall seeing the Cyrillic alphabet. I didn’t actually know that it was Russian until I asked my mother what it was. It turned out to be a book of children’s fables by Tolstoy, which she had used for taking Russian lessons (only a few, leading nowhere) while in the grip of adolescent revolutionary fervor. That added whiff of illicit romance further enhanced the exotic aura around the language. The furthest this early romance with Russian got was when I borrowed a Berlitz Russian tutor from the public library during my junior high school years and, together with a couple of friends, learned the alphabet and the two or three most basic uroki (lesson chapters): Chto èto? Eto kniga. (What is this? This is a book.) And that is probably as far as it would have gone, were it not for an amazing turn of events that befell my family in 1958, when I was thirteen. .

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On another occasion I asked my paternal grandfather, who died in 1953 shortly before my eighth birthday, whether we still had any relatives in Russia. He said, with utter conviction, that we could not possibly have any, since anyone left in the parts of Russia where our family had lived (and which had been occupied by the Germans) would have perished during the war. Little did he, or we, know! The surprising truth came out when a delegation of American rabbis visited the Soviet Union—a typical occurrence during the Khrushchev “thaw” years, when a certain amount of tolerated religious activity was showcased by the Soviets for Western consumption. (One of the fruits of that period was a Yiddish journal, Sovietish Heymland [Soviet homeland], that had close to zero circulation in Russia but was mainly sent abroad. It had only “cultural,” nonreligious content, and its editor, the poet Aaron Vergelis, was a notorious “KGB Jew.”) The group was met in Moscow by a General Lieb, the gabbai, or president of the congregation, of the big Moscow “Choral” Synagogue, who was to act as their official guide. One of the rabbis, from Los Angeles, told General Lieb that a member of his congregation had the same surname. After an excited exchange of questions and answers, it transpired that the two Liebs were half brothers, and both were my father’s first cousins. Lieb—or Lebow—was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. One of her brothers, Joseph Lieb, a synagogue cantor, had emigrated to America to avoid twenty-five years’ conscription and ended up in Los Angeles, where, like many young Jewish émigrés of those days, he reneged on his promise to send for his wife and children, remarried bigamously, and raised a new American family. ( Just to show how widespread the practice was, several years after the encounter in Moscow, my grandmother’s other brother, Israel, whom I knew as “Uncle Lebow,” received a mysterious letter from Johannesburg,

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South Africa, which to his amazement began, “Dear Papa.” Only then did he admit, shamefacedly, that when he left Russia he knew that his wife was pregnant. The abandoned fetus was now a South African diamond merchant.) General Lieb—Georgiy Iosifovich—was the “Hirsch” my grandmother dimly recollected as a child. He, his two brothers, and two sisters, abandoned in Dvinsk and presumed dead, had all grown up in Moscow, where they had gone after the Provisional Government of 1917 abrogated the Pale of Settlement. They had prospered, becoming doctors, factory managers, officers. One of the brothers had been “repressed” in 1937. One of the sisters, I was amazed and delighted to learn, had married a pretty well-known Soviet composer, Samuil Yulyevich Urbakh (1908–69), a pupil of Vissarion Shebalin and the author of Bibi i Bobo, dubbed “the first Tadjik comic opera” by the standard Soviet music encyclopedia. Amazingly, through that chance encounter with the Los Angeles rabbi, it was the Russian family who discovered their American relations. (My father’s father, I am proud and of course overjoyed to report, was the only man of his generation in the family to honor his pledge to his wife and child, my father’s older sister, and sent for them, thanks to which act of decency I am here to tell the tale.) Georgiy’s Los Angeles half brother, Alex Lieb, knew no Yiddish. (He was a World War II veteran who had participated in the American-Soviet link-up on the Elbe River at Torgau, Germany, on 25 April 1945. That got him an audience with Nikita Khrushchev in Los Angeles in 1959, at which he asked that his half brother be allowed to visit the United States. Khrushchev promised, but did not follow through.) Alex sent the letter the rabbi had brought back from “George” to my father, who answered it and struck up a correspondence that lasted until George’s death in 1965. My father thought of George as a Jewish hero; when I later learned what should have been obvious from the beginning, given the way in which he had met the delegation of rabbis—namely, that George was a bit of a KGB Jew himself, and that his true role was to stand between visiting foreign Jews and their Soviet counterparts—I couldn’t bring myself to share the disillusioning news. George—“Uncle George” to me, although he was really my cousin—showered us all with gifts. The gifts to me were particularly meaningful, since I was then avidly collecting both stamps and records. At first it was the stamps that dazzled me, but as I became more seriously involved in music, it was of course the records that had a transforming effect on my life. It was now that I began listening to the Russian operas about which I would a dozen years later begin writing my doctoral dissertation, and more than thirty years later the many articles I would eventually contribute to the New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Above all, my own correspondence with Uncle George, at first through an interpreter on his end and confined to thankyou notes, but eventually becoming a real exchange of affection and interesting news and views, at last provided me with a serious motivation to learn

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Russian. I enrolled in beginning Russian in my sophomore year in college, and I became so overwhelmed by the joy of learning the language and communicating with my long-lost relatives that I became a Russian major. (My first instructor was Robert A. Maguire, soon to become a major Gogol specialist, who was then in his first year of full-time university teaching. He was an enthusiastic amateur violist; I played the cello; our relationship prospered under that set of mutually reinforcing interests. Whenever a previously unrecorded Russian or Soviet piece became available—I vividly recall the first recordings of Prokofieff’s Second Symphony and Dargomïzhsky’s Stone Guest—we listened together and discussed it. Later he was a member of my dissertation defense committee, and much later he wrote, in Slavic Review, one of the most treasurable reviews I have ever received.) But I find I am still making my path to professional Russian-music study seem more direct than it really was. My early academic studies were in “early music.” My ability to play the cello led me, in my first year of graduate musicology study at Columbia University, to the viola da gamba, which took over my musical life for the next dozen years or more. My assumption was that I would specialize in a Renaissance topic, and I actually conceived of a dissertation on the Masses of Heinrich Isaac (ca. 1450–1517), a Flemish composer active in Italy and Germany. What made me swerve toward Russian music was another set of unforeseen circumstances. To fulfill the formality of the masters essay then required at Columbia, I decided to write about Vladimir Stasov, the arts publicist who was very close to the composers of the Mighty Kuchka. I knew about him from all the literature accompanying the records Uncle George had sent me. By this time Uncle George had died, and I was corresponding with his widow, the “Aunt Nina” about whom I write in more detail in chapter 16. When she learned that I was going to write about Stasov, she talked a friend of hers into parting with a huge three-volume edition of Stasov’s collected articles and sent it to me. It was the rush of love and gratitude that followed receipt of this gift that made me decide I simply had to get over and meet Aunt Nina and the rest of my Russian relatives while there was time. And so I decided I’d choose a dissertation topic that would make it appropriate to apply for a Fulbright traveling fellowship and a place on the graduate-student/young-faculty academic exchange managed by the International Research and Exchanges Board, and in that way get to spend a year in Russia. Thus my choice of a professional specialty was just as personal—as calculated and self-interested—as Gerald Abraham’s had been (nu, isn’t everybody’s?). Just to show how cynically I was behaving, I will disclose the hackneyed subject I announced as my topic: “The Problem of Realism in Russian Music.” It was meant to appeal to the Soviet side, and it did. Once I was there, I decided to work on the operas of Alexander Serov, about the only Russian composer whose operas I didn’t know thanks to Uncle George. (Writing

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about Kleinmeister, “minor masters,” was good academic form in those days.) As I worked on Serov I began to see that he was best viewed in the context of the decade in which most of his work was done, and my project became a dissertation, later published as my first book, called Opera and Drama in Russia as Preached and Practiced in the 1860s, with Dargomïzhsky and César Cui (like Serov a composer-critic who both preached and practiced) as the other protagonists. Was I really interested in Serov and Cui? People I met in Russia found it hard to believe that I was; and at first, in truth, I was no more interested in them than I was interested, like many young scholars, in anything else that was sufficiently esoteric and recherché. (Soviet books always disclosed the size of their press runs or tirazhi [cf. the French tirage]; my fellow exchange students and I used to boast competitively about the smallness of the press runs in the literature we were studying for our dissertations.) But in the course of work I became passionately interested in the esthetic debates in which Serov and Cui had engaged—surely as a result of their own passionately engaged style, which rubbed off on enthusiastic and impressionable young me, reveling as I was in my first adventure abroad. A passionate style, and a demanding ethical sentiment (also inherited from Serov and Stasov and Cui in the first place, though often ascribed by my opponents in debate to my Jewishness), have been my distinction and my curse ever since. From a cynic I became a true believer and, like Gerald Abraham, a self-appointed missionary. And there is yet a third way, possibly the most important one, in which Gerald Abraham has been my role model. From a specialist in Russian music he became a generalist, as have I. His editorial skills, first displayed in collectively authored “symposia” volumes devoted to Chaikovsky (1945), Schubert (1946), Sibelius (1947), Grieg (1948), Schumann (1952), and Handel (1954), led to his being entrusted, over a period extending from the late 1940s until his death (or even after it) with an increasingly vital role in the production of the New Oxford History of Music (NOHM). In his position, from the start, as secretary of the editorial board he began (according to Brian Trowell, his official biographer) to exercise full leadership responsibilities by the 1950s because his nominal boss, Sir Jack Westrup, had become dilatory. All the volumes issued from then on were Abraham’s general responsibility (and the tenth and last was not published until 1990), although he was credited as “editor” on the covers of only three of the eight he supervised. “Oh what a curse!” he exclaimed to me on our first meeting in 1985, when I congratulated him on that achievement, which had taken so much of his time away from his own pursuits; but out of it came his most remarkable book, The Concise Oxford History of Music (1979), not (as widely thought) an abridgment of the NOHM but a wholly original one-volume, thousand-page survey—original in two senses, in fact: both in that all the words were his, and

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in that its purview, thanks to Abraham’s unrivalled familiarity with things Slavic and East European, was unprecedentedly catholic. I, too, have been carried from my specialty into general historical writing. In my case it was collaboration with Piero Weiss on Music in the Western World: A History in Documents (a collaboration that came about solely at the generous initiative of my coauthor, who had the contract) that led to my being commissioned to write The Oxford History of Western Music, a book that even more self-consciously than Abraham’s tries to counter the Germanocentric thrust that the history of Anglophone musicology had imposed on the discipline. Earlier, through contact with James Oestreich, whose praises I have sung before,5 I had been carried out of my academic niche into the wider world of music journalism; and of course in that world, too, Gerald Abraham had been there first and lit the way for me. Our trajectories had proceeded in this case by retrograde, his from journalism into the academy, mine the other way around, but we both ended up in the same dually situated spot. Writing for large audiences we respect imbued us both with contempt for “difficult” writers—a contempt no doubt further nurtured by Abraham’s copious work as editor for a publishing house, as mine has been by my work as dissertation mentor—because we know how easy it is to be “difficult” and how difficult to be “easy.” Good scholarly work—like good criticism, like all literature come to that—should be harder to write than to read. Good writers know where the buck stops; that knowledge is their definition. I owe my high consciousness of this truth to many models and preceptors, but among them Gerald Abraham may well loom the largest, and so I thought it fitting to preface this collection with a tribute (my second, actually) to him.6 .

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The passionate style is risky. It is, or has been, especially unfashionable in musicology, for reasons well critiqued, I think, by “new musicologists” like Susan McClary and Lawrence Kramer, who have convincingly correlated the excessively impersonal reserve of much musicological prose inversely with the potentially embarrassing emotional force of its subject matter. Of all the modes that passionate writing may take, that of advocacy has always been the most acceptable. For this there are reasons both good and bad, and musicology has been overly given, I think, to advocacy. It is a stance that has gone hand in hand with what I have called the “poietic fallacy”—the conviction (or, in practice, the default assumption) that composers are the only significant historical agents in music and that scholarship should be an aspect of their defense against social mediation.7 Accordingly, musicology has not been as skeptical a discipline as its scholarly siblings, and it has not been terribly vigilant against mythography. I hope I have maintained my vigilance in that department (I’ve certainly tried, and taken lots of lumps for it), but I take as great a pleasure as anyone

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in giving vent to my enthusiasms, and of all the articles reprinted here, these have been the ones best, or at least most peacefully, received. This applies above all to chapter 13, a survey of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operatic achievement that is cast quite consciously as a vindication. It was unexpectedly chosen to receive an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award in 1993. I took particular pleasure in the award because it again allied me with Gerry Abraham, who also wrote many enthusiastic pieces about Rimsky, including the article on him in the first (1980) edition of the New Grove Dictionary. That article, too, was a sort of defense, as was mine on Chaikovsky in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera twelve years later. In that article I even wrote that “it is difficult to write approvingly” about Chaikovsky’s work “without assuming a defensive tone.” Chapter 7, in which defense takes the form of a strong offense, is a case in point. These articles, and others in which the aim was more expository than explicitly defensive (e.g., chapters 5, 8, 9, 14, 18, 19, 21, 25, 26, 29, and 34), constitute the most obviously Abrahamesque third of this book. Even so, there is a difference worth emphasizing. Abraham almost never wrote with a specific upcoming performance in mind; I almost always did. For him, the task was charting terra incognita; for me it was preparing audiences. It was not just a function of our venues, mine being for the most part a Sunday newspaper or a program or CD booklet feature, his a variety of scholarly or semischolarly journals. And it was certainly not a function or result of our differing attitudes, his being “disinterested,” mine “communitarian” or whatever. Rather, the difference in the nature of our work reflects a difference—a very gratifying difference—in the musical life of our respective times. Abraham’s career was entirely circumscribed by the period of Soviet rule in Russia, when travel between East and West was highly restricted, and when the Russian and “Western” repertories existed in relative mutual isolation. The post-Soviet period has witnessed a revolutionary change. Now Russian artists freely tour abroad and are bringing their repertory with them. And no one deserves greater credit for this wonderful turn of events than Valeriy Gergiyev, the highly gifted, indefatigable conductor who comes in for a bit of scolding in chapters 10 and 23. Just as in my earlier tribute to Gerry Abraham I asked that my attempts to supplement or correct his work be read in the light of an overriding debt, I would like to declare right up front that, whatever faults I may find in Gergiyev’s occasional words and deeds, I stand, like everyone else, in grateful awe of his bridge-building achievements. .

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And now I have broached the edgier side of the material collected in this volume, where I can no longer cite Gerald Abraham as an illustrious and justifying predecessor. Some of these pieces try to “problematize” their subjects, as we say nowadays, especially when conventional artistic or “esthetic” notions come into conflict, in my view at least, with ethical ones. To draw such

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a distinction at all is considered by many to be already suspect, for it threatens the “autonomy” of art—a threat ineluctably linked during the Cold War with the greater or more general threat of totalitarianism. The most notorious pieces of that sort in this volume are the half dozen or so concerning Prokofieff, more particularly the five (chapters 20–24) that touch upon his Soviet-period output. It seems silly to have to say this, but I consider Prokofieff to be one of the most talented musicians who ever lived. As at least chapters 18 and 21 should make plain enough, at his best he is undoubtedly a great composer. I put myself through this absurd little confession to counter the opposite impression that has taken hold in some circles because of the articles printed or reprinted here. It is yet another unfortunate consequence of the “poietic fallacy” that these pieces should have been read as attacks on Prokofieff—and “personal” ones at that, since they do not always reflect my opinion of the quality of the music, but rather my reaction to the ethical issues that its performance raises. The ethical blame in these pieces is by no means concentrated on the composer. He may not be altogether spared, but the “blame,” if that is what one chooses to call it (or the “problem,” as I would prefer), is shared by all of the participants in our contemporary art world: composer, performer, audience, critics, mediating structures, and institutions. What is under critique in these pieces is not “the music itself” but the whole network of social relations that comes into play in the maintenance of the activity we call “classical music.” That is why I would rate the importance of these critical pieces (by which I mean simply their importance within my own personal scale of values) above that of the promo pieces that everybody likes. They stress the social implications of our musical activities, which is precisely why they are so strenuously resisted (and, yes, why I think they are important). The specifics of each case are broached in postscripts attached to the individual articles reprinted here, along with replies to some of my critics. I need not go any further, then, into these matters up front, except to quote the general answer the New York Times allowed me to print to a full letters column of abuse in the issue of 12 May 1991, following a centennial piece (“Prokofiev, Hail . . . and Farewell?” on 21 April) that is not reprinted individually in this book but is one of several articles conflated in chapter 20, which originally took the form of a preconcert talk. The abuse, some of which is also quoted in chapter 20, was spectacular, and I admit it was and is a source of perverse pride, as well as a perversely hopeful sign that serious art did matter after all to many people, even if their ordinary behavior (that is, behavior unprovoked by my needling) seemed to belie it. Two of the six letters the Times printed (out of more than thirty received) were by interested parties, well enough known to justify renaming their names. Harlow Robinson, the author of a then recent biography of

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Prokofieff, which I had reviewed very unfavorably in the New Republic, contributed this complaint: Richard Taruskin’s sneering antipathy for the person and music of Sergei Prokofiev made sad reading on what should have been the happy event of the composer’s centenary. It was like eating birthday cake iced with cyanide. To describe Prokofiev as a willing apologist for Stalin—disregarding both his real personal suffering after returning to the U.S.S.R. and discounting such profoundly “dissident” works as the Sixth Symphony, the Violin Sonata No. 1 and the Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7, and 8—is to grotesquely oversimplify the terrible complexity of the facts and the historical-political context. Because Prokofiev did not choose to flee Russia like Mr. Taruskin’s evercalculating idol Stravinsky, because politics bored him and because he simply tried to continue working (like many of his contemporaries, including Boris Pasternak, Dmitri Shostakovich and Anna Akhmatova) under the most trying circumstances makes him neither a hero nor a moral traitor. Nor does it lessen his significance as a composer. There is no evidence that Prokofiev ever actively sought to use his considerable power in the Soviet artistic establishment to persecute or censor others. Throughout his life, he stoutly defended the principle of artistic individuality (even egotism) in his music and public statements. At a time when all cultural institutions, and particularly those in the field of “classical” music, are fighting for their very survival, a fashionably cynical character assassination of one of the most important (not to mention one of the few truly popular) composers of the 20th century seems both ill advised and churlish.

John Simon, then the drama critic for New York magazine, and a man with a reputation for rudeness to uphold, was even more flatteringly (and both wittily and comically) exercised, in part because he had written what I still regard as an inanely hyperbolic puff for Prokofieff’s opera The Fiery Angel in a short-lived magazine (Ovation) maintained by a now defunct New York FM radio station: Richard Taruskin’s article on Prokofiev is perhaps the most depressing, most antimusical and anti-intellectual piece I have read in your pages. He speaks of Prokofiev’s “epic talent capable of working with a minimum of bluster on a monumental scale.” Prokofiev’s “facility of invention is still astonishing,” his “way with modulation is without peer, as innovative as the work of any of the more obvious modernists,” but unlike most of theirs, “totally available to our ear. . . .” Yet it seems that as we say “good riddance” to our unhappy century, “we may also find ourselves saying farewell, and sorry, to the man.” Thus, with a discreet allusion to the Stravinsky-Cocteau “Oedipus Rex,” Mr. Taruskin gives Prokofiev the boot. Why? Because all of his music, save the juvenilia, is bad. The stuff he wrote in the West, because it is “bruised or rotten, justifiably discarded and unrevivable”

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introduction in its superficial modernity, meant to compete with Stravinsky but was unable to do so. Realizing this, Prokofiev slunk back to Russia and Stalin. His works back home, however, were ruined by “careerism:” and a “perhaps culpable indifference. . . . camouflaged” by his “apolitical façade.” In the Soviet Union, to summarize, Prokofiev was first a shill for Stalin, invalidating his penultimate musical phase, then a victim, invalidating his final one. Underneath, there is always the “perfect emptiness” of an “absolute” musician “who just wrote music, or rather, who wrote ‘just music.’” It is impossible to have the kind of genius Mr. Taruskin concedes to Prokofiev and still write “the most unremittingly and meaninglessly noisy opera of its time,” as Mr. Taruskin sees fit to characterize “The Fiery Angel.” What it all comes down to is: be politically correct or incur Mr. Taruskin’s kiss-off. Even Shostakovich is O.K. because he outlived Stalin and because his earlier work can be reinterpreted as having a secret agenda that was politically correct. Prokofiev’s, it appears, cannot. Wagner, though, despite his odious political connection, is all right because “his sufferings came from within,” while Prokofiev’s came from without. (I hope the Esterházys can be cleared, too, lest Haydn suffer a nonsymphonic farewell.) The one piece by Prokofiev that Mr. Taruskin would preserve is “Peter and the Wolf,” because he grew up on that one. It was, incidentally, the most propagandistic work Prokofiev ever wrote.

My reply, in the Haiku-sized space allowed me, took this form: I am sorry I did not flatter Prokofiev enough to please his admirers on his birthday, but he is dead. My concern is with the living. I cannot help seeing a connection between the complacency of artists and art lovers who ignore or condemn all questions of social value and the debased role art now plays at the margins of our culture. The stance is probably the most widespread in the field of classical music, as the reaction of the sleepers I’ve nudged attests; and classical music has effectively lost its audience. Is there to be no protest?

Another offense by way of defense, perhaps, and it probably antagonized readers in its own right with the Cassandra stuff at the end. But Cassandra was right, after all, and so was I. I feel great personal loss at the debased condition to which the art has come to which I have dedicated a lifetime of thought and feeling, and I nurture personal resentment against those who go on fiddling while Rome burns. Meanwhile, marginalization has continued apace, and it can be measured in the very teapot where this tempest raged, the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday New York Times. Three of my early pieces there filled the letters column, and later a fourth came close; it has been years since any classical music feature has attracted so strong a response. Editorial space in Arts and Leisure for classical music was cut back to the point where poor Jim Oestreich had to threaten resignation to save the day even partly. When I started writing for the Times, 3500-word think pieces were encouraged. Today the maximum, exceedable only by the combined expenditure

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of precious editorial capital and dumb luck (depending on what else is running), is 1750 words, exactly half. Classical music is thought by the supervising editors to be the dullest of the departments in Arts and Leisure; and when classical music coverage follows the path of least resistance (i.e., when it is reduced to interviews and promos arranged by publicists), it certainly is that. Had I the leisure and the space then, or were I writing afresh, I would point out again (and again and again, as many times as it takes) that Robinson and Simon defend Prokofieff against imagined personal attack while refusing to notice that the real object of my pity and scorn is their own incapacity to take moral issues on board, especially at points where moral and political issues intersect. I certainly did not and do not ignore Prokofieff’s suffering, but I cannot see how recognizing it makes performances of his Toast to Stalin less objectionable, or why it mitigates the faux pas of performing Alexander Nevsky in the wake of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. The idea that Stalin-period works with minor chords and occasional dissonances in them are “dissident” is so blind, both to historical and to interpretive realities, that I can only regard people who advance the notion as children. (And Mr. Robinson’s nervous scare quotes around the word show that somewhere in his mind an adult was lurking.) Neither I nor anyone to my knowledge has ever suggested that Prokofieff “actively sought to use his considerable power in the Soviet artistic establishment to persecute or censor others,” as Mr. Robinson puts it; that point was entirely a red herring. (Even when the point is raised against Soviet composers who did do such things—among those with Western reputations, Dmitry Kabalevsky, Prokofieff’s minder during the post-Zhdanov years, probably looms largest—the chorus of indignation chimes in right on cue if the gentleman in question could write pretty tunes.) The nadir of moral blockheadedness is reached with the accusation that it was those who fled Russia, not those who stayed, who deserve the moral scrutiny. We used to hear that about Furtwängler, too, and even Karajan, in answer to the Bruno Walters (who left Germany not for an easier life but for any life at all). In this case we are hearing it about someone who did not passively endure the Soviet regime (like Pasternak, Shostakovich, or Akhmatova) but freely chose to submit to it as a (mis)calculated career move. I suspect John Simon’s letter can stand without commentary as a sort of period piece, particularly in its mantra-like harping on the old buzzword “politically correct.” By now it is evident to one and all that that term was solely the weapon of the privileged in defense of their privileges, in this case the privilege of indulging insouciantly—er, “disinterestedly”—in sensuous thrills under cover of “esthetics,” reducing artworks to the level of fine consumer goods like expensive food or clothes while at the same time touting their moral superiority as products of individual (or as Mr. Robinson prefers, “egotistical”) genius.

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Spoken like a very Zhdanov, you may be thinking. Indeed, I deliberately fashioned the last sentence in the foregoing paragraph to enable readers to pounce, if such is their inclination, on what they may take for a Zhdanovite ring. It could very well have slipped unnoticed into the transcript of the Central Committee’s “Conference on Music” in January 1948, or into its “Resolution,” promulgated on 10 February. Obviously, though, my point is not to claim that Zhdanov was right after all. Rather, my point is that the extreme polarization of views around the issue of art—and society is a threadbare hand-me-down from the Cold War, and that it led both sides into culs-de-sac. How could it have been otherwise, when a step away from either extreme position could only be interpreted as a step toward the other extreme rather than toward a rational mean? The personal egotism of artists is not morally laudable because its putative opposite, totalitarian control, is despicable. The unthinking valorization of artistic autonomy and esthetic disinterestedness has done harm to art and to artists, and to their reputations; for past a certain point, autonomy shades into sheer irrelevance, and disinterestedness into sheer indifference, and the results can be seen all around us. At what point, exactly, does this metamorphosis take place? That is the legitimate, and pressing, question for debate. .

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But I haven’t even broached the real scorchers in this collection, chapters 6, 27, and 28, which form a category of their own within it. These polemics charge into the two major battlefields within recent Russian-music studies: in order of outbreak, the battles fought therein are the debate over the authenticity and veracity of Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to and Edited by Solomon Volkov (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), and the debate over the circumstances of Chaikovsky’s death. This latter debate was sparked by the publication of two articles by Alexandra Orlova, the first published in the United States in Russian (“Taina smerti Chaikovskogo” [The secret of Chaikovsky’s death], Novïy Amerikanets 40 [1980]) and the other in Great Britain in English (“Tchaikovsky: The Last Chapter,” trans. David Brown, Music & Letters 62 [1981], 125–45). Volkov’s book and Orlova’s articles, whose close coincidence of timing was a result of their all being the work of members of the détente-inspired wave of Jewish emigration from late-Soviet Russia to the United States, called forth what are arguably the two bloodiest clashes recent musicology has witnessed. No question, then, that Russian music has at last become willy-nilly a central musicological concern. Both battles have played a part in stimulating the growth of Russian-music studies, and for that one must be strangely grateful. But in both cases wild speculations and rumors, proliferating in the teeth of countervailing evidence, have polluted scholarship owing to their strong appeal to interest groups with which some scholars

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have identified in preference to their identities as scholars. To take part in such debates has amounted, then, to doing battle on behalf of scholarship against its enemies, including enemies from within. In that sense no scholar can be indifferent to them, for they raise issues in which all scholars, like it or not, have a personal stake. Of the two, the Chaikovsky suicide affair seems the more likely settled. As that matchless connoisseur of Russian culture Simon Karlinsky used to say, there are three subjects about which every ignoramus feels entitled to an opinion: Russia, music, and sex. (“And that being the case,” he would add, “you can just imagine what the Chaikovsky literature is like.”) The suicide story should never have seen print. What gave it legs, beyond the sheer energy of opinionated ignorance, was the otherwise quite salutary resurgence of hermeneutics as a legitimate musicological endeavor, which began to take hold, at the urging of musical “new critics” like Joseph Kerman and “new musicologists” like McClary and Kramer, around the time Orlova began retailing her rumors. What made trouble was the persistence of the “poietic fallacy” alongside the new hermeneutics, which induced interpreters to assume, or perhaps jump to the conclusion, that any message read was ipso facto a message sent. This new variant of the poietic fallacy was an effective mask for preconception, already a bane of Chaikovsky studies. John Warrack, for example, introduced his 1973 monograph on the composer, somewhat in advance of the hermeneutic tide, with the flat assertion that homosexuality was obviously “the central emotional fact of his life,” never stopping to wonder whether he might not sooner have been expressing his own preoccupation than Chaikovsky’s ( just as earlier scholars had done when they assumed nationality to have been obviously the overriding issue to be addressed).8 Evidence of Chaikovsky’s homosexual guilt (which for some is tantamount to evidence of his suicide) is now routinely read in the musical texts, sometimes with the aid of sophisticated analytical methods.9 Such evidence, created by those who believe they are observing it, is impregnable to refutation. Hence the fatalism with which D. J. R. Bruckner, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, greeted Alexander Poznansky’s Tchaikovsky’s Last Days, a book that appeared two years after chapter 6 had predicted it: Did Tchaikovsky really die of cholera? It will be hard for anyone who reads this book to conclude otherwise. But that will not discourage obdurate romantics among lovers of music and gossip. Stories as delicious as some of those about Tchaikovsky that have survived for 100 years will not be suffocated by mounds of mere evidence.10

Debate over the importance of Chaikovsky’s homosexuality to him and to us will never be settled. As in the case of Benjamin Britten, there will always be those for whom sexual orientation provides “the chief instrument of

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interpretation,” to quote Britten’s friend and executor Donald Mitchell,11 and those (like Mitchell) who find the approach exasperating. That debate is fully entitled to its longevity. It raises constructive issues and can provide (indeed, has provided) illumination. Debate about the suicide, however, should have been put to rest long ago. About obdurate romantics I have no strong opinion, unless they have PhD degrees in musicology and speak with the authority of my discipline. Then I am personally affronted and potentially injured, and feel myself professionally bound to engage with them. Does such engagement amount to personal attack, aka the dread argumentum ad hominem? I have been accused of it, Lord knows, and frequently; but I am confident that anyone who actually knows what the term means will exonerate me. It is worth some serious discussion, of a kind I have not yet seen in the musicological (or “metamusicological”) literature. Here the other big battle, over Shostakovich and his musico-political legacy, is a godsend, for no scholarly debate has ever been more riven both with genuine ad hominem argument and with false indictments for it— indictments that are themselves examples of the deed. In every other way it has been a dismal spectacle, aptly characterized by a recent bystander as “a truly ugly story, quite possibly one of the most unpleasant in the history of any composer’s reception.”12 How could it have been otherwise, involving as it has the fighting of evil with evil in the belief that from redoubled evil good would somehow emerge? Is evil too strong a word? In any other musicological context it might have been; but the tactics I am now compelled to describe not only justify it, in my opinion, but demand it. The “Shostakovich Wars,” as they are so often branded, truly qualify as a religious war, a genuine jihad.13 Both Communism and anti-Communism are in effect religions, and insofar as it has appealed to the anti-Communist faith, Volkov’s Testimony has been believed in with a fervor that is as impervious as Communism itself to refutation; and its believers and adepts have availed themselves of a remarkably similar arsenal of forensic tactics. As Dietrich von Nieheim, the fifteenth-century Bishop of Verden, wrote in a passage that became famous when Arthur Koestler used it as an epigraph in Darkness at Noon, his novel about the Stalinist purges, “When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality.” This applies as well to the Communist and anti-Communist churches as to the Catholic one. Or as Steven Weinberg, the Nobel-prizewinning physicist, has put it somewhat more recently in polemic with what he calls the cultural adversaries of science (or, I’ll add, of scholarship), “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”14 Here, now, are two choice examples of religiously motivated argumentum ad hominem, in the form of a pair of abstracts that were submitted to

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the program committee of the 1998 Boston meeting of the American Musicological Society. They are openly defamatory, the first in its very title: “The ‘Testimony Affair’: Complacency, Coverup, or Incompetence?” Its author, Allan B. Ho, frames his main contention as follows: “For whatever reason— complacency, a desire to cover-up [sic] material to protect personal egos and professional reputations, or even incompetence—the leading American scholars of Shostakovich’s life and music have failed to report evidence that corroborates Testimony and vindicates Volkov.” Thus, in advance of rebuttal or refutation, the author impugns motives, morals, and ability—all personal characteristics rather than modes of scholarly performance. The other abstract, by Dmitry Feofanov, is worse. It makes reference to Shostakovich’s Antiformalisticheskiy rayok (Antiformalist peepshow), a little cantata discovered among Shostakovich’s posthumous papers and first performed in 1989. This unknown work, according to Feofanov, “forever shattered the saccharine image of Shostakovich maintained by the Soviet authorities and their Western followers, notably Laurel E. Fay, Richard Taruskin, and Malcolm Hamrick Brown.” This, of course, is the well-known tactic of guilt by association, and it has been widely employed by Testimony’s proponents, including Solomon Volkov himself.15 I was sent these abstracts by the program committee, together with an invitation to serve as respondent at the session where the papers would be read. Of course I objected to their being considered for presentation at a scholarly meeting, citing to Prof. John W. Hill, the program director, the AMS’s own recently promulgated “Guidelines for Ethical Conduct,” which read, in part: Free inquiry in the scholarly community assumes a sincere commitment to reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, professional integrity, diversity of scholarly interests and approaches; openness to constructive, respectful debate and to alternative interpretations; and, withal, adherence to accepted standards of civility. Members of the AMS should defend scholarly practices and the right to free inquiry against unfounded attacks, whether from inside or outside the scholarly community.16

To object to such abstracts, I argued, was precisely to defend scholarly practices and the right to free inquiry against unfounded attacks. I regret to report not only that the abstracts were accepted but also that I received a curt missive from Prof. Hill admonishing me for trying to suppress the airing of other opinions than my own. (I was unaware at the time that Prof. Hill had a personal relationship with Dmitry Feofanov, who had studied under him at the University of Illinois.) The most I could do, by appealing to the other members of his committee, was to embarrass Prof. Hill into sanitizing the abstracts somewhat for publication. In venues where not even lip service is paid to scholarly ethics, the Shostakovich-as-dissident cult has been even less restrained in its defamatory

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tactics. Norman Lebrecht, a British music journalist, likened Laurel Fay, Volkov’s most effective critic, to David Irving, the court-certified Holocaust denier.17 It was an especially odious smear, not only because David Irving is an odious character but also because Mr. Irving understands scholarly method well enough to know how to parody it. His modus operandi, in common with that of other deniers, is essentially an abuse, or an exaggeration to absurdity, of sound empirical skepticism, consisting as it does of setting the bar of proof impossibly high. Thus any responsible scholar may be viewed on a continuum with the likes of David Irving. We are all vulnerable to Norman Lebrecht’s smear tactic, which is all the more insidious because, through a reductio ad absurdum, it promotes scorn for the scholarly profession and the rules by which it abides. More ordinary were the tactics employed at a conference held at the Mannes School of Music in New York on 15 February 1999, where Solomon Volkov and several of his supporters appeared in defense of Testimony—a defense that consisted of virtually nothing but a heinous offensive against the book’s critics.18 Maya Pritsker, an ex-Soviet journalist, rose to slander Laurel Fay in these words: You should know that Laurel Fay was working for the Schirmer publishing house for a long time, and I think she’s still there. And in this capacity she came to Russia quite frequently. She became probably the only person who frequently visited the Soviet Union for a long time. So a whole lot of information came to her through VAAP, the agency of authorship—which is headed by a KGB agent, as you know—and also through the Union of Composers. I knew that because I was living then in Moscow. I was a member of the Union of Composers as a musicologist, and I talked to Laurel. So I know her views. If she’d spoken against the situation, she probably wouldn’t have been allowed back into Russia. She would have lost her position as a leading specialist in Soviet music at that time. I don’t know about Richard Taruskin, but Malcolm Brown also visited frequently and he had very close connections with the head of the Union of Soviet Composers. So this is probably part of the explanation.

Ms. Pritsker’s slander has since been taken up by Vladimir Ashkenazy.19 In the introduction to Shostakovich Reconsidered, their book-length offensive on behalf of Volkov and Testimony, Messrs. Ho and Feofanov indulge in a wide assortment of prejudicial conjectures before considering the merits of the case: “We trace the Testimony controversy to the KGB, and query whether Volkov’s most prominent critics feasted off the ‘Soviet platter,’” they write. “We surmise that the intensity of adverse reaction by some to Volkov is explained, at least in part, by a deep-seated anti-Semitism.”20 In a press interview Dmitry Feofanov accounted for the fact that Irina Antonovna Shostakovich, the composer’s widow, was one of Volkov’s severest critics by claiming that she was “primarily concerned about money, so maybe not getting money has something to do with it.”21 Maybe. Martin Anderson, who

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as publisher of Shostakovich Reconsidered has been one of the cult’s main facilitators, added a few more surmises to the trove in postings to the DSCH weblist: Laurel Fay and I, he speculates, “may have political sympathies which require an alignment of Shostakovich with some leftish ‘project’—I have no idea.” May. Maybe. The first thing a scholar learns—and anyone who has not learned it is no scholar—is that sentences containing these words are not arguments. At best they are hypotheses—formulations awaiting a test. When put forth without any intention of testing they are what is known as innuendo. Meanwhile, no one has been quicker than Messrs. Ho and Feofanov to accuse their opponents of ad hominem tactics. “Unlike the ‘experts,’” they write, “we do not hurl insults at those who do not share our views.”22 The specific insults attributed to me by my adversaries are passages in which I am said to “dismiss them as ‘vile trivialisers,’ ‘McCarthyites,’ and ‘Stalinists.’” Comparison of the charge with what I have actually written will at last clarify the distinction between argumentum ad hominem (argument directed [unfairly] at the man) and its legitimate counterpart, argumentum ad rem (argument directed at the thing, i.e., the subject or deed at issue). The offending passages, to which a footnote in Ho and Feofanov’s text refers, come from an essay called “Public Lies and Unspeakable Truth: Interpreting Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony,” in which I critiqued various readings of the piece, including that of Ian MacDonald, a British writer who, in a book called The New Shostakovich, supplied Testimony-style interpretations for all of Shostakovich’s major works. Here is how he described, or rather paraphrased, the lengthy passage in the first movement beginning with the march episode in the development and leading into the recapitulation: A startling cinematic cut sends us tumbling out of the world of abstraction and into representation of the most coarsely literal kind. We are at a political rally, the leader making his entrance through the audience like a boxer flanked by a phalanx of thugs. This passage (the menace theme dissonantly harmonized on grotesquely smirking low brass to the two-note goosestep of timpani and basses) is a shocking intrusion of cartoon satire. Given the time and place in which it was written, the target can only be Stalin—an amazingly bold stroke. The appearance of the Vozhd [Leader] evokes an extraordinary musical image of obeisance, the orchestra thrumming the one-note motto in excited unison before bowing down to the symphony’s keynote D. . . . At the peak of a wildly struggling crescendo, [the main theme’s] basic two-note component abruptly, and with vertiginous ambiguity, turns into a flourish of colossal might on drums and brass, punctuating a frenzied unison declamation of the motto rhythm. . . . There can be absolutely no doubt that introspection plays no part in this, that it is objective description—Shostakovichian, as opposed to Socialist, realism. As this declamatory passage ends, the brass and drums de-crescendo in triumph on the three-note pattern from bar 4, as if grimly satisfied with their

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introduction brutalization of the rest of the orchestra and of the symphony’s earnestly questing opening bars, all elements of which have been deformed during this convulsion. Over the thrumming rhythm, flute and horn now converse in a majorkey transposition of the second subject: two dazed delegates agreeing that the rally had been splendid and the leader marvellous. (A typical stroke of black comedy here has the horn doggedly copying everything the flute says, to the point of reaching for a B clearly too high for it.)23

I had some grim fun with this reading, which offended me (as it would any musician) with its jejune and arbitrary literalism, its naive pretense to have decoded the music absolutely beyond doubt, and its obliviousness to Soviet reality to the point where the author imagines Shostakovich indulging—at the height of what was then called the Yezhovshchina (after Nikolai Yezhov, the then head of the secret police) and is now called (after Robert Conquest) the Great Terror—in the sort of open mockery that even Solzhenitsyn only hazarded, much later, in samizdat or, after his exile, from abroad. I pointed out that if the passage was an imitation of Stalin it was a notably unresembling one, for the Soviet dictator had a tremulous, high-pitched, Georgian-accented voice, maintained a soft-spoken demeanor in his infrequent public appearances, and never made grand entrances. I pointed out the author’s neglect of the musical relationships between this passage and other passages in the movement, which would be hard to reconcile with his interpretation. Most conclusively, I pointed to a footnote in the published score relating to the horn’s high B (or rather, as anyone who can read an orchestral score would have known, its high E). The note reads, “If the hornist cannot play the [notated] top B piano, then the lower octave should be played, as indicated.” What the footnote shows is that Shostakovich wished to avoid the very “stroke of black comedy” MacDonald attributed to him. The only performance he sanctions is one in which the horn’s top note does not sound “clearly too high for it.” In summing up, I certainly allowed my exasperation and contempt to show: Ian MacDonald’s reading is no honourable error. It is vile trivialisation. After all, what level of criticism is it that seeks to anthropomorphise every fugitive instrumental colour and every dynamic shade, and from these analogies assemble a literalistic narrative paraphrase of the unfolding music? Shostakovich himself gave the answer. In a forum that appeared in Sovetskaya Muzïka during its first year of publication, three years before he was attacked in Pravda (indeed, before Lady Macbeth was even performed), at a time when he was still a brash and confidently outspoken young man and the musical perestroika [that is, the organization of the Composers’ Union] still new and ostensively benign, Shostakovich took a swipe at the backwardness of Soviet music criticism. “When a critic, in Rabochiy i Teatr or Vechernyaya krasnaya gazeta, writes that in such-and-such a symphony Soviet civil servants are represented by the oboe and

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the clarinet, and Red Army men by the brass section, you want to scream!” I don’t imagine he would have felt any differently were the civil servants represented by the flute and the horn. And what kind of investigator builds sweeping forensic cases on such selectively marshalled evidence? To that question the answer is obvious, and sinister. MacDonald’s description of the Fifth Symphony reads exactly like a confession State Procurator Vïshinsky might have given Shostakovich to sign, had things not gone quite so well on the night of 21 November 1937. The critic’s method is precisely what is known in the West as McCarthyism. Sometimes the McCarthyite stratagems are even more overtly deployed. When challenged to defend his thesis that Shostakovich was a committed antiCommunist dissident from his twenty-fifth year, MacDonald has resorted to the rank tactic of guilt by association. Naming a few anti-Utopian writers of the 1920s—Zamyatin, Olesha, Bulgakov, Zoshchenko—he has written: Shostakovich knew these writers personally, collaborating with one . . . and exploring a major project with another. . . . There is nothing to suggest that the composer . . . opposed the non-Party writers; on the contrary, the evidence is that he sympathised with them—which is presumably why he read their books, watched their plays and socialised with them.”

Ian MacDonald, it thus transpires, is the very model of a Stalinist critic.24

And it transpires as well that Taruskin called no one a “vile trivialiser,” a “McCarthyite,” or a “Stalinist.” A reading was characterized as a vile trivialization, a stratagem was called McCarthyite, and a tactic, and a type of critic, were designated Stalinist. Messrs. Ho and Feofanov are evidently well aware of the difference between ad hominem and ad rem, and their deliberate misquotation is the evidence. It is one of their many deceptions. The most serious one is their flat-out lie about the state of the Testimony typescript, described in the postscript to chapter 27, but there were many others, including the feigned independence from Solomon Volkov that underwrote their claim to objectivity of judgment. Dmitry Feofanov, it has recently been divulged, is Volkov’s attorney,25 and a careless click of a mouse, routing a message from Ho to Feofanov to all the members of the DSCH weblist, gave evidence of direct collusion. The posting, dated 4 March 1999, was a cover letter accompanying a typically abusive response to a review of Shostakovich Reconsidered by David Fanning in the BBC Music Magazine, and it read, “Dmitry: do you still want to run this by SV first, or is it a go?” .

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So many lies, ruses and slanders: has any other debate within musicology been so richly endowed? It may remind some of the old adage that the vehemence of academic quarrels varies inversely with the size of the stakes, but there is another way to explain it. It is no accident that so many of the parties to this contest were brought up in the Soviet Union, where the principle

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that the ends justify the means was taught to every child at school. “So that prisons should vanish forever, we built new prisons,” wrote Andrey Sinyavsky in his immortal essay “On Socialist Realism”: So that all frontiers should fall, we surrounded ourselves with a Chinese Wall. So that work should become a rest and a pleasure, we introduced forced labor. So that not one drop of blood be shed any more, we killed and killed and killed.26

And so that the truth about Shostakovich should be made known, lie after lie shall be told. The perpetrators and defenders of the Testimony hoax, and the administrators of the Shostakovich cult, many of them, may have had the best of intentions, but they resemble those from whom they have learned their tactics far more than they resemble those whom they hope to persuade. In the end one has to take such matters seriously—and personally; for one’s own reputation, and what is more important, the reputation of one’s own profession, is at stake. Such stakes are not negligible, as Bernard Shaw knew best. W. H. Auden called Shaw “probably the best music critic who ever lived,” and Eric Bentley has remarked that, while Shaw’s reputation as a dramatist has always been debated, his preeminence as a critic “has gone unchallenged.”27 I certainly will not challenge it, for the claim suits my purposes. “People have pointed out evidences of personal feeling in my notices,” Shaw wrote, as if they were accusing me of a misdemeanor, not knowing that a criticism written without personal feeling is not worth reading. It is the capacity for making good or bad art a personal matter that makes a man a critic. The artist who accounts for my disparagement by alleging personal animosity on my part is quite right: when people do less than their best, and do that less at once badly and self-complacently, I hate them, loathe them, detest them, long to tear them limb from limb and strew them in gobbets about the stage or platform. . . . Let all young artists look to it, and pay no heed to the idiots who declare that criticism should be free from personal feeling. The true critic, I repeat, is the man who becomes your personal enemy on the sole provocation of a bad performance, and will only be appeased by good performances.28

All of this goes double, if not triple, for scholarship, since besides taste and technique, scholarship, in Vladimir Nabokov’s words, “possesses an ethical side, moral and human elements.”29 This has nothing to do with being right or wrong. To paraphrase a wise saying of John Maynard Keynes, in the long run we’re all wrong; that is in the very nature of scholarship. We are all fated to become outdated; if that did not happen, it would mean that scholarship had ceased. And so the fact that (to close the circle) Gerald Abraham’s work is by now largely outdated will never make him any the less my hero. When my own pupils confess to cold feet, when finishing their dissertations or awaiting their early publications or on the eve of a conference appearance,

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at the prospect that someone will show them up as wrong, I take pleasure in owning up to my own corrected errors and reminding them that there are far worse things one can be than wrong: one can be lazy; one can be incompetent; one can be dishonest. If one is diligent, competent, and honest, one need not fear being wrong. It is not for being wrong that I come down so hard on David Brown for believing and spreading Alexandra Orlova’s rumors, but for behaving incompetently. It is not because he was wrong that I reserve my strongest contempt for Allan B. Ho’s lies and deceptions, but because he acted dishonestly. It is not for being wrong that I deride Jeremy Noble’s rejection of my investigations of Stravinsky’s politics, but for embracing a stance that is both ethically and esthetically obtuse. And it is not for being wrong that I condemn Timothy L. Jackson’s flimsy “internal” arguments in support of his sexual prejudices, but for contenting himself with thin and lazy research. I single these men out for censure because they are the ones who wear the same robes, so to speak, as I. Their possession of PhD degrees obliges them to a higher standard of accountability than the various lawyers, fiddlers, scribblers, keyboard ticklers, and baton wavers who share the dock with them. My own credentials and bona fides are judged by their behavior, and that is why I take their misbehavior so personally. When they write nonsense, we are all demeaned. But nonsense appears to have reached its high-water mark in Russianmusic studies and begun to recede. In part this improvement in the state of affairs has been attributable to the advent of a new generation of Anglophone Russian-music scholars—some North American (Simon Morrison, Peter Schmelz, Claudia Jensen), some British (Pauline Fairclough, Neil Edmunds), some émigré (Marina Frolova-Walker, Anna Nisnevich, Elena Dubinets)—who have appropriate language skills, sufficient knowledge of Russian history and culture, and freedom from romantic and Cold-War prejudices. There is now a reliable general survey of Russian music in English: Francis Maes’s A History of Russian Music from “Kamarinskaya” to “Babi Yar.”30 And the music has become familiar to an extent that I, for one, would not have believed possible when I started working in the field. I look forward to the rapid outdating of the contents of this book.

NOTES

1. For the foregoing facts and figures I have relied for the most part on Nancy Basmajian’s “Selected Bibliography of Works by Gerald Abraham,” in Slavonic and Western Music: Essays for Gerald Abraham, ed. Malcolm Hamrick Brown and Roland John Wiley (Ann Arbor and Oxford: UMI Research Press and Oxford University Press, 1985), a volume to which I was privileged to contribute an essay, “Serov and Musorgsky,” that found its eventual home in my Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993). The reference to “Wit in Music,”

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which eluded Basmajian, can be found in Brian Trowell’s magnificent obituary, “Gerald Ernest Heal Abraham, 1904–1988,” in the Proceedings of the British Academy 111 (2000): 347–48. 2. See R. J. Wiley, “A Recollection of 20 June 1983,” in Slavonic and Western Music, 1. 3. Trowell, “Gerald Ernest Heal Abraham, 1904–1988,” 349. 4. Ibid., 346. 5. See the Introduction to my Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). 6. The first is found in Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue, 37, and I was honored beyond words when Brian Trowell asked my permission to quote it as the conclusion of his obituary, “Gerald Ernest Heal Abraham, 1904–1988.” 7. See R. Taruskin, “The Poietic Fallacy,” The Musical Times 145, no. 1886 (Spring 2004): 7–34; reprinted in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 301–29. 8. John Warrack, Tchaikovsky (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973), 30. 9. See especially Timothy Jackson, “Aspects of Sexuality and Structure in the Later Symphonies of Tchaikovsky,” Music Analysis 14 (1995): 3–25. The title sounds like a spoof, but readers who take the trouble to read the article will discover that it is entirely serious, or at least seriously meant. 10. “Books in Brief,” New York Times Book Review, 2 February 1997, 21. 11. Quoted in Paul Griffiths, “The Sound and the Silence,” Times Literary Supplement, 23 September 2005, 24. 12. Pauline Fairclough, “Facts, Fantasies, and Fictions: Recent Shostakovich Studies,” Music & Letters 86 (2005): 454. 13. Cf. David Schiff, “The Shostakovich Wars,” Times Literary Supplement, 4 May 2005, a review of three books, all published in 2004: A Shostakovich Casebook, ed. Malcolm H. Brown (Bloomington: Indiana University Press); Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator (New York: Alfred A. Knopf); Shostakovich and His World, ed. Laurel E. Fay (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press). 14. Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 242. 15. Responding in a letter to the New York Times to an article that had appeared there over the signature of Irina Antonovna Shostakovich, the composer’s widow, Volkov made no substantive rebuttal to her claim that he had not conducted enough interviews with her husband to fill the book he was purveying as Shostakovich’s memoirs but merely pointed out that the KGB had made a similar claim, thus implying that Mrs. Shostakovich was continuing a campaign of vilification initiated by the Soviet secret police. See Irina Shostakovich, “An Answer to Those Who Still Abuse Shostakovich,” New York Times, Arts and Leisure, 20 August 2000; Solomon Volkov, “Shostakovich: A Response,” New York Times, Arts and Leisure, 27 August 2000. 16. Quoted from the 2005 edition of the American Musicological Society Directory, xxxvi. The guidelines were formally adopted in 1997. 17. Norman Lebrecht, “Shostakovich: Dissident Notes,” Daily Telegraph, 19 January 2000.

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18. A transcript is available online at www.siue.edu/~aho/musov/man/mannes1 .html. 19. Vladimir Ashkenazy, “Papa, What If They Hang You For This?” Financial Times, 5 August 2000. 20. Shostakovich Reconsidered, Written and Edited by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, with an Overture by Vladimir Ashkenazy (Exeter: Toccata Press, 1998), 17. The surmise about anti-Semitism is backed up only by further surmises, e.g.: “In part, the viciousness of these [Soviet] attacks on Volkov was no doubt due to his Jewish origins and Jewish name and patronymic” (ibid., 48, n. 8). 21. Quoted in Paul Mitchinson, “The Shostakovich Variations,” Lingua franca (May-June 2000), 52. 22. Shostakovich Reconsidered, 16. 23. Ian MacDonald, The New Shostakovich (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990), 129–30. 24. R. Taruskin, “Public Lies and Unspeakable Truth: Interpreting Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony,” in Shostakovich Studies, ed. David Fanning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 52–53. The quote from Shostakovich is from “Sovetskaya muzïkal’naya kritika otstayot” [Soviet music criticism is lagging], Sovetskaya muzïka 3 (1933): 121; the quote from MacDonald is from a letter to the editor, Times Literary Supplement, 28 September–4 October 1990, 1031. 25. Fairclough, “Facts, Fantasies, and Fictions,” 454–55; see also Mitchinson, “The Shostakovich Variations,” 54. 26. Abram Tertz (pseudonym for Andrey Sinyavsky), “The Trial Begins,” and “On Socialist Realism,” trans. Max Hayward, George Dennis (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 162. 27. Bernard Shaw, Shaw on Music, ed. Eric Bentley (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955), iv. 28. Bernard Shaw, Music in London 1890–94: Criticisms Contributed Week by Week to The World (London, 1931; rpt. New York: Vienna House, 1973), 54. 29. Vladimir Nabokov, “Reply to My Critics,” in The Portable Nabokov, ed. Page Stegner (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), 300. 30. Trans. from the Dutch by Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

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Some Thoughts on the History and Historiography of Russian Music

A preliminary version of this chapter was read as a paper in a symposium organized by Malcolm H. Brown on “Fifty Years of American Research in Slavic Music,” given at the fiftieth national meeting of the American Musicological Society, on 27 October 1984. The other participants in the symposium and their topics were Barbara Krader (Slavic Ethnic Musics), Milos Velimirovic (Slavic Church Music), Malcolm H. Brown (Russian Music—What Has Been Done), Laurel Fay (The Special Case of Soviet Music—Problems of Methodology), and Michael Beckerman (Czech Music Research). Margarita Mazo served as respondent. My assigned topic for this symposium was “What Is to Be Done,” but being no Chernïshevsky, still less a Lenin, I took it on with reluctance. I know only too well the fate of research prospectuses. All the ones I’ve seen, whatever the field, have within only a few years taken on an aspect that can be most charitably described as quaint, and the ones that have attempted to dictate or legislate the activity of future generations of scholars cannot be so charitably described. It is not as though we were trying to find a longsought medical cure or a solution to the arms race. We are not crusaders, nor have we an overriding common goal that demands the subordination of our individual predilections to a team effort. We are simply curious to know and understand the music that interests us as well as we possibly can, and eager to stimulate the same interest in others. I, for one, am content to sit back and await the discoveries and interpretations of my colleagues, the direction of whose research I am in no position to predict. I love surprises. Originally published in Journal of Musicology 3 (1984): 321–29. Copyright © 1984 by the Regents of the University of California.

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Nevertheless, it seems fair to predict that the main contribution of American scholars to the study of Russian music will be interpretive and critical rather than philological or factual. This for two reasons: one simple and obvious, the other very complex. The simple factor is practical. We will never have the freedom of access needed to do fundamental source research on a grand scale. Those of us who are passionately drawn to problems of textual criticism or “creative process” will do better to concentrate on Ives or Beethoven than on Chaikovsky or Musorgsky—and I say this in full recognition of the accomplishments of scholars like John Wiley and Robert Oldani, Americans who have done excellent work on precisely these two Russians.1 I have even done a little textological work on Musorgsky myself.2 But I think it significant that the Musorgsky sources I investigated are located in Paris and the Chaikovsky sources Wiley took as his starting point are in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We Americans will never gain freedom of access to the mother lode, the archives of Moscow and Leningrad. We had best leave them to the Soviets, who, as we all know from our personal experience, are determined that if major discoveries are to be made there, then they will make them. And I think, in all fairness, we should let them, for it is in the area of empirical source research that Russian scholars are under the fewest constraints, and I think we can all agree that by and large their publications in this field—I am thinking, of course, of Findeyzen, Lamm, Dianin, Orlova, and Gozenpud, among many others3— have been impressive and (given the realities of Soviet life) reliable enough. Needless to say, we will never be able to document Balakirev’s anti-Semitism or Glinka’s monarchism from Soviet published sources, but it would be unrealistic to expect that any of us will be shown to the relevant documents in the archives, either. This brings me to my complex factor, on which I will spend the rest of my time. There is no area of music historiography that is in greater need of fundamental revision than that of Russian music, and here the corrective can only come from the West. I am not just talking about sensational but trivial matters like the circumstances surrounding Chaikovsky’s death.4 Nor am I talking about such matters of recent controversy as Shostakovich’s purported memoirs, which, however tempting as a source of scurrilous information and opinion, are at present a source no one among us would touch, in any professional capacity, with the proverbial barge pole, thanks to the work of one of my colleagues on the aforementioned panel.5 What I am talking about is our general understanding and interpretation of the whole phenomenon of Russia’s emergence as a producer of art music, and our cultural evaluation of the music she has produced. Here we must confront not only the extremely mendacious and tendentious historiography that emanates from the U.S.S.R., which many Western scholars have relied upon far too uncritically, but also a great many unexamined assumptions that can cloud our

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own consciousness and have prevented our view of Russian music and musical life from fully outgrowing its infancy. In 1939 Stravinsky asked, at the beginning of his lecture on “The Avatars of Russian Music,” “Why do we always hear Russian music spoken of in terms of its Russianness rather than simply in terms of music?”6 The question remains relevant four-and-a-half decades later, though of course Stravinsky’s use of the word “simply” is questionable. It is precisely because it’s easy that we talk about Russian music in terms of its Russianness; and as we all know, nothing is harder than to talk about music “in terms of music.” I’m not at all sure we even want to do that, if the result is going to be the kind of blinkered, ahistorical and jargon-ridden discourse that often passes for “theory” or “analysis”—but that, of course, is another story.7 Still, the habit of speaking of Russian music above all in terms of its Russianness has ingrained many prejudices and lazy habits of thought. It is often taken for granted that everything that happened in Russian music has a direct relationship, positive or negative, to the national question, which question is often very reductively construed in terms of “sources in folk song and church chant,” as Alfred Swan put it.8 This in turn can and often does become a normative criterion: an overtly quotational national character is taken as a mark of value or authenticity, and its absence, conversely, as a mark of valuelessness.9 The result is our silly tendency to use the word “Russian” in comparative or superlative forms: this is a “very Russian” tune, and so-and-so is the “most Russian” composer. Not only musicians do this, of course. One nonmusician who did it delightfully was John Updike, who, returning from a State Department tour of the Soviet Union, exclaimed enthusiastically to an interviewer, “Russia is so Russian!”10 But what Updike said with tongue in cheek is maintained with deadly solemnity by so many musicians about, let us say, Glinka. It is on his use of folklore that his status as founding father of Russian music is usually said to depend. And when that status gets challenged in a simplistically revisionist spirit, as it does from time to time, it is usually by noting the frequency with which earlier Russian composers, all the way from Verstovsky back to Sokolovsky and Pashkevich, quoted folk songs in their operas. A dissertation by a well-known student of Russian music, entitled “The Influence of Folk-Song on Russian Opera Up to and Including the Time of Glinka,” is devoted to providing Glinka with a indigenous patrimony, turning the father, as it were, into a son.11 But this view distorts the picture both of the earlier music and of Glinka. What makes Glinka a founding father has mainly to do not with his being the “formulator of the Russian musical language,” whatever that may mean, but rather with the fact that he was the first Russian composer to achieve world stature.12 In short, with Glinka, Russian music did not depart from Europe but quite the opposite—it joined Europe. In the context of the usual historiographical platitudes, this statement may have a ring of paradox, but it is

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exactly what Yury Keldïsh, for example, had in mind when he wrote that Glinka, not Verstovsky and not Pashkevich, formed “the boundary between the past and the future of Russian music.”13 With the advent of a Russian composer whom his compatriots could regard as being “on a level (yes! on a level!) with Mozart, with Beethoven, or with anyone one chooses,” Russian musicians were, so to speak, enfranchised.14 They no longer had to feel that theirs was an altogether insignificant, marginal, or callow culture, although at the same time no Russian “classical” musician has ever been wholly without an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the venerable musical traditions of Western Europe—and this was as true of Russian composers of worldwide prestige like Chaikovsky, or even Stravinsky, as it was of more strictly regional talents. It was a veritable neurosis that often found its outlet either in belligerence toward Europe or revulsion at Russia, and sometimes both at once. Now this difference in perspective on Glinka—the Western view that regards him as the first authentically national Russian composer versus the native view that sees him as the first universal genius of music to have come from Russia—is a critical one. For if Glinka is valued only for his native traits—certainly not the traits he valued most highly in himself!—then a Chaikovsky will always seem an ambiguous and somewhat suspect figure, to say nothing of a Scriabin. Just look at the way these two are treated in any general music history textbook in the West. Chaikovsky, one of the most conspicuous of all composers of any country in the actual concert life of the last hundred years, is given a total of twenty-two scattered lines in the text by which most American music history students in college today are still educated, and he is introduced everywhere with an apology. In the chapter on nineteenth-century instrumental music, Chaikovsky is brought in, together with Dvorák, at the very end, thus: “They have a place in this chapter because, although their music is in some respects an outgrowth of nationalist ideas, their symphonies are essentially in the line of the German Romantic tradition.” And in the chapter on “Nationalism, Old and New,” Chaikovsky is sneaked in once more as a thoroughly peripheral figure: “Tchaikovsky’s two most popular operas . . . seem to have been modeled after Meyerbeer, Verdi, and Bizet, though national subjects and a few traces of national musical idioms occur in both of these and, much more conspicuously, in some of his less familiar works for the theater.”15 Poor Chaikovsky! He is implicitly denigrated for not being as “national” as his “kuchkist” rivals but all the same is ghettoized along with them in the inevitable chapter on nationalism. Confined as he is to the ghetto, Chaikovsky is rarely compared with such counterparts as Brahms or Bizet, except to note his ostensible derivations from them; he is compared only with fellow denizens of the ghetto, next to whom he is seen as “assimilated” and therefore inauthentic. The comparison is thus doubly invidious. And ironic, too, for during his lifetime Chaikovsky was accepted as a European master, honored with

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degrees from British universities, and invited to open New York’s Carnegie Hall. My object here is not to vindicate Chaikovsky against naive and irrelevant charges—though it is certainly interesting to note that in Nina Bachinskaya’s survey of Russian folk song in the work of Russian composers, Chaikovsky comes in second (after the longer-lived Rimsky-Korsakov) in the sheer number of such appropriations.16 And the Russians, obviously, have never had any trouble accepting Chaikovsky as a national treasure. My object is only to show how conventional historiographical attitudes and categories have made this most eminent of Russian composers a curiously difficult morsel for Western music historians to swallow, obsessed as they (we) are with the idea of the “mainstream.”17 This is a problem of long standing. Carl Dahlhaus, whose taste for illuminating paradox is well known, has observed, in the challenging discussion of nationalism and music in his “studies in the music of the later nineteenth century,” that “the national substance of Russian . . . music was a condition of its international worth, not an invalidation.”18 He was speaking from an idealist (today we might be inclined to call it an essentialist) point of view and went on to say that “it would surely be inappropriate to say ‘coloring’ instead of ‘substance,’ and ‘commercial success’ instead of ‘worth.’” But these distinctions do not stand up in the face of actual reception history. On the contrary, we often find that it was precisely the surface color that attracted international audiences, sometimes to Russian chagrin. Diaghilev, for example, recognizing that the music of his beloved Chaikovsky was box-office poison in Paris despite what he perceived to be its profound national substance, suppressed his desire to present The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty in his first ballet season (1909) in favor of ephemeral, highly colored “salades russes” (as Walter Nouvel sneeringly called them) drawn from scores by Glinka, Arensky, Taneyev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Glazunov, and Cherepnin, plus a couple of little snippets from Chaikovsky’s great Mariyinsky ballets.19 The featured Chaikovsky work, the finale of the divertissement entitled Le Festin, was the last movement of Chaikovsky’s Second Symphony, a set of variations à la Kamarinskaya on a “Little Russian” dance tune, perhaps Chaikovsky’s most “kuchkist”-sounding score, and therefore unrepresentative. Like so many others after him, Diaghilev sneaked Chaikovsky in with apologies, fearful lest his lack of national coloring threaten the “commercial success” of the Paris venture. But what shall we call the “national substance,” then? Can it be defined in any but mystical, preternatural terms? Dahlhaus most likely meant the presence of traits that define a “national school.” But need these be quotational or coloristic at all? And do they necessarily derive from lower-class traditions? Any connoisseur of nineteenth-century musical styles would certainly recognize the musical idiom of Stravinsky’s early Symphony in E-flat (1905–07) as emphatically “Russian,” despite its near-total lack of any resonance from

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chant or folk song, for it is saturated with reminiscences of the styles of Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, and Chaikovsky. The sophisticated personal styles of these men—for example, Chaikovsky’s technique of orchestration, or Rimsky’s very characteristic devices of chromatic harmony and modulation—as manifested both in their own works and in those of their disciples and epigones, are what largely determine our sense of a Russian “school” in the late nineteenth century. And our sense of this school style can in fact be pushed back retrospectively as far as Glinka.20 To recognize as Russian only an oral or vernacular tradition and its conscious (usually superficial) assimilations in “high art” is narrow-minded, often absurd. We can see this easily enough in the case of the fatuous Moscow critic who complained of Alexander Serov’s opera Judith, which is set in ancient Judea and peopled by Hebrews and Assyrians, that its music was not Russian enough.21 But before we scoff at him we should check to see what our own house is made of. Are we not still liable to mistake national subject matter for national style; to call, for example, that mockkuchkist finale to Chaikovsky’s Second his “most fully Russian” work?22 Or to think we have made a critical point about Scriabin merely by noting the lack of folkloric influence on his style?23 By Scriabin’s time, Russian music had been quite thoroughly “denationalized,” though its “school” spirit had, if anything, increased.24 And in any event, listing the things a given phenomenon is not will never tell us, after all, what it is. Now just as it is assumed that Russian music is, or ought to be, ipso facto “colored Russian,” it is further assumed that nationalism (or national character, or the striving for a native idiom, or call it what you will) was something unique, or at least especially endemic, to Russia—and if not to Russia, then to Eastern Europe, and if not to Eastern Europe, then to “peripheral centers” generally. It is one of the assumptions, in fact, that keeps these centers peripheral in our minds. But is it true? Was there any greater nationalist in nineteenth-century music than Wagner (“that German Slavophile,” as Stasov called him)?25 Not unless it was Verdi. Indeed, we could add the names of any number of leading “mainstream” composers to the list of nationalists: Weber, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Berlioz, practically anyone you like, from Beethoven to Debussy. It was precisely because nationalism was universally held to be a positive value in nineteenth-century Europe— because nationalism, to put it ironically, was international—that Dahlhaus could maintain that the “national substance” of Russian (or Czech, or Spanish, or Norwegian) music was “a condition of its international worth.” Nineteenth-century Russian nationalism, in fact, and not just the musical variety, was itself a foreign import. And the precise way in which Glinka’s use of folklore differed from that of earlier Russian composers—namely, that it came from the mouths of main characters, not just decorative peasant choristers and coryphées, and that it provided a medium for tragic action, not just comedy—was precisely the way in which the typical Romantic opera

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differed from the operas of the eighteenth century, and reflected above all a change in viewpoint on the nature of folklore—one that emanated not from Russia but from Western Europe (i.e., from Rousseau and Herder)— that folklore represented “the nation” and not just “the peasantry.” That the latter idea died hard even in Russia is reflected in the oft-quoted but littleunderstood comment overheard and repeated at the première of A Life for the Tsar—that it was “de la musique des cochers.”26 And it is further reflected if we compare A Life for the Tsar with an opera that was written more than forty years later—Yevgeniy Onegin, where the folkloristic element is presented exactly as it might have been in a court opera of the eighteenth century. Especially telling is the third scene, where a group of berry-picking peasant choristers provide a decorative frame for Yevgeniy’s rejection of Tatyana, one of the turning points in the drama that concerns the “real people” of the opera. But of course the music Yevgeniy and Tatyana sing is just as “Russian” as the music sung by the peasants. It is modeled on the domestic music of the early nineteenth-century landowning class, the pomeshchiki, as Stravinsky understood so well when he fashioned his own Mavra on the same Russian model—and experienced the very fiasco with the Parisian public that Diaghilev had expertly avoided a dozen years earlier.27 What the Parisian public never understood—what the Western public will never understand unless we tell them—is that Russia is large. It contains multitudes: multitudes of social classes and occupations, and multitudes of indigenous musical styles. It is no wonder that Russians like Glinka, Dargomïzhsky, and Chaikovsky, plus Stravinsky and Diaghilev, all of whom came from the pomeshchik class and loved its petty-aristocratic values, should also have loved and honored its musical artifacts and considered them representative of the best there was in Russia. To appreciate the Russianness of a Chaikovsky or a Stravinsky, then, means being able to make finer discriminations among authentically Russian musical idioms. One of Dahlhaus’s most interesting speculations involves a different kind of discrimination. “Serious consideration should be given,” he writes, “to the possibility that the different manifestations of musical nationalism were affected by the types of political nationalism and the different stages in political evolution reached in each country: by the difference between those states where the transition from monarchy to democracy was successful (Great Britain, France) and unsuccessful (Russia), or between states formed by the unification of separate provinces (Germany, Italy) and those formed by the secession of new nation-states from an old empire (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Finland).” He goes on to admit that “it is uncertain whether there are any correlations, and, if so, whether they are at all significant; as yet hardly any attention has been paid to the possibility of their existence, since musical nationalism has been approached

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almost exclusively from the point of view of writing national histories of music.”28 His particular breakdown of nationalisms may be questioned, along with the casually “Hegelian” assumption that all polities advance along a uniform trajectory, but the thought remains a stimulating one. And here, in the domain of “comparative nationalism,” is where Western scholars may have something unique to add to the historiography of Russian music, since in Russia the historiography of Russian music is irrevocably insular and itself nationalistic, devoted exclusively to the writing of “national history,” hyperbolically emphasizing only “what is nationally unique or distinctive,” as Dahlhaus puts it. Russian musicologists specialize either in russkaya muzïka or in zarubezhnaya muzïka—“foreign music.” I know of no Russian scholar of music history with a dual specialty, still less one who specializes in setting Russian music within a world context—as Gerald Abraham has done so comprehensively and gracefully29—in any, that is, but a patently chauvinistic way. I don’t think a study like Abraham’s could be published in Russia. But that is not the only way in which Russian musicography distorts Russian musical history. When one thinks of the musical nationalism of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, and so on, one is thinking of progressive politics, of national liberation, of national heroes standing up to imperialism and tyranny. For better or worse, such is the popular view of Chopin, Smetana, Sibelius, Grieg. These men had no Russian counterpart, for the political situation in Russia was just the opposite. Russia was a powerful and independent nation, and after the Napoleonic Wars an increasingly xenophobic and— especially after the Balkan Wars—imperialistic one. Chopin’s homeland, and Sibelius’s, were, after all, vassal states to Russia, and the rebellion memorialized in Chopin’s “nationalistic” Revolutionary Étude was an uprising against Russia. So the nature of Russian nationalism differed from Polish or Czech or Finnish nationalism, and that nature was often a far from pretty one. In Russia, nationalism was largely co-opted, just as it is today in the Soviet Union, by the state. I am thinking particularly of the doctrine of Official Nationality promulgated in the reign of the first Nikolai by his minister of education, Count Sergey Uvarov. The articles of faith this state ideology proclaimed sacrosanct comprised a sort of trinity: Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality (pravoslaviye, samoderzhaviye, narodnost’). Just compare that with Liberté, égalité, fraternité! Its main proponents included the historian Mikhail Pogodin, the poets Vasiliy Zhukovsky and Nestor Kukolnik, as well as Nikolai Gogol (who needs no introduction) and . . . Mikhail Glinka, whose opera A Life for the Tsar was a complete and perfect embodiment of it. The opera’s moral lessons were precisely those embodied in the poetry of the composer’s cousin Fyodor Glinka, a hack who was capable of such effusions as the following, which he put in the mouth of a young widow who has to explain to her children the death of their soldier father:

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He went hither, to the bright abode of the Heavenly Tsar Because here he had been faithful to the earthly Tsar.30

To put it in terms of the textbook of Russian history used in schools throughout Russia in the reign of Nikolai I, the character of the Russian people consists of “profound and quiet piety, boundless devotion to the throne, obedience to the authorities, remarkable patience, a lucid and solid intelligence, a kind and hospitable soul, a gay temper, courage amidst the greatest dangers, finally, national pride which had produced the conviction that there was no country in the world better than Russia, no ruler mightier than the Orthodox Tsar.”31 As much could be said of Ivan Susanin (and indeed is said of him in the choral apotheosis at the end of Glinka’s opera). No wonder A Life for the Tsar became a national institution, the obligatory opener to every season at the imperial theaters of Moscow and St. Petersburg, which were the legal property of the tsar, supported and administered by the Ministry of the Imperial Household. Nor is it any wonder that the original libretto, by Baron G. V. Rozen, the secretary to the heir apparent (the future Alexander II) had to be changed for Soviet consumption.32 For it is a concoction that was not just abhorrent to Soviet Communists. It was abhorrent to nineteenth-century bourgeois liberals, too, like Vladimir Stasov.33 I dare say it would be abhorrent to you and me. This, then, was the beginning of the Russian national school in music. It was born in the context of a state ideology in which narodnost’—nationality—was understood in patriotic and dynastic terms linked with the defense of serfdom. It was in connection with Official Nationality that Nikolai ordered that Russian replace French as the official language at court functions, and a great program of Russification— the spreading of Russian language and customs in the non-Russian areas of the empire—got under way. The mystical identification of the Russian language with the “spirit and character of the people,” an idea borrowed from the English and German Romantics, for whom it served quite different ends, became a dominant theme among the Official Nationalists. “Language is the invisible image of the entire people, its physiognomy,” wrote Stepan Shevïryov, Glinka’s contemporary and Russia’s leading literary scholar of the period.34 Much the same could be said of musical vernaculars. Glinka’s epoch-making accomplishment, the raising of Russian popular music “to the level of tragedy,” as Prince Vladimir Odoyevsky put it at the time of the première, was carried out in the name of political reaction.35 Official Nationality should not be confused, however, with Slavophilism. Both Slavophiles and Westernizers were opponents of the state ideology, and the tendency to view the various political camps of Russian music in terms of this classic dualism of Russian intellectual history, tempting though it may be in its simplicity, is one of the most reductive and distorting errors commonly committed by modern scholars who write about Russian music

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in the nineteenth century.36 For one thing, the terms are most properly applied to Glinka’s period, not to that of Chaikovsky and The Five. More important, however, the terms are quite beside the point when comparing composers or critics of art music, for merely engaging in such activities made one a “Westernizer,” however great one’s commitment to cultivating a “style russe.” The question of Slavophile versus Westernizer is in essence a question of attitudes toward institutions, and once one is writing, say, for the symphony orchestra, one’s basic acceptance of and commitment to the musical Europeanization of Russia has been made. To find real musical Slavophiles in nineteenth-century Russia one would have to look to the ranks of musical folklorists and ethnographers, who had only a very limited impact on the forms and practices of Russian art music before the twentieth century. (I am thinking here not of such composer collectors as Balakirev or Villebois but of scholar collectors such as Melgunov, Palchikov, and Linyova.)37 Even here, of course, we find ironies, as we do everywhere. A figure much honored in the Soviet Union was the balalaika virtuoso Vasily Andreyev (1861–1918), after whom various folk instrumental ensembles were named. Andreyev did much for the spread of the balalaika in his time, and he also did much to raise the level of playing on it to a “professional” level. But was this not already an ambiguous aim? And all the more ambiguous do Andreyev’s activities look when we note the way he standardized the construction of the modern balaika, creating a so-called concert instrument in six sizes, out of which he formed an orchestra for which he composed waltzes and even arranged the Peer Gynt suite, along with selections from Carmen.38 The spurious folklorism pioneered by Andreyev was pursued with a vengeance in the U.S.S.R., with its “orchestras of folk instruments,” for which Soviet composers (notably Sergey Vasilenko and Nikolai Peyko) wrote symphonies and concertos. Nonetheless there was one issue that did occasion a genuine Slavophile/ Westernizer split among Russian musicians in the nineteenth century because it was preeminently an issue of institutions. That was the founding by Anton Rubinstein of Russia’s first conservatory of music in 1862. Yet even here the split was not so much over the question of nationalism as over that of the professionalization of Russian musical life under the aegis of a baptized Jew who was using the conservatory as a way of advancing his own social standing and that of his fellow professionals through an officially recognized course of training at the end of which one received a bureaucratic title (“Free Artist,” the same degree granted by the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts), equivalent to a midrange civil-service rank. This entitled the bearer to various privileges both pecuniary and social, the latter including the right to live in big cities, the right to a respectful second-person-plural form of address from social superiors, and the like.39 The conservatory movement had originated in the French Revolution and been carried thence to Germany. The St. Petersburg Conservatory was by no

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means the last to be founded in Europe. It was only twenty years younger than the Leipzig Conservatory, and it was ten years older than the conservatory in Weimar, Liszt’s city. Opposition to conservatories, by no means confined to Russia, came largely from those who objected to their leveling institutional character. In Russia the most hysterical opponent of this spreading plague was Stasov, whom I described a little earlier as a bourgeois liberal. He, too, was large and contained multitudes. He published an article in the St. Petersburg newspaper Severnaya pchela (Northern bee)—one of Russia’s most reactionary sheets, and a stronghold of Official Nationality—in which he sounded off like a particularly shrill and bilious Slavophile: “The time has come to stop transplanting foreign institutions to our country and to give some thought to what would really be beneficial and suitable to our soil and our national character. The experience of Europe shows that while the lower schools which confine themselves to teaching the rudiments of music are useful, the higher schools, academies and conservatories are harmful. Is this experience to be lost on us? Must we stubbornly ape what is done in other places only in order that later we may have the pleasure of boasting about the vast number of teachers and classes we have, the meaningless distribution of awards and prizes, mounting piles of worthless compositions and crowds of mediocre musicians?”40 This was a fairly obscurantist position, needless to say. It came, however, from the side that in conventional historiography is labeled “progressive” and from the writer whose views were turned to dogma in the Soviet Union, the very one who, through disciples like Michel Calvocoressi and Rosa Newmarch, set the tone for Western historians of Russian music as well. You see, then, what I mean when I say that revision is overdue. For a start, we need to insist on the fundamental point that the line dividing the camps in nineteenth-century Russian music had virtually nothing to do with nationalism. What divided Stasov from Rubinstein, and Musorgsky from Chaikovsky, had to do, rather, with professional education and professional routine. Rejection of the West per se was part of no one’s program. This is made especially clear by César Cui, in a memoir he wrote in 1909 on the very early days of the “mighty kuchka”: We formed a close-knit circle of young composers. And since there was nowhere to study (the Conservatory didn’t exist) our self-education began. It consisted of playing through everything that had been written by all the greatest composers, and all works were subjected to criticism and analysis in all their technical and creative aspects. We were young and our judgments were harsh. We were very disrespectful in our attitude toward Mozart and Mendelssohn; to the latter we opposed Schumann, who was then ignored by everyone. We were very enthusiastic about Liszt and Berlioz. We worshipped Chopin and Glinka. We carried on heated debates (in the course of which we would down as many as four or five glasses of tea with jam), we discussed musical form, program music, vocal music and especially operatic form.41

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What is being described here is not a group of musical nationalists or patriots but a “Davidsbund,” to use Schumann’s word—a cabal of idealistic progressives opposing authority, on the one hand, and philistinism, on the other. Except for Glinka, all the objects of their veneration were located to the west of Russia—and why not? Glinka was at this point the only Russian to venerate, precisely because he alone was on a level with the Europeans. Nor was Cui describing an early attitude that grew into the kuchka’s reputed chauvinistic nationalism as the group matured. When Rosa Newmarch first met Balakirev in 1901 (Stasov introduced them), he sat down at the piano to play her a kind of profession de foi in tones. What did he choose to play? Beethoven’s Appassionata, Chopin’s B-minor Sonata, and Schumann’s G-minor.42 To those who know Balakirev’s music well it is clear that the role of these models in the formation of Balakirev’s musical technique and style was at least as fundamental as anything national or native. Among the kuchkists only Musorgsky occasionally sounds a bit xenophobic in his letters, with their raillery against “Germanizing,” “Teutonic cud-chewing,” “German transitions,” and the like.43 He does come on at times like a national liberator out to free his country from an imperialistic yoke. But it was really academic Formenlehre at which he railed, and this was associated in his mind with German music mainly because of the Germanic staff at Rubinstein’s conservatory. It was the conservatory, from which they felt alienated and excluded, that the kuchkists hated, not “the West.” The feeling on the part of these autodidacts and mavericks—that the professional establishment (which also included the Italian Opera that had been set up in St. Petersburg in 1843) was inimical to their interests and therefore to be opposed—is something they had in common, after all, with the original Davidsbündler and with their somewhat later American counterparts. And the frustrations they felt in confronting what they perceived as antinational prejudice on the part of the professional establishment and its wealthy or aristocratic backers were similar to those experienced by many American composers and conductors in the early twentieth century. Like them, the Russians of the late nineteenth century tended to fight a discriminatory status quo by appealing to patriotism—and to baser sentiments as well.44 For while both sides of the conservatory controversy could claim to be motivated by patriotism and national pride, only one side was racist—and this, too, is unfortunately a large part of what motivated musical nationalism in Russia, and not only in Russia, and continues to motivate it to the present day. Surely the Black Hundreds boasted no greater anti-Semite than Balakirev, the one member of the Mighty Five who might with a certain justice be termed a Slavophile, at least in the later, less active phases of his career. Balakirev, in fact, actually founded a folk-school of sorts, such as Stasov had described in opposition to the conservatory—the so-called Free Music School, where only “rudiments” were taught, the whole faculty was ethnically Russian, and no Jew could apply for instruction.45

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So Russian musical nationalism, “Official” or otherwise, had its dark side. Later in the nineteenth century the patronage of Russian national art passed from the court to jingoistic merchant patrons like Pavel Tretyakov in painting, Savva Mamontov in theater, and, in music, Mitrofan Belyayev, under whose aegis the national and the professional were finally wedded in a rigidly sectarian guild of composers headed by Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov, and Glazunov.46 One of the more curious texts in the history of Russian music is Glazunov’s memoir of his first meeting with Chaikovsky.47 The scion of the supposedly progressive and national traditions of Russian music recalled his introduction to the most celebrated member of the first class to graduate from Rubinstein’s conservatory as one of the great liberating experiences of his life. These, then, are a few of the ironies and paradoxes that need to be sorted out in revising the history of Russian music. And that revision, for obvious reasons, will have to take place in the West (one hopes, for nationalistic reasons of one’s own, that it will take place in the United States), and not in Russia. One also looks forward to ever increasing sophistication in the analysis of Russian music, both as a way of accounting for its Russianness—no simple matter of folkishness after all, as we have seen—and as a way of viewing it, as Stravinsky would say, “simply as music,” in a larger European context. In particular, one looks forward to the development of analytical techniques that do not condemn non-German music by their very premises. Thanks to the pioneering work of Gordon McQuere and the other contributors to his survey of Russian Theoretical Thought in Music, the theoretical premises underlying a great deal of Russian music that has been influential on twentiethcentury music outside of Russia—Scriabin and Stravinsky, above all—have begun to be elucidated for musicians outside of Russia.48 But just as we would not want to limit our understanding of the cultural history of Russian music to what we may find in Keldïsh or Asafyev, illuminating as their work might occasionally be, we need not limit our theoretical and analytical understanding of it to applications of or derivations from the work of Yavorsky or Dernova. We need to set Asafyev and Yavorsky in their own cultural context, just as we need to set the Soviet period into a similar historical perspective. We need a musical counterpart to Vera Dunham’s enlightening book on Stalinist fiction, which documents and explains the weird resurgence of bourgeois values at their most philistine—what in Russian is called meshchanstvo— that took place in Soviet arts policy in the 1930s, and which formed the underpinning of what is known as Socialist Realism.49 And we need a musical counterpart to Camilla Gray’s classic survey of the Russian artistic avantgarde in the decades immediately preceding and following the Revolution.50 Nither of these books, again obviously, is going to be written in Russia. As American scholars, trained in a skeptical and “problems-oriented” tradition of humanistic research, and ever more proficient in the once so

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arcane Russian language, begin to tackle these and the thousand other questions and projects I have not begun to foresee, I look forward to a much lessened, or at the very least, a much more critical, reliance on the Soviet secondary literature. I feel confident that we are past the days when a Soviet musicologist had merely to say so for American students of Musorgsky to accept the latter uncritically as a musical narodnik (radical populist),51 or when historians of Soviet music would transcribe their data directly from the pages of Sovetskaya muzïka or the information bulletins of the Union of Soviet Composers.52 The presence of a number of distinguished émigré scholars in our midst should certainly stimulate activity in our field, which in any case is a growing one. It is thankfully no longer front-page news when a graduate student in an American music department knows Russian and contemplates a specialty in Russian music. I am optimistic enough to think that perhaps the best answer to the question “What is to be done” may simply be “Let things continue; they’re going well.” POSTSCRIPT, 2008

With unwitting but devastating symbolism, the program committee for the 1984 AMS meeting in Philadelphia assigned the session at which this chapter was read to a room in the Franklin Plaza Hotel called Provincial East. That was the location of Russian music studies within the world of American musicology, all right, obsessed as American musicology then was (and as I complained, when revising the talk for print, in note 17) with maintaining distinctions between what was central and what was peripheral. (The unnamed “specialist in early English music” in that note, by the way, was Margaret Bent, then teaching at Princeton.) The big change in that situation reflects not only the enhanced prestige of Russian music within the musical academy but also the vastly lessened burden of invidious distinctions. These were both healthy adjustments, more wished for at the time than foreseen—although there were omens, including the awarding of the AMS’s Alfred Einstein prize (granted to publications by junior scholars), four years earlier, to an article on Serov’s Judith that had originated as the second chapter of my doctoral dissertation. After the granting ceremony, David Rosen, the chair of the committee that had voted the prize, asked me with a twinkle whether I had thought it possible that an article on Russian music might win it. I confessed I had not seen myself as a contender, and he said he thought as much from my flustered reaction when my name was called. But the biggest change was neither foreseen nor even wished for in 1984, as this whole chapter, beginning with its third paragraph, shows. After mocking the very idea of prediction I nevertheless ignored my own warning and ventured one. And of course history has made a mockery of it. The prospect that only a little more than seven years later the Soviet period would come

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to an end was simply unthinkable in 1984. (We even joked somewhat cruelly at the time that Andrey Amalrik, the regrettably short-lived dissident who had written a pamphlet called “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” in 1969, was lucky not to have lived to see his predictions foiled.) Now foreign scholars do indeed have the freedom of access to Russian archives needed to do fundamental research on a grand scale—and none grander than Simon Morrison, who will finally write the definitive account of Prokofieff’s Soviet years that previous biographers had to forswear (though there were always fools ready to rush in). And Russian scholars, whom we then pitied and patronized and consigned to a life of dusty drudgery, have been busily revising and reinterpreting their musical past, illuminating the dark corners, enriching their account with real (as opposed to “vulgar”) sociology, and happily breaking down the disciplinary wall between the insularly “national” and the zarubezhnoye or “foreign” that had impeded holistic or ecumenical viewpoints. There is a heady sense of starting afresh, radically symbolized by volume 10b (2004) of the History of Russian Music, a series begun in 1983 that was to have consisted of ten volumes in all. That tenth volume, issued in 1997, and edited by the original series editor, the venerable Yury Keldïsh (1907–95), still reflected the Soviet plan, which Lyudmila Korabelnikova, the coeditor of volume 10b, characterized as “consisting almost exclusively of individual essays on the works of various composers,” with a catch-all chapter for minor figures. That is to say, it was to have continued and completed the project in the Caesaristic mode of romantic historiography, particularly pronounced in Soviet historiography by virtue of the obligatory casting of major artistic personalities as progressive figures opposed to the reactionary political and cultural environment of preRevolutionary Russia. Volume 10b, by contrast, reflecting the post-Soviet intellectual climate, undertook a remedial task: “To describe the multifaceted phenomena of musical culture from a holistic cultural-anthropological perspective—first and foremost from the standpoint of institutions and their functioning.”53 Judging by the results—a volume of 1070 pages devoted to the period 1890–1917, organized around activities rather than texts (theater, concert life, church singing, musicology and music theory, journalism and criticism, music education, music publishing, domestic and applied music, and early phonograph technology)—and comparing it with recent Western conspectuses, I would say that the Russians have significantly outstripped the West in producing a musical historiography that at last transcends the “poietic fallacy” about which I complained in the introduction to this book, adherence to which continues to impede due attention to mediation and reception as sites of historical agency and change.54 The post-Soviet volume 10b has no real counterpart as yet in European or American music historiography; the sooner one appears, the better.

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The egregious passage on nationalism from the 1973 edition of Grout’s History of Western Music quoted in note 15 has undergone revision since 1984— three revisions, in fact—and this, too, provides a bellwether of salutary change. In the fifth edition, revised by Claude Palisca, the passage was rewritten as follows: Nationalism in nineteenth-century music was marked by an emphasis on literary and linguistic traditions, an interest in folklore, a large dose of patriotism, and a craving for independence and identity. A sense of pride in a language and its literature formed part of the national consciousness that led to German and Italian unification. Up to a point, Wagner and Verdi chose subject matter that reflected their patriotic feelings, but neither one was narrowly national in this respect. Verdi, as we saw, became a symbol for national unity, but that was owing to the character of his operas. Neither of these composer cultivated a style that was ethnically German or Italian. Brahms arranged German folksongs and wrote folk-like melodies. Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, and Mahler all made conscious use of folk idioms, if not always those of their native countries. The Polish elements in Chopin and the Hungariangypsy traits in Liszt and Brahms were for the most part exotic accessories to cosmopolitan styles. Nationalism was not really an issue in the music of any of these composers.55

Up to the last sentence the moderation of the rhetoric, the increased subtlety of argument, and the greater inclusivity of viewpoint are encouraging. But that last sentence! Nationalism “not really an issue” for Wagner! At the very least, one must insist that issues do not come to us ready-made. Defining (or deflecting) them is the work of the historian. We have to acknowledge our complicity in their construction and assume responsibility for our emphasis. Here a wise comment of Leon Plantinga’s is worth recalling: “It is more pleasing to observe the celebration of Czech cultural identity in the works of Smetana and Dvorák [or, I’ll add, of Russian identity in Glinka’s Kamarinskaya], surely, than to contemplate a similar impulse in the German Richard Wagner [not to mention Brahms with his Triumphlied] after the War of 1870.”56 Palisca’s second go at the passage, in the sixth edition, was a significant step. For one thing, it was expanded to the point where it can no longer be quoted as a concise paragraph. For a second, even more noteworthy thing, specificity, well-grounded in historical conditions and events, to a large extent replaced generalities and platitudes. A representative sense of the difference can be gained from the first two paragraphs: Napoleon’s campaigns (1796–1809) at first encouraged national movements and the search for independence from tyrants and monarchs. But the French administration was soon resented and it too became the target of liberation movements. In German-speaking territories, hundreds of tiny states were eliminated, reducing the number to around forty and thereby making the idea of

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unification easier though still impractical. In Italy Napoleon drove the Austrians out of the north. Although people commonly spoke of Italy or of the Italians, an Italian nation did not actually exist. Most of what is now Italy was ruled by Spanish kings, the papacy, the Habsburg Empire, and France until unification in 1870. Bohemia (the present-day Czech and Slovak Republics), Poland, and Hungary remained under Habsburg rule and were continually in political and religious turmoil. Chopin and Liszt felt the tug of Polish and Hungarian patriotic feelings, respectively, one writing mazurkas and polonaises, the other Hungarian rhapsodies, in addition to their largely cosmopolitan oeuvre. Wagner, whether he was in Germany, Switzerland, or France, championed things German in his writings. A sense of pride in a language and its literature formed part of the national consciousness that ultimately led to German and Italian unification.57

The only flaw to be noted thus far is the peculiar forgetfulness, already noted in the body of chapter 1, about Russia’s imperial role. The power against which Chopin railed in his Revolutionary Étude, after all, was Russia, not the Habsburg Empire. This is already a symptom of the lingering habit of the musicological mind that puts Russia together with Poland and Bohemia as a Slavic (hence peripheral) country, rather than with France and Austria as an imperial one—or rather, the need to pigeonhole Russia as one thing or the other, rather than see it from a dual (let alone a multiple) perspective. The ensuing paragraphs dealt with the changing idea of Germanness in music (from the eighteenth-century eclectic model to the nineteenthcentury national one), the matter of Verdi’s and Wagner’s personal styles in relation to their national identities (including the shrewd observation that “if we attach German or Italian traits to the musical styles of Wagner and Verdi, it is partly because their music defines these national styles”), and the interest in folklore both as exoticism (in Haydn and Dvorák in America) and as nationalism (Smetana and Dvorák at home). The increased refinement and complexity of the argument was at once a credit to the author and a compliment to the reader. But just as in the 1996 edition, the ending, where Russia came into the picture, marks a regression: Such a search for an independent, native voice was keenest in England, France, the United States, Russia, and the countries of Eastern Europe, where the dominance of German music was felt as a threat to homegrown musical creativity. In addition, composers from these countries wanted to be recognized as equals to those in the Austro-German orbit. By employing native folksongs and dances or imitating their musical character, composers could develop a style that had ethnic identity. Although individual composers in these countries differed in their enthusiasm for a nationalist agenda or the exploitation of their

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Thud. “This section” was the old ghetto, still standing as before, and ghettoization continued to work its inherently invidious influence—doubly so in the case of the “non-nationalists” (Chaikovsky, to be sure), and for all the reasons already stated within chapter 1. That trace of the older Germanocentrism, or German universalism (all national specificity being defined against a German norm), was still the conventional musicological wisdom at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and it sadly erased much of the improvement that marked the paragraphs leading up to it. But stop the presses. Even as this postscript was being drafted, Norton issued the seventh edition of the venerable textbook, thoroughly revised by J. Peter Burkholder, a scholar almost twice as much younger than Palisca as Palisca had been younger than Grout, and one, moreover, who had made his early reputation with a pair of articles that provided historical grounding for two of the major default modes—historicism and modernism— of late twentieth-century musicology and demonstrated their interrelationship, amounting to codependency.59 This was major consciousness-raising stuff; Norton’s choice of Burkholder as the reviser of its flagship textbook was inspired; and I am happy to say that Burkholder’s treatment of nationalism represents a remarkable advance. At last the subject is treated with a degree of nuance that is worthy of its ambivalences and seeming paradoxes. “Nationalism,” Burkholder states, “could be used to support the status quo or to challenge it,” and he proceeds to demonstrate: In both Germany and Italy, cultural nationalism—teaching a national language in the schools rather than local dialects, creating national newspapers and journals, and cultivating a national identity through the arts—was crucial in forging a new nation. By contrast, in Austria-Hungary, cultural nationalism worked against political unity, for the empire encompassed ethnic Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, and Italians, and those promoting independence for their people could buttress their case by speaking their own language, emphasizing their distinctive traditions, and creating nationalist art and music.60

Burkholder even allows a bit of nuance into his treatment of Russia, by revising a sentence quoted above from the sixth edition so that it now reads: “The search for an independent native voice was especially keen in Russia and eastern Europe, where the dominance of Austro-German instrumental music and Italian opera was felt as a threat to homegrown musical creativity.”61 Including Italian opera alongside Austro-German instrumental music is not only a step away from the Germanocentrism that continued to hobble the sixth edition; it also broaches the all-essential role of institutions (though

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I wish Burkholder had made the point more explicitly), since it was through an actual crown-supported St. Petersburg theater, where operas by Russians were expressly barred by law from being produced, that the Italian opera maintained its hegemony in Russia. Best of all, Chaikovsky is introduced as an opera composer alongside Verdi, Wagner and Glinka, and the invidious distinction between nationalist and non-nationalist Russians is significantly mitigated. The ambivalence of Glinka’s reputation is acknowledged: “Glinka is valued in the West for the Russian flavor of [his] operas, which satisfied Western tastes for both the national and the exotic. But he was more important to his countrymen as the first to claim a place for Russia in the international musical world” (701). And Chaikovsky is described as seeking “to reconcile the nationalist and internationalist tendencies in Russian music, drawing models from Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and other Western composers as well as from Russian folk and popular music” (702). This is no more pat or schematic than the textbook format demands, and for the first time in such a context the Russianness of Russian music is taken not as a requirement for authenticity but as a phenomenon to be defined and explained within a specific historical and cultural context. So I can end this postscript, as I ended the original talk embodied in chapter 1, on an exultant note. If things were going well then, they are surely going much better now. Not only have Russian-music scholars at home and abroad broken through to new levels of methodological sophistication and interpretive synthesis. Their (that is, our) achievements have also begun to trickle down into general musicological, thence popular, consciousness. A heartening early earnest of that process was the inclusion in “Grout,” beginning with the fifth edition, of the extract from the 1909 memoir by César Cui quoted in chapter 1 itself. The conventional musicological wisdom is less inclined now to divide composers active since the eighteenth century into Germans, Frenchmen, Italians and “nationalists.” Solid collections of essays on German musical nationalism have begun to appear,62 as have surveys of the whole European field without invidious distinctions as to center and periphery.63 An early attempt at a monographic conspectus is my own article on nationalism in the revised New Grove Dictionary (2001; the 1980 edition did not have an article on the subject). “Comparative nationalism” thrives in musicology at last, and the ghetto walls are crumbling. We are “Provincial East” no more.

NOTES

1. See R. John Wiley, Tchaikovsky’s Ballets (London: Oxford University Press, 1984). Oldani’s dissertation, New Perspectives on Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978), contains a chapter on “Stemmata,” which has

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been published as “Editions of Boris Godunov,” in Musorgsky: In Memoriam 1881–1981, ed. Malcolm H. Brown (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982), 179–214. 2. “‘Little Star’: An Étude in the Folk Style,” in Musorgsky: In Memoriam, 57–84; rpt. in R. Taruskin, Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 38–70. 3. Nikolai Findeyzen’s monumental survey of pre-nineteenth-century Russian musical literature, Ocherki po istorii muzïki v Rossii, 2 vols. (Moscow and Leningrad: Gosizdat, 1928–29), has never been surpassed. A revision and updating, by Milos Velimirovic and Claudia Jensen, of a half-century-old translation by S. W. Pring, commissioned by the American Council of Learned Societies but never published, was finally issued by Indiana University Press in 2008 with the title History of Music in Russia from Antiquity to 1800. Pavel Lamm’s epoch-making critical editions of works by Musorgsky, Borodin, and others are well known. Sergey Dianin, son of one of Borodin’s closest friends, published a complete edition of the composer’s letters (Pis’ma A. P. Borodina, 4 vols. [Moscow: Gosizdat, 1928–80]) and a biography that has been translated into English (Borodin, trans. Robert Lord [London: Oxford University Press, 1963]). Alexandra Orlova has compiled documentary chronicles à la Deutsch for a number of nineteenth-century Russians. Her best-known work of this kind, Trudï i dni M. P. Musorgskogo (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1963), has been translated into English by Roy Guenther (Musorgsky’s Works and Days [Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983]). Abram Gozenpud was the foremost Soviet historian of the Russian operatic stage. In seven volumes issued between 1959 and 1975 he chronicled the musical theater in Russia from its beginnings to the Soviet period. His ballet-historian counterpart, Vera Krasovskaya, has some half dozen similar volumes of fundamental empirical research to her credit. 4. The story of Chaikovsky’s forced suicide on account of a homosexual liaison with a boy from the highest aristocracy was published by Alexandra Orlova almost immediately upon her emigration to the West (“Tchaikovsky: The Last Chapter,” Music and Letters 62 [1981]: 125–45) and was given, even before its publication in full, a huge play in the popular press. Its evidentiary support is extremely flimsy, however, and its uncritical acceptance by David Brown in his article on the composer for the 1980 edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, where the matter was set forth as if established beyond doubt, was one of that distinguished publication’s most serious lapses. 5. Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to and Edited by Solomon Volkov, trans. Antonina W. Bouis (New York: Harper and Row, 1979); for its early vetting, see Laurel E. Fay, “Shostakovich versus Volkov: Whose Testimony?” The Russian Review 39 (1980): 484–93. This extremely important critique went unreprinted in the musicological literature until the appearance of Malcolm H. Brown’s Shostakovich Casebook (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), with the result that innocent musicologists continued (and not-so-innocent ones continue) to rely on Volkov’s book. 6. Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons, trans. Arthur Knodel and Ingolf Dahl (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), 95. 7. It is well told by Joseph Kerman in his vociferous squib “How We Got Into Analysis and How To Get Out,” Critical Inquiry 7 (1980): 311–22; rpt. in On Criticizing Music, ed. Kingsley Price (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), 38–54, under the title “The State of Academic Music Criticism,” and under its original title in

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Kerman, Write All These Down: Essays on Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 12–32. 8. I.e., in the subtitle to his posthumous history, Russian Music (New York: Norton, 1973). This chaotic mélange, in which rare insights rub shoulders with bald misstatements of fact, surely represents the state of its author’s notes at the time of his death, not the book he meant to give us. Its publication was a dubious service to the memory of a great scholar. 9. Gerald Abraham, for example, dismisses the work of the foreign musicians who furnished musical entertainments to the eighteenth-century Russian court by noting that “they neither influenced nor, except in a few doubtful cases, were they influenced by, church music or folk-music,” with the result that “it can hardly be said that they contributed much or directly to the music of the Russian people” (The Tradition of Western Music [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974], 49–50). But this is more or less like Dante’s consigning the Greek philosophers to the higher reaches of Hell. Besides, who are “the Russian people”? Does this category include only peasants? Then Musorgsky never contributed to their music either. 10. Jane Howard, “Can a Nice Novelist Finish First?” Life 61, no. 19 (4 November 1966): 81. 11. The author of this 1961 Oxford dissertation has also published his findings, and propagated his viewpoint on Glinka’s patrimony, in a number of articles. See Gerald Seaman, “Russian Folk-Song in the Eighteenth Century,” Music & Letters 40 (1959): 253–60; “The National Element in Early Russian Opera, 1779–1800,” Music & Letters 42 (1961): 252–62; “Folk-Song in Russian Opera of the 18th Century,” Slavonic and East European Review 12, no. 96 (December 1962): 144–57. A good corrective to this viewpoint (which is that of most Soviet writers as well) is given in Simon Karlinsky, “Russian Comic Opera in the Age of Catherine the Great,” 19th-Century Music 7 (1984): 318–25. The sources of the genre and its treatment of various social types (which accounts for its citations of various indigenous musical styles) is there persuasively traced to the French theater. 12. Gerald Seaman, History of Russian Music, vol. 1 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967), 155. 13. Istoriya russkoy muzïki, vol. 1 (Moscow and Leningrad: Muzgiz, 1948), 369. 14. The Diaries of Tchaikovsky, trans. Wladimir Lakond (New York: Norton, 1945), 250 (entry of 27 June 1888). 15. Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music, rev. ed. (New York: Notion, 1973), 593, 635. It may be thought a dubious or unseemly tactic to criticize in the present connection a book that makes no pretense to a specialized viewpoint on Russian music. But it is precisely in textbooks that care must be taken not to foster invidious prejudices or double standards. With respect to nationalism in music, Grout posits a double standard in the baldest terms (633–34): “The results of the early nineteenth-century German folk song revival were so thoroughly absorbed into the fabric of German music as to become an integral part of its style, which in that period was the nearest thing to an international European musical style. Thus, although Brahms, for instance, made arrangements of German folk songs and wrote melodies that resemble folk songs, and although Debussy called him the most Germanic of composers, we still do not think of him as any more a ‘nationalist’ composer than Haydn, Schubert, Strauss or Mahler, all of whom likewise more or less consciously

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made use of folk idioms.” He goes on to “exonerate” the national qualities of French and Italian music, and even the Polish elements in Chopin (“for the most part only exotic accessories to a style fundamentally cosmopolitan”). It would be tedious to sort out the logical fallacies here; suffice it to say that in my opinion to indoctrinate students to regard “what we think” as any sort of final truth, rather than train them even in the early phases of study to regard “what we think” as an object inviting scrutiny and challenge, is poor pedagogy, at the very least. 16. Nina Bachinskaya, Narodnïye pesni v tvorchestve russkikh kompozitorov (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1962). 17. It seems fair to say that nowhere is the distinction between mainstream and periphery drawn with greater rigor than in the United States, a situation that may reflect our own national insecurities as well as the continuing influence of Central European immigrants on the development of the discipline of musicology here. (Grout, for example, seems to have inherited his double standards from Alfred Einstein, who in Music in the Romantic Era [New York: Norton, 1947] distinguishes in his chapter organization between “Universalism Within the National”—Germany, Italy, France, and Chopin, the honorary citizen-of-the world—and the ghetto chapter, where Chaikovsky comes in for the usual double-barreled rejection.) These prejudices apply in the domains of music history and music analysis alike. Nor are they confined to nineteenthcentury studies: witness the division of Reese’s Music in the Renaissance (New York: Norton, 1954) into two halves, the first devoted to “The Development of the Central Musical Language,” and the second to the peripheries. While it is true that what became the musical lingua franca of the Renaissance developed first in France and the Low Countries, to organize the book as Reese has done means to discuss such contemporaries as Févin and Senfl some four hundred pages apart. It is inevitable that Senfl will seem less important than Févin in such a context, though his actual achievement was arguably the greater. Discussing the Reese book one day, a specialist in early English music who was educated in England but teaching in America remarked to me that only here did she learn that her field was peripheral. To the probable objection that “central” and “peripheral” are by now only value-free labels of convenience, I would reply that it is only because of them that “Western” music historians are unlikely, personal preference aside, to recognize in Chaikovsky a composer comparable in stature to Brahms. Readers who react to this point with incredulity or indignation (as Einstein surely would have done) may have isolated within themselves a reason why our discipline clings so tenaciously to invidious and outmoded distinctions. 18. Between Romanticism and Modernism, trans. Mary Whittall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 84. 19. For evidence of Diaghilev’s early intentions to stage these ballets, see the press interviews collected by I. S. Zilbershtein and V. A. Samkov in Sergey Dyagilev i russkoye iskusstvo, vol. 1 (Moscow: Izobratitel’noye iskusstvo, 1982), 209–10; on salades russes, see Sergei Grigoriev, The Diaghilev Ballet 1909–1929, trans. Vera Bowen (London: Constable: 1953), 8; a salade russe, of course, is a French dish. 20. For a very neat delineation of some of these school traits, see Gerald Abraham, “The Elements of Russian Music,” Music & Letters 9 (1928): 51–58. 21. “A Russian opera by a Russian composer contained not a Russian note” (Sovremennaya letopis’, 1865, no. 35), quoted in Nikolai Findeyzen, Aleksandr Nikolayevich Serov: Ego zhizn’ i muzïkal’naya deyatel’nost’, 2nd ed. (Moscow: Jurgenson, 1904), 104.

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22. David Brown, s.v. “Tchaikovsky,” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), 43:611. 23. Grout, A History of Western Music, 640. A few recent publications on Scriabin have finally begun to show that he has a definite place within Russian traditions, which means that finally other Russian traditions than the folkloric are gaining recognition by Western musicologists. See Martin Cooper, “Aleksandr Skryabin and the Russian Renaissance,” Studi musicali 1 (1972): 327–56; Malcolm H. Brown, “Skriabin and Russian ‘Mystic’ Symbolism,” 19th-Century Music 3 (1979): 42–51. 24. The term “denationalization” was coined in 1910 by the critic Vyacheslav Karatïgin in his obituary for Balakirev (Apollon, 1910, no. 10 [September], 54). 25. V. V. Stasov, Sobrannïye sochineniya, vol. 3 (St. Petersburg, 1894), 275. 26. Coachmen were not chosen for this sally at random. Their singing (to encourage their horses and frighten wolves) was proverbial and had been often represented on the Russian musical stage in the past, beginning with Yevstigney Fomin’s singspiel Yamshchiki na podstave (The post drivers, 1788). In fact, though an expression of social snobbery and not a musical critique, the remark unwittingly hit the mark: the tune Susanin sings at his first entrance in act 1 was one Glinka had taken down from the singing of a coach driver in the town of Luga (see Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka, Memoirs. trans. Richard B. Mudge [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963], 100). The singing of the Russian coachmen was often noted by eighteenthand nineteenth-century European travelers to Russia, including Berlioz and Mme. de Staël. 27. Cf. Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Expositions and Developments (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 82–83. Still, even Stravinsky muddles things a bit when he says that pomeshchiks’ music is the “contrary of folk music,” something that is a little hard to imagine. 28. Between Romanticism and Modernism, 89–90. 29. In The Concise Oxford History (London: Oxford University Press, 1979). 30. Quoted in Nicholas Riasanovsky, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825–1855 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 122. 31. Quoted in Riasanovsky, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 125. 32. To appreciate how completely monarchist was the idea of nationality embodied in Glinka’s opera, consider the quatrain on which the choral finale reaches its culmination: Slav’sya, slav’sya nash russkiy tsar’! Gospodom dannïy nam tsar’ gosudar’! Da budet bessmerten tvoy tsarskiy rod! Da im blagodenstvuyet russkiy narod! [Glory, glory to you, our Russian tsar! / Our Sovereign, given us by God! / May your royal line be immortal! / May the Russian people prosper through it!]

33. He wrote to Balakirev on 21 March 1861: “Perhaps no one has ever done a greater dishonor to our people than Glinka, who by means of his great music displayed as a Russian hero for all time that base groveller Susanin, with his canine loyalty, his hen-like stupidity [“owl-like” in the original Russian] . . . the apotheosis of the Russian brute of the Muscovite strain and of the Muscovite era. . . . But there will come a time when . . . Russia will cling ardently to Glinka but will recoil from this work, at

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the time of whose creation his friends and advisers, good-for-nothings of Nicholas I’s time, insinuated their base poison into his talent” (M. A. Balakirev i V. V. Stasov: Perepiska, ed. A. S. Lyapunova, vol. 1 [Moscow: Muzïka, 1970], 130). 34. Riasanovsky, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 133. 35. V. F. Odoyevsky, Muzïkal’no-literaturnoye naslediye (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1956), 119. 36. The inappropriateness of these terms to any discussion of music is already apparent in the self-created paradox to which writers who use them love to call attention. Thus, for example, Richard Anthony Leonard: “All this [i.e., the rivalry of the various Moscow and St. Petersburg musical factions] was another phase of the familiar issue which has so often split Russian intellectuals—Slavophiles versus admirers of Western culture. But here there was an important difference. Slavophiles were usually looked upon as the conservatives, . . . while the Westerners were considered cosmopolitan liberals. But in the music life of the eighteen-sixties the opposite was true. The nationalists were the progressives, and the cosmopolitan Westerners were the conservatives” (A History of Russian Music [New York: Macmillan, 1956], 73). Confronted with Chaikovsky’s residence in Moscow and the kuchka’s location in St. Petersburg, Leonard is forced to compound the paradox to the point of absurdity: “Even the cities became switched around, adding to the complication. Petersburg, itself a newly-manufactured imitation of the West, became the centre of nationalism in music; while the old conservative ultra-Russian Moscow became the seat of a cosmopolitan eclecticism.” There have lately been some welcome correctives. Robert Ridenour has published a full-length study of St. Petersburg musical politics in the nineteenth century, which concludes with the salutary reflection that that ferment is best viewed as a whole, and that its signal accomplishment was that it “expanded the scope and resources of musical life in the Russian capital, forced the public and the government to take Russian music seriously, and made music a respectable, legally recognized profession.” The author pointedly remarks that “this, . . . rather than any supposed reflection of the conflict between Slavophiles and Westernizers, is the most significant part of the story of the musical rivalries of the 1860s for a general understanding of nineteenth-century Russian history” (Nationalism, Modernism and Personal Rivalry in 19th-Century Russian Music [Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981], 234–35). 37. These were the collectors who, beginning in the late 1870s, tried to make accurate transcriptions of Russian polyphonic folksinging. Their work was received with hostility by all conservatory musicians, whose ranks by then included Rimsky-Korsakov. Linyova’s work, the most accurate because she was the first Russian folklorist to use the phonograph as field equipment, had a direct influence on Stravinsky. 38. Maria Tenisheva, Vpechatleniya moyey zhizni (Paris: Russkoye Istorikogenealoegicheskoye Obshchestvo vo Frantsii, 1933), 294. 39. For some details on the social standing of musicians before and after the establishment of the conservatory, see Ridenour, Nationalism, Modernism and Personal Rivalry, chapter 2. 40. Vladimir Stasov, Selected Essays on Music, trans. Florence Jonas (New York: Praeger, 1968), 83. 41. “Pervïye kompozitorskiye shagi Ts. A. Kyui,” in Cui, Izbrannïye stat’i (Leningrad: Muzgiz, 1952), 544.

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42. Rosa Newmarch, The Russian Opera (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., [1914]), 200. 43. See, for example, his letter to Rimsky-Korsakov of 15 August 1868, in Jay Leyda and Sergei Bertensson, The Musorgsky Reader (New York: Norton, 1947), 119–21. 44. Rubinstein spelled out his patriotic motives and his Peter-the-Great-like program for the musical salvation of his homeland in an article on Russian composers that he published in the Vienna Blätter für Theater, Musik und Kunst in 1855. 45. Anti-Semitism remained a feature of Soviet musical nationalism to the end, as exemplified by what was known in the 1970s as the novaya fol’kloristicheskaya volna (new folkloristic wave), a government-sanctioned avant-gardism of sorts that draws conspicuously on folk themes in a manner reminiscent, say, of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. This was offered as a Russian “answer” to the assimilation of Western avant-garde techniques, notably serial ones, which were tainted by the Jewishness of Schoenberg. I am grateful to Prof. Vladimir Frumkin of Oberlin College for bringing this manifestation to my attention. For a reminder that American musical nationalism also had a politically conservative and anti-Semitic phase, see Daniel Gregory Mason, Tune In, America: A Study of Our Coming Musical Independence (New York: Knopf, 1931), which contains a fairly heated jeremiad (158–62) on “the insidiousness of the Jewish menace to our artistic integrity.” 46. See Montagu Montagu-Nathan, “Belaiev—Maecenas of Russian Music,” Musical Quarterly 4 (1918): 450–65. 47. The article, entitled Moyo znakomstvo s Chaikovskim (My acquaintance with Chaikovsky), was written in 1923 for inclusion in a book of Chaikovsky memorabilia edited by Asafyev. It may be found in Vospominaniya o P. I. Chaikovskom, ed. V. V. Protopopov (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1962), 46–51. 48. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983. The contents include “Russian Music Theory: A Conspectus” (Ellon D. Carpenter), “Sources of Russian Chant Theory” (Nicholas Schidlovsky), “The Theories of Boleslav Yavorsky” (Gordon D. McQuere), “Varvara Dernova’s System of Analysis of the Music of Skryabin” (Roy J. Guenther), “Boris Asafyev and Musical Form as a Process” (McQuere), and a final chapter by Carpenter on several theorists associated with the Moscow Conservatory. Also of considerable interest is Jay Reise’s “Late Skriabin: Some Principles Behind the Style,” 19thCentury Music 6 (1983): 220–31. 49. In Stalin’s Time: Middleclass Values in Soviet Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). 50. The Russian Experiment in Art: 1863–1922 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1970). A good start has been made by Detlef Gojowy in Neue sowjetische Musik der 20er Jahre (Laaber: Laaber Verlag, 1980). 51. I have in mind particularly Richard Hoops, “Musorgsky and the Populist Age” (in Musorgsky: In Memoriam, 271–306), which derives a crucial argument wholly from an unsupported and factitious case made by Mikhail Pekelis in the introductory article to M. P. Musorgsky: Literaturnoye naslediye, vol. 2 (Moscow: Muzïka, 1972), 5–24, esp. 26–30. 52. See Laurel E. Fay’s review of Boris Schwarz’s Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia (enlarged edition) in Slavic Review 43 (1984): 359. 53. Istoriya russkoy muzïki, vol. 10b (Moscow, 2004), 5.

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54. E.g., the Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music, ed. Nicholas Cook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), or vol. 4 of my own Oxford History of Western Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005): for further discussion see R. Taruskin, “Speed Bumps” (review-essay on two recent Cambridge histories), 19thCentury Music 29 (2005–2006), 183–205. 55. Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 5th ed. (New York: Norton, 1996), 665–66. 56. Leon Plantinga, “Dvorák and the Meaning of Nationalism,” in Rethinking Dvorák: Views from Five Countries, ed. David R. Beveridge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 118. 57. Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 6th ed. (New York: Norton, 2001), 644–45. 58. Ibid., 646. 59. “Museum Pieces: The Historicist Mainstream in Music of the Last Hundred Years,” Journal of Musicology 2 (1983): 115–34; “Brahms and Twentieth-Century Classical Music,” 19th-Century Music 8 (1984–85): 75–83. 60. J. Peter Burkholder, Donald J. Grout, and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 7th ed. (New York: Norton, 2005), 681. 61. Ibid., 682. 62. E.g., Music and German National Identity, ed. Celia Applegate and Pamela Potter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 63. E.g., Musical Constructions of Nationalism, ed. Harry White and Michael Murphy (Cork: Cork University Press, 2001). The chapters in this collection broach nationalism in Hungary, Britain, Poland, France, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany—in that order.

2

For Ukraine, He’s a Native Son, Regardless

Say this much for nationalism: its cultural salvage missions, however perversely motivated, can yield up fascinating flotsam. In a new recording, a group of singers and instrumentalists from Lviv—formerly Lvov and, before that, Lemberg—in newly independent Ukraine has lovingly resurrected Alcide, an opera by Dmitry Bortnyansky, a distinguished native of the Ukrainian village of Hlukhiv (Glukhov to Russians) who never thought of himself as a Ukrainian and surely spent most of his life trying to forget he ever saw the place. Bortnyansky wrote Alcide to an Italian text by the great librettist Pietro Metastasio during his apprentice years in Bologna, where he was studying at the expense of the German-born, French-speaking Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Performed in Venice (once only) in 1778, when the composer was twenty-seven, the score now rests in the British Library. The next year Bortnyansky went home—not to Ukraine, where he had lived only until his ninth year, but to St. Petersburg, where he became director of music to the future Tsar Paul I and later took over the Imperial Chapel Choir, in which he had flourished as a child star. Over the next forty years and more he wrote a wealth of Italianate “concertos,” or a cappella cantatas, for the choir, and it is on these that his fame now chiefly rests. At his death, in 1825, he was the most lavishly decorated, socially exalted musician the Russian empire had ever produced rather than imported. If Bortnyansky was a Ukrainian composer, Irving Berlin was a Siberian one. Still, if the Ukrainians are not going to perform his operas, who will? And so, thanks to their possibly misplaced but welcome national pride, BortFirst published in the New York Times, 27 June 1999. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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nyansky’s Alcide (performed from an edition published in Kiev in 1985) joins the tiny cache of post-Handelian, pre-Mozartean Italian “serious” operas that have been recorded complete. The genre was cosmopolitanism itself, a tribute to the internationalism of the European upper crust at a time when social solidarity was everywhere defined “horizontally” (by class) rather than “vertically” (by nation). The rise of nationalism in the wake of Romanticism was actually among the things that killed off the opera seria. Yet the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, along with countless Soviet and post-Soviet hack writers, persists in the romantic fantasy that Bortnyansky’s operas “are based on Italian models but incorporate elements of Ukrainian monophonic chant and Ukrainian and Russian folk music.” Don’t even try to look for such things. To have included them in his operas would have altogether defeated the empress’s purpose in educating the composer. But if you have enjoyed the rare recorded operas by Johann Christian Bach or Johann Adolf Hasse, or if you would like to sample their style at somewhat shorter length and in somewhat more vivid colors, then Bortnyansky may be your man. The shorter length and the vivid colors are due neither to the composer’s national origin nor to any personal bent. Rather, they are attributes of the specific subgenre to which Alcide belongs. It is a festa teatrale, a “theatrical celebration” or mythological pageant with choruses and an expanded orchestra, of a kind Metastasio wrote to order for birthday or wedding feasts at the Vienna court. Hasse, who worked there alongside Metastasio, made the original setting, in 1760. After it went into general circulation a Neapolitan composer named Nicola Conforto set it for the Spanish royal court in Madrid before it was handed to Bortnyansky. It is a stiff moral allegory, meant both to compliment and to instruct the royal bridegroom or birthday boy with a flattering comparison to the title character, better known as Hercules. Left at a crossroads by his teacher Fronimo (tenor), Alcide must choose between the realms of pleasure and virtue, ruled respectively by the goddesses Hedonide and Aretea (dueling sopranos). Having made the right choice—can’t guess which? ask Bill Bennett—Alcide gets to have it all. Hedonide, now chastened and obedient, joins him in Virtueland to reward his good deeds as only she can do. The performance (Erol ER 98001; two CDs), conducted by the only nonUkrainian, Jean-Pierre Lore, is about as good as one can expect under the circumstances: earnest and pretty in the spirit of early music, but a long way from the virtuosity and glamour that provided opera seria with its reason for being. Only the harpsichordist seems to be using a period instrument, but opera seria is the one early genre that really needs period instruments: vocal ones. Its prospects for modern revival are virtually nil, since (as anyone

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knows who has seen the movie Farinelli) the instrument needed most of all can no longer be legally obtained. Natalya Datsko, a soprano, brings plenty of girlish pep to the role of Alcide, but it is impossible to associate a voice like hers—or even like Marilyn Horne’s, say what you like—with the manly “Herculean” virtues castrato singers were manufactured to flaunt. The difficulties are not only anatomical. The remaining singers—the sopranos Narina Zagorulko (Hedonide) and Olga Pasichnyk (Aretea), and especially the high tenor Patrick Garayt (Fronimo), who gets to sing the obligatory simile aria (“Time is fleeting as the current in the stream, the arrow in the air”)—have been instilled with modern notions of taste and decorum that rigorously preclude the kind of vainglorious ornateness and creative abandon that even mediocre operatic singing once displayed. Score-bound literalness, what used to be called historical authenticity, as ever killeth the spirit. Textual fidelity here extends even to the scrupulous reproduction of the misprints (or, perhaps, the transcription errors) in the 1985 score. Ornaments and cadenzas are tiny, grudging, gingerly. The most extended one, right before the da capo repeat in Hedonide’s last aria, unfortunately strays off key. In the absence of the wildness that daring singing would have provided (and that the composer was counting on), Bortnyansky’s consistently sweet and cheery music grows cloying. Yet there are moments to savor, even if they are mainly to be found on the margins, in the choral and orchestral numbers. The dramatic high point, Alcide’s stormy confrontation with a chorus of furies (in a singular and very welcome excursion into the minor mode) comes off well. The three big orchestral items (Overture, “Dance of the Spirits,” “Dance of the Furies”) are played with gusto, and, curiously, they are encored at the end of the second CD in a makeshift orchestral suite, perhaps to encourage plugs on singerphobic FM. Finally, for opera guild parties, there is “Dove andò?” (“Where has she gone?”), Alcide’s slow aria in quest of Aretea, virtually plagiarized, one assumes unconsciously, from Orfeo’s great aria “Che farò senza Euridice?” in Gluck’s most famous opera, which was new at the time. Doubtless some musicologist in Kharkov or Odessa has managed to trace it to a Ukrainian folk song in an effort to get the callow Bortnyansky off the hook, but the resemblance is patent, and it will tantalize your most knowledgeable friends. Ms. Datsko sings it becomingly. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

The Arts and Leisure letters editors had to contend with a lot of offended Ukrainian pride after this piece appeared. The letter they deemed fit to print came from Yuriy Tarnawsky, who identified himself as being formerly an adjunct assistant professor of Ukrainian culture at Columbia University.

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My article, he claimed, “brims with the kind of nationalism that he accuses Ukrainians of.” The letter continues: During Bortnyansky’s time, Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, and therefore, according to Mr. Taruskin’s logic, it could not have had any figures in music or art because it was part of the overall Russian culture. By this line of reasoning, Mahler could never be considered a Jewish composer. He is, of course, both Austrian and Jewish, the way Bortnyansky is both Russian and Ukrainian. This is the legacy of political empires. Bortnyansky was born in Hlukhiv, which at the time was the capital of Ukraine. Hlukhiv had the finest school of music in the Russian Empire, a source of many musicians at the Imperial court, among them the conductor and singer Poltoratsky and the composer Berezovsky, as well as Bortnyansky himself. In St. Petersburg, Bortnyansky was taken under Poltoratsky’s wing and moved in Ukrainian musical circles. Among his Ukrainian friends were Berezovsky and the sculptor Martos. So, although physically extricated from Ukraine, he maintained cultural ties with his homeland. Mr. Taruskin is probably right in saying that Bortnyansky’s operas cannot be claimed to show Ukrainian or Russian musical influence, but this cannot be claimed about his religious works. Many of these compositions were acknowledged by the composer to be based on Ukrainian (Kyivan) sources, and they frequently bear signs of Ukrainan and Russian folk song influence.

Mr. Tarnawsky added a number of points of historical interest to my account, but his complaint is misplaced. Ukraine was neither a political nor a religious entity during Bortnyansky’s lifetime, and its language was considered a peasant vernacular, to be spoken on the farm, not in polite society, or even in school. The earliest musical treatise published in the Russian empire, for example, Nikolai Diletsky’s Grammatika musikiyskago peniya (A grammar of musical song, 1677), most likely the book from which Berezovsky and Bortnyansky were trained in Hlukhiv, was written in Russian even though the author was known to be of Ukrainian birth (and may have been christened with the Polish name Mikolaj Dylecki). Mr. Tarnawsky continues to retail folk tales in his concluding paragraph. The Kievan chant, like the Russian, was originally of Byzantine Greek provenance, and only Romantic nationalists have contended that it bore any folkloric influences. By the time Bortnyansky received his training, it was customary to harmonize the chant, following Diletsky’s precepts, in a manner that was entirely international and “unmarked.” At least Mr. Tarnawsky maintained a civil tone. Other letter writers really let fly. “I was extremely disappointed and angered to find a ukrainophobic rant parading in disguise as a legitimate musicological review,” began the most exercised of my correspondents, who ended by yelling, “if Mr. Taruskin is not a bigot then neither was Archie Bunker.” My wording, especially in the first paragraph, may have been a bit provocative, but what I had hoped to

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provoke was a little rethinking of the sort of nationalist assumption that prompts the vituperation I elicited. Ukrainian literate culture, which began at the tail end of the eighteenth century (when Bortnyansky was already well ensconced in St. Petersburg), was discouraged and at times even repressed by the tsarist government in the nineteenth. Ukrainian nationalists had some legitimate grievances. But claiming the likes of Bortnyansky as a culture hero for Ukraine because of the accident of his birth is not an effective or constructive way of redressing them.

3

“Classicism” à la Russe The Powers of Heaven: Orthodox Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Paul Hillier, conductor. Harmonia Mundi CD HMU 907318 (2003). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

Contents: Dmitry Bortnyansky, Da ispravitsia molitva moia (“Let My Prayer Arise”) no. 2. Giuseppe Sarti, Nyne sily nebesnyia (“Now the Powers of Heaven”) Bortnyansky, Khiruvimskaia pesn (Cherubic Hymn) no. 7 Anonymous (ca. 1675), O presviataia Mariye Devitse (“O Most Holy Virgin Mary”) Vasily Titov, Slava/Yedinorodnyi Syne (“Glory/Only-Begotten Son”) Baldassare Galuppi, Plotiyu usnuv (“In the Flesh Thou Didst Fall Asleep”) Bortnyansky, Concerto No. 24: Vozvedokh ochi moyi v gory (“I Lift Up My Eyes to the Mountains”) Nikolai Diletsky, Khvalite imia Gospodne (“Praise the Name of the Lord”) Bortnyansky, Concerto No. 27: Glasom moim ko Gospodu vozzvakh (“With My Voice I Cried Out to the Lord”) Artemy Vedel, Na rekakh vavilonskikh (“By the Waters of Babylon”) Bortnyansky, Concerto No. 32: Skazhi mi, Gospodi, konchinu moyu (“Lord, Make Me to Know My End”)

Five of the eleven selections in this beautifully sung recital are by Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751–1825), the Ukrainian-born, Italian-trained composer who in 1796 became the first native-born director of the Imperial Chapel Choir in St. Petersburg, and whose prolific output of sacred choral music (following an earlier period as a composer for the musical stage) formed the basis for the modern musical repertory of the Russian Orthodox church. The great value of this CD is the opportunity it affords for placing this important and often misevaluated figure in several relevant contexts: those of his direct Italian predecessors, his somewhat remoter Ukrainian forebears, and his younger contemporaries. Before the seventeenth century, thanks to long centuries of seclusion behind an iron curtain of Mongolian captivity, the music of the Russian church developed in isolation from that of Western Europe. It was not even

Originally published in Eighteenth-Century Studies 39, no. 2 (2006): 279–82.

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called music, but rather “singing” (peniye), and it continued to rely on the sort of staffless neumatic notation that had begun to pass out of Western European use as early as the eleventh century. In Russian usage musika (originally pronounced moose-ika), later Italianized to muzyka, meant secular instrumental music—a pleonasm for the Eastern Orthodox, who have never allowed the use of instruments in church. (The reason for the ban is the last line of the Psalter, which says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” In Greek and the Slavic languages the same word—pneuma in the former, dukh in the latter—means both “breath” and “soul.”) By the seventeenth century, musika meant staff-notated Western-style music, and it began infiltrating the precincts of peniye as soon as “Western” became associated with high social prestige. It happened first, slightly before the time of Peter the Great, in Kiev, where Polish musicians began training local singers in Western ways. Polish Catholic music, like German Protestant music, was by then an offshoot of the impressive concertato repertory of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. That is where the word concerto was first used to designate a musical genre, and the genre it then designated was that of liturgical settings (previously called motets) for mixed ensembles of voices and instruments, each with specifically assigned roles. When the Italian style was adapted to Orthodox conditions it had to become a cappella, but it retained the textures of the vocal-instrumental medium. That is the style exemplified on this CD by the work of Nikolai Diletsky, who in 1679 published Idea grammatiki musikiyskoy (An idea of musical grammar), the first treatise on musika for Russian use. (It contains, incidentally, the first known chart of the circle of fifths, so that the Russians may if they wish claim that invention along with the radio and the airplane.) Compared with the Venetian model, Diletsky’s music (cf. track 8) is crude stuff, full of parallel fifths and retaining from traditional peniye a propensity for ornate rolling bass parts. Its “paraliturgical” companion on the CD, the anonymous kant (as the genre was known) in honor of the Virgin Mary, meant for home devotions and sung in archaic Russian rather than church Slavonic, has an equally rough-hewn texture, full of parallel octaves. It is a nice question whether these apparent solecisms, the kind of thing for which students in Western academies received (and still receive) failing grades, reflected vestiges of unwritten or indecipherable peniye practices. In any case, by the time we reach Vasily Titov’s concerto (track 5), a composition of the early eighteenth century, the forbidden intervals have been weeded out. The piece is a sonorous, expertly written if curiously archaic evocation of the Venetian style, ca. 1650—especially curious in its a cappella adaptations of what are obviously basso continuo textures like that of the trio sonata (two trebles over a bass, a texture never to be found in Western a cappella music). In its alternations of trio textures and full choral sections,

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Titov’s concerto reproduces the sonorous effect of the contemporary Italian concerto grosso (say, Corelli). Bortnyansky inherited the Diletsky-Titov style only indirectly. In between came the generations of Italian masters that the “three empresses” (Anne, Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great) lured to St. Petersburg to direct the court Italian opera. One of them, the Venetian Baldassare Galuppi (1706–85), who worked for Catherine from 1765 to 1768, was actually Bortnyansky’s teacher, both in St. Petersburg and afterward in Venice. (I shudder at the thought of all the smirking that must have gone on behind the poor man’s back in Russia, where his name almost coincided with the local word for “stupid.”) His fifteen settings of Orthodox liturgical texts, including the one given here (track 6), were obviously a model to his pupil. Giuseppe Sarti (1729–1802), who worked in Russia from 1785 until 1801, was Bortnyansky’s predecessor as director of the Imperial Chapel Choir, for which he wrote, under Catherine’s protection, Orthodox oratorios that contravened the prohibition on the use of instruments, as well as a cappella settings like the one included here on track 2. The suave, technically immaculate style cultivated by Galuppi and Sarti was obviously the source of Bortnyansky’s smooth and polished “classical” idiom. The surprising and telling difference between his work and theirs, which I had never fully realized before hearing this disc, is that the work of the Italians-by-birth was far more adventurously expressive than that of the Italian-by-choice. Sarti and Galuppi made free use, in their Orthodox settings, of “madrigalian” devices like word painting (hear Sarti’s sopranos soar as they invoke “the Powers of Heaven”) and chromatic harmony (like Galuppi’s deceptive cadence to a chord of the augmented sixth on the word “salvation”: musicians reading this will know how purple that is!)—devices Bortnyansky never allowed himself, just as he pruned back the proliferous melismas of traditional peniye (something Russian chant had in common with the Western church’s “Gregorian” chant) in which Sarti, recognizing that musical and spiritual kinship, luxuriated. What is more, the same difference can be observed in comparing Bortnyansky’s work with that of Artemy Vedel (1767–1808), his younger contemporary and one-time neighbor, both of them having hailed from the Ukrainian town of Hlukhiv. Possibly owing to Bortnyansky’s machinations, Vedel never had the opportunity to study abroad or work in St. Petersburg, and yet his work more nearly resembles that of Sarti and Galuppi in its luxuriant prosody and rich harmony than does Bortnyansky’s. What accounts for Bortnyansky’s chaste “classical” reserve? What, if not overcompensation for his native, relatively lowly birth and a concomitant determination to adopt a perfectly cosmopolitan, perfectly aristocratic manner, as “unmarked” (read: universal) as he could make it? These were the virtues that in his day reflected high prestige both on him and on the institutions

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he served. Thus what Bortnyansky seems to have striven for above all else was impersonal refinement; what distinguishes his work above all is its magnificent choral euphony. As a virtuoso in “choral scoring” he far surpassed his models, both domestic and imported. His famous Khiruvimskaia (track 3), curiously reminiscent (could it be deliberately?) of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus (K. 618, 1791), earned the ardent admiration of Chaikovsky, who was commissioned in the 1880s to edit Bortnyansky’s oeuvre for republication, and who modeled his own liturgical style on it. Chaikovsky’s admiration for Bortnyansky (like his adoration of Mozart) was no doubt tinged with Romantic nostalgia for primordial purity. Romantic nationalists, by contrast, tended to despise Bortnyansky’s work. RimskyKorsakov, who was briefly employed by the Imperial Chapel Choir school, called it “one unremitting error in the understanding of Russian church style.” Under the Soviets, determined efforts (inevitably and fatally successful) were made to associate Bortnyansky’s music with Russian folklore and thus, as Marika Kuzma notes in her article on the composer in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, “to restore Bortnyansky’s legitimacy as a native Slavonic composer.” But of course nothing could have been further from Bortnyansky’s own idea of legitimacy, not to mention that of his royal employers. The virtues of Bortnyansky’s composerly approach are well matched by the performances inscribed on this CD. Hillier and his Estonian singers ( joined for the occasion by one Russian “octave bass”) produce beautifully balanced and polished renditions that well exemplify today’s criteria of high-prestige professional music making. In timbre and tempo they exhibit the ideal of brightness, suppleness, cleanliness and clarity associated with “early music” at its best. Like Bortnyansky’s creative ideal, it is impersonal, “unmarked,” and devoid of any taint of expressive excess. And yet there is reason to doubt that these mixed-choir performances sound much like the performances Bortnyansky’s own men-and-boys choir might have produced. In her program essay Marika Kuzma suggests that there may be something essentially Slavic in this music after all. She identifies it with “a humility, penitence, and, at the same time, stolid confidence characteristic of Slavic Orthodoxy in general.” I would agree, and yet I would associate these traits less with the compositional idiom (which, as I have already suggested, can be shown to derive not from Orthodox but from Catholic models) than with the probable manner of performance. When Bortnyansky’s works are performed not by concert choirs like Hillier’s but by actual Orthodox church choirs, the tempos are invariably much, much slower than Hillier’s, the dynamics much more varied, the timbre much more covered, and the pitch much less steady and discrete (i.e., the singers tend to slide around). These are attributes valued almost everywhere

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in actual liturgical singing, including traditional Russian peniye. They produce effects of sublimity and mystic identification with the texts, effects at an almost antipodal remove from those prized by today’s concertgoers (and concert givers). I am far from necessarily recommending such performances. They would render the music far less accessible to contemporary secular taste, probably less interesting and pleasurable to this or any CD’s likely listeners, and less conducive to the kind of detached stylistic comparisons and evaluations that make this disc so instructive.

4

A Wonderful Beginning David Brown, Mikhail Glinka: A Biographical and Critical Study (London: Oxford University Press, 1974; 340 pp.)

At the notorious Zhdanov-convened “conference” of Soviet musicians at the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1948, which led to the infamous “Resolution on Music” that Soviet composers could never quite live down, Yuri Shaporin contributed some interesting testimony. During a class in orchestration, he recalled, I recommended to one student that he look through Glinka’s scores. The student objected, “But what’s so interesting about them?” I don’t know, perhaps I exceeded my authority as professor, but I threw that student out of the classroom. Now I am a very easygoing person; the student apologized to me and I forgave him, taking into account the fact that he was brought up abroad and only landed in the USSR in 1939. But in doing so, I told him that once a student is learning his trade at the Moscow Conservatory, he is obliged to study and assimilate the Russian musical classics.1

While this anecdote demonstrates the immoderate reverence for the “classics” for which Soviet musicography and musical education have often been taken to task—a reverence much bolstered by patriotism, not to say xenophobia (even for an “easygoing person,” disrespect to Glinka was only forgivable on the grounds that the disrespectful miscreant was a foreigner; thus lack of reverence for Glinka equals “un-Soviet activity”)—the fact remains that a comparably pat assessment of the Russian master is accepted the world over. If there is any composer whose niche in history seems to have been definitively assigned for all time, that composer must be Glinka. Catch phrases like “the father of Russian music” and “the first truly Russian composer” come to mind like knee jerks whenever the name is recalled, and Originally published in The Musical Quarterly 61 (1975): 141–50.

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David Brown begins the present work with the sweeping claim that Glinka, “single-handed, . . . laid the foundation for a Russian musical tradition” (2). From the very first, Glinka has been seen as “the boundary between the past and the future of Russian music,” to use Yury Keldïsh’s elegant metaphor.2 As early as the première of A Life for the Tsar in 1836 Glinka’s work was hailed as “a wonderful beginning” (Gogol) and as the harbinger of “a new element in art” (Odoyevsky). Clearly, something there was that set Glinka immediately apart from all his musical predecessors and compatriots, and time has only magnified his image as founding father, surrounding his name with a mystique the way Ives’s name is surrounded on these shores. In such a situation the temptation for iconoclasm is great. Mr. Brown has resisted it in his book, and I shall try to resist it here. But even without going so far as to challenge the time-honored evaluation of Glinka’s contribution, one has to ask what, precisely, is its basis? This turns out to be a frustrating question. The more one knows of Glinka and his works, the more elusive the answer becomes, and if anyone doubts this, let him read Mr. Brown’s book, the first full-length study of this important composer ever to appear in English. That it is the first English Glinka biography is already remarkable, and one looks for reasons.3 One has only to read a few chapters of the book before the answer dawns: Glinka’s life, except as it relates directly to his work, is not worth reading about. Or writing about, one thinks in commiseration with the author. Among the great composers Glinka must surely be the smallest man. He stands as living proof that a great creative imagination need not be housed in a great mind or spirit. Through a dozen chapters Brown doggedly pursues the humdrum, banal facts of Glinka’s existence—dilettantish musical pursuits and amusements, social climbing, affairs, “cures,” domestic spats, desultory travel—and then it becomes too much even for him. The thirteenth chapter begins with a passage that must be all but unprecedented in musical biography; the author throws up his hands in a frank and magnificent confession of disgust with his subject, to which the reader (whose hands were up several chapters back) can only respond “Amen.” There is no point in wearying the reader with a detailed account of the last nine years of Glinka’s life. By this time the triviality of many of the events recorded in the Memoirs must have become tedious. There is something unutterably depressing about a composer who already had two remarkable operas and some striking orchestral works behind him, and who could presumably have written more if only he could have stirred himself to work, and yet who could count carousings and dalliances as the things that were really worthy of record. Who could he think was really interested in his alcoholic orgies with the hussars’ regiment that was stationed near Warsaw when he stayed in that city for a second time? Was it really worth describing how he was invited to a reception of the Empress when she was visiting Warsaw, simply in order to be able to record her memorable greeting: “Hello, Glinka. What are you doing here?” and her dazzling

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rejoinder when he replied that he found the Warsaw climate better for him than that of St. Petersburg: “The difference is small, but I’m glad, very glad to see you.” And who is interested in Emilia of Warsaw, Léonie of Paris, or Amalia from Bordeaux, who were among the successors to Angélique of Warsaw and Dolores of Granada? Let us take such things for granted in Glinka’s life, and say no more about them. (278)

Which, unfortunately, leaves little to say. Glinka’s creative genius was as remote and inaccessible to the composer’s understanding as to the researcher’s or the reader’s. The mystery of Glinka’s creative physiognomy, which has flustered so many of his admirers (Brown opens his book with a famous passage to that effect from Chaikovsky’s diaries), must ever remain a mystery. So, without regrets, let us dismiss the man. Whatever value Brown’s book possesses must lie in the biography of Glinka’s works. Fortunately, Brown eschews the usual “life then works” format, preferring an integration of material that enables the music happily to dwarf its creator. Each of the operas is given three entire chapters. The first recounts the exterior facts of the composer’s life during the period of composition and also covers minor works composed while the opera was in progress; the second details the “process of composition” of the respective opera (and in the case of Ruslan this chapter is illuminating indeed); and the third is devoted to a detailed examination of the music. It is in his treatment of A Life for the Tsar that Brown is forced to face the question with which we opened this review. To his credit he does not try to beg the issue; we do not find the bromides of conventional historiography. There is no claim that the opera “ushered in the age of nationalism” or emancipated Russian music from some kind of Tatar yoke. Instead, Brown forthrightly and provocatively states that “disentangling the French and Italian operatic traits [in A Life for the Tsar] is relatively easy compared with the task of isolating the Russian elements” (119). But then the author disappoints us, betraying a timidity often encountered in Western writers when confronted with the consensus of Russian and Soviet opinion on Glinka’s contribution, much of which, as suggested above, has been calculated to create a mystique. On the question of “Russian elements” in Glinka’s style, Brown asserts that “any Russian view must obviously be treated with respect, for Russian ears are naturally more sensitive to such matters than ours.” And later, with regard to Yanuariy Neverov’s preposterous claim that Glinka’s recitatives reproduce the intonations of Russian speech (the next generation of Russian composers hardly thought so!), Brown tells us that “the Western listener has to take [this] statement on trust” (121). Dealing with Stasov’s even more preposterous assertion that the Slavsya chorus in the opera’s epilogue is composed in the Mixolydian mode and “harmonized with the plagal cadence of the middle ages,” Brown tentatively objects, as any unprejudiced hearer might: “Doesn’t the harmony sound like a good

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deal of C major tonic and dominant at the beginning, with a final swing to the dominant?” (134). Of course it does, for that is what it is. But Stasov was a Russian, and so Brown feels constrained to concede that “both views are equally defensible.” He is even willing to grant that “Stasov really heard it [his] way,” but I do not believe it for a minute. There was never a Russian tradition of harmony along the lines Stasov suggests. And as for the melody, its foursquare phrasing and implied harmonic direction immediately brand it as conventionally European in conception, whatever its patriotic significance might be for Russians then and now. Mr. Brown is on stronger ground when writing about the two versions of Susanin’s entrance theme, for this is one of the two or three instances where Glinka actually employed a folk tune. The author points out, correctly, that the definitive version of the melody as it appears in the opera Westernizes the tune by virtue of its harmonization, which must to a considerable extent falsify its melodic structure. But he has no real basis for assuming that the “decidedly crude” prior version was closer to the original folk source, for the original is lost, save for the opening two measures that Glinka noted down in his Zapiski and preserved in both operatic versions. Are crudeness and harmonic waywardness all it takes to achieve “authenticity”? On the whole the author is admirably cautious in his attribution of putative folk derivations to Glinka’s music. He has a good ear for what is Russian and what is not, but he is too often content merely to say a given melody “sounds Russian” without telling us why. He identifies the theme of the oarsmen’s chorus, plausibly enough, as a “very Russian tune” (119; the use of the comparative, sorry to say, is very British). But while Brown calls attention to the cadences on the supertonic as evidence for this, he makes no mention of the irregularity of the phrase structure, the descending fifth as melodic termination (Glinka himself called this trait “the soul of Russian music,” according to Yury Arnold’s memoirs), or the characteristic “perpetual variation” principle of melodic elaboration. The nonspecialist readers for whom this book is primarily intended need to be shown these things, so that they can then begin to make their own judgments about the extent of Glinka’s fidelity to the folk. Sometimes Brown’s own evaluations of the Russian element seem a little condescending. For him, the “notable vigour” of the Slavsya chorus and the overture are enough to stamp these pieces as “characteristically Russian.” But we are still left with our question; for all the emphasis upon Glinka’s “nationalism,” Brown never succeeds in demonstrating that the Russian element in A Life for the Tsar constituted its novelty or its epoch-making quality. A better acquaintance with Glinka’s immediate predecessors, such as Verstovsky or Cavos, might have suggested to the author that what made A Life for the Tsar “a wonderful beginning” had in fact much less to do with the Russian element per se than one tends to assume. Except for a few

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decorative touches, like the bridal chorus in 5/4 meter or the balalaika imitations in the accompaniment to the oarsmen’s chorus, Glinka’s opera makes no marked advance over the “Russianness” of his predecessors. One finds in Verstovsky’s work, for example, choruses that are just as ethnically “realistic” as Glinka’s, not only in their sources but in treatment as well. Verstovsky knew about the mannerisms of Russian folk polyphony as well as Glinka did. He, too, wrote choruses that begin with unaccompanied strains (zapevala) followed by stark harmonizations (podgoloski), and he maintained in these harmonizations a diatonic purity equal to Glinka’s, if we are to apply the yardstick that the critic Herman Laroche, Glinka’s younger contemporary, used to measure ethnic authenticity in art music. Indeed, as late as 1862 Alexander Serov wrote that Verstovsky “strikes chords within the Russian soul that Glinka never touched.”4 When Brown attempts to define what it is that set Glinka apart from Verstovsky and the rest, he is forced to rely upon received wisdom, and the result is perhaps the weakest passage in the book: What Glinka did was to draw upon characteristics of all the varieties of indigenous Russian music he had heard from his earliest years, not with the condescension of the sophisticate who wants to be “folksy,” but with the perfectly natural case of a musician for whom folk-song was as deeply rooted and as valid an experience as more cultivated music. (113)

This is sheer mystique. If one cannot isolate the Russian elements, one accounts for them in terms of a preternatural aura. We have a right to expect greater skepticism on the part of an disinterested researcher. Such a skepticism might have freed the author from the preconception that Glinka’s “nationalism” was greater than that of his predecessors and led his inquiry along more fruitful paths. Such a path is indicated in a pregnant quotation from Odoyevsky, part of which Brown actually includes in his discussion of A Life for the Tsar, but whose implications he fails to grasp. Odoyevsky wrote that Glinka “proved with his brilliant essay that Russian melody . . . may be raised to the level of tragedy,” and later, with reference to Susanin’s act 4 monologue, that “at this moment Susanin’s melody achieves the highest tragic style, while—something unheard of up to now!—preserving in all its purity its Russian character,” adding that “one must hear this scene to become convinced of the feasibility of such a union, which until now had been considered an unrealizable dream.”5 In effect, Glinka’s signal contribution was to show that the Russian national element could be more than decorative, and that it could be used as the basis for serious musico-dramatic works. Before Glinka, Russian opera had been a fairly trivial genre, stylistically beholden to the singspiel and the vaudeville, and generally aspiring no higher than these models in tone and technique. A Life for the Tsar, it should be emphasized, was the very first Russian opera to

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replace spoken dialogue entirely with recitative, to adopt the most advanced formal manner of contemporary Western opera, and to attempt the heroic expression of a theme of high passion and lofty moral sentiment.6 Where Verstovsky’s principal Western mentors had been Auber and Weber, Glinka took his cue from the operas of Cherubini and Beethoven, no less, and in applying the style russe successfully to so broad and unprecedented a canvas, he demonstrated that a vernacular idiom need not perforce be trivial or in any way more limited in its range of expression than the more “universal” musical language of the West. Glinka, in short, did not invent the Russian style, but he made it competitive. It was this that his contemporaries immediately sensed, and—perhaps paradoxically—the best measure of Glinka’s path breaking is the fact that he was the first Russian composer to be taken seriously abroad (Mr. Brown includes Berlioz’s admiring article of 1845 as an appendix). Brown’s discussion of Ruslan and Lyudmila, like the opera itself, is brilliant but flawed. Chapter 9 gives a fine account of the opera’s chaotic “process of composition,” which goes a long way toward explaining the opera’s glaring, and all but incredible, dramaturgical ineptness. The variegated, marvelously inventive music is described ably and with great enthusiasm, aided by some imaginative charts that demonstrate long-term tonal and thematic relationships. One shares the author’s hope that his book might revive interest in the score, which is one of the nineteenth century’s most innovative and inspired; but one also inevitably shares his despair at the opera’s prospects as a theatrical spectacle: “The saddest thing for the Western student of Glinka is that he knows, for all his commendations of the riches in Ruslan and Lyudmila, that what he writes is less likely to prove a testimonial that will gain the work admission to the opera houses of the West than an obituary” (233). Even in Russia, an oft-heard opinion (albeit one expressed only in private) is that Glinka’s opera would fare better if presented as an oratorio.7 Perhaps, after all, it might gain some recognition even outside of Russia in that guise; at any rate, its score cries out for widespread dissemination.8 Still, one wishes that the author had pursued further the questions of operatic dramaturgy that Ruslan’s failure raised, particularly the furious controversy that raged in the Russian music press in the 1850s and 1860s over the opera’s merits, with Stasov (pro) and Serov (contra) as the major antagonists. True, this aspect of Ruslan’s history postdates the composer’s demise and might thus seem beyond the scope of the present work. But it is crucial to an understanding of Glinka’s legacy to succeeding generations of Russian composers. Ruslan’s dramaturgical failure was a trauma, a blot on Russian music, that had to be exorcised either by denial (Stasov) or by rejection (Serov). It was one of the factors underlying the almost pathologically fanatical concern for dramaturgical viability that characterized so much Russian operatic creation and criticism in the 1860s and 1870s. In fact it might almost be said

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that Glinka exerted a greater influence on the future course of Russian opera with Ruslan’s failure than he had with A Life for the Tsar’s success. In sum, then, this book fills a real gap in the English-language literature about music. About Glinka’s life it will teach the general reader as much as the proverbial schoolboy was taught about penguins. On the subject of the works it is a source of generally reliable information. One also hopes that readers of Mr. Brown’s biography will be impelled to go to the works and see for themselves what is in them. The unfortunate fact remains, however, that readers who want to know Glinka in depth must still come to grips with the Russian language. Of that responsibility Mr. Brown, for all his admirable effort, has not absolved them. NOTES

1. Soveshchaniye deyateley muzïki v TsK VKP(b) = Conference of Soviet Musical Functionaries at the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik); transcript (Moscow, 1948), 12. 2. Istoriya russkoy muzïki [History of Russian music], vol. 1 (Moscow and Leningrad: Muzgiz, 1948), 369. 3. An English translation of Glinka’s autobiographical Zapiski (“Notes,” usually referred to as his “Memoirs”) has been around for more than a decade (trans. R. B. Mudge [Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1963]), but as Mr. Brown points out, it is for many reasons hardly the place to go for a real understanding of the composer and his works. 4. A. N. Serov. Izbrannïye stat’i [Selected articles], vol. 2 (Moscow, 1957), 47. 5. V. F. Odoevsky, Muzïkal’no-literaturnoye naslediye [Musical literary legacy] (Moscow, 1956), 119. 6. Cavos’s prior operatic adaptation of the Susanin story had been a singspiel in which the tragic style was evaded by means of Susanin’s rescue by the arrival of Russian troops in the thick of the forest. 7. [Author’s note, 2005]: Here I was quoting Alexey Ivanovich Kandinsky, the chair of Russian music history at the Moscow Conservatory, who was my academic supervisor during my stay there as an exchange student in 1971–72. 8. [Author’s note, 2005]: Nobody in 1975 foresaw the renewed popularity (and, in the West, the discovery) of the Russian operatic classics, Ruslan included, thanks to the intrepid touring efforts of the post-Soviet generation of performers. Seeing Ruslan and Lyudmila performed at last, in San Francisco in 1995, under Valeriy Gergiyev’s baton and with the then unknown Anna Netrebko as the female title character, was a dazzlingly festive occasion that changed many minds about the opera— to the point of judging it to be, if not a dramatic masterpiece, then at least a spectacle nonpareil.

5

Dargomïzhsky and His Stone Guest

“I want Truth,” wrote Alexander Sergeyevich Dargomïzhsky, in a sloganeering letter that is often cited (though it was written a decade earlier) as the theoretical document that “explains” his remarkable swan song of 1867, The Stone Guest. Fair enough, but who wants falsehood? Chaikovsky, for one: “If there is anything more hateful and false than this unsuccessful attempt to introduce truth into a branch of art where everything is based on pseudo and where truth in the usual sense of the word is not demanded at all, I do not know it.” The branch of art, of course, was opera: the favola in musica, the dramma per musica that had been invented by Florentine humanists two and a half centuries earlier in an effort to recapture the miraculous effects of the ancient Greek (sung) tragedy. The earliest operatic composers were, many of them, ardent pamphleteers no less obsessed with truth than Dargomïzhsky. Monteverdi boasted that he had written for Arianna “a true lament” and for Orfeo “a true prayer,” and that he was thus able to “move the affections” of his princely audience as they had never been moved before. And he did this, he explained, by making “the words the mistress of the music.” Monteverdi’s truth was Dargomïzhsky’s truth as well. In the same letter of 1857, the Russian composer wrote, “I want sound directly to express the word.” What had happened in the meantime to make this oldest aim of opera seem new again? For one thing, the operatic audience had changed. What had originally been an aristocratic elite was now a mass public that demanded to be not only moved but astonished by thrilling virtuoso singing. For another, the art of music had developed techniques of construction that Originally published in the program book of the Chamber Opera Theater of New York, February 1986.

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enabled composers to become virtuosos themselves, molding long stretches of unfolding time toward thrilling, purely musical climaxes. The ideal of nineteenth-century operatic composers was not so much the setting of words as such—that had passed into the domain of song writers—but rather the “understanding of a stage situation in musical terms,” in the words of Herman Laroche, an important Russian critic of the day (and one of Dargomïzhsky’s most fervent antagonists), and its representation in the form of what another leading critic and composer, Alexander Serov, called “vast musicoscenic frescoes.” This, of course, is a prescription for what we know as “grand opera”—or, to be precise, le grand opéra, for the genre had been defined and brought to its peak of perfection in France. It was an opera of heroic—usually historical— theme, huge casts, panoramic staging, and searing perorations. None of us has ever seen anything like it. No one can afford to mount opera on such a scale in an age of high-priced labor, deficit finance, and unequal competition from Hollywood. But in the nineteenth century, grand opera was the main medium of upscale mass entertainment, the C. B. DeMille (all right, the George Lucas) productions of the day. Nowadays it is easy enough to assume that dramatic values were swamped and perverted by all the spectacle. What really happened was that a special form of dramaturgy, highly specific to the genre, was invented for it, one that had little in common with other forms of theater, since it was born precisely out of that musical understanding of the stage of which Laroche spoke. To put it in terms of Monteverdi’s slogan, music had become the uncontested mistress. Perhaps paradoxically, the supreme genius of the grand opera was not a musician but a word man, Eugène Scribe, whose librettos were set not only by Meyerbeer—with whose name Scribe’s is most firmly linked—but also by Auber, Boieldieu, Gounod, Halévy, and the greatest Italian composers as well: Bellini (La Sonnambula), Donizetti (Les martyrs, Dom Sébastien), even Verdi (Les vêpres siciliennes). A Scribe libretto was crafted act by act in a series of great waves. If a Baroque opera seria could be described as an “exit opera” (from the convention decreeing that a character, having sung, must exit so as to receive applause and curtain calls), the Scribian grand opera might be called an “entrance opera.” After an opening decorative chorus, a soliloquy, or both, an act was typically given a steadily mounting tension through a progressive accumulation of characters onstage, each of whose entrance marked an abrupt shift in the action. The final peripeteia was musically fixed by the morceau d’ensemble avec choeurs, a gigantic tableau, huge both in volume and in emotional weight, with the chorus, divided into various (oft-times opposing) groups, now taking on a more active role. This was the crowning moment for which the whole preceding action had been a strategic preparation, an enormous dramaturgical upbeat. And like all Scribe-engineered musical climaxes, it took place in a complete dramatic stasis. Further development

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of the action waited while the mood, be it joy or agony, was fixed and monumentalized at length by the impressive music. That this procedure was patently artificial—what Chaikovsky, an expert practitioner, called “pseudo”—hardly needs saying. It is a common critical sport to deride the mangling that well-known dramatic plots often had to endure in order to achieve such a shape. And yet both theatrically and musically it was gloriously effective. It gave the singers their due, and—let us emphasize it—the composer his. Its efficiency made it extremely durable. Even Wagner, for all his reputation as the century’s highest-minded operatic reformer, can be seen within this tradition. Wagnerian plots and themes and voices are the most heroic of all, and who was more adept than he at molding whole acts to monumental climaxes? Alongside such diabolically artful marvels of musico-theatrical strategy a call for simple “truth” could seem like literalism of the naivest sort. Dargomïzhsky had tried his hand at Scribian grand opera and had failed. His Esmeralda, to a translation of the libretto Victor Hugo had drawn from his Notre-Dame de Paris for the composer Louise Bertin, had flopped in 1838, and in the meantime he had achieved no more than a succès d’estime with two works based on Pushkin: The Triumph of Bacchus (1848), a “lyric opera-ballet” set to a mock-anacreontic ode the great poet had penned at the age of nineteen, and Rusalka (The mermaid), to the text of a singspiel libretto (inspired by a famous Viennese singspiel called Das Donauweibchen) that Pushkin had left unfinished at his death. Rusalka was produced in 1856 and dropped after eleven performances. Though it thus had to be counted a failure with the public, certain critics, notably Serov, called attention to the remarkable qualities of Dargomïzhsky’s recitatives. Serov described them in terms that evidently gave the composer an idea: “One of the most precious sides of Dargomïzhsky’s talent is precisely this truth of musical expression. He serves this truth honorably at every turn, and oftentimes to the detriment of external effect, something he might have achieved by other, more conventional means. But where the requirements of ‘effectiveness’ coincide with ‘musical truth,’ there the triumph of Rusalka’s author is complete.” No composer ever won popularity on the strength of his recitatives, God knows, and Dargomïzhsky knew it too. He renounced the mass public and decided to write for a hypothetical elite—one of connoisseurs, the best a nineteenth-century artist could do to match Monteverdi’s audience of princes. And, like the early composers and theorists of opera, he deliberately turned his back on a centuries-long development, indeed a perfection, of musical technique (in their day it had been “contrapuntal”; in his it was “symphonic”) in favor of a more elemental musical style that sought its justification in a wedding with words. As César Cui, Dargomïzhsky’s self-proclaimed disciple and tribune, put it, “This marriage stands to benefit both parties: the music gains a specificity of meaning only words can impart, while the words take on a

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force of expression that can only come from music.” Cui, best remembered as the forgotten member of the Mighty Five, called Dargomïzhsky’s new style, the style of The Stone Guest, by the name of “melodic recitative.” He distinguished it from more familiar sorts of recitative in this way: “Even without the text each musical phrase possesses its own beauty and meaning, but in the overall view and in their ordering there are no absolute musical connections, no abstract musico-logical developments. For this is not pure, symphonic music; this is applied music, vocal music. Its development and coherence depend on the text; it must be listened to only with the text, and then its potency is enormous.” And just what sort of text was Dargomïzhsky’s “applied music” applied to? This was perhaps the most radical step of all. Since the conventional operatic libretto had been developed in conjunction with the sort of music Dargomïzhsky had rejected—indeed, it had been calculated to give that sort of music maximum Lebensraum—Dargomïzhsky turned his back on it as well. He rejected the whole idea of the dramma per musica, the drama-throughmusic that made special provision for full-blown and standardized musical forms and hit upon the unprecedented idea of setting to music a preexistent stage play, Alexander Pushkin’s retelling of the Don Juan or Don Giovanni legend. This raised a question his critics taunted him with mercilessly: if the play was already there, written without music or even the premonition of music, then who, besides the composer, needed the music? But since the same question could be asked—but wasn’t—of a song composer who likewise added his music to a preexisting verbal entity, it need not trouble us. If the Lied or the romance was viable in theory, so was Dargomïzhsky’s idea of a sung play. Putting things this way clarifies the nature of The Stone Guest. Despite its reputation with many writers who have never heard it, the work is by no means a “recitative opera.” Far from an ascetic and uncompromising experiment in speech-derived musical declamation, or a continuous “accompanied recitative” of the usual sort, the music in The Stone Guest is unabatedly and exquisitely lyric. Its properties could be fully described or revealed only through close analysis, but they entail the elegant “rounding” of melodic design and the construction of balanced, proportioned, memorable phrases that differ from more conventional lyric forms only in that balance and rounding were applied to single phrases, not to their grouping. The avoidance of symmetry and repetition satisfied the realist criterion of “formlessness,” while the powerful characterization of each separate line of text satisfied the demand of “individuality.” But in no sense can Dargomïzhsky’s declamation be called “naturalistic.” The full-length embodiment of Pushkin’s Don Juan play in Dargomïzhsky’s music could best be described, perhaps, as a single gargantuan, kaleidoscopically varied, through-composed romance.

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And what a wonderful play this sensitive music clothes! It is doubtful whether Dargomïzhsky would ever have thought up the genre of “sung play” had he not this play to hand. One couldn’t set just any play to continuous music, since it takes so much longer to sing than to speak. The Stone Guest— one of Pushkin’s four “Little Tragedies” of 1830—is a masterpiece of concision. The drama is stripped of all nonessentials, a task traditionally performed by a librettist, if only to make room for the musical “nonessentials” of conventional opera. The longest of the Little Tragedies, The Stone Guest contained a mere 550 lines—and these were of a quality that made the play, in the estimation of D. S. Mirsky, the great Pushkinist, “one of the serious contenders” for recognition as the poet’s masterpiece. For a composer bent on establishing the equality of words and music in opera, such quality was no small recommendation in itself. But The Stone Guest embodied in addition many themes that had attracted Dargomïzhsky before. Like Rusalka, it was a drama of expiation and supernatural nemesis. The tragic heroes of both plays are villain seducers, and both meet their fate by returning to the scene of their past triumphs. And so one can easily agree with the Soviet music historian Abram Gozenpud that what attracted Dargomïzhsky to The Stone Guest was the play’s “uncommon poetic and philosophical qualities and its original resolution of a plot that had excited so many other writers and artists.” Precisely here lay the opera’s chief audacity, in fact, for among the artists excited by that plot were the creators of one of the enduring masterworks of the operatic stage. For Pushkin, writing his play had meant contending with Da Ponte, the librettist of Don Giovanni. For Dargomïzhsky, it meant contending with Mozart as well. Pushkin’s treatment of the Don Juan legend was entirely alien, even opposed, to the tradition represented by Don Giovanni. Where all previous Don Juan plays had been essentially farcical up to the last scene (the serious treatment of which by Da Ponte and Mozart had created such an abrupt reversal of tone), Pushkin’s is high romantic tragedy, diluted only by the role of Leporello, whom the poet had borrowed directly from Da Ponte. Every line of The Stone Guest points inexorably and severely to the denouement prefigured in the title. Pushkin’s Don Juan is a poet and dreamer, a quintessential romantic leading man. Dargomïzhsky cast him not as a comic baritone but as a lyric tenor. Throughout, and in marked contrast to his literary and operatic prototypes, Pushkin’s protagonist behaves with a curious passivity. He seems more the instrument of the forces he embodies than their exploiter. On meeting Donna Anna, no sooner is he touched with true love than he, like all his victims, must perish. He is killed as if by his own sword, wielded by Donna Anna, her husband’s (yes, her husband’s, not her father’s) unwitting avenger. By making Donna Anna the Commander’s widow and not his daughter, and by making the invitation to the statue not a frivolous caprice but a horrendous moral insult—a request that he actually assist his murderer

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in the seduction of his widow—Pushkin made his Don Juan not only more profound and romantic a character than Da Ponte’s but far more morally repulsive as well. Yet this only strengthens the lofty bravado of Pushkin’s romantic conception: the intolerable challenge to the foundation of all social mores is issued by a poet. Responding to this greatly deepened conception of the drama, Dargomïzhsky composed his greatest music for the statue scene in The Stone Guest, music that in audacity (whole-tone harmonies two generations before Debussy!) and dramatic power transcended anything he had yet composed. It stands with the best pages of Boris Godunov at the pinnacle of Russian opera, and that is not the only thing his opera has in common with Musorgsky’s. Dargomïzhsky died before finishing the work, and—following the old Russian custom—it was orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov (and the very end of the first scene was actually tipped in by César Cui). Clothed in Rimsky’s restrained yet masterly orchestral colors, and performed in a language its audience can understand, Dargomïzhsky’s sung play, though it failed as reform and founded no school, will live as long as there are connoisseurs of music and drama who are receptive to its very special, subtle beauties.

6

Pathetic Symphonist Chaikovsky, Russia, Sexuality, and the Study of Music

Of Tchaikowsky’s symphony apart from its performance I need only say that it is highly characteristic of him. In the first movement, the only one with a distinctly poetic basis, he is, as ever, “le Byron de nos jours”; and in the later ones, where he is confessedly the orchestral voluptuary, he is Byronic in that too. The most notable merit of the symphony is its freedom from the frightful effeminacy of most modern works of the romantic school. While some of its thematic material is engaging and well presented and the orchestration is interesting throughout, there is no trace of development in the symphonic sense, but merely a succession of repetitions and a sequence of climactic runs that often become hysterical.

These comically contrasting opinions pertain to the same symphony, Chaikovsky’s Fourth. The first is from a review of the English première, which took place under the composer’s baton at a London Philharmonic concert on 1 June 1893. (Chaikovsky was passing through on his way to Cambridge, where he was to receive an honorary doctorate alongside Boito, Bruch, SaintSaëns, and Grieg, certifying his status in the company of the contemporary great.) The review appeared six days later in The World, over the byline of its regular critic, one Corno di Bassetto, who had just started writing plays under his given name, George Bernard Shaw. The other extract is from a venerable textbook, Paul Henry Lang’s Music in Western Civilization (1941), a work that for at least a quarter century played a controlling role in defining and defending canonical musical values for the English-speaking peoples. (“Tchaikovsky,” it took care to inform its readers, “does not belong in the company of the great of music.”) Originally published in the New Republic, 6 February 1995.

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Chaikovsky’s decline in critical standing (though never in popularity) has to be read partly against the background of the shift from the “poetic” to the “structural” (or “developmental”) as the paramount criterion for artistic evaluation, reflecting the general academization of taste that reached its midcentury—no, let’s face it, its Cold-War—culmination in New Critical formalism. This obvious difference, however, should not obscure the equally important affinity between Shaw’s appraisal and Lang’s. Manliness is a cardinal issue for them both. But where one critic ensconces Chaikovsky as a bulwark against creeping sissification, the other grants him an honorary uterus. Both views were typical in their day. How did that change come about? To begin with, scarcely five months after Shaw’s review appeared, Chaikovsky died suddenly under bewildering circumstances. His death was attributed to cholera, which was transmitted mainly by contaminated feces and was considered, by the 1890s, a disease of the underclass. That year’s epidemic in St. Petersburg, a city built on bogs where contagions flourished (and where Chaikovsky, who lived near Moscow, was visiting his younger brother Modest), had mainly passed. At the funeral the body was displayed, in violation of familiar but in fact obsolete quarantine regulations, and the punctilious Rimsky-Korsakov was aghast to see the cellist Verzhbilovich, dead drunk, plant a slobbering kiss upon the corpse. He wrote about it in his memoirs. Tongues wagged all over Russia. Tolstoy, who wept (to his daughter’s astonishment) at the news of Chaikovsky’s death, mused that “there was something not quite clear” about him, “more as a man than as a musician.” Could there be anyone by now who does not know what Tolstoy was hinting at? As Chaikovsky gained fame as a composer, eventually becoming the most famous composer Russia had ever produced, his private life became increasingly the object of lewd speculation. To counter it (and to please his proud but artless father), Chaikovsky had taken it into his head to marry, despite what Nina Berberova, his most mondaine biographer, liked to call his “complex sexuality.” The great fiasco that ensued (physical revulsion, “neurasthenia,” flight, messy separation) left him a wedded bachelor for the rest of his life (and a social cripple for a while) and made his secret—one that he had in common with Musorgsky, Balakirev, and sundry lesser fry, to confine matters only to Russian composers—everybody’s property. That being the case, the wonder at first blush is that his life was virtually free of scandal. Only once within his lifetime, and then only obliquely, was Chaikovsky’s sexual irregularity ever broached in print. This happened in the aftermath of the marriage attempt, as part of a “dirty, base, vile, slander-filled philippic” (as Chaikovsky called it) that appeared in the newspaper Novoye vremya (New times) on 26 August 1878. Its subject was the Moscow Conservatory, where Chaikovsky was then a professor and which is now named for him. After describing the usual backbiting and everyday skirt-chasing, the anonymous

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author hinted at “amours of a different kind, but about them, for a very obvious reason, I shall not speak.” In an anguished letter to Modest, Chaikovsky confided that he read this as evidence that “my reputation falls upon the whole conservatory.” It made him more desperate than ever to give up his teaching post, which the providential advent of his eccentric benefactress, Madame von Meck, a colossally wealthy widow whose mystères and complexities dovetailed nicely with his own, allowed him to do that very year. By the mid-1880s Chaikovsky enjoyed an unprecedented public prestige for a Russian musician, not only as a world celebrity but also as a court familiar under Tsar Alexander III (from whom he received the Vladimir Cross, the equivalent of our Presidential Medal of Freedom). He became his country’s uncrowned composer laureate, the beneficiary of numerous official commissions. A complete professional, he had the whole imperial theatrical and musical establishment in both capitals at his virtual beck and call, and kept his colleagues and rivals in a state of despairing awe. The power of his presence on the scene was such that it literally paralyzed Rimsky-Korsakov, to whom news of Chaikovsky’s death brought deliverance from a prolonged creative block. Rimsky immediately set about exorcising Chaikovsky’s ghost with an opera, Christmas Eve, on the same subject from Gogol that had previously served Chaikovsky as the source for a libretto. Blessed with disciplined work habits and unencumbered by family or occupational distractions, Chaikovsky developed a Mozartean technical facility; and he was one of very few nineteenth-century composers of whom that can be said. In 1890 he pulled off “an unbelievable trick,” as he broached it early in February, with suitable bravado, to his publisher Jurgenson: “I want to write an opera for the coming season,” only months away. He hied off with his brother’s manservant Nazar to Florence, and by 15 March the opera was finished in vocal score, the product of forty-four days of furious brainstorming. By mid-June, four months and twenty days after the first sketches were put on paper, the orchestration was complete and the work dispatched to the theater and the publisher. The première took place on 7 December, a little more than ten months after Chaikovsky had written to Jurgenson of the plan. The work in question, no potboiler, was The Queen of Spades, one of the mere half-dozen or so Russian operas to have breached the language barrier to world repertory status, a feat not merely of supreme craftsmanship but also of an imaginative quality unmatched in its way in all of Russian opera. Along with The Sleeping Beauty, the greatest of all nineteenth-century ballets, The Queen of Spades exerted a tremendous and gratefully acknowledged influence on Alexandre Benois and the other prime movers of Russian estheticism during the 1890s, marking Chaikovsky as the guiding genius of the so-called Silver Age of Russian culture—or as one destined, had he lasted out a normal span of years, for such a stature. That efflorescence was a renaissance of aristocratic culture, and it was in large part animated, as everyone

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acknowledged, by what we would now call a gay sensibility. That did not brand it, however, as unhealthy or aberrant, or even as unmanly. The aristocratic and the gay so overlapped and intermixed in those days that they were apt to be regarded as virtually interchangeable categories. One could hardly say that Chaikovsky’s existence was in any way frustrated or unfulfilled. His contemporaries, certainly, never said any such thing. He lived sumptuously—like a barin, as the Russians say, in lordly fashion—at crown expense. Madame von Meck’s lavish subventions, which continued until 1890, gave him absolute freedom to travel. At the age of fifty-one, already snow-capped, he impressed the thirty-one-year-old Gustav Mahler, then directing the German première of Eugene Onegin, as “an elderly gentleman, very likable, with elegant manners, who seems quite rich.” On his visits to St. Petersburg, Chaikovsky was surrounded by a horde of dapper, adoring youths, some of them titled, some his relations, some both—“Modest’s gang,” as Berberova called them, who “more or less lived off him and enjoyed pleasing him,” and who, since Uncle Petya had written three then-popular suites for orchestra, called themselves his “Fourth Suite.” The ten-year-old Stravinsky caught sight of him from afar in the foyer of the Mariyinsky Theater and forever afterward recalled “white hair, large shoulders, a corpulent back.” This was a man of substance, of weight, a man who radiated worldly success. Above all, this was a self-made man, and that meant a manly man. Never before had a Russian musician brought such glory to his sovereign and his nation, or represented them so impressively abroad. His state funeral (and burial in the capital, by order of his friend the tsar) was a public event that filled the streets of St. Petersburg. The papers reported in amazement that the turnout for Chaikovsky dwarfed those for Dostoyevsky and Turgenev. By 1893, the year of that outpouring of public adoration, not to mention the Cambridge doctorate and Shaw’s review, an article like the one in Novoye vremya would have brought ridicule not on Chaikovsky but on its author and publisher. .

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There is no reason to suppose that Corno di Bassetto did not know what thousands of Russians knew about Chaikovsky, and no reason to suppose that he cared about it, in 1893, any more than they did. Despite the playacting of the occasional queen (or tyotka, in Russian, after the French tante)—of which Chaikovsky, thoroughly conventional in his social views, strongly disapproved—homosexuality, in those days, simply did not, as today’s critics say, “essentialize” a person. It did not typecast, or stereotype, or render one’s nature darkly and irrevocably Other. It was a taste, a preference leading to a mode of behavior that neither predicted other aspects of one’s behavior nor marked one’s emotional life as alien or abnormal. At worst it was regarded as a debauchery, a vicious practice. Though homosexuality

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was prohibited by law in many countries, including Russia, it was a virtually unprosecuted crime for anyone possessing rank, respectability, or money. For such practitioners it was regarded, and indulged, as a form of libertinage. (It has even been argued that tolerance for homosexual relations was greater in Russia than anywhere else in Europe during the nineteenth century—at least when, as usually happened, the active partner socially outranked the passive one—because Russia was a feudal society until 1861, and “gentlemanly games” were a traditional droit du seigneur.) Thus, in the same letter to his wife in which Count Tolstoy made reference to something-not-quite-clear, he also wrote that “I feel very sorry about Tchaikovsky, . . . because it seemed to me that we had something in common.” When Berberova interviewed Chaikovsky’s long-surviving sister-in-law Panya (Praskovya Vladimirovna, née Konshina, a millionaire heiress who married the composer’s brother Anatoly in 1882 and died, at the age of ninety-two, in 1956), the old lady was far more concerned with how the biographer would report Chaikovsky’s drinking than his sex life. She boasted gaily about her various adulterous affairs, including one with an officer named Verinovsky, when he was accompanying her brother-in-law. “I stole a lover from him in Tiflis,” she gloated, clapping her hands. “He never forgave me.” When Berberova, to make sure, put the question to her straight out— “In that society where she shone as a star, what did people think of the taste for young boys?”—Panya chirped, “No one wondered at anything in our milieu.” Even (or especially) in that milieu, however, people wondered at the abrupt circumstances of Chaikovsky’s death and the social stigma they implied. Cholera was incompatible with Chaikovsky’s exalted public image— “simply insulting,” wrote a later editor of Novoye vremya—and alternative causes were sought. It was an ideal incubator for rumors. Suicide theories were much stimulated by the Sixth Symphony, first performed under the composer’s baton only nine days before his demise, with its lugubrious finale (ending morendo, “dying away”), its brief but conspicuous allusion to the Orthodox requiem liturgy in the first movement, and, above all, its easily misread subtitle. Pateticheskaya simfoniya means roughly the same thing Beethoven meant when he called his Sonata in F minor, op. 57, the Appassionata—impassioned. The Russian title does not have the connotations of its better-known French translation—Symphonie Pathétique, “a symphony of suffering.” Nobody paid much attention to the piece at the first performance (sans subtitle, it should be noted). The composer complained at the disappointingly apathique reception: it was “not disliked,” he wrote his publisher, “but has caused some bewilderment.” And this may have prompted him to spell things out just a little. (The P-word was Modest’s idea, according to Modest.) When the symphony was done again a couple of weeks later, in memoriam and with subtitle in

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place, everyone listened hard for portents, and that is how the symphony became a transparent suicide note. Depression was the first diagnosis. “Homosexual tragedy” came later. For the great essentializer in Chaikovsky’s day was not sexuality; it was nationality. It was something of which every Russian had to be acutely aware, whether he gloried in it or, like Chaikovsky (and his early mentor, Anton Rubinstein, a converted Jew who faced a double stigma), tried to fight it. “If you only knew the insulting tone of condescension with which they address a Russian musician!” Chaikovsky wrote to Madame von Meck from Vienna in 1877. You can read it in their eyes: “You’re just a Russian, but I am so kind and indulgent that I favor you with my attention.” The hell with them! Last year I found myself against my will at Liszt’s. He was nauseatingly deferential, but a smile that never left his lips spoke the sentence I underlined above with perfect clarity.

Over this, too, Chaikovsky triumphed. His European fame eclipsed even that of Rubinstein, who was not only a composer but a world-class virtuoso. As the Cambridge degree demonstrated, but even more conclusively the invitation to come to New York and preside over the inauguration of Carnegie Hall, Chaikovsky was accepted by the end of his fairly short life as a world figure—not a national but a “universal” composer. The Carnegie Hall program book proclaimed him, with Brahms and Saint-Saëns, one of the three greatest living musicians, and some of the New York papers huckstered him up into unchallenged supremacy. By the first decade of the twentieth century, however, the essentialist curse had begun to reclaim him. Not at all coincidentally, it happened first in England, where Chaikovsky had been particularly honored before. Very characteristically, too, the essentializing discourses of nationality and sexuality reappeared in tandem—as when Edwin Evans, an early English biographer, writing in 1906, equated Chaikovsky’s “racial” endowment as a Slav with “an emotional temperament, fringing hysteria,” thus nudging him over that heavily patrolled line separating the virile from the effeminate. Why then? Why there? .

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In May 1895, not two years after Chaikovsky’s unsettling death, an English jury convicted Oscar Wilde of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.” Britain’s most conspicuous esthete was sentenced to two years at hard labor. The charges had been pressed by Sir John Sholto Douglas, the eighth Marquess of Queensberry, best known for his devotion to the manly arts (chiefly boxing, the rules of which still bear his name). The main charge was that of seducing the Marquess’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, a minor poet and editor.

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Wilde’s tragic misadventure, the most sensational and widely reported incident of its kind, had enormous repercussions. The ill-intentioned publicity that it received was a major watershed in the essentialization—and the pathologization—of homosexuality around the turn of the century. The homosexual was now defined not by his acts but by his character, a character certified to be diseased and hence necessarily alien to that of healthy, “normal” people. The condition of homosexuality was regarded, especially in England and her colonies past and present, not merely as a mark of Cain but as a virtual third sex—a hermaphroditic “inversion,” a woman’s sensibility in a man’s body—and this ostracizing viewpoint was sanctioned by medical science. Chaikovsky, so recently lauded in England for his “freedom from frightful effeminacy,” was assimilated to the new essentializing view. The process can be vividly illustrated through the writings of the American critic James Gibbon Huneker. Bowled over by Chaikovsky’s music on first acquaintance (the famous piano concerto in Nikolai Rubinstein’s torrential rendition at the Paris Exposition of 1878), Huneker had written that Chaikovsky was one of the elect who “said great things in a great manner.” Yet the critic explicitly withdrew his former encomium in a collection of essays called Mezzotints in Modern Music, published in 1899. He now alluded darkly to Chaikovsky’s “psychopathic temperament,” adding in affected commiseration that the composer’s “entire existence was clouded by some secret sorrow, the origin of which we can dimly surmise, but need not investigate.” Sympathy gives way to revulsion by the time Huneker sums up his new assessment of the formerly great musician: “There is no need of further delving into the pathology of this case, but it is well to keep the fact in view, because of its important bearing on his music, some of which is truly pathological.” The art, as well as the man, had been sexually essentialized and sexually pathologized, and so they have remained in much American and most English criticism. Ah, the sordid things that British critics began hearing in Chaikovsky’s music! And oh, the goosey recklessness with which they now declared their aversion to it! Both are epitomized in a survey-symposium, The Music of Tchaikovsky, edited by Gerald Abraham, published in England in 1945 and still in print. “Tchaikovsky’s mind, seen for a moment from a scientific viewpoint, constitutes a textbook illustration of the borderland between genius and insanity,” wrote Edward Lockspeiser, who speaks of the composer’s “schoolgirlish sentimentality” and goes on to warn that “the man and his music are one—unsatisfied and inflamed.” Finally broaching the matter of “forked sexuality,” the critic homes in on the Symphonie Pathétique: And yet pathos, despite the fervour of his suffering, is not a quality that Tchaikovsky could express with any sense of nobility. . . . The dignity of suffering was unknown to him, but not its pleasures. He is the musician of indulgence. . . . It may be unorthodox in modern musical criticism to point, in a

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symphony, to a sense of guilt or of sin; but they are there, in his letters as in his music, expressed with the same horrifying terror as in the poetry of Baudelaire. . . . His is not the “art of concealing art”; it is music to gorge on, shameless in its sensuousness and splendour. And it was no accident that such music was conceived by a warped neurotic, shy and tortured.

Parents, be warned! Another contributor to the symposium, Martin Cooper, whose assignment was to survey the symphonies, speaks of the composer’s device of building form by continually reapproaching and surpassing climaxes. “Such passages,” he writes, “do more than tear the heart (as indeed they are meant to do) but also affect the nerves like an exhibition of hysteria (with which they are very possibly related).” And finally this, a locus classicus: “This man is ill, we feel: must we be shown all his sores without exception? Will he insist on our not merely witnessing, but sharing, one of his nervous attacks?” Back in Russia the Wilde affair had a different sort of Chaikovskian repercussion. (As Simon Karlinsky has pointed out, the Russian press took a different attitude: even conservative journalists in Russia saw Wilde as the victim of hypocrisy.) Chaikovsky’s music has never been stigmatized in Russia by the composer’s sexuality. In fact, the young Soviet Union was the one place where Chaikovsky’s sexuality was treated, for a while, in a frank and adult fashion— before, that is, the country lapsed into its high-Stalinist meshchanstvo, to use the Russian word for petit-bourgeois narrow-mindedness. “Tchaikovsky was homosexual,” the editors of the first edition of the composer’s correspondence with Madame von Meck stated in 1934, in their commentary to the letters concerning his marriage, and “here are the documents.” What followed was the first publication anywhere of excerpts from letters written in 1876 to Modest, his future biographer (who had suppressed them), in which the composer referred candidly and in detail to the “inclination” and the “habits” that the two brothers shared. The Soviet editors prefaced these citations with a statement of exemplary good sense: “Tchaikovsky belongs to history; his life is the object of serious study, and we are obliged to disclose all the facts to scholarship, without undue concern as to the prurient curiosity of the casual reader.” That openness did not last long. By 1940, the year of Chaikovsky’s centennial and his official investiture by the Bolsheviks as the best and most talented of Russian composers, printing the facts about his sexuality had become a punishable offense in his homeland. A new edition of his family correspondence, which included those same letters to Modest, was confiscated in that year (it is now a great bibliographical rarity), and the editors— the same editors who acquitted themselves so honorably in 1934—were fired from their professional posts. If Chaikovsky was essentialized during the early Soviet period, it was not along sexual lines but, in good Marxian fashion, along lines of class. He was

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viewed in the earliest Red years as the hymnifier of the tsarist order—a fair enough assessment of his aims, actually—and during the heyday of the proletkult his music was looked upon somewhat askance, though it was never banned. (Draconian arts policies did not emerge until the 1930s.) When it became apparent that workers and peasants were not going to give him up just because the theory of the class struggle predicted that they would, a new tack was tried. He became not the proponent of the old order but the prophetic singer of its doom. This view centered, once again, on the ever-dependable Pathétique. The very doctrinaire Marxist musicologist Boleslaw Przybyszewski (the son of Stanislaw Przybyszewski, the Polish symbolist writer), who had served for a time as the director of the Moscow Conservatory, signaled the change in 1933 in an exceptionally interesting article, “Tchaikovsky: The Composer and His Age,” which was reprinted the next year as the introduction to the Chaikovsky–von Meck correspondence. Identifying Chaikovsky and Tolstoy, the two greatest artists of late-aristocratic Russia, as a logical pair— “representatives of a dying class, who fight for their way of life but at the same time recognize that it is a doomed existence”—Przybyszewski notes a fundamental difference between them: Whereas Tolstoy seeks a way out of the impasse by renouncing his class and hopes to find salvation in his reactionary utopia of feudal socialism, Tchaikovsky, albeit not without an internal struggle, not without resistance, and not without attempts (as in the finale of the Fourth Symphony) to lose himself in the merriment of a peasant festival, still and all has the manliness [!] to pronounce and accept the verdict—horrible for himself and for his class, but dictated by the laws of historical development—of death. He had the manliness to look historical truth in the eye and sing himself and his class a shattering requiem—the Pathetic Symphony. In this lie his strength and his originality in comparison with other ideologues of the dying aristocracy, clinging to their old estate and hoping to save it by means of a cheap seigneurial show of liberalism.

For this reason Chaikovsky’s art was not merely elegiac but tragic—and inspiring. What is so very striking is that this paean to Chaikovsky’s manly courage (muzhestvo) and strength is found in the same volume that first revealed in print the long-rumored details of his homosexuality. .

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If the Wilde trial did not essentialize Chaikovsky as a pathological degenerate in Russia, it did powerfully influence and facilitate the growth of the suicide rumors, quickly lending them the status of myth. Their earliest documentary trace so far discovered is in the unpublished memoirs of R. Alois Mooser (1876–1969), a Swiss scholar who worked in the Russian capital as an organist and music reviewer from 1896 to 1909, and whose richly researched, fabulously illustrated books on Russian musical institutions in the eighteenth

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century are musicological classics. Very early in his stay, Mooser reports, he was informed first about Chaikovsky’s pederasty and then about his suicide, the source of his information being the Italian composer and conductor Riccardo Drigo, then on the ballet staff of the Imperial Theaters. What is significant about Mooser’s recollection is that for the first time the two aspects of Chaikovskian rumor—homosexuality and suicide—are linked. As paraphrased by Mary Woodside, a Canadian musicologist who is translating the document, Mooser’s account is as follows: Tchaikovsky is said to have seduced the son of his apartment custodian, precipitating a complaint to the police. The local commissariat, uncomfortable at dealing with such an accusation against a major public figure, passed the complaint upward through the chain of command until it reached the Tsar himself. His majesty, shocked, declared sentence at once: The man “must disappear immediately.” This having been conveyed to the composer, the poor man, realizing his career was at an end, poisoned himself.

The tale is altogether preposterous. (For starters, Chaikovsky did not live in an apartment and had no custodian.) As Mooser himself makes clear, he had his doubts about it. What is of interest about this version is the way it has so obviously been modeled on the details of the Wilde affair: seduction of a youth, denunciation by the father, prosecution by the crown. What was lacking for full conformity with the model was the high birth of the aggrieved parties. This was easily supplied. Of all the “sensational gossips about Tchaikovsky’s being involved in an unsavory statutory offense in the autumn of 1893,” as Nicolas Slonimsky put it as early as 1938 in a forlorn effort to scotch them, one has achieved something like canonical status in the past fifteen years. This is the tale that was brought out of the Soviet Union by Alexandra Orlova, an émigré musicologist with excellent credentials, who had worked for a time in the Chaikovsky archive, still housed in his former residence at Klin, and had published fine documentary chronicles on the lives of the Russian composers Glinka, Musorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov, in addition to Chaikovsky himself. In this new, improved version the bringer of the complaint was Count Alexey StenbockFermor, Equerry to Tsar Alexander III and a worthy stand-in for the Marquess of Queensberry. The counterpart to Lord Alfred Douglas was now no lowly porter’s son but the young Count Alexander Stenbock-Fermor, the royal equerry’s nephew. The order to commit suicide, in this telling, came not directly from the tsar but from an “honor court” of old boys from the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, Chaikovsky’s alma mater, convened at the order of Nikolai Borisovich Yakobi, the senior procurator of the Senate (not a legislative but a judicial body in tsarist Russia), who had intercepted Count Stenbock-Fermor’s letter to the tsar. The means of execution was said to be a poison that reproduced the symptoms of cholera.

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Orlova must have heard this story, or others like it, many times over the years. In 1966, however, she heard it from the lips of a very late graduate of the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, who claimed to have heard it in 1913 from Yakobi’s widow, Ekaterina, who had heard it from her husband himself on his deathbed in 1902. Orlova accepted this version, carried from second to third to fourth hand over a period longer than Chaikovsky’s lifetime, as eyewitness testimony and set out, against all scholarly method, not to test but to confirm it. Already an expert on Chaikovsky’s daily movements, she located a span of several hours otherwise unaccounted for a week or so before the composer’s death, decided that that was when the “honor court” had convened, and declared the story proven. This story could have passed no tests. Alexander Poznansky, an émigré historian who has since published the one worthwhile biography of Chaikovsky, had no trouble at all demonstrating its implausibility on many counts— forensic, medical, toxological, historical—in an article that appeared in 1988 in the journal 19th-Century Music. The most obvious weakness in the story, beyond its opportunistic replay of the Wilde affair, is the assumption that the mature Chaikovsky would have been vulnerable to such a denunciation (let alone willing to accept a death sentence from what amounted to a bunch of forgotten high-school classmates, no matter how highly placed), and the corollary assumption that Russian aristocratic and even royal circles would have pounced with puritanical vengeance on a report of misdemeanors that were widely and openly practiced by grand dukes, major diplomats, and powerful politicians. Poznansky has great fun listing them and their racy escapades, which were much more entertaining than anything the straitlaced Chaikovsky could ever be accused of. Orlova can be forgiven. Her uncritical acceptance of venerable hearsay must be ascribed to delusion engendered in a scholar who has lived her life in an atmosphere of public mendacity and repression of fact, where anything secret or forbidden was granted an automatic presumption of veracity. There can be no forgiving the British writers who have spread Orlova’s rumors and continue to defend them. Their credulity is founded on the most benighted sexual essentialism, and their innocence of method has discredited musicology in the eyes of serious scholarship. The leader of the British suicide squadron has been David Brown, lately of the music faculty at the University of Southampton, who in 1991 completed a monumental, much acclaimed, four-volume biography of the composer. It was Brown who translated Orlova’s account for publication in a British musicological journal in 1981. Brown also persuaded the editor of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians to allow him to end his article on Chaikovsky in the sixth edition of that august work of reference, published in 1980, with two categorical assertions: first, “that he committed suicide cannot be doubted”; and second, “the story that he died of cholera from drinking

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unboiled water is fabrication.” This is cagily phrased. The part about the fatal glass of water, which exists in conflicting versions, has long been suspected, and its relationship to the onset of the disease is easily challenged and ultimately immaterial; but the basic fact of cholera, unwelcome and distasteful though it always has been, was attested to at the time not only by Modest but also by a team of four top physicians with professional reputations at stake, who never recanted. Their official word, as reported by the papers at the time, was that the composer had been cured of cholera but died of the complications, namely blood poisoning from uremia caused by kidney failure. (The most recent theory, put forth by a British doctor named Thomas Stuttaford, is that it may have been unsafe homosexual sex that brought Chaikovsky into contact with the plebeian vibrio cholerae.) Though conceding that “what precipitated this [suicide] has not been conclusively established,” the only version that Brown supplied was Orlova’s, which he parroted in detail. Thus did a piece of folklore become ensconced in the written record at its most authoritative level. In Brown’s biography itself, he acknowledges that Orlova’s story, which “has caused much interest in the West” (true) and “seems now to be universally accepted in the Soviet Union” (flagrantly false), has its problems. “Its mode of transmission is such that it must be treated with a good deal of reserve, and the accuracy of its detail must be judged with even more caution.” And yet he continues to tout it as the “one story” that “may provide the answer to the mystery.” Indeed, Brown now claims to possess corroboration for Orlova’s story “through a second source quite independent of the first.” This turns out to be a letter that Orlova received from Chaikovsky’s sister-in-law’s grandniece, a certain Madame Kuznetsova-Vladimova, confirming the rumor’s wide circulation and her great-aunt’s participation in its spread. Here is where questions of ethics and competence have to be raised. It simply does not matter how many parties to a rumor one turns up. They are no more independent of one another than the various players in a game of telephone. Far from recognizing the worthlessness of this testimony, Brown played the Kuznetsova letter like a trump card in a purported rebuttal to Poznansky, claiming, with dazzling naivete, that his new source was not only independent but “rooted within the Tchaikovsky family.” Otherwise, all that Brown has been able to offer against Poznansky’s refutations are ad hominems (“some people, it seemed, simply did not want to know”) and testimonials, such as the hasty first reaction of the New York Times critic Donal Henahan, whose (later rescinded) endorsement of the suicide story played a major role in its propagation. Orlova’s story, according to Henahan, inspired belief because it “reeks of the conspiratorial atmosphere of old Russian novels.” This, of course, hit the nail right on the head. The most recent proponents of the suicide theory—Britons again, one and all—defend it precisely in the manner of conspiracy theorists. The latest

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entry is Anthony Holden, the well-known royal biographer and poker expert, who showed up at the International Chaikovsky Symposium and Festival in Tübingen in October 1993 to announce that he had a life of the composer in the works, and to read a paper in which he clinched the case for suicide as follows: Tsar Alexander III was not merely a great admirer of Tchaikovsky’s work; he was well aware of the homosexuality rife amid his own courtiers and immediate relatives. If the Tsar had received a letter of complaint about Tchaikovsky’s indiscretions, there is little doubt that he would have consigned it to the nearest waste-paper basket. This seems to me to strengthen rather than weaken the case for suicide. It underlines the fundamental assumption of the conspiracy theorists, among whom I must now number myself: that Tchaikovsky would have preferred death to exposure, whatever the practical consequences.

Would an international scholarly convocation in any field other than music have been treated to such a defiance of logic? I wince at the insult to my profession, but I must quote Holden once more, because he states David Brown’s case more forthrightly than Brown himself has done. “In the absence of documentary proof either way [sic],” Holden told his listeners in Tübingen it can only be left to each Tchaikovsky student to reach his or her own private empirical verdict, based less on the available evidence than on an individual reading of the composer’s psychological profile, his avowed suicidal tendencies and his attitude to his own sexuality. It is indeed the storm-tossed character of Tchaikovsky’s life to that point which makes the court-of-honour seem an at all events plausible, even a grimly appropriate, conclusion.

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Imagine the kind of mind that could call such a judgment “empirical.” What Holden, Brown, and the rest are looking for is the proper artistic genre in which to cast the life of music’s token gay: a tragic finale in which the hero perishes in consequence of his flaw, or a parable of redemption in which, by accepting the verdict of the honor court, the pervert shows himself upstanding in the end. Either way, the appeal of the suicide story is not that it happened, but that it ought to have happened. It is the foreordained culmination of a stereotyped existence. Thus we are not surprised to find that third-sex folklore functions in David Brown’s purportedly scholarly biography, just as it does in biographical fiction, as a lens through which to view life and work alike, and thoroughly confuse the two. Earlier biographers and critics had to be content with dark references to “pathology” or “secret sorrow,” but the emancipated scholar can refer frankly to Chaikovsky’s “disease,” speak its name, and commit more hideous gaffes than ever. The first study of this kind was Edward Garden’s

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Tchaikovsky (1973), which officially replaced Edwin Evans’s pioneering handbook in the venerable Master Musicians series, and which was reissued in 1993 for the centennial of Chaikovsky’s death. Garden’s particular contribution to the understanding of Chaikovsky was the cheerful assumption, once widespread among the liberal ignorant, that nice homosexuals were celibate or (at best, or worst) onanists. Commenting on the letter to Modest in 1876, in which Chaikovsky announced his intention “to enter into the union of a lawful marriage with whomsoever I may,” Garden refers to the composer’s “disgust brought on by an increasing sexual activity which is much more likely to have been autoerotic in the main rather than actively homosexual.” When Chaikovsky goes on in his next letter to complain that his habits were stubborn, and that since writing the first time he had “already some three times given way to the force of my natural inclinations,” we are given to understand that he had merely been “indulging his homosexual fantasies.” The poor wretch is to be pitied rather than scorned (the biographer assures us), plagued as he was by “the necessary loneliness which was the lot in those days of the homosexual, unable as he was to establish a firm, constant and loving relationship with any other human being.” Brown quotes the same letters at greater length (though not quite in full, since they have not yet been published without cuts of one kind or another, and Brown himself has done no primary research). He seems content to allow them to speak for themselves, but that is because he is saving comment on them for his discussion of the tone poem Francesca da Rimini, composed a short time after the composer wrote to his brother. The first part of the work, which aurally evokes the buffeting winds described by Dante, is a famous tour de force of orchestration. Its second part is a torrid love duet for Francesca and Paolo, whose prolonged, blissfully furtive erotic dalliance is wonderfully suggested by a slow, serpentine theme that simply will not come to a cadence. Brown calls it “one of the broadest, most widely ranging, most magnificent, melodic statements Tchaikovsky had ever conceived.” So why, despite these qualities and its long-standing popularity, is Francesca da Rimini a failure? The letters to Modest hold the key. “Its real fault is excess,” Brown explains. “In the slow movements of his last two quartets Tchaikovsky had already used obsessive repetition of an emotionally charged phrase as a means of heightened expressive address, but the extravagance of these two movements is modest compared to that of Francesca da Rimini.” And the charge of immodesty is only the beginning. Even more sadly is the portrayal of Francesca herself flawed, not simply by the overstatement of her theme, but above all by the grossly overblown conclusion that sets forth too brazenly her lovely, long-spun melody, bruising the refined image of this tormented lady whose griefs have been the more affecting because of her frailty. Himself possessed with feelings of sexual guilt,

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Stained! Indelibly stained! Finally, to David Brown, Chaikovsky’s tone poem is nothing more than the composer’s bedsheet. The part about Chaikovsky’s sexual guilt is debatable, as we’ll see; but the biographer’s sexual horror is palpable. It is displaced onto the music even as sympathy is outwardly expressed toward the man. But not even the man is spared. The condescending notion that this composer could only relate to his subjects and his tasks on the level of primitive emotional identification, and ran therefore a constant risk of self-destructive emotional overinvolvement, infantilizes, and caricaturally feminizes, perhaps the most disciplined and sophisticated creative artist nineteenth-century Russia ever produced. The musicologist David Osmond-Smith, interviewing Brown for the European Gay Review, pressed him rather hard about the way in which he had interpreted the crucial letters to Modest. Responding to Brown’s allegation that Chaikovsky’s music reflects “the intense emotional pressure built up within [him] by this sense of being flawed,” Osmond-Smith called attention to a passage in the second letter where Chaikovsky exclaims, with regard to his sister and other family members, “Do you really believe that the consciousness that they pity and forgive me is not painful to me when, at bottom, I am guilty of nothing!” This unintentionally farcical conversation then ensued: A: I have tended to interpret “I am guilty of nothing” as meaning that Tchaikovsky had never actually had physical relations with another man. Q: But in that case, how do you respond to the end of that same letter where he says, “Since my letter to you I have already some three times given way to the force of my natural inclinations,” and so forth? A: I take that to refer to some sort of solitary sexual release.

What is so grimly comical is Brown’s obliviousness that these assumptions of his contradict the suicide theory in which he has invested so heavily. If Chaikovsky really was as Brown describes him, then the Stenbock-Fermor clan had nothing to fear. With laudable tact, Osmond-Smith suggested to Brown at this point “that, as a heterosexual yourself, you may incline to the most socially ‘acceptable’ interpretation” of Chaikovsky’s letters. This elicited from Brown a masterpiece of unwitting self-revelation. Yes, I admit there may be an element of wishful thinking here, for my initial attitudes toward homosexuality were formed many years ago at a time when the general social view was that it was not only tainting but essentially immoral, and however much I have shifted my views since then, something of that gut reaction remains, and there’s nothing I can do about it—sadly. But since these sorts

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of attitudes were the very ones Tchaikovsky himself not only encountered but seems in large part to have accepted as being a fair judgment on his condition, it may be that I can perceive his feelings and judge his reactions with a particular understanding—and may I add, a particular sympathy.

So this smug biographer, not at all unconsciously or even tacitly, accepts his own “gut reactions” as all the evidence he needs for assessing the facts of Chaikovsky’s life and judging the composer’s works. It never even occurs to him to treat his suppositions as hypotheses, and to test them against observation to see if they really do coincide with the attitudes of Chaikovsky’s world and its inhabitants. It was Brown’s gut reaction that established for him beyond all questioning the “fact” that Chaikovsky did away with himself in a final bout of sexual guilt. And it was a similar gut reaction, no doubt, that allowed Stanley Sadie, the Grove editor, not only to be persuaded that the mangy rumor deserved mongering in his dictionary but even to rationalize the lapse as an act of righteousness, “drawing attention forcibly to the cruelty and injustice of a society that could consider hounding a man to his death because of his sexual orientation,” as he put it when challenged. But that cruelty and that injustice are not exposed by the suicide myth. They are its creations. . . . The issues at stake here are not confined to sexual stereotyping or subscholarly credulity. The treatment of Chaikovsky’s homosexuality is only a facet of a much larger assumption—the assumption, as Stanley Hoffmann delightfully put it not long ago, that “there are universal values, and they happen to be mine.” This was Hoffmann’s definition of ethnocentrism; but it applies, as we see, to all kinds of centrisms. At bottom it comes down to the old colonialist worldview, and that must be why it surfaces so dependably in the work of British scholars of a certain age. Writers such as David Brown and Edward Garden place a high premium on Chaikovsky’s Russianness—a far higher one than Chaikovsky ever placed on it. Turning national character into a grading criterion, their first question about a piece of music is apt to be, How Russian is it? And it is a question that they have no hesitation answering in absurd comparative terms. “The Nightingale is the finest of his shorter choral pieces on secular texts,” Brown writes, “and the most Russian.” Dubrovin’s leitmotif in the early opera Voyevoda is a “very Russian phrase,” and Bastryukov’s farewell in the act 1 finale is “one of the most Russian passages in the whole of [the opera].” Eugene Onegin is “not only perhaps Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, but also the most deeply Russian of all his works.” Russianness, as a rule, is located in a peasant style. Its presence is vouchsafed by quoting or imitating folk tunes. Thus The Nightingale is Chaikovsky’s “most Russian” chorus because of “its solo-choral opening, irregular metres

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and phrasing, its modality and dynamic contrasts”—all (save the arbitrarily asserted last one) being qualities observable in published anthologies of Russian folk songs, which, by and large, is where the thoroughly urbanized and Europeanized Chaikovsky observed them. The composer’s environment, taste, and education notwithstanding, Brown works hard to deduce the essentials of Chaikovsky’s musical style from “pure folksong,” the unmediated musical mirror of “the Russian mind.” Chaikovsky, it is categorically asserted, was “endowed with a mind of this nature.” His musical style was innate, biologically determined, and there was nothing the poor man could do about it. Brown dramatically posits the existence of an unbridgeable gap between “Russian instinct” and “Western method,” the latter as categorically and reductively conceived as the former. Viewing the Russian style and the Russian mind in this essentialized way leads to an obsession with purity. When such an obsession is voiced from the Russian side, of course, we call it “nationalism.” It is something of which Brown and Garden energetically approve, and the “higher” the nationalism, the better; and this remains the conventional wisdom of musicology, strange to say. But when the obsession with Russian purity is voiced from the Western side, what shall we call it? What shall we make of the frequent chiding Chaikovsky receives from his British biographers for not being Russian enough? In the finale of the Fourth Symphony, Garden declares, the pure folk song is “dragged in most inappropriately, squared off with two extra beats and ruined in the process.” (Balakirev, Brown adds, had used the tune “more correctly” in his Overture on Three Russian Themes.) Chaikovsky gratuitously “mars” an aria in one of his operas, Brown announces, and “turns traitor to its essential Russianness by extending it with vocal sequence and operatic cadenza.” There are even passages where the British biographer presumes to instruct his Russian subject in the ways of Russianness. They read like the words of a fatherly bwana, celebrating the picturesqueness of the quaint aboriginal world that he patronizes, ever watchful lest the natives, forsaking their essential natures, lose their exotic charm and start acting like his equals. That is why Brown is so concerned to insist, even devoting a separately titled chapter addendum to it, upon “the Russianness of Eugene Onegin,” the one Chaikovsky opera to have achieved supreme repertory status the world over, and a work in which the musical idiom is not stylistically marked with national character in a way that immediately advertises itself to the “Western” ear. Elsewhere Brown cites technical features in support of his diagnoses of (rustic) “Russianness,” but here all he can do is adduce without commentary or amplification the testimony of authorities, chiefly Stravinsky and Prokofieff, to the effect that “Tchaikovsky drew unconsciously from

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the true popular sources of our race” (Stravinsky), and that “Eugene Onegin is the most intrinsically Russian opera,” in which every dramatis persona “corresponded completely to the Russian character, each in his own way” (Prokofieff). If Brown really knew Russia, or Russian music, or the cultural politics of interwar Paris (where Stravinsky and Prokofieff made their pronouncements), he would have known how to evaluate these comments and to deconstruct their mystique. Old Boleslaw Przybyszewski had it right when he spoke of Chaikovsky as a “musical realist” who “drew his melodic style from the melodic springs of surrounding Russian reality,” that is, the music of the Europeanized urban class to which the composer himself belonged. With tremendous insight and skill, Chaikovsky was able to abstract musical morphemes (what the shrewd, if politically contemptible, Soviet musicologist Boris Asafyev later christened “intonations”) from this mongrel “townsong” idiom, instantly recognizable by Russians as indigenous, but inoffensively Western to Westerners. And it was naturally that urbanized, sophisticated, cosmopolitan Russian style that émigré modernists such as Stravinsky and Prokofieff would have sought to advance against the folkloric idiom that had become de rigueur in Red Russia, where the slogan “an art national in form and socialist in content” (in Stalin’s very words) had forged a link that tainted idioms Westerners could apprehend as explicitly “Russian.” But Brown has his own agenda, his own mystique to construct. Preternatural, essential Russianness is not only Chaikovsky’s chief glory and distinction; it is also what defines his limitations and his secondary, subcanonical status. “His was a Russian mind forced to find its expression through techniques and forms that had been evolved by generations of alien Western creators,” Brown writes, “and, this being so, it would be unreasonable to expect stylistic consistency or uniform quality.” His incurable Russianness made Chaikovsky an abject outsider to the “universal” traditions in which he sought to establish an international career. This meant, in the first instance, symphonic music. Citing Chaikovsky’s often agonized self-criticism—something the composer had in common with most master craftsmen, after all, and particularly with the hypercanonical Brahms—Brown sympathetically observes that “as a symphonist he did himself less than justice, for a composer who could show so much resourcefulness in modifying sonata structure so as to make it more compatible with the type of music nature had decreed he should write was no helpless bungler.” And yet: What we experience in the finest classical expositions is not just a modulation but a process of controlled tonal dynamism. Such a command of tonal growth was utterly beyond Tchaikovsky, and this alone would have denied him the symphonic mastery of a Beethoven.

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You won’t find “controlled tonal dynamism” or “tonal growth” in any musical dictionary, nor are they defined by Brown. They are ad hoc terms of exclusion. Brown then elaborates: Being entirely devoid of ability to devise a planned tonal growth embracing a large span of music, Tchaikovsky has to swing to the opposite extreme, rigidly segregating his two subjects by constructing the first as a huge, tonally closed paragraph built upon the interaction and alternation of two themes, the one repetitive and static, the other chromatically emancipated and tonally subversive.

Brown, in other words, knows not only what Chaikovsky did, but also what he intended to do, and he knows better than Chaikovsky why Chaikovsky did what he did, because he knows better than Chaikovsky what nature has permitted and what it has denied him. There, in all nakedness, is the omniscient, totalizing rhetoric of the colonialist: the natives are not ready for self-government, nor will they ever be. So nature has decreed. And what goes for the third world goes for the third sex. The title character of Chaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is different from Pushkin’s, and, to Brown, less attractive. Brown complains that Onegin, in Chaikovsky’s final scene, “ends in cutting a pathetic figure”: “If Tchaikovsky came to despise him, he took an unfortunate final revenge upon him. What seems much more likely is that Tchaikovsky’s own nature stultified his capacity for creating music of truly masculine sexual declaration.” Chaikovsky’s Hermann, in The Queen of Spades, is also less of a man than Brown would like to see: he “pleads rather than lusts,” avoiding “the powerful sexual declaration Tchaikovsky might have found difficult to sustain.” The final confrontation of the lovers in that opera is unsuccessful for a similar reason: “Tchaikovsky simply did not know how to handle the emotional ambivalences of the love duet.” Consider the implications of this. Who is this man to be making such powerful declarations? He is a self-trained scholar with a doctorate earned extra muros and a reading knowledge of Russian acquired in the national service, who has never been to Russia but sat down with his scissors and his paste pot, the State Academic Edition of Chaikovsky’s complete works at one elbow and the State Academic bowdlerization of the composer’s massive collected correspondence at the other, and went happily a-crunching. The descriptive collation that he has cobbled up, prodigally if indiscriminately detailed as to biography, is calamitously incompetent as criticism. It passes judgments galore, as we have certainly seen, but they are entirely uninformed judgments—or rather, they are judgments informed not by knowledge of Russia or of Russians, of musical genres or their traditions, of nineteenth-century society or its various subcultures, but by a host of baccalaureate bromides and invincible Brittanic bigotries. The sheer girth and heft of Brown’s volumes have compelled

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a respect that is in no other way their due. Worse, his biography seemed destined, by discouraging competition, to earn a kind of definitive status by default. A book like this one threatens not only the state of research and the understanding of its subject but also the intellectual health of its readers. .

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Happily, the threat has been averted, thanks to Alexander Poznansky’s superb biography, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man (New York: Schirmer Books, 1993), which instantly raised Chaikovsky studies to a new, if widely resisted, level of intelligence. All it took was a truly empirical approach at last, one that considered the historical circumstances, maintained skepticism in the face of received ideas and gut reactions, neither prevaricated nor generalized on the basis of the author’s own life experience, and kept a sufficiently open mind to formulate relevant questions, test hypotheses and seek out, most resourcefully, appropriate sources of information. Poznansky’s book is not a full counterpart to Brown’s. It attempts no commentary on the music beyond reporting the facts of its creation in the context of the biographical narrative, and providing pertinent, sometimes very illuminating, information on its reception. As the subtitle avers, its focus is on the man, not the work. But dispelling the cloud of silliness that surrounds the man enables a fresh look at the work as well. The subtitle was not an altogether happy choice. A “quest for the inner man” might seem to signal yet another exercise in essentialism; but what Poznansky has in fact achieved is a study of a personality, and a creative persona, in the process of formation within various interacting social and cultural milieux, and in manifold adaptations to circumstances. A dynamic portrait emerges: an inner man not cast against an immutable and implacable “nature” of the biographer’s contrivance but perpetually re-forming himself in response to an outer flux. It is a portrait not only of Chaikovsky but also of nineteenth-century Russia, the two of them drawn in subtle and edifying reciprocity. It is, all in all, a fabulous performance. The vehemence with which it has been denounced by the suicide squad is in its way a ringing recommendation. The suicide debate, and his role in its debunking, have lent special interest and resonance to the Poznansky’s treatment of the homosexual theme. Indeed, to judge by most reviews of his book, one would think that it treated nothing else. That is far from the case, but the theme is inevitably spotlighted to an extent that would have been unnecessary were the author not forced to work against the weight of received opinion. Poznansky’s methods, and the differences between his Chaikovsky and the others we have met, show up with special clarity from this perspective. No smoking pistols are uncovered—but then, the fact of Chaikovsky’s homosexuality did not need to be established. A particularly nasty review of

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Poznansky’s book by Paul Griffiths, then covering music for the New Yorker, appeared in the New York Times Book Review under the heading “The Outing of Peter Ilyich”; but Chaikovsky was outed before anyone alive today was born. The question is not a whether question but a so-what question. How do we interpret what we know, and what shall be its bearing on our hearing and thinking? It is Poznansky’s interesting contention that we know more than we think we know. “Much of the documentary material referring to the composer’s homosexuality has never been censored,” he maintains, because the censors did not know how to read it. Seemingly innocent circumstances can be made to betray a great deal when placed in the proper context. That context must be sought, where sexual behavior is concerned, in the general sexological literature. It is more extensive and relevant than might be imagined, since the period of Chaikovsky’s later lifetime coincided precisely with that of the pioneer studies in the psychology and sociology of sex. Poznansky has ransacked Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis (both of whom used Russian informants), but he has also turned up fascinating indigenous material—works by Ivan Merzheyevsky, a physician, and Venyamin Tarnovsky, a jurist—in the field of contemporary forensic medicine. He draws as needed upon the more recent clinical literature for guidance in interpreting his data. This is known as doing your homework. It is unprecedented in Chaikovsky research. The tricky part is collating general information gleaned in this way with the published contents of Chaikovsky’s letters and diaries, from which the most explicit sexual references have presumably been expurgated. (In the case of the diaries, which survive very spottily, one suspects the composer himself to have been the chief censor.) Poznansky possesses exceptional mastery of the Chaikovsky sources and remarkable powers of inference. The two most impressive demonstrations of these skills are found in the chapter where Chaikovsky’s surviving, very laconic, diary entries are collated with the contemporary juridical and medical literature on sexual deviance, and the one in which his letters home from Paris and Rome are similarly interpreted. Thus a young bathhouse attendant’s description, via Merzheyevsky, of muzhelozhstvo, or buggery, as he and his peers practiced it with their gentleman patrons, is juxtaposed with notations in Chaikovsky’s diary that chronicle his visits to the Znamensky Baths in St. Petersburg—“Znamensky’s. Timothy,” reads one; “With Tim. Somehow wasn’t any fun. It’s not the same anymore,” reads another—and visits to the Bruce Hotel in Moscow, which Poznansky identifies as the second city’s main gay rendezvous: “Bruce, even though it’s Sunday. Pleasure and remorse.” Or again, Chaikovsky writes home from Paris, “I roamed all about senselessly and without pleasure until twelve midnight.” With the aid of Krafft-Ebing, quoted in the extract that follows, Poznansky infers that the composer had been cruising.

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If there was no pleasure, why did he not return earlier? In his sexual practices, Tchaikovsky was never monogamous. His upbringing, his usual timidity, and his deep commitment to his relatives prevented him from living openly with a male lover, as [Prince Alexey] Golitsyn or [the poet Alexey] Apukhtin [the composer’s lifelong friend] both did. This forced him to search for sexual fulfillment through anonymous encounters. The writings of several sexologists and criminal authorities of the nineteenth century contain repeated references to particular areas in every large European capital where homosexual men would stroll and meet one another, so-called promenades, where “throwing but a single brief glance, they never erred and would meet men whom they had never seen before but whom they recognized in a single second.” It was not necessary to be part of a specific circle in order to learn where these meeting places were in any large city. Even remaining on the fringes of the homosexual milieu, as Tchaikovsky certainly did, one inevitably heard rumors, and Tchaikovsky’s letters and diaries show that he knew the spots where the aunties gathered in Paris as well as in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Predictably enough, Poznansky has been excoriated for his impertinence in interpreting “mere” circumstantial evidence. Griffiths, in particular, reacted with loathing to the suggestion “that St. Petersburg in the 1870s had something in common with San Francisco a century later.” Yet the charge backfires. Circumstantial evidence, at least until the holdings of the Chaikovsky Archive in Klin get their post-Soviet scouring, is the only kind available. Those who impugn its use are not arguing in favor of better evidence; they are arguing in favor of no evidence, which is to say the free play of traditional prejudice. That Poznansky is not simply wringing homosexual readings out of ambiguous documents is evident from his careful treatment of one particular source that has been recklessly and opportunistically read by every previous biographer. A diary that Chaikovsky kept in the spring of 1884 during a visit to his sister’s estate contains coded references to two “sensations” (oshchushcheniya), one labeled x and the other z. A typical notation of this kind reads, “There was a lot of z. Ah, what a monstrous person I am!” The combination of code, sensation, and negative judgment is irresistible, of course, to those wedded to the notion of Chaikovsky as the flawed protagonist of a tragedy. Garden pounces: “The diary is illuminating and it certainly confirms beyond doubt not only his homosexuality, which he refers to by means of a private symbol, but his feelings of guilt about it.” Brown pounces: “There can be little doubt that the symbols x and z . . . denote homosexual drives. Most clearly of all, [the diary] vividly records an early stage of what was to be the central sexual attraction of his remaining years: his passion for his nephew Bob [Davydov].” Poznansky, keeping an open mind, noticed something else. The codes appear not in the context of references to Bob or any other putative sexual

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object but in the context of cardplaying, for which Chaikovsky nurtured a guilty passion that tormented him both for the time it wasted and for the hostile feelings it aroused in him toward his sister and other playing partners. As Poznansky observes, there are many Russian words denoting hostile emotions, such as envy (zavist’), spite (zloba), or malice (zlost’), that begin with one of Chaikovsky’s code letters. He suggests that x denoted the urge to gamble and z the unworthy feelings his losses inspired. The memoirs of an old acquaintance would seem to bear this out: Vladimir Pogozhev, a small-time composer and theater official, recalled that at vint, a variant of bridge, Chaikovsky “played without particular skill but heatedly.” In any case, the very survival of this particular diary, when so many others have evidently perished, argues strongly against its containing the kind of explicit, impassioned sexual revelations the British biographers have found in it. The picture of the mature Chaikovsky that emerges from Poznansky’s account is of a man who was sexually active, far from totally unsatisfied, and not particularly guilt-ridden. In sum, Chaikovsky managed, with the help of loving family and friends, to adapt himself—as humans will, by and large—to his condition, and to achieve an acceptable modus vivendi within his society’s mores. By the end of his life, Poznansky concludes, Chaikovsky was a reasonably happy man. In the company of loved ones, Chaikovsky’s late days were “filled with warmth and joy.” .

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Many people, it seems, simply cannot bear the thought of a homosexual man enjoying life. Griffiths is only the most strident of those who have protested what they take to be the commonness of the spectacle that Poznansky has unveiled. Instead of the figure of the noble or ignoble sufferer, which would reassure them, they are confronted with a man engaging in cheerful sex “with a variety of fellow musicians, male prostitutes, bathhouse attendants, domestic servants, coachmen, and family members,” in Griffiths’s accurate summary. Obviously, Griffiths blusters, such a portrait can only be a “tottering castle of unwarranted, indelicate extrapolations.” Yet neither he nor any other objector has caused it to totter. As the archives begin to yield up their contents in the wake of the Soviet collapse, we can expect it to become firmer. The process is set to begin with the publication (whenever the Russians find the time and the funds to resume their musicological activity) of Modest Chaikovsky’s unfinished and long-suppressed autobiography. Whereas in writing up the life of his adored older brother, Modest had expunged every reference to homosexuality and even defaced his source material in a counterproductive effort to put an end to rumors, in his own memoirs he tells a different story. When, in 1864, his twin Anatoly told him the terrible secret that he had learned about the twenty-four-year-old Pyotr’s sexual preferences,

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Anatoly had been amazed at the fourteen-year-old Modest’s reaction. “I forgot every trouble,” Modest wrote half a century later, and was filled with inexpressible joy. A heavy rock fell from my shoulders. I am not a freak, I am not alone in my strange desires. I may find sympathy not merely with the pariahs among my comrades, but with Pyotr! I may fall in love and feel no shame since Pyotr understands me! . . . With this discovery everything became different. Mankind split into “ours” and “theirs”. . . . The earlier self-contempt changed into self-satisfaction, and pride to belong among the “chosen.”

Reaction-formation? Of course. Deception? No. A memoir like this was hardly the kind of story that Modest would have wished to circulate, and it was unprintable anyway at the time of writing. It was set down at the prompting of a private impulse and gives evidence of what we would now call gay solidarity or gay pride. It was a solidarity that, Poznansky strongly argues, the famous composer eventually found restorative and sustaining. Against such evidence the other side will always cite the music itself. “I find it very difficult to believe that a man who produced something like the Sixth Symphony was totally at ease,” says Brown, in answer to Poznansky’s challenge. “You only have to listen to the Sixth Symphony to hear a man in torment,” says John Purdie, the director of Holden’s BBC-TV movie Who Killed Tchaikovsky? “The finality of the testament of the Sixth Symphony almost makes it superfluous for us to indulge in any sort of speculation,” says Alan Kendall, an especially fatuous pop biographer, who proceeds to speculate that “the music is the man.” Alas, even Poznansky shows himself gullible here, suddenly uncritical of Chaikovsky family traditions, when he writes pleonastically that “the Sixth Symphony was intentionally conceived by its author as autobiographical,” the result of “an irresistible desire to retell in music the story of his life and his soul and to dedicate it to Bob so that his beloved nephew might be able to share and appreciate all that he himself had gone through.” Yet Poznansky’s own work should free us from these simplistic views, for it explodes the idle notion of a direct parallel between the composer’s life experience and the undoubtedly tragic mood of the symphony. For that we can be grateful. Biographical fallacies only cheapen esthetic response. Art is, well, artful; and of no art is that truer than the romantic art of confession, of which the Pathétique is perhaps the outstanding example. “Always be sincere,” Flanders and Swann used to say, “whether you mean it or not.” That might have been Chaikovsky’s motto. His practically unparalleled ability to live up to it made him, in Pozanansky’s apt phrase, a “genius of the emotions”—not a genius at having emotions (we’re all geniuses at that), but a genius at representing them, yours and mine as well as his. A year after reviewing the Fourth Symphony, Corno di Bassetto covered “the late Tchaikowsky’s last symphony, which was very interesting.” Once

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again, Byron came to mind. “Like Childe Harold,” the critic wrote, “who was more tragic when there was nothing whatever the matter with him than an ordinary Englishman is when he is going to be executed, Tchaikowsky could set the fateful drum rolling and make the trombones utter the sepulchral voice of destiny without any conceivable provocation.” It could be said that Shaw didn’t hear much of anything in the Pathétique, and that’s too bad; but among the things he didn’t hear was a man in torment. What was Chaikovsky feeling while composing his Sixth Symphony? As Shaw surmised, there was nothing whatever the matter with him. Quite the contrary. The act of producing the symphony filled his last summer with bliss. “I have never felt such self-satisfaction, such pride, such happiness,” he wrote to his publisher, “as in the consciousness that I am really the creator of this beautiful work.” After the first performance he spent a cheerful week, his last, in St. Petersburg with Bob and Modest. During intermission at the theater one evening he went backstage to greet one of the leading actors, a friend of his brother’s. Conversation turned to spiritualism, thence to death itself. The composer of the Pathetic Symphony waved the subject aside. “There is plenty of time before we need reckon with this horror; it will not come to snatch us off just yet!” he remarked to Modest. Then he added, “I feel I shall live a long time.” POSTSCRIPT, 2008

Like the defenders of the fraudulent “memoirs” attributed to Shostakovich, or like the advocates of Francis Bacon’s (or Christopher Marlowe’s, or the Earl of Oxford’s) claim to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the British suicide squadron will never say die. As evidence accumulates, the arguments get sillier and the tactics ever more frantic, but the comedy of errors sputters on. Alexander Poznansky lost no time coming forth with the smoking pistols that added direct to circumstantial evidence of Chaikovsky’s active erotic engagements. Only months after my essay appeared in print, Poznansky began plugging the holes in Chaikovsky’s published correspondence on the basis of the original documents he was finally permitted to examine at the Chaikovsky Museum at Klin. In three publications—“Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Myth” (Musical Times 4 [1995], 175–82); the introduction to a second book, Tchaikovsky’s Last Days: A Documentary Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996); and (in greatest detail) “Unknown Tchaikovsky: A Reconstruction of Previously Censored Letters to His Brothers (1875–1879),” in Tchaikovsky and His World, ed. Leslie Kearney, 55–98 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), he was able to show conclusively, and with winning gusto, that the guesses he had made in his first book as to what the suppressed passages contained were almost invariably correct. Pyotr Ilyich’s letters to brother

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Modest contain frank and joyous avowals of romantic love, and accounts of romantic lovemaking, with Iosif Kotek, the Moscow Conservatory violin student for whom he intended his violin concerto, and with others as well, including a manservant at his sister’s estate in Ukraine, about whom he wrote, shortly after his marriage-for-show: As regards my source of delight, about whom I cannot even think without being sexually aroused and whose boots I would feel happy to clean all my life long, [and] whose chamber pots I would take out, I am generally ready to lower myself in any way, provided that I could kiss, even if only rarely, his hands and feet. (Letter of 9 September 1877; Poznansky, Tchaikovsky’s Last Days, 16)

There are also descriptions of one-night stands with male prostitutes in foreign cities, like this one, mailed to Modest from Paris on 26 February 1879: A bed, a pitiful little trunk, a dirty little table with a candle-end, a few shabby trousers and a jacket, a huge crystal glass, won in a lottery—those make the room’s only decorations. Yet it did seem to me at that moment that this miserable cell is the center of all human happiness. . . . There occurred all kinds of calinerie [tenderness] as he put it, and then I turned frantic because of amorous happiness and experienced incredible pleasure. And I can say in confidence that, not only for a long time, but almost never have I felt so happy in this sense as yesterday. (Tchaikovsky’s Last Days, 21)

So thoroughly do such findings put the lie to David Brown’s or Paul Griffiths’s fantasies about Chaikovsky’s sexual repressions, and so thoroughly do they knock out the support from under the suicide theory, that one might think the matter would have ended there. But no, Prof. Brown reentered the fray in November 1997 with a brazen review-article in Music & Letters, a major British musicological quarterly, whose editors should have known better than to publish it, if only out of kindness to the author. Its title, “How Did Tchaikovsky Come to Die—and Does It Really Matter?” already announced the most hackneyed of die-hard claims: that the case was after all undecidable, and of little consequence. Sore losers always pretend not to care, but the stance of nonchalance was belied by the article’s desperate contents, which maintained all the old double standards (the minutest hairsplitting over the copious record of Chaikovsky’s treatment for cholera versus unreserved uncritical leniency toward the suicide rumor in its every contradictory aspect) and undertook the most tortured construals of the newly uncovered passages to support the assumption that, as Prof. Brown continued to put it, “Tchaikovsky was to the end of his life uncomfortable with his sexual orientation.” He defended the old rumor anew on the embarrassingly innocent grounds that nobody had yet proved conclusively that it could not have happened. One teaches first-year graduate students not to degrade themselves with such arguments. Nobody has yet proved beyond

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doubt that Chaikovsky did not die of AIDS either, or of Lyme disease, or of death rays from Mars. Mature scholars know that such proofs are impossible, and concentrate not on defending remote possibilities but on testing probabilities. Prof. Brown also continued to defend the rumor on the grounds that many people have believed it. Many people have also believed that Salieri poisoned Mozart, that Boris Godunov ordered the murder of the infant Dimitry, and that Lyndon Johnson contracted John F. Kennedy’s assassination. If these had been the only arguments Prof. Brown now marshaled, there would have been nothing worthy of report. But in fact Prof. Brown managed to break through to a new level of credulity, accompanied by a descent into ad hominem argument that demands report and renewed rebuke. First Prof. Brown tried to discredit his opponent by ridiculing the latter’s sheer copiousness and indefatigability. Before publishing his second book in English, Poznansky had published an even more heavily detailed version in Russian, giving Prof. Brown a pretext for a crudely anti-intellectual sally: “to have written one book on so circumscribed a subject shows zeal; to have written two suggests zealotry.” Worse even, he stooped to a Red-baiting smear: Dr. Poznansky seems to be a unique phenomenon. Born and brought up in the USSR in pre-glasnost’ years, he is the only example I know of an unreconstructed Soviet-style writer operating in Western musical circles. His method is thoroughly traditional. Select your orthodoxy (in this instance, that Tchaikovsky died of cholera according to the official story), then push it for all you are worth. Allow no merit in the opposing case, nitpick if necessary. Manipulation is a fundamental weapon. Personalize your attacks to devalue your opponents, thus discrediting not only the counter-arguments but their source. And do not hesitate to use insinuation or even misrepresentation, or to make assumptions about opponents, or to accuse them of employing the very methods you use.

What a boomerang! But weirdest of all Prof. Brown’s concoctions was a loopy conspiracy theory. Noting that (as Poznansky reported both in his article and in his book) yet another refutation of the suicide theory had been published in Russia in 1994—Poslednyaya bolezn’ i smert’ P. I. Chaikovskogo (The final illness and death of P. I. Chaikovsky) by a retired microbiologist named Nikolai Blinov—Prof. Brown asserted out of the blue that Poznansky was Blinov’s son, and that “there seems to be a dynastic obsession with Tchaikovsky’s end in the Blinov family.” Poznansky wrote to the journal in mingled amusement and amazement, offering to produce his birth certificate in refutation of this ridiculous claim. Prof. Brown did not insist on it, but in a reply to Poznansky in the same journal explained his mistake as follows:

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In August 1995, before ever I had heard of Nikolay Blinov, I exchanged letters on Tchaikovsky with a person of total reliability and integrity. In the more informal part of one letter Dr. Poznansky was mentioned, and my correspondent observed, purely in passing, that Poznansky “goes by another name in Moscow and St. Petersburg—Alexander Nikolayevich Blinov” (which would signify his father was called Nikolay Blinov). I thought no more about it until, in 1996, I received a copy of Nikolay Blinov’s book on the circumstances of Tchaikovsky’s death. Immediately this seemed to solve a mystery that had long puzzled me. Why had Poznansky, a non-musician, been so fascinated by Tchaikovsky? Well, now I knew.

“If I am wrong in my conclusion of a father-son relationship, as Dr. Poznansky now asserts, then of course I apologize unreservedly,” Prof. Brown now wrote. “But I think readers (and Dr. Poznansky) will agree that my deduction, if mistaken, was reasonable.” It is hard to decide what is most bizarre about this episode. With no evidence save a rumor communicated by a source whose identity he declined to reveal, Prof. Brown asserted that Poznansky and Blinov had acted in collusion out of some sort of pathological family vendetta. Confronted with the facts, Prof. Brown had the gall to insist that his “deduction, if mistaken, was reasonable.” And he persisted in characterizing the source of his mis- or disinformation as having “total reliability,” even after events had established the opposite. In fine, as the reader has surely realized with a chuckle or a shudder, Prof. Brown replayed in miniature the very process through which he had polluted Chaikovsky scholarship a quarter of a century ago. In neither case did he make deductions of any kind. He merely accepted what he was told and proceeded recklessly to broadcast it because it suited his fancy or his purposes. Call it innocent gullibility or call it opportunism, his performance, then and now, disgraces scholarship, which like responsible journalism distrusts uncorroborated hearsay on principle. That is why I feel justified, notwithstanding Prof. Brown’s protest at what he deems a personal attack, in calling attention to his autodidact status. In this case the autodidact had an exceptionally poor teacher, and his tale can serve scholarship as a caution. There is no reason, after all, why musicology shouldn’t be as scholarly a discipline as microbiology or cultural history, the disciplines practiced by Prof. Brown’s better-educated opponents, and no reason why the musicological profession, in Britain or America, should offer incompetence its protection. As a codetta to this grim little scherzo, consider the article on Chaikovsky that replaced Prof. Brown’s in the revised edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, published in 2001. Its author, Prof. R. John Wiley of the University of Michigan, an authority on Chaikovsky’s ballets, happens to be the informant on whom Prof. Brown relied for his “deductions” about

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Alexander Poznansky’s paternity. Here is what the standard source of Anglophone musical reference now has to say about the matter it so mishandled in 1980, with italics added to signal the indelible remains of the old rumor: Tchaikovsky conducted the first performance of the Sixth Symphony on 16/28 October 1893; five days later he fell ill; in the morning of 25 October/6 November, after heroic efforts by the best doctors, he died. The cause has never been established. Modest wrote that his brother drank unboiled water, from which he contracted cholera. In 1980 the musicologist Aleksandra Orlova published a theory proposing that he died by suicide, carrying out a sentence passed by a court of honour of his classmates at the School of Jurisprudence: Tchaikovsky’s sexual advances to a young man of high birth were about to be made public, and death was nobler than bringing dishonour upon the school. The polemics over his death have reached an impasse, one side supporting a biographer not invariably committed to the truth, the other advocating something preposterous by the mores of the day. Neither version withstands scrutiny, making all conclusions provisional.

This goes beyond face-saving. It is reprehensible concealment, if not of the truth, then at least of the most reasonable and plausible of the available hypotheses. Chaikovsky’s death, it so happens, was easily the most minutely documented death suffered by any major composer, with a team of medical specialists issuing periodic bulletins about his condition over a span of many hours. To claim that the choice is merely between the version of Modest Chaikovsky and that of Alexandera Orlova is a willful pretense. Why does the distinguished dictionary continue the game? Wiley’s next sentence is exactly to the point: “Rumour attached to the famous dies hard: Paganini’s pact with the devil, Salieri’s poison.” Subscholarly romanticism, alas, dies even harder.

7

Chaikovsky and the Literary Folk A Study in Misplaced Derision

“My desires are modest,” said Vladimir Nabokov, in his famous Playboy pseudointerview with Alvin Toffler, the future futurist. (“Pseudo-interview” because, like all Nabokov interviews, this one was conducted completely in writing, with considered and composed answers to submitted questions, and a few composed questions, too.) Asked to define his ideal state, he continued: “The social or economic structure is of little concern to me. Portraits of the head of government should not exceed a postage stamp in size. No torture and no executions.” No surprises there. But then he added, “No music, except coming through earphones, or played in theaters.” At this the interlocutor (surely Nabokov himself this time) had to ask, “Why no music?” And this remarkable paragraph ensued: I have no ear for music, a shortcoming I deplore bitterly. When I attend a concert—which happens about once in five years—I endeavor gamely to follow the sequence and relationship of sounds but cannot keep it up for more than a few minutes. Visual impressions, reflections of hands in lacquered wood, a diligent bald spot over a fiddle, these take over, and soon I am bored beyond measure by the motions of the musicians. My knowledge of music is very slight; and I have a special reason for finding my ignorance and inability so sad, so unjust: There is a wonderful singer in my family—my own son. His great gifts, the rare beauty of his bass, and the promise of a splendid career—all this affects me deeply, and I feel a fool during a technical conversation among musicians. I am perfectly aware of the parallels between the art forms of music and those of literature, especially in matters of structure, but what can I do if ear and brain

Originally published in the San Francisco Opera program book, season 1996–97. Throughout this chapter the title Eugene Onegin will refer to the novel in verse by Pushkin, and Yevgeny Onegin to the opera loosely based on it by Chaikovsky.

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refuse to cooperate? I have found a queer substitute for music in chess—more exactly, in the composing of chess problems.

After Nabokov’s declaration of militant tone deafness, it will not overly surprise us that in another place, his four-volume translation-with-commentary of Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, he railed mercilessly at Chaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin, calling it “Tchaikovsky’s silly opera” in one place, “Tchaikovsky’s slapdash opera” in another, hissing in a third that “in the opera by the ‘great’ composer, everything insults Pushkin’s masterpiece.” On this occasion Nabokov’s persiflage did not come up to his usual level of originality. Sniping at Chaikovsky’s opera had been a favorite indoor sport among Russian literary intellectuals for nearly a century, that is, for the whole life of the opera. Even before it had its first performance by a student cast at the Moscow Conservatory in March 1879, the novelist (and, lately, playwright) Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev bought a copy of the vocal score and was able to write to Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, another literary man who had gotten wind of the impending desecration, that “the music is doubtless remarkable, but what a libretto!” And the judgment has been parroted, first in deference to Turgenev, later to Nabokov, by generations of “Slavists,” many of whom have probably never seen or heard the opera. In a way the situation is perfectly understandable. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which was just coming into its own as an object of canonical veneration around the time Chaikovsky and his poet friend Konstantin Shilovsky dared to adapt it, is beloved not for its plot or (with one exception) for its characters—the only parts of a literary work that most literary people think transferable to another medium. Rather, it is adored for what Nabokov called “the divine details”—the verbal dazzle (that is, the music that Pushkin had already put there), the wry social commentary, the perfectly exact descriptions, the endlessly subtle and nuanced characterizations, the interrelationship of literary and social conventions, all conveyed by a famously intrusive narrator’s voice. It is a work of narrative art that is loved for the telling, not the tale. It calls such delightful attention to itself as a work of art, and as a specifically verbal construction containing so many verbal pleasures of an absolutely unparaphrasable kind, that it is small wonder it has been declared sacrosanct by the scholars who earn their livelihoods by dissecting those aspects of it that are beyond the reach of music (or so they think). If anything, resistance to Chaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin in literary quarters increased in the twentieth century, as literary studies and appreciation became more academically cloistered, and as the academy submitted to the influence of what used to be called the New Criticism. New Criticism, now as old as the hills, valued (in the words of one of its founders) “a maximum of complexity under a maximum of control.” There is no literary device that creates more complexity per unit of invested effort, and none that so

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increases the possibilities of interesting analysis, as irony—saying one thing and conveying another. Instantly you have levels of meaning. Instantly you need a critic to sort the levels out. And that is how Eugene Onegin became a cottage industry. The novel’s greatness is assumed to lie in its irony, vouchsafed by all those gloriously complicating narrator’s intrusions, which provide “a kind of spiritual air conditioner,” as one commentator puts it. When that machine is turned off, as it is assumed to be in the opera, “the atmosphere becomes sticky, the underpinnings of the wonderfully delicate, intricate, balanced structure rot, and it collapses. You are left with a banal, trite, and sentimental bore—which may nevertheless be a vehicle for some delightful music.” Thank you very much, but that formulation shows magnificent incomprehension of what the music in an opera does—and particularly in this opera, where the music, quite simply, is the narrator. Chaikovsky, as alive to the special beauties of Eugene Onegin as any New Critic, contrived to do what no literary man, feeling a fool during a technical conversation among musicians, would have dreamed possible. Using a different medium, and of course adopting music-specific strategies, he managed to invest the opera with the same multileveled perspective—the same ironies and knowing asides—that Pushkin achieved through the more predictable use of words alone. And he also managed to adapt the novel’s sensibility, without sacrificing the “air conditioner,” to the age of Turgenev—and even, looking ahead, that of Chekhov—as Turgenev later came to realize. After actually seeing the opera performed, Turgenev reversed his judgment on the libretto and even conceded that Chaikovsky had—in one specific way that we’ll examine in due course—improved on Pushkin. As for Chekhov, the best testimony of his esteem, and a poignant one, comes in the flyleaf of a copy of his second book of stories (At Twilight, 1887), now in the library of the Chaikovsky homestead-museum in Klin, a suburb of Moscow. It bears the inscription, “To Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky, from his devoted future librettist.” It never happened, for within a few years of Chekhov’s hopeful overture, Chaikovsky met his premature and sudden death (don’t ask how). But Chekhov was right to recognize in the composer of Yevgeny Onegin the only kindred dramaturgical spirit he ever had among Russian composers. .

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So how does this music do what the professionally tone-deaf have declared it can’t? It does it the same way Pushkin’s verses did it, by virtue of what it adds in commentary to the bare frame of plot. As such, the plot of Eugene Onegin is slender and banal in the extreme, and deliberately so: a dreamy country girl falls in love with a young fop from the big city; she impulsively pours out her feelings to him in a letter; she is rebuffed and humiliated; five years later the two encounter each other again and fop is smitten; by now, country girl

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has become a society matron who will not abandon her husband for her old flame. There is also a subplot involving fop’s friend, a provincial poetaster, and the country girl’s vacuous sister, over whom the two young men duel needlessly, and the friend is meaninglessly slain. Nobody would ever pick Eugene Onegin as an opera subject on the strength of its plot alone. Literary pickings are seldom slimmer. But what Chaikovsky shortly perceived, after his friend the contralto Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya surprised him with the suggestion, and what critics (not audiences) have failed to perceive for over a century now, was that music of a sort he was uniquely inclined and equipped to write could perform exactly those functions for which Pushkin’s celebrated narrative voice was prized. The result was a chef d’oeuvre of stylized operatic realism: the Russian counterpart to Verdi’s Traviata or Massenet’s Manon, except that it stands higher in its national tradition than they do in theirs, and its realism more fundamentally determined its style. From the very first sung notes, Olga’s and Tatyana’s offstage duet to the harp, the music acts as a very busy and detached mediator of situations and feelings. As the Soviet musicologist Boris Asafyev was the first to demonstrate in detail, Chaikovsky “sings” his opera in an idiom intensely redolent of the domestic, theatrical, and ballroom music of its time and place—its, not his— and in so doing he situates it, just as Pushkin situates the literary prototype, in the years 1819–25 (adding maybe ten years in the case of Chaikovsky, who, like Stravinsky after him, was particularly attracted to the song styles of the 1830s). And just as Pushkin’s characters (like all “realistic” characters) achieve their “reality” through a multitude of precisely manipulated codes, so Chaikovsky’s express themselves through a finely calculated filter of musical genres and conventions. To express the passions and spontaneous reactions of the characters by means of stereotyped melodic and harmonic figures, however freshly and virtuosically recombined, makes exactly the same point Pushkin makes in his novel: feelings are never truly spontaneous but always mediated by the conventions and constraints, as often learned from literature as from “life,” to which we have adapted. Therein lie both the tragedy (the constraints) and the salvation (the adaptation) of human society. And as Chaikovsky knew, attentive student of Mozart that he was, a composer has certain narrational advantages over a writer, advantages of a kind that a novelist with slight ear or knowledge of music could never imagine. Where the novelist must arrange things in a temporal sequence, the musician can simultaneously present and comment without recourse to digression. The best possible illustration comes at the very outset of Yevgeny Onegin, with the eccentric “quartet” for women’s voices, in which that very typical period duet-romance sung by the sisters offstage (to an early verse by Pushkin, Chaikovsky’s only Pushkin romance!) accompanies a speech-song

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conversation, truly conversational in its contours and rhythms, between their mother, Mme. Larina, and Filipyevna, their former wet nurse. The foreground conversation begins with an invocation to the books in Larina’s life (“O Grandison! O Richardson!”) and ends with a modest paean, paraphrased from Chateaubriand, to habit (“given to us from above as substitute for happiness”). The conversation is a comment on the song that accompanies it (or that it accompanies), the idiom-defining domestic romance that first introduces to the audience’s ear the distinctive period style in which the opera is couched. It turns this quite unprecedented double duet for women’s voices (a tour de force, incidentally, of art-concealing contrapuntal artistry) into a simultaneous text and gloss—an explicit meditation on one of the novel’s paramount themes, the relationship between life and literature, between spontaneous feeling and mediating convention, between—if a bit of once modish language may be excused—signifiers and signifieds. These are just the aspects of Pushkin that literary people fancy inaccessible to music, or at least to Chaikovsky, of all the great nineteenth-century composers the one that twentieth-century people found it easiest to condescend to—in a conventional sort of way. The little maxim from Chateaubriand about the virtues of habit—that is, of salubriously conventional behavior—will repay one last look for what it can tell us about Chaikovsky’s very sophisticated methods for achieving his famous simplicity and sincerity of utterance. He sets it off as a sudden little canon, a conventional set piece in miniature. The simple contrapuntal form represents its meaning—that is, becomes significant—according to a timehonored code: “Es ist der alte Bund,” as J. S. Bach had put it, fugally, many years before. It is the old constraint: if feeling is to be significantly expressed in art, it must be mediated through significant forms—that is, forms that function as conventional signifying codes. And that presupposes their intelligibility, which in turn implies predefinition. An artist who wants to communicate significantly must accept limits to his freedom—constraints that have potentially liberating consequences. If, as has been claimed, and as one can only agree, Chaikovsky is the great “poet of everyday life” and a “genius of emotion,” it is because he knew how to channel life and emotion with great power and precision through coded forms. “It seems to me,” Chaikovsky later wrote to his friend Vladimir Pogozhev, a theater official, “that I am truly gifted with the ability truthfully, sincerely, and simply to express the feelings, moods, and images suggested by a text. In this sense I am a realist and fundamentally a Russian.” All of the italics in this selfcharacterization were Chaikovsky’s own, and the opening quartet in Yevgeny Onegin, to say nothing of the whole opera that follows it, wonderfully bears them out. The realism and the Russianness of the opera are equally profound and profoundly interrelated; and they are equally likely to be missed by those

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who equate realism with “formlessness” and can discern national character only in the sort of folklore that exists in Yevgeny Onegin (like the “folk” itself) merely as an aspect of decor—in the field hands’ songs and dances of the first scene, for example, or the berry pickers’ chorus, taken directly from the novel, in the third. Another choice sample of Chaikovsky’s “diegetical” skill—his ability at once to present and to comment, to show things as they are and at the same time to “distance” the portrayal ironically—comes at the moment when the title character and his friend, the poetaster Lensky, make their first appearance. The comically exaggerated courtly flourishes in the orchestra that accompany their bows to the Larin ladies instantly sketch their foppish histories, accomplishing much of the work of Pushkin’s chapter 1, the absence of which is so often (and so severely) held against the opera’s libretto. In their startling anticipation of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, his “Pergolesi” pastiche ballet, these “eighteenth-century” curlicues also call attention to Chaikovsky’s underappreciated mastery of the grotesque. These points of period style and representational technique apply not only to the characters’ public behavior and the obviously “generic” ballroom scenes but even, or especially, to their most private and personal utterances. Tatyana’s “Letter Scene” (the latter part of scene 2), the most private and personal in the opera, is in effect a string of four drawing-room romances linked by recitatives. The resonances between the music of this scene and the duetromance within the opening quartet are many, conspicuous and (oh yes, most consciously) calculated: they are the resonances between Tatyana’s inner and outer worlds. To cite the most obvious correspondence, both numbers incorporate what is generally known as Tatyana’s leitmotif. (Like most leitmotives, emphatically including Wagner’s, they were actually named—and thus limited in their signifying power—not by their creators but by later commentators and commercial exploiters.) It is the very first melodic phrase presented to the audience in the opera’s orchestral introduction; it is echoed in the last line of each stanza of the duet romance, and it is echoed again in the middle section of the last, climactic romance in the Letter Scene. But even before its specific, gradually revealed association with Tatyana is made clear, the leitmotif bears a generic resonance—one that (with due apologies to Nabokov and others who may resent it) requires just a dab of “technical conversation” to identify it. Beginning on the sixth degree of the minor scale, it descends ultimately to the first degree, the tonic or keynote, thus describing the interval that more than any other defines the idiom of the bïtovoy romans, the Russian domestic or household romance of the early nineteenth century. Russian scholars have even coined a special term—sekstovïy (“sixthy”) and its derivative sekstovost’ (“sixthiness”)—to denote that defining quality, associated with many of the

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romances of Glinka, the founding father of Russian professional art music, but even more closely associated with the “three Alexanders”—Alyabyev, Varlamov, Gurilyov—who in the 1830s and 1840s turned out romances by the bushel for the parlors of the increasingly music-hungry Russian nouveaux riches, the incipient grande (but by Chaikovsky’s time much pettier) bourgeoisie. The role of Tatyana is saturated with melodic sixths. Along with the role of Lensky in the same opera, it is surely one of the “sixthiest” in the repertoire. And at times the melodic sixths are nested within a harmonic idiom that shows a marked “sixthiness” of its own—the constant use of the minor submediant (the “flat sixth”), a chord that ever since the time of Schubert had been the chief passion flower in the bouquet of romantic music, especially romantic domestic music, and that (especially when it is alternated with the tonic in the major) audiences—yes, you—have long since learned to react to with a throb of the heart. Penetrating just a bit further into the refinements of musical technique, we might add that the alternation can take the form of an immediate local progression (like the one that accompanies the famous horn solo in the Letter Scene), or it can be projected in the form of a subsidiary key governing large spans within the harmonic structure. The orchestral introduction to act 1 sets the precedent: its development section is all within the key of the submediant. Later the whole vocal coda of the Letter Scene (“Finished! I dare not re-read!”) is cast within the flat submediant key to portray poor Tatyana lost in a love trance. The melodic-harmonic idiom is only one of many genre resonances that tie Tatyana’s Letter Scene to the opening duet and thence to the whole world of the domestic romance. The harp-heavy orchestration of the first two sections is another. But the harp does more than evoke the sounds of domestic music making. The inspired chords (not arpeggiated!) that punctuate the woodwind phrases in the actual letter-writing music that introduces the second romance take their place within a marvelously detailed sound-portrait of the lovesick girl, in which Chaikovsky shows himself an adept practitioner of Mozartean “body portraiture” as outlined in the celebrated letter of 1781 from Mozart to his father about Die Entführung aus dem Serail. (Chaikovsky had read it in the famous Mozart biography by Otto Jahn.) As in the case of Mozart’s Belmonte or Osmin, we “see” and “feel” Tatyana—her movements, her breathing, her heartbeat—in her music. This “iconicity” shows off music’s advantages especially well: what the novelist or poet must describe, the composer (unlike the dramatist, who must depend on the director and the cast) can actually present. As to irony, did Pushkin ever make a more trenchant comment than Chaikovsky, when he mocks Onegin’s passionate confession to Tatyana in act 3 with a fleeting reference to the music by which he had rejected her in act 1? It is not simply a matter of showing that the boot is on the other foot: that

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much had already been accomplished by setting Onegin’s arioso at the end of the sixth scene (act 3, scene 1) to the melody of the first romance in the Letter Scene (equally ironic in that Onegin, not having “heard” that music on its earlier appearance, cannot be “quoting” it now; the reference is entirely a narrator’s aside). The allusion to the rejection music shows him to be fickle and erratic. It takes the place of the lengthy passage in Pushkin’s novel in which Tatyana visits the absent Onegin’s library and discovers, by peeking at the annotations in his books, his shallowness. The concluding confrontation between Onegin and Tatyana (the seventh and last scene in the opera) has been described as “a duet in the grand style,” but even here the method of construction remains that of stringing romances (a technique Chaikovsky evidently picked up from his teacher, Anton Rubinstein, as anyone knows who knows the last act of Rubinstein’s most famous opera, The Demon). Tatyana’s chief melody apes the one her husband, Prince Gremin, had sung in the preceding scene, thus telegraphing her answer to Onegin. Only twice, fleetingly, do the two voices mingle. It is hardly a duet at all. Like Tatyana’s total silence in response to rejection (act 1, scene 3, and, except for her participation in ensembles, in the next scene as well), the scene flies in the face of operatic convention and frustrates the audience’s conventional expectation (unless, like all Russians, they’ve read the book), thus underscoring by omission–yet another ironic narrator’s aside!—the futility of the dramatic situation. The very fact that Yevgeny Onegin contains no real love duets already testifies to its singular affinity with Pushkin’s novel, air conditioner and all. And it was this, by the way, rather than censorship or literary censoriousness, that caused Chaikovsky, after seeing the first student performance, to modify his original ending, which had included a kiss and the sudden melodramatic entry of Tatyana’s husband on the scene. No music needed to be altered, only one line of dialogue, Onegin’s (and the opera’s) last: from “O death, O death, I’m going out to seek thee!” to “Shame, grief, O how pitiful is my lot!” The former was “grand opera.” The latter made a far more fitting conclusion to seven “lyrical scenes from Pushkin.” .

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Not that there are no divergences between Chaikovsky’s treatment of the story and its characters and Pushkin’s. Lensky in particular, whose sixthy act 2 aria, the largest vocal set piece in the opera apart from the Letter Scene, is a very serious moment, reflects a later, more sentimental age—the age of Turgenev, so to speak, rather than Pushkin’s. And Turgenev knew it. One of Chaikovsky’s intimates, the critic Nikolai Kashkin, reported in his memoirs of the composer that the great writer admitted to him in conversation, early in the 1880s, that “for me, you know, Chaikovsky’s Lensky has grown somehow; he’s gotten bigger somehow than he was in Pushkin.” Not only does he

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loom larger in the opera than in the novel, he is taken far more seriously— by Turgenev, Chaikovsky, and their contemporaries, for all of whom Lensky was not the figure of heartless fun that he was for Pushkin but, rather, the embodiment of a romantic temper that had, like the slain poet, been extinguished from Russian letters. Pushkin’s Lensky never does the equivalent of singing his operatic counterpart’s aria. Instead, on the eve of the impending duel at which he is to lose his life, he writes a stilted poem that is all clichés and turgid imagery. Even in extremis he is just a fop. Chaikovsky redeemed him. (Not that Nabokov was grateful. For him Pushkin’s original was sacrosanct, Chaikovsky’s a wimp. Because he never adequately understands the impulsive rage that caused the duel between friends, and because he voices no genuine regret, the original Lensky was a “real man,” an implicit baritone. By making him a tenor and replacing his foolishness with resignation, Chaikovsky “makes a whining weakling of Pushkin’s virile Lensky.”) And yet even in Lensky’s biggest, most seemingly spontaneous operatic moment, Chaikovsky mediates his character through a set of significant formal codes. Chaikovsky’s unswerving use of the modest romance form is more than just evocative; it sets distinct limits on Lensky’s emotional scale. Like all the characters in the opera, Lensky remains a denizen of a realistic novel (one of the very earliest to be given operatic treatment), not of a historical spectacle or well-made play. And so there was more to Turgenev’s appreciation of the new Lensky than meets the eye. What Chaikovsky had created in Yevgeny Onegin was the one Russian opera that behaves like Turgenev’s own famous and very innovative play A Month in the Country—“lyrical scenes,” so to speak, in which nothing seems to happen except inside the characters. It is a thoroughly novelized drama, even as Yevgeny Onegin is novelized opera. Just as in Turgenev’s novels, the mechanism of A Month in the Country, seemingly derived directly from Eugene Onegin, concerns the entry into the settled society of a gentry estate of an outsider (Belyayev in Turgenev’s play; Onegin in the novel that bears his name) whose disturbance of its routines illuminates its nature. Even closer in spirit to Chaikovsky’s lyrical scenes, of course, is the oblique and ruminative world of Chekhovian drama. A Chaikovskian Three Sisters— if only he had lived to write it! To imagine it is to appreciate the final triumph of Yevgeny Onegin and offer the final refutation to all its distinguished literary detractors. Its best and most revealing context may not after all be the history of Russian opera (where Yevgeny Onegin will always seem a misfit), or even the creative biography of its composer, and surely not the world of “Pushkinism,” but rather the history of Russian drama, which Chaikovsky’s lyric scenes may through Chekhov have unwittingly helped transform.

8

The Great Symbolist Opera

At the beginning of the year 1888, a composer named Nikolai Semyonovich Klenovsky (1853–1915), who worked as a staff conductor at the Moscow Bolshoi Theater and had produced several ballets there (of which one, The Delights of Hashish, had been sensationally successful), decided it was time to try his hand at an opera. At the recommendation of his boss, Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky, the intendant of the Russian Imperial Theaters, Klenovsky turned to Modest Ilyich Chaikovsky, the famous composer’s younger brother, who had begun making a name for himself as a dramatist, with a request that Chaikovsky furnish him with a libretto on the subject of Pushkin’s novella The Queen of Spades. Chaikovsky wrote two scenes for Klenovsky and then in a letter to his brother expressed his disappointment that he was not writing them for Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky. But the timing was poor. The composing Chaikovsky had just suffered a fiasco with a mammoth opera after a play by Ippolit Shpazhinsky called The Enchantress, and he wrote back to Modest that from now on he was going to concentrate on symphonic music. “I’ll only go back to opera if a subject occurs to me that really heats me up. A subject like The Queen of Spades does not excite me and I could only do a mediocre job on it.” As an operatic subject, Pushkin’s novella might indeed have seemed unpromising. At barely 10,000 words, it was a masterpiece of what Dostoyevsky called “cold fury,” a study in ironic narrative dispatch that ended with one of Pushkin’s trademark anticlimaxes. On the face of it, the tale might have This text conflates two previously published pieces: “A Masterpiece of Musical Surrealism” (San Francisco Opera Program Book, September 1993) and “Why the Queen of Spades Is the Great Symbolist Opera” (Opera News, 60, no. 7 [23 December 1995]). 23 December 1995). Reprinted with permission.

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served at best for a brisk one-acter, insofar as a study in ugly monomania suggested musical adaptation at all. Here is the plot in four sentences: Having overheard from his cronies that a certain old countess possessed the secret of winning infallibly at cards, an impoverished young officer named Hermann resolves to wrest it from her. Under the pretext of a rendezvous with his quarry’s young ward and poor relation, Lizaveta Ivanovna, in whom he has been feigning a romantic interest, he gains entry to the countess’s house and hides in her bedroom, where, in Pushkin’s unforgettable phrase, he is “witness to the repulsive mysteries of her toilette.” He frightens the old woman to death with his entreaties but is later visited by her ghost, who discloses the secret (“Bet on three, then seven, then ace”). When he tries to play the cards, however, he finds he is holding the queen of spades in place of the ace, and he loses not only his fortune but his mind. And here is the famous “Conclusion,” as calculated a puncture as ever administered to Romantic eloquence: Hermann is now confined in room Number 17 of the Obukhov Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: “Three, seven, ace! Three, seven, queen!” Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very amiable young man, a son of the former steward of the old Countess. He is a civil servant, and has a considerable fortune. Lizaveta is bringing up a poor relative.

Who could make an opera out of that? Fortunately for us, not Klenovsky. Unable to see beyond the project’s drawbacks, he pulled out of the project. Still, because the libretto was commissioned by the theater and remained its property, another staff composer, Nikolai Feopemptovich Solovyov (who, doubling as critic, would later write a most uncollegial review of Chaikovsky’s opera), was given right of refusal before Chaikovsky had a shot at his brother’s libretto. By then, having got over his dis-Enchantressment, the composer was ready to try his hand, provided the libretto could be adapted to his strengths. Together, the Chaikovsky brothers found ample ways of opening up and heating up this icy, claustrophobic tale, some of them suggested (or demanded) by Vsevolozhsky, who thus earns some credit for the spectacular result. The terse, tense narrative was fitted out with all kinds of leisurely interpolations (ten set pieces out of twenty-four!) that at times appear to dwarf the original plot altogether. The action was transposed into the nineteenth-century fairyland known as “the eighteenth century” so as to provide a pretext for the most sumptuous interpolation of all, the pastoral divertissement (or intermède) in the act 2 ballroom scene. And Pushkin’s ghoulish parody of “horror” was supplemented with an admixture of more typically operatic “tragedy”: a genuine romantic intrigue between Hermann and Liza, now the countess’s granddaughter

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rather than her impoverished ward (and therefore Hermann’s social superior). Instead of ending dryly with Hermann’s drab madness and Liza’s socially advantageous marriage, the opera culminates in their spectacular (though not simultaneous) double suicide. For the sake of this subplot a new major character was contrived: Prince Yeletsky, Hermann’s high-born rival for Liza’s hand, who gets a show-stopping love aria in act 2, and who steps in as Nemesis in the concluding card game to call Hermann’s bluff and precipitate his demise. For these decorative and melodramatic alterations (and also perhaps on account of the opera’s luxuriant reliance on virtuoso singing, for which the composer had found a pair of remarkable protagonists in the husband-andwife team of Nikolai and Medea Figner, who sang the leading roles at the St. Petersburg première), the Chaikovsky brothers have been castigated many times over by guardians of literature for whom Pushkin is sacrosanct. The Queen of Spades is often second-guessed by producers and adapters, notably a Soviet team under the great director Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose notorious (and Yeletskyless) “repushkinization” of the opera was shown at the Leningrad Maly Theater in 1935. But the generations of puritanical, unimaginative critics who have rebuked and adjusted the work seem not to have been able to hear the music to which the cannily adulterated libretto gave rise. That music came pouring out of Chaikovsky in an unprecedented rush. The whole opera was composed in Florence in forty-four days of frenzied inspiration (31 January–15 March 1890), the composer constantly outrunning his brother’s text and supplementing it at the dictate of his hectic muse. By mid-June the orchestration was complete (four months and twenty days after composition had begun), and the opera was submitted to the theater and the publisher. The première took place on 7 December, ten months and one week after the first sketches were put on paper. “All but supernatural speed!” remarked the normally phlegmatic operatic chronicler Vsevolod Cheshikin. The inordinate rapidity of composition was matched by an unusually tight construction and (as Chaikovsky, in his enthusiasm, more or less predicted) a level of inspiration unmatched in its way in all of Russian opera. The composer’s many letters to his librettist brother abound with expressions of happy amazement at his own powers of disciplined invention. “Well, Modya, if, God willing, I finish the opera, it will come out . . . shik [i.e., chic, choice]!” was typical. (So much for Chaikovsky the neurotic worrywart.) “Either I am horribly mistaken, Modya, or the opera will be my chef d’oeuvre” was the final verdict—one that the international operatic audience has ratified as The Queen of Spades has inexorably gained on the popularity of Yevgeny Onegin, Chaikovsky’s other Pushkin opera, which met with similar resistance from the literary. Earlier, Chaikovsky had confided to Modest, “I am so far firmly

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convinced that The Queen of Spades is a good, and mainly, a very original piece, speaking not from the musical point of view but in general.” .

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What critics have been slow to recognize is precisely what the composer meant when he wrote with such uncharacteristic confidence about his originality. Chaikovsky’s penultimate opera is the first and possibly the greatest masterpiece of musical surrealism. It marks the beginning of a new stage in Chaikovsky’s evolution as musical dramatist, one that, had he lived out a normal span of years, would surely have marked him as one of the guiding geniuses of the Russian “Silver Age.” The early Romantics always said that music was the most romantic of the arts, or even more strongly, that it was the only inherently romantic art. And that was because, unlike literature or painting, it was not an imitation of the phenomenal world but was in itself a world, another world—or, to switch for a moment into the language of Russian Symbolism, inoy svet, the “other world” of the occult, which lurks behind the world we perceive with our senses, and invisibly rules it. Long before the Russian Symbolists, the idealist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer went so far as to insist that music was more real than what we call real life; for him it was “the kernel that precedes all attempts to shape it; it is, that is to say, the heart of things.” It was that heart of things that Wagner attempted to capture in his now widely misunderstood phrase “absolute music.” The ferment that brought about literary Symbolism, abstract painting, and most other manifestations of modern art began, as famously defined by Walter Pater, a witness on the scene, as an aspiration by all the jealous sister arts to achieve “the condition of music,” meaning precisely that absoluteness and kernelhood that Wagner and Schopenhauer groped toward describing. Chaikovsky thought of himself as an anti-Wagnerian, but he too was profoundly aware of music’s uncanniness. Even without knowing the term, he knew that opera, to paraphrase the romantic dictum about music, was the most Symbolist of the arts—or even more strongly, that opera was the only inherently Symbolist art. And this was so because in opera, uniquely among forms of drama, the represented action is surrounded at all times by an unseen, transfiguring medium that is taken as representing a reality more real than that of the senses. That medium, of course, is the music, which in any opera (regardless of whether the composer has any consciously formulated awareness of the fact, or any conscious strategy to exploit it) exists on two interacting levels. On one level is music that is actually heard by the dramatis personae onstage as music, as when characters sing songs or dance at balls, when soldiers tramp by to the strains of a march, when Don Giovanni strums his mandolin beneath Donna Elvira’s balcony or hires a wind band to serenade his stone

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guest. On the other level is the music that represents the characters’ speech, their interior feelings (both physical—think of Amfortas in Parsifal—and emotional), the weather (not just thunder and wind or other noisy kinds of weather but also fog or sunny skies), or the equivalent of an omniscient author’s aside. We hear this “other” music, but the characters do not. It is not part of their phenomenal reality—but it is in some sense a part of their reality all the same. Just what that sense is has always been one of the great operatic teasers— and undoubtedly a large part of the fascination with the genre that has kept it alive for more than 400 years. At the beginning of that history, the longest continuous history of any musical genre except church chant, it was already a teaser. Jacopo Peri, the composer of Euridice, the earliest surviving opera, acknowledged the paradox when he wrote in the preface to the score, published in Florence in 1600, that his aim, the defining aim of opera, was “to imitate with singing whoever speaks (and without doubt no one ever spoke singing).” Its most recent—and most penetrating—reformulation is that of Carolyn Abbate in her 1991 book Unsung Voices. Abbate has found what seem the perfect terms in which to cast the ancient dichotomy of levels, terms that resonate equally with the classical Greek theory on which Peri consciously relied and with the transcendentalist philosophy in which Schopenhauer and Wagner consciously participated, at the same time pinpointing the specific nexus between opera and the inherent aims of Symbolism. The level on which both the characters onstage and the audience in the house hear music as music, Abbate calls the “phenomenal music” of opera. The other level, the music that we hear as music but that the characters do not “hear” as we do, she calls “noumenal music,” borrowing from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant a term that Kant had borrowed from Plato. The noumenon (the thing itself) is to the phenomenon (its presentation to the senses) exactly what music was to the other arts that aspired to its condition— the “kernel that precedes all attempts to shape it, . . . the heart of things,” as Schopenhauer put it. Or as the Russian Symbolists would say, the phenomenon was to the noumenon as this world is to inoy svet—“the other world.” And so in any opera both this world and the other world are (potentially) present to our senses. When witnessing an opera—any opera—we are (potentially) clairvoyant. With tremendous insight and resourcefulness, Chaikovsky consciously exploited this inherent potential in The Queen of Spades, making it actual to an extent all but unparalleled in the repertory. There is hardly another opera that so completely capitalizes on this unique operatic property—no other opera, one might almost say, that is so completely an opera. The way in which he did it, moreover, is closely bound up both with the plot modifications that distinguish the operatic treatment from the original Pushkin story and with

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the large infusion of what on the surface seems inessential entertainment music—the two aspects of the opera that have been most consistently denigrated by the tone-deaf. .

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The miracle that music in The Queen of Spades performs is similar to the one accomplished by Chaikovsky’s other much-maligned Pushkin opera: it keeps up a running commentary on social milieux and relations, and the emotional ills they beget. But where the music to Yevgeny Onegin, like the celebrated narrative voice in its literary source, re-created “reality” with magnificent precision, the music to The Queen of Spades, while drawing on the same ballroom and salon resonances, floods the action in an atmosphere of hallucination, corresponding in tone not to the source of its own plot but rather to another celebrated work of Pushkin’s, the narrative poem The Bronze Horseman, which famously portrays Saint Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital, as a dream-city, a will-o’-the-wisp on the northern bogs. That poem is often said to be the precocious progenitor of the Russian Symbolist movement. The generalization may be extended to encompass music as well as literature if Chaikovsky’s mastery of the grotesque, and its chilling correlation with aberrant psychology, is given due recognition. The main hallucinogen in The Queen of Spades is not harmony, though there are chromatic leitmotif transformations aplenty and the whole-tone scale makes its customary spectral appearance, à la Glinka, with the old countess’s ghost. Rather, it is orchestration. Chaikovsky reveals an unparalleled genius for timbral grotesquerie (much practiced in his nowadays forgotten orchestral suites), which reaches its height in the overtly hallucinatory scene of ghostly visitation, when the dead countess’s shade confronts the deranged Hermann. The prefatory entr’acte is a weirdly feverish montage of church music (the countess’s panikhida, or burial service) and barracks music (the reveille), both authentic artifacts of “reality,” searched out for the composer by his librettist brother. But the distorted treatment they receive juxtaposes divided violas and cellos in the pit, pianissimo, against snare drum and trumpet offstage, fortissimo, producing a sound balanced as to volume but, like Hermann’s mind, grossly unbalanced in perspective. (Later the panikhida will be resumed by an offstage chorus singing in the wind’s voice, an indistinct, distant fortissimo.) Even the less obviously illustrative music in this scene offers eerie combinations of timbre seemingly at odds with expression, as when the English horn calls lyrically to the bass clarinet over an accompaniment of staccato bassoons to accompany Hermann’s remorseful recollection of his crimes. Rimsky-Korsakov, nominally a past master of coloristic orchestration himself, could not understand Chaikovsky’s psychological grotesques; to him the music of his rival’s late period was just “written topsy-turvy: music

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suitable for strings had been allotted to wind instruments and vice versa, and hence it occasionally sounds downright fantastic, but at altogether unsuitable moments.” This remark chimes tellingly with the way in which the novels of Tolstoy were often misunderstood by contemporaries. Both Chaikovsky and Tolstoy habitually violated the normal obligations of genre, but with such art-concealing art that their supreme sophistication was often misread as naivete. The “Mozart” idiom of the neoclassical divertissement in The Queen of Spades is another case in point. It is a critical commonplace to take note of how ineptly it imitates the Viennese master: the instrumentation is all wrong, tell-tale harmonic anachronisms peep through everywhere, the overly “sensitive” dynamics and articulations are obviously those of the late nineteenth century. The composer could hardly have been less aware of these “solecisms” than his critics, just as he knew as well as they that a sarabande has three, not four, beats to a measure. (His friend Nikolai Kashkin, in a fatuous memoir, claimed to have pointed out this mistake to Chaikovsky’s amazement, but the sarabande at the end of The Sleeping Beauty, written the year before, is perfectly “correct.”) The seeming solecisms are precisely the means through which Chaikovsky conjures up the necessary aura of unreality, as if to say (with Hermann) “What is our life? A game! Good and evil? Only dreams!” The reason why Chaikovsky’s phantasmal romanticism can seem so specifically to presage the incipient Russian Symbolist movement has to do with a network of sinister doubles that haunt the opera on every level, drawing subtle, chilling correspondances (to use Charles Baudelaire’s word) between the surface action and its occult underpinnings. Pushkin himself had written (mock-superstitiously) of chance or coincidence as the “powerful, instantaneous tool of providence.” Just so, Chaikovsky contrives all kinds of “chance” recurrences and transformations of musical motives that link (seemingly) random events and, in particular, bind the wealth of decorative and genre interpolations to the main plot line in unexpected, spinetingling ways. Thus to inspect “Tomsky’s Ballad” from scene 1, in which one of Hermann’s buddies first relates to him (and us) the legend of the three cards, is to penetrate in jarringly abrupt and ironic fashion from the surface of the plot to the occult level, and to see the fatal net, in the form of leitmotives, begin to draw around the fascinated Hermann. What on the surface is just a jovial set piece characterized by a seemingly routine “classical” symmetry of form yields up, on the one hand, an opening phrase that, tortured and skewed beyond belief (but not beyond recognition), governs all those moments in which Hermann makes contact, through the countess, with the world beyond (or it, through her, with him), until, in the last scene, it crushes

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him with the full weight of the orchestra. On the other hand, the ballad’s refrain (“Three cards, three cards, three cards!”) resonates as a sinister double with Hermann’s just completed cavatina (“I don’t even know her name”), in which he confides his hopeless love for Liza, linking that irresistible attraction with the fatal imperative that will doom them both. The music that opens the first scene, accompanying innocent children’s games and the banter of nannies, governesses, and wet nurses, is a subtle embroidery of the climactic phrase of the orchestral introduction, which later will carry all of Hermann’s most fervent confessions to Liza and is last heard at the other end of the opera as he thinks of her one last time before falling dead. Thus he is stalked by malign destiny from the very outset. Liza is stalked as well, in the single most chilling mediation of phenomenal and noumenal the opera has to offer. The second scene of act 1 begins with a gay vecherinka, an evening party for Liza and her friends to celebrate her name day. The first music heard is a lovely duet in period style, sung by Liza and her cousin Pauline to a lyric by Pushkin’s contemporary Vasilii Zhukovsky. Then Liza asks Pauline to sing a solo. She complies, as if hypnotized, with a gruesome song in which a dead maiden addresses her one-time companions from beyond the grave (the words are by another contemporary of Pushkin, Konstantin Batyushkov). After singing it and spoiling everyone’s mood, Pauline cannot explain why she has done so. We in the audience learn why later in the scene, when Hermann suddenly intrudes upon Liza from the balcony, where he has been hiding in the dark, and declares his love. His amorous entreaties—“spoken,” not “sung,” in terms of the dramatic action, and hence noumenal music, uncannily—and, of course, “unwittingly”—echo the melody of Pauline’s romance, thus ineluctably identifying Liza with the dead maiden in the song: fate has left another calling card. And yet another, when the opening phrase of Pauline’s song recurs, in ghostly muted strings accompanied by a feverish ostinato that has its own history in the opera, to set the scene for the fatal episode in the countess’s boudoir. Such linkages go far toward explaining both the sheer abundance of apparent musical digression in the opera and its uncanny equiponderance with the terse main line of action. They are not digressions at all—or only digressions at first hearing. The more familiar one becomes with the score, the more one will (perhaps unconsciously) discover correspondences of this kind, and the more one is seized with terror at the sound of outwardly trifling musical confections. One begins to hear with paranoiac ears— Hermann’s ears. Only the greatest dramatic composers can inspire this sort of intense and unaccountable empathy—what Freud would later call cathexis.

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Some of the fatal correspondences in Chaikovsky’s score reach outside the immediate context of the work into the realm of quotation and allusion, just as the libretto is evocatively enriched with verses by such other period poets as Pyotr Karabanov and Gavriyil Derzhavin, in addition to Zhukovsky and Batyushkov. The very first music the audience hears, at the outset of the orchestral introduction, is an adaptation of Tomsky’s Ballad to the rhythm of the main theme in the first movement of Chaikovsky’s recently completed Fifth Symphony in E minor (1888), whose portentous motto theme clearly echoes as well through the E-minor orchestral music at the beginning and end of the opera’s penultimate scene, at the river embankment, which ends in Liza’s martyrdom. The new (that is, archaic) temporal setting of the opera gave Chaikovsky the pretext for a whole slew of stylistic allusions and actual quotations. The finale of the rococo intermède in act 2, marked “tempo di minuetto” but actually a polonaise, adapts to its meter a choral refrain from Le fils-rival, an opéra comique composed in 1787 by Dmitry Stepanovich Bortnyansky (later famous for his church music) for the court of the Crown Prince Paul, who became tsar on the death of his mother, Catherine the Great. The ballroom scene reaches its climax with acclamations to Catherine herself, sung to the words of a panegyrical polonaise composed in 1791 by Osip (or Jozef) Kozlowski, a naturalized Pole who began his career in Russia as the protégé of Prince Potemkin, Catherine’s favorite. (The intermède also contains more or less identifiable allusions to the peasant chorus from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and the canzonetta “Plaisir d’amour,” popularly attributed to Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, the famous Bolognese pedagogue with whom Bortnyansky, among other Russians abroad, may have taken lessons.) The Bortnyansky and Kozlowski references—both of them cast in Chaikovsky’s adaptation as polonaises, the most elevated of ballroom genres— are quite similar, especially in their cadences (descents from the fourth scale degree to the first incorporating a dotted polonaise rhythm). It is altogether characteristic of Chaikovsky’s dramaturgy that he would abstract and extend that cadence as a motif for use as an obsessional ostinato to frame the suspenseful preparation for Hermann’s horror episode with the countess in the next scene. (What it frames is another quotation, sung by the countess herself as she falls asleep recollecting the balls of her youth, from the opera Richard Coeur-de-Lion by André Grétry; I will not repeat the literalistic objection, so uncomprehending of what artists understand as “truth,” that Grétry’s opera was contemporaneous with the “present” in Chaikovsky’s opera, not the past.) Not characteristic at all, but a unique stroke of genius, is the way the same motif is worked into the “weather” chorus in the opera’s first scene (another unadvertised polonaise), and then into Hermann’s storm aria, thus taking its place as a strand in the net of correspondences that dooms our poor

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hero. It is another one of the many touches that a listener can only discover on repeated exposure to this magical minefield of a score that administers new shocks on every encounter. .

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The role of Hermann is a notorious killer. He must sing in every one of the opera’s seven scenes, and the emotional pressure of the part sends the singer repeatedly up to the top of his range (a B-natural). Chaikovsky only dared give full rein to the dictates of the role because Nikolai Figner was there to sing it; but even so, the latter was forced to protest that by the last scene of this tiring work no tenor could risk the maniacal brindisi (“What is our life?”) at the written pitch, so Chaikovsky allowed a downward transposition by a whole tone to be appended to the published score. (Figner recorded the piece in the original key, however, a dozen years later; amazingly, both he and his wife may still be heard in the roles they created in a set of compact discs on the Pearl label, CDS 9997-9.) The transposition, however practical, is unfortunate. This is one role that should not be diluted in any way. Precisely thanks to his creators’ departures from the Pushkinian straight-and-narrow, the Chaikovsky brothers’ Hermann sounded a new note in Russian art, bringing it, however belatedly, into the post-Pushkinian Romantic mainstream. In his Philosophie de l’art (1865), Hippolyte Taine, Pyotr Chaikovsky’s almost exact contemporary, wrote that “the reigning personality, that is to say the main character, to whom the audience attends with the greatest interest in the art of the nineteenth century, is the pensive, melancholy seeker (like Faust, like Werther, like Manfred), a heart constantly athirst, darkly apprehensive, curelessly afflicted,” and he added that “it is nothing to be wondered at that music, that newest of arts, has developed so extraordinarily during the selfsame century: that development corresponds exactly to the appearance of this new spirit, this direly ardent sufferer. It is to his exaggerated and exquisite sensitivity, to his undefined yet limitless inspiration that music now aspires.” Until Chaikovsky there was no Russian composer who aimed to fill that bill; nor was there any Russian character to add to Taine’s Goethean and Byronic list before the operatic, not the literary, Hermann. And yet, as Hermann says, it’s all a game, a dream. That final drinking song (Modest Chaikovsky’s idea!) is the shrewdest stroke of all, endowing Hermann with a detachment, and a self-irony, that leaves romanticism behind and enters the psychological domain of the modern antihero. Pyotr Chaikovsky was at first skeptical of the idea, but it is prefigured at the very heart of the drama, when the hidden Hermann, awaiting the countess’s return from the ball, questions the reality of his obsessions (“What if there’s no secret? What if it’s just the ravings of my sickened soul?”) but cannot shake them. In the end he shows himself to be no Faust, no Manfred, but

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the helpless, hounded, yet knowing plaything of fate. He has finally heard the music. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

Connections between Chaikovsky and Russian Symbolism have been explored further by Arkadii Klimovitsky in “Tchaikovsky and the Russian ‘Silver Age,’” in Tchaikovsky and His World, ed. Leslie Kearney (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 319–30; and by Simon Morrison in the first chapter (“Chaikovsky and Decadence”) of his Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 45–114.

9

Chaikovsky as Symphonist

In the nineteenth century the realm of opera and the realm of symphony, once adjoining districts in the empire of music, became separate worlds. Those with long historical memories know that the opera gave birth, through its overture, to the symphony; but by the end of the eighteenth century, the symphony had run away from home. With only the rarest exceptions there is no nineteenth-century composer known equally for his operas and his symphonies. The very idea of a symphony by Verdi or Musorgsky, or an opera by Brahms or Bruckner, brings titters. Beethoven was a one-opera man, Wagner and Bizet one-symphony men. Schumann was an operatic flop, Rossini a symphonic disaster (did you even know he’d tried?). Of the exceptions, the greatest by far was Chaikovsky. (The only others that come readily to mind are Saint-Saëns and Dvorák, provided the recently resuscitated Rusalka stays in the repertory.) The Russian composer was the first since his beloved Mozart to contribute equally to the enduring operatic and symphonic repertoires. That is a notable fact, testifying not only to the genuineness of the oft-discounted bond the cosmopolitan Chaikovsky always felt between himself and his cosmopolitan alter ego but also to the genuineness of the symphonic tradition that passed through both of them (with Schubert in the middle), bypassing the more insularly Germanic symphonic school, now seen as “universal,” thanks to forgetful historians. The flaws that both Schubert and Chaikovsky are supposed to exhibit as symphonists—their “ill-concealed preference for melody,” as the 1980 Originally published as notes accompanying Deutsche Grammophon 449 967-2 (5 CDs, 1996), containing the six Chaikovsky symphonies performed by the Russian National Orchestra under Mikhail Pletnev. © 1996 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg, reprinted with permission. The ending has been revised.

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edition of the New Grove Dictionary sternly put it in its “Symphony” article— stem directly out of the Mozartean tradition. The same source acknowledges that “Mozart, in his E-flat and G minor symphonies, nos. 39 and 40, had left examples which, however tightly constructed, still made their chief effect by an almost continuous outpouring of spontaneous melody, enriched by inventive touches of harmony and orchestration.” But what is said admiringly of Mozart and his full-blown lyric “second themes” is said disparagingly of his successors, with Chaikovsky in particular excoriated for filling his symphonies not with terse motives and stern development but with “expressive melodies, brilliant orchestration and piquant harmony,” and for “treating the Classical forms as textbook models, mere skeletons on which any kind of music could be hung.” What the author of the Grove article failed to perceive was the obvious source of Mozart’s lyricism, as well as Schubert’s and Chaikovsky’s, in opera. With Chaikovsky, more than any other nineteenth-century composer, the symphony returned, for refreshment and renewal, to its roots in theatrical song and dance. .

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Which is not to deny that Chaikovsky—like every other professional composer of the later nineteenth century, but unlike Mozart—studied textbook models of form. As a member of the first graduating class from the earliest Russian conservatory, in St. Petersburg, he had a first-class academic education in music and remained proud of it to his dying day. That is what enabled him to become a central contributor to the symphonic repertoire, despite the remoteness of his native turf from the traditional centers of symphonic practice. His First Symphony, completed in August 1866 and twice revised on its way to publication, was begun during his final conservatory year, and its first movement, the crucial “sonata” movement, was revised directly under the eye of Anton Rubinstein, the conservatory’s founder and (despite his notoriety as a fiery virtuoso) a suitably conservative professor. Accordingly, the first movement of the First Symphony, despite an evocative subtitle (“Daydreams on a Wintry Road”) that has rubbed off on the symphony as a whole, is the most formally orthodox sonata movement Chaikovsky ever wrote. It has a first theme, in the tonic key of G minor, which is brought to a Beethoven-like climax before moving on to the second theme, in the dominant key of D major, which makes way in turn for a codetta or closing fanfare that concludes the exposition. The development and recapitulation that follow are no less by the (German) book. And yet the movement as a whole has a very unusual feature that is derived from no textbook model but rather from the example of Glinka, and precisely from the work of Glinka that, in Chaikovsky’s famous words, was the acorn from which the entire oak of Russian music grew. Chaikovsky never

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breathed a word about this affinity to anyone, not even (so far as we know) to Rubinstein; it has been virtually unremarked in the critical literature; but it is right on the surface of the music, easily spotted by a properly alerted eye. Glinka’s “acorn” was an orchestral fantasy, composed in 1848, called Kamárinskaya after one of the two Russian folk songs on which it is based. The Kamárinskaya is a quick dance tune, played in endless moto perpetuo variations by a fiddler, a balalaika player or a concertina player to accompany the strenuous and competitive male squatting dance often called the “Kazatsky” (especially in the West, where it is romantically associated with the Cossacks; the generic Russian name for an instrumental tune of this type is naígrïsh). The distinctive feature of naígrïsh tunes like the Kamárinskaya is their threebar phrase lengths, and the fast sections of Glinka’s fantasy are constructed in three-bar phrases throughout. It was left to Mily Balakirev, the founder of the group known in English as the Mighty Five (and a great foe of Rubinstein and his conservatory), to synthesize the dance-until-you-drop naígrïsh fantasy with textbook sonata form. This he did in his Overture on Russian Themes (1858), in which the tunes of three Russian folk songs (two of them familiar to Western concertgoers from their later use by Chaikovsky—see below—and Stravinsky) serve as slow introduction, first theme and second theme of a formally orthodox sonata allegro that is constructed throughout in three-bar phrases à la Kamárinskaya. And so is the first movement of Chaikovsky’s First. The whole movement can be (and should be) beaten by a knowing conductor in a big three, of which each beat is an entire measure as written. (See Example 9.1, where the beginning of the movement is written out both as published and à la Kamárinskaya.) This hidden relationship, not only to Glinka but even to Balakirev, a thoroughly disreputable figure in the eyes of the conservatory, would definitely have been a prudent thing to conceal as long as Chaikovsky was under Rubinstein’s tutelage. Afterward it probably became an enjoyable private joke for the composer. Knowing the secret, however, is an invaluable guide to parsing and pacing the music. It is only when the music is phrased by threes, for example, that the crucial polonaise rhythms at the climax of the development section emerge with recognizable profile. The second movement of the symphony, poetically subtitled Ugryumïy krai, tumannïy krai (O land of gloom, O land of mist!), is a set of variations in E-flat major on a “fakesong” (that is, an ersatz folk song) of Chaikovsky’s own invention, replete with typical Russian falling fourths, to which the titular words might conceivably be sung. The third movement, which not implausibly reminds most commentators of Mendelssohn (Rubinstein’s favorite), is a light-winged scherzo and trio resourcefully adapted from a student piano sonata in C-sharp minor (only published posthumously, in 1900, as opus 80). The music is transposed down a half-step, to C minor, so as to fit into the

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Example 9.1. Opening of Symphony No. 1. a. As notated. Allegro tranquillo

__ ! Y 42 BB pp B __ ! Y BB B

_

_

_ BB

pT __ BB T p _

BB _

BB _

T

C O __ T BB CO T

_ C C __ C C CC _ CC T C C C C

C C

C

C C

C __ BB C C

C __ C C __ C C CC CC C C C C C

B __ BB B

C

C C

C .

. C

C C C C O etc. __ BB 23 CO

C __ C C __ C C CC CC C C C C C

b. The implied meter.

__ ! Y 23 AA OO pp B __

! Y AA B

p

R_ R T

CO

T

T

CO

CC T

__ C C

_A OO A

p

C

C C

C

C C

_ C_C

B

B __ BB

T C T C

C

C __ C CC C C

C

C

C

_ C_C

C C C

C

C

C C

C .

C C C_ C _ CC C C C C

.

C

C C

C

C C

_ C_C

C C C C

C O etc. _ BB _ CO

symphony’s key scheme; it is given a new and delightfully orchestrated ending; and most important, the original trio or middle section is replaced by the first of Chaikovsky’s many symphonic waltzes. The finale, like so many nineteenth-century symphonic and concerto finales (and not only by “nationalist” composers) incorporates a genuine folk song, “Ya poseyu li, mlada-mladen’ka” (Shall I plant, then, little sweetheart). Chaikovsky, and all the rest of urban Russia, knew the song from the streets and taverns. It was a folk song the way “Danny Boy” or “Buffalo Gals” are folk songs, not from any demonstrable connection with what contemporary romantics thought of as “folklore,” namely peasant culture. The song is nevertheless presumed to be “genuine” because it is found in a book, Russian Folksongs for Solo Voice and Piano Accompaniment, Collected and

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Arranged by Vasiliy Pavlovich Prokunin.” But that book came out in 1872, six years after the symphony was completed; Prokunin (1848–1910) had studied theory with Chaikovsky at the Moscow Conservatory; and Chaikovsky had edited his book for publication. It is possible, then, that Chaikovsky did not find the song in Prokunin’s book but, rather, put it there, validating, as it were, the national credentials of his symphony ex post facto. Although his historical reputation as lachrymose confessor has been carefully constructed to conceal that side of him, the young Chaikovsky was a bit of a kidder; and about nothing did he like to kid his earnest contemporaries and naive biographers so much as about “nationalism,” that great sacred humbug.1 .

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The finale of Chaikovsky’s Second Symphony, completed in 1872 and revised in 1880, is another tribute to Kamárinskaya, this one obvious, overt, universally recognized and hailed. Like Balakirev’s Overture a sonata-form adaptation of folklore, but a much more elaborate one, it sports a main theme consisting of ostinato variations on a children’s game song, “The Crane,” that Chaikovsky found in a then brand-new collection of “Little Russian” (that is, Ukrainian) folk songs by his erstwhile conservatory classmate Alexander Rubets, a choral conductor and theory teacher who hailed from Kharkov and was considered an expert on the folk songs of his native region. Owing to the use of this tune in the finale, Chaikovsky’s symphony is now widely known as the “Little Russian” symphony and has been touted, particularly by British writers, as evidence of the “High Nationalism” the feckless composer would soon traduce. But the great value of high nationalism in Russian music is something Westerners are more likely to preach than Russians to practice. For Westerners it was an exotic feature; only during the era of Soviet xenophobia was it preached from the Russian side. For nineteenthcentury Russians, especially Russians who, like Chaikovsky, saw themselves as Europeans, it was something that only marked them off as alien and inferior, denizens of a ghetto. The myth of Russian autochthonism was something Chaikovsky grew to detest and, as his life went on and his fame grew, more and more to resist. The myth is what has caused the rest of the Second Symphony to be read as “Little Russian” along with the finale. (Do we call Brahms’s Violin Concerto the “Gypsy” Concerto because of its finale?) Because of the myth, the first subject of the first movement has been forced as if by Procrustes himself into a folkloric mold and touted as a derivation from the famous Russian folk song “Downstream Along the Mother Volga,” which it resembles about as much as do thousands of other symphonic themes, including the main theme from the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Chaikovsky’s true and obvious model. Because of the myth, other obvious “Western” models are missed: the horn solo at the beginning rarely succeeds in evoking the

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Schubert “Great C-major” Symphony, and the C-major finale to this C-minor symphony is never seen in the Beethovenian light Chaikovsky tried so hard to make unmistakable in the brassy fanfare that serves as its slow introduction. A ghetto composer can derive his models only from the ghetto. The middle movements of the symphony are both scherzos in their way. The second, ostensibly the slow movement, is actually a perky little march, appropriated from the third act of the unperformed (and, in its original form, destroyed) opera Undina, composed in 1869, parts of which also reappeared in the ballet Swan Lake and in Chaikovsky’s incidental music to Alexander Ostrovsky’s fairy-tale play The Snow Maiden. This was the first direct contact between Chaikovsky’s symphonic and operatic worlds. The third movement, the actually designated Scherzo, has a well-known folk song (“Spin, my spinner”) for a trio, this being the other conventional location, along with finales, for adaptations of peasant lore in symphonies going all the way back to Haydn. (Recall the “bagpipe” trio from the Minuet in Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, or the finale from the “London” Symphony No. 104.) I’ll agree to call Chaikovsky a “high nationalist” for using it if you’ll agree to call Haydn one. .

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The Third Symphony, composed during the summer of 1875, is the first “typical” Chaikovsky symphony (and the first truly Mozartean one!) in the sense that it is the first to be thoroughly dominated by the dance. Indeed, minus its first movement, in the inspired “decapitated” version by George Balanchine known as “Diamonds” (the final act of his ballet triptych Jewels), it is a veritable dance suite that makes a triumphant progression from the second movement, a modest waltz-plus-trio marked “Alla tedesca,” to the triumphant polonaise finale, thanks to which the symphony sports the silly subtitle “Polish” in the English-speaking world. Actually, the Polonaise was the Russian court dance par excellence, and it was the staple of what Balanchine aptly called Chaikovsky’s “imperial” style, of which the Third Symphony was the harbinger. We have, moreover, already observed the waltz/polonaise dialectic in embryo in the First Symphony. It became increasingly the stylistic and “dramaturgical” center of symphonic gravity for Chaikovsky, just as the minuet/contredanse dialectic had provided the framework of the “Classical” (pre-Beethovenian) symphony that continued to serve Chaikovsky as a model. Both dance dialectics (minuet/contredanse for Mozart, waltz/polonaise for Chaikovsky) operated with equal potency in the opera house: recall the first act finale from Don Giovanni, and the dances at the beginnings of acts 2 and 3 from Yevgeny Onegin. For the rest, Chaikovsky’s Third Symphony has a slow waltz for a central slow movement, a ghostly scherzo with a march-like trio to follow it, and a mammoth symphonic introduction and allegro as a counterweight at the

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beginning. This first movement, as of its date Chaikovsky’s most extended and motivically interwoven composition of the kind, is still greatly redolent of marches and dances: the marcia funebre introduction gives way to a brilliant pageant march (one can almost see the curtain go up) at the beginning of the allegro proper. The second theme, though in duple meter, is accompanied by unmistakable bolero rhythms, and the codetta is a rousing polka. .

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The dance dialectic is played out at a greatly intensified expressive pitch in the Fourth Symphony, composed concurrently with Yevgeny Onegin in 1877–78. This is the symphony everyone knows as the composer’s autobiography in tones, thanks to its having been written during the most emotionally turbulent period of the his life (the aftermath of his disastrous marriage), and thanks to his famous letter detailing its program, written in response to an inquiry from his patron, Nadezhda von Meck.2 One cannot ignore these factors, nor can one dismiss the letter. But the letter should be read in context: it was written at the express request of the woman who paid Chaikovsky’s bills, and it contains many obvious derivations both from the official program of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and from the unofficial program of Beethoven’s Fifth (“Fate knocking at the door . . .”). Another part of the context in which this or any letter by Chaikovsky should be read is the remarkable diary entry of 27 June 1888, a long rumination that begins, “It seems to me that letters are never entirely sincere. I judge, at least, by myself.” In other words, don’t believe a word I write (including these). But still, the program of the symphony as disclosed to Mme von Meck, especially as regards the first movement, is so easily corroborated by salient features in the score that there seems no excuse for dismissing it, at least in its broad outlines. And those outlines particularly involve the collision between Man and Fate, each of which is given a musical theme. The Fate theme is the menacing introductory fanfare (Andante sostenuto) heard at the outset; the main theme of the movement proper (Moderato con anima) represents the subject persona. That theme, of course, is marked “in movimento di Valse,” turning the movement into what one commentator has aptly called “the most serious and developed symphonic waltz ever composed.” What is rarely if ever pointed out is that the Fate theme is cast in the form of a lordly polonaise. That explains why the waltz is so unconventionally notated: it is cast in a compound meter (9/8) so that in effect three waltz measures are coordinated with one 3/4 measure of polonaise ( just as three measures of “Teitsch” or German dance are coordinated with one of minuet in the famous triple-orchestra episode in the Don Giovanni finale). This enables the terrifying dramaturgy whereby the radical contrast of Fate and Man becomes a superimposition during the development section, with its three

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horrible collisions of subject theme and Fatum theme. The complete subjection of subject to Fate is palpably denoted in the coda, when the waltz is reprised for the last time in a triple augmentation—that is, at the speed of the polonaise, one measure of the former now corresponding exactly to one measure of the latter, and therefore no longer a waltz at all. Thus has Chaikovsky, following a Mozartean precedent, managed to turn the first movement of his symphony, already something of a tone poem, into a veritable opera for orchestra. The remaining movements are by contrast altogether conventional, and Chaikovsky’s program (especially that for the brilliant scherzo, where the program amounts to the absence of a program) is unconvincing. The folk song variations in the finale—the song being the famous “Birch Tree” dance, used by opera composers as early as the eighteenth century, and by Balakirev in his overture mentioned above—are given a special confessional motivation (“If you cannot find happiness within yourself, go out among the people!”). And yet this one is already Chaikovsky’s third folk song finale; formally speaking, it was standard issue and requires no programmatic justification. .

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A scrap of paper found after Chaikovsky’s death gives a hint of a possible program for the Fifth Symphony, composed in 1888 after a ten-year hiatus during which the composer almost gave up writing symphonies in favor of orchestral suites.3 It was probably the programmatic impulse, palpably symbolized in the music by a motto theme that returns in every movement in a great variety of shapes and moods, that caused Chaikovsky to return to the symphonic form. And yet the program is unknown and unguessable, consisting mainly of phrases like “Rage against XXX,” and Chaikovsky never published any clue to his meaning. (Needless to say, every program annotator projects his own pet meaning on “XXX.” Just now, homosexual guilt is of course the reading of choice.) The motto theme’s triumphant apotheosis in the last coda, however, indicates that the emotional trajectory embodied in the Fifth Symphony is the very opposite of the one in the Fourth that has been so universalized (thanks to that unfortunate letter) in the interpretive literature. A clue to the reason for Chaikovsky’s improved outlook on life and fate lies in the sobriquet coined by one of the Fifth Symphony’s detractors shortly after the première: the “symphony of three waltzes.” Even if ill intentioned, the remark is accurate and revealing. In addition to the scherzo movement (in this symphony officially designated “Valse”), the first and second movements, both in compound meter (6/8 and 12/8, respectively), can be plausibly described as symphonic waltzes. Such a heavy dose of ballroom dance

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puts the symphony in line with the suites Chaikovsky had been writing since the Fourth Symphony, and in particular with the ballets (Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker) that he would soon write on official commission from the Imperial Theaters, in which the “imperial style” reached its apogee. (The symphony’s stage affinities were given a boost two years later, when Chaikovsky quoted the first theme of the opening allegro in the overture to his penultimate opera, The Queen of Spades, the imperial gala of galas.) Chaikovsky, by now a court familiar, had become Russia’s unofficial composer laureate— one could even call him the uncrowned tsar of Russian music—and the stature lent him by recognition from on high was reflected in the ebullience of his late style, an ebullience that had its origins in a patriotic fervor that was altogether distinct from “nationalism,” as the term is all too commonly understood. .

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The same ebullience emerges quite infectiously from the third movement of the Sixth Symphony, first performed on 28 October 1893, nine days before the composer’s untimely death (yes, yes, from cholera) in St. Petersburg. It is the movement that has to be sedulously ignored by those who want to read the symphony as a suicide note. The second movement, Allegro con grazia, also fits the commonplace conception of the symphony as record of the composer’s sufferings very badly: despite its 5/4 meter, it comes off as yet another waltz, another vicarious offering to the imperial stage. At its first performance the symphony did not carry the subtitle “Symphonie Pathétique” that has become so notorious, and the work was presented without any programmatic hint. It did not make as much of an impression on the audience as the composer had hoped, and that was why he decided to give it an explanatory byname. It was when the symphony was performed for the second time, a couple of weeks after the première, in memoriam and with subtitle in place, that people listened hard for portents. As always, they found what they were looking for: a brief but conspicuous quotation from the Orthodox requiem at the stormy climax of the first movement, and of course the unconventional Adagio finale with its tense harmonies at the outset and its touching depiction of the dying of the light in conclusion. From then on, those who gave ear to the wild rumors that swirled around the composer’s unexpected death, and those who have since been eager to cast the composer’s life as a “homosexual tragedy,” have found all the evidence they needed in the Pathetic Symphony. A monograph by Timothy L. Jackson, a member of the music theory faculty at the University of North Texas, gives startling evidence of the lengths to which such writers are prepared to go in defense of such readings. The book, simply titled Tchaikovsky:

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Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), is part of the Cambridge Music Handbooks series published by Cambridge University Press. This is a respectable and usually rather sober set of books intended for the use of music students, but Jackson’s contribution to it (published in 1999) is spectacularly reckless. He takes as his thesis the notion that certain remarks by Chaikovsky, overheard and interpreted by various witnesses and memoirists (e.g., references to a “not-so-secret” program or to the symphony’s “autobiographical” significance) constituted a “challenge” to guess the meaning of the work: Taking up Tchaikovsky’s challenge with regard to the Sixth Symphony’s program, my own “guess” is that it is a rich tapestry of interrelated narratives all of which contribute to the idea of homosexuality as an incurable “disease” culminating in the destruction of the protagonists—it is for this reason that (to cite Thomas Mann’s description of [Adrian] Leverkühn’s Lamentation [a fictitious composition by a fictitious composer in Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus], which is clearly modeled on the Pathétique) the “symphonic adagio” is the “revocation” of the “Ode to Joy” [in Beethoven’s Ninth]. In the following pages, I shall propose a “new” interpretation of the Pathétique’s narratives—all united under this concept of “revocation”—the word “new” being placed in quotation marks because I wish to emphasize that the “not-so-secret” program was widely recognized both intuitively and tacitly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. People in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries “knew” that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual and those in his inner circle recognized that he had a “special” relationship with his nephew [Vladimir “Bob” Davydov]. But because it concerned a taboo matter, i.e., a homosexual-incestuous unclenephew relationship, the Pathétique’s program could not be explicitly formulated in words—not even by the composer himself. Nevertheless, the dedication [to Bob] in conjunction with well-recognized musical topoi provides the common vocabulary through which Tchaikovsky could encode and his listeners decode the “not-so-secret” program of the Sixth Symphony. My “new-old” reading of the program, then, is based upon a reconstruction of this (encoding/decoding) semantic process informed by the relevant historical and biographical facts.

What follows, almost needless to say, is a resolute “verificationist” or “confirmation-biased” investigation in which any shred of evidence—from the history of anything, from anyone’s biography as interpreted by anybody, from musical analysis according to any method, from anybody’s linguistic theory, from anybody’s meta-narrative or semiotic practice, from the study of any genre or artistic medium—that can be pressed into service to bolster the case is one-sidedly ferreted out and marshaled into a self-consistent structure. Jackson’s is the method, in short, of conspiracy theorists. One detail will serve sufficiently, I think, to expose the tendentiousness of the whole. As noted above, the exuberant and exhilarating third movement is usually the main obstacle to the construction of a consistent

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metanarrative of the kind that Jackson is so determined to “reveal.” The “well-recognized musical topos” that Jackson invokes to account for it is that of “amorous combat,” as uniquely exemplified by Claudio Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals (Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, published in Venice in 1638), which contains the well-known setting of “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,” from Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. Well known, that is, to today’s musicologists like Jackson, this work, which had its first modern edition in the 1920s, is very unlikely to have been known to Chaikovsky, even by reputation. Mentioning it, however inappropriately (since Monteverdi’s Combattimento concerns a pair of heterosexual, not homosexual, lovers), gives Jackson license to call all manifestations of homoeroticism in militaristic contexts as witnesses to corroborate his “not-so-secret” program. These manifestations, owing to preoccupations not of Chaikovsky but of Jackson, are drawn mainly from the art and literature of Nazi Germany, something that Chaikovsky was even more than unlikely to have known. Invoking it, however, gives license to view the Pathétique as part of a “tradition” that extends from Monteverdi’s time to Hitler’s. This is sheer scholarly paranoia, and one would be strongly tempted to read it as a spoof were it not for the purpose it has been called upon to serve. In my introductory proseminars at Berkeley I have lately been introducing Jackson’s text to my students alongside the classic example of musicological confirmation bias, Edward Lowinsky’s Secret Chromatic Art of the Netherlands Motet (1946), as part of their basic training, to alert beginning musicologists to one of the most insidious of subscholarly snares. I am astonished that the editors at Cambridge University Press could have passed such a thing for publication, but at the same time grateful to them for giving me and my students such an instructive object lesson in delusion.

NOTES

1. How big a kidder? Here is the text of a letter he sent his brother Modest and sister Alexandra on 27 April 1873, in the original and without accretion: My good sister and my dear brother! I have know what mötsch plesir that you learn the Englisch langage; böt you cannot told that I cannot understand. I kan understand wery biutiföll oll what you will and enough bether. My brother! You are one fulischmen, böt you, my dear sister, are one biutifföll women. I have not times to scrive this letter englisch, böt God sawe the Ouenn [Quenn?] and collection of Britisch autors is one trifles. I can you told that the spanierds wear their hats cocked and I cocked my pistol directly. The King has conferred the order of the Garter on him, böt I will cringe to nobody. We always deal with him and We dined on soup and fisch. Tell me: Now did he come by so musch money and Why do you call out? Call un your brother and your sister, call down the servent. I will call for you at six. He assisted me with all his endeavours, i have atoned for my foult and i will ask him to dine. Do not argue

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withe me, You argue against reason and i abide by what I say: France abounds with fruit, and Several trees are bliwn down. My brother, what are you gaping at? My sister, you lies in with your first child. I are your affectioned brother Pither

2. The program of the Fourth Symphony (from Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, vol. 7 [Moscow: Gosudarstvennoye muzykal’noye izdatel’stvo (Muzgiz), 1962], 124–27); my translation: Florence, 1 March [17 February] 1878 Your letter today gave me such joy, my precious Nadezhda Filaredovna! What boundless joy that my symphony pleased you and that, listening, you experienced the same feelings that filled me when I wrote, and that my symphony has touched your heart. You ask whether the symphony has a definite program. Usually when I am asked this question about a symphonic work I answer, “None at all!” And in truth, it is a hard question to answer. How shall I convey those vague sensations one goes through as one composes an instrumental work without a definite subject? It is a purely lyrical process. It is a musical cleansing of the soul, which boils over with an accumulation that naturally seeks its outlet in tones, just as a lyric poet will express himself in verse. The difference is only that music possesses an infinitely more powerful and more subtle language for expressing the myriad shifts and shades of our spiritual life. The kernel of a new work usually appears suddenly, in the most unexpected fashion. If the soil is fertile, that is if one is disposed to work, this kernel will sprout roots with irrepressible strength and speed, will break through the ground, will put forth branches, leaves, twigs, and, finally, blossoms. I cannot define the creative process except by this analogy. The whole difficulty lies in getting that kernel to appear and making sure that it lands amid favorable conditions. All the rest takes care of itself. It would be useless to try and put into words for you the boundless delight that seizes me when the main idea has come and when it begins to assume definite shape. You forget everything, you become a madman for all practical purposes, all your insides quiver and throb, you hardly have time to make your sketches, one idea chases the heels of the last . . . Sometimes in the midst of this magical process some shock from without awakens you from your somnambulistic state. Someone will call, your servant will come in, the clock will strike to remind you that you must go about your business. Interruptions like these are horrible, inexpressibly horrible. Sometimes inspiration takes off for some time. You have to go after it, sometimes to no avail. Very often a completely cold and calculating technical procedure must come to the rescue. Perhaps it is because of this that even in the works of the greatest masters you can find moments where the organic connection falters, where seams and patches are visible, artificially joined. But there is no escaping it. If that state of the artist’s soul which is called inspiration, and which I have just tried to describe for you, were to continue without interruption, one wouldn’t be able to get through a single day. The strings would all break, and the instrument would be shattered into smithereens! Only one thing is necessary: that the main idea and the general contours of all the individual parts must appear without being sought, but rather spontaneously, as a result of that supernatural, incomprehensible, and inexplicable force we call inspiration. But I have strayed from answering your question. In our symphony there is a program (that is, the possibility of explaining in words what it seeks to express), and to you and you alone I can and wish to indicate the meaning both of the work as a whole, and of its individual parts. Of course, I can do this here only in general terms.

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The Introduction is the kernel of the whole symphony, without question its main idea:

YY ! Y Y 43 C C

G C C C C C C C C C

G CO CO

YY ! YY C C

C C

C CO CO C

C

g

C

C C

C

C G CO CO C

G C C C C C C C C C C

C

C CO CO C

g C

C

C

C

C

etc.

This is Fate, the force of destiny, which ever prevents our pursuit of happiness from reaching its goal, which jealously stands watch lest our peace and well-being be full and cloudless, which hangs like the sword of Damocles over our heads and constantly, ceaselessly poisons our souls. It is invincible, inescapable. One can only resign oneself and lament fruitlessly:

Y CO C ! Y YY 98 Y ! Y YY C C

g

C XC C YC C C CO C h C

C XC C

CO C

g C C C C C CO C C

C C

g

etc.

This disconsolate and despairing feeling grows ever stronger and more intense. Would it not be better to turn away from reality and immerse oneself in dreams? 9 Y [8] ! Y YYYYY T U O C C O X C C O C C O C C . X C C C O C C C O C C XCYCXCYC C XC YCXCYC C YYY Y Y C C ! YY XCYCXCYC C C CXC C etc. C

O joy! A sweet, tender dream has appeared. A bright, beneficent human form flits by and beckons us on: 9 g g g g C W W [8] CC CC CC CC CC CC CC CC C ! W WW C T T C T T C T T C T T C T h h h h h g g C X C C W X C C W C C O C C XCO W CWC ! W WW C T C T T C T T T C T T C T T h h h h h

g T O CC CC C CC C T C T hT h C C C C C T T h

etc.

How wonderful! How distant now is the sound of the implacable first theme! Dreams little by little have taken over the soul. All that is dark and bleak is forgotten. There it is, there it is—happiness! But no! These were only dreams, and Fate awakens us from them:

! 43 CC C

C

G C C C C C C C C C

C C

C C

C

G C C C C C C C C C

C

G g C WCO C CO C C C O O W C C C

And thus, all life is the ceaseless alternation of bitter reality with evanescent visions and dreams of happiness . . . There is no refuge. We are buffeted about by this sea until

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it seizes us and pulls us down to the bottom. There you have roughly the program of the first movement. The second movement of the symphony expresses a different aspect of sorrow, that melancholy feeling that arises in the evening as you sit alone, worn out from your labors. You’ve picked up a book, but it has fallen from your hands. A whole procession of memories goes by. And we are sad that so much already is over and gone, and at the same time we remember our youth with pleasure. We regret the past, and yet we have no wish to start life anew. We are weary of life. How pleasant to relax and look back. Much comes to mind! There were blissful moments, when our young blood seethed and life was good. And there were bitter moments of irretrievable loss. But it is all so far off now. It is at once sad and somehow sweet to lose ourselves in the past . . . The third movement does not express definite feelings. These are, rather, capricious arabesques, fugitive images which pass through one’s mind when one has had a little wine to drink and is feeling the first effects of intoxication. At heart one is neither merry nor sad. One’s mind is a blank: the imagination has free rein and it has come up with these strange and inexplicable designs . . . Among them all at once you recognize a tipsy peasant and a street song . . . Then somewhere in the distance a military parade goes by. These are the completely unrelated images that pass through one’s head as one is about to fall asleep. They have nothing in common with reality; they are strange, wild and incoherent . . . The fourth movement. If you can find no impulse for joy within yourself, look at others. Go out among the people. See how well they know how to rejoice and give themselves up utterly to glad feelings. It is a picture of a popular holiday festivity. But hardly have you succeeded in forgetting yourself and enjoying the spectacle of others’ joys, when tireless Fate reappears and insinuates itself. But the others pay no heed. They do not even look around to see you standing there, lonely and depressed. Oh, how merry they are! And how fortunate, that all their feelings are direct and simple. Never say that all the world is sad. You have only yourself to blame. There are joys, strong though simple. Why not rejoice through the joys of others? One can live that way, after all. And that, dear friend, is all I can tell you about the symphony. Of course it’s neither a clear nor a complete explanation. But the nature of instrumental music is precisely this, that it resists detailed analysis. Where words fail, music speaks, as Heine put it.

3. Programmatic sketch for the Fifth Symphony (from Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man [New York, 1991], 490): Intr[oduction]: Complete submission before Fate, or, which is the same, before the inscrut[able] predestination of Providence. Allegro: (1) Murmur of doubt, complaints, rage against XXX. (2) To leap into the embrace of Faith??? Consolation: A ray of light. No, no hope!

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Russian Originals, De- and Re-Edited

Musorgsky, who either didn’t finish his operas or finished them twice, has always been a yammerer’s delight. His works inspire interminable discussion as to who he really was, what he really meant, which (or whose) version is best and why. Any review of a performance of Boris Godunov has to start with a description of just what it contains and an evaluation of the performers’ textual choices before the quality of the performance can even be broached. A new recording by the Kirov Opera of St. Petersburg, conducted by the indefatigable Valery Gergiyev (Philips 462 230-2; five CDs), seeks to still the yammering by presenting both of the composer’s originals—the practically all-male 1869 version, and the 1872 score replete with a Polish princess and four little animal ditties for other women’s voices—in what are billed as meticulously faithful reproductions. Sorry, yammer I must—but wait. With Chaikovsky it is different. Russia’s first full-time composing professional, he wrote quickly and with a minimum of fuss. “I sit down at my desk at 9 a.m.,” he once remarked, “and the Muse has learned to be on time.” He finished what he started, and started something else. Reviews of Chaikovsky recordings, especially of the more familiar works, are usually concerned with performance quality alone, measured against the reviewer’s personal favorites. Chaikovsky has never needed to be rescued from himself, or from his rescuers. But now come Andrej Hoteev (rhymes with Mendeleyev), a pianist, and Vladimir Fedoseyev (rhymes with Hoteev), leading the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow (formerly the All-Union Radio Orchestra) in a new Koch/Schwann release (3-6490-2; three CDs), to tell us that the man we’ve Originally published in the New York Times, 28 February 1999. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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been calling Chaikovsky all these years has been an impostor—a creation of “the ‘Party’ and the K.G.B.,” no less (and no kidding)—and that they have brought the real Chaikovsky back from Lethe. They have done this by traversing his four piano concertos (yes, four, if you include the two-movement Fantaisie de Concert) and a couple of miscellaneous works for the same forces in what is billed as the première recording of their “unabridged original versions.” The packaging befits the grandiose claims: extensive notes accompanying each CD, a deluxe booklet full of photos (including a gallery of the “Women in His Life”—don’t you believe that nasty K.G.B.), and ambitious essays by the pianist and a pair of Russian specialists. There is even an ancient cylinder recording of Chaikovsky’s voice: piping, jovial, not at all what you would expect (especially if you’ve read those notes and essays). No use beating around the bush. This misbegotten project is surely the travesty of the decade. The performers’ claim about original texts turns out to be a fraud. The “new” and “original” Chaikovsky they or their spokespersons so blaringly tout is their own deranged invention, a pseudo-musicological Frankenstein. Not only have they loosed on us a Chaikovsky Chaikovsky would not have recognized, they have managed to create a Chaikovsky Chaikovsky would have abominated and despised. Does that matter? In principle, of course, it needn’t. There is no reason today’s performers must please a dead man, even if he happens to be the composer. But in this case I doubt that anyone not cowed by the bogus musicology will like the results. Whether artlessly or cynically, the performers and their consultants are abusing musicology the way the worst Early Musickers once did, to justify inept and absurd performances. Yet beyond Early Music, and beyond musicology, this loony release reflects some of the most cherished assumptions of “classical” music-making and music-thinking in a funhouse mirror. That aspect makes it, in its inadvertently hilarious and improbable way, important. I will not speculate about motives. Mr. Hoteev is new to me. But that Mr. Fedoseyev, a much-decorated Soviet hack, should be involved in this farrago is not surprising. He began his career as a player of the bayan—a Russianstyle accordion with buttons instead of a keyboard—and achieved fame as the leader of an “orchestra of folk instruments,” one of those shimmering balalaika bands that dispensed Soviet kitsch to tourists under the old regime. When he took over the All-Union Radio Orchestra in 1974—a reward for faithful party work, it was widely assumed—the members staged a protest that led to a famous scandal. The string players, greeting the new maestro, put down their bows and met his signal to begin by presenting their violins and violas in balalaika position, right hands poised to strum. Like many classical musicians coming from the other side of the tracks, Mr. Fedoseyev compensated with bombast. (And like many loyal Soviet

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artists in post-Soviet times, he now professes an abiding interest in whatever the Party and the K.G.B. proscribed: in the case of Chaikovsky, his “mystical, visionary, romantic” side.) Mr. Fedoseyev’s performances of Russian classics have always been the “deepest” and most “serious” around, for which read the slowest, the thickest-textured, the most bloated in dynamics. And so it is here with Chaikovsky, except that the level of sluggishness and tumescence breaks all records. Wherever it is possible to compare the tempos adopted by the present performers with published metronome markings—that is, in the Third Concerto and the Fantaisie de Concert—the discrepancies are wondrous to behold. The opening tempo of the Fantaisie is given as 76 beats per minute. Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev begin at 53 and actually slow down from there. Where in the midst of the first movement’s central cadenza the score says “a little faster,” Mr. Hoteev slows down again. The second movement begins Andante cantabile, at 66 beats per minute. Mr. Hoteev starts off at 44, reaching the prescribed initial speed only where the score specifies a faster one (84). Where the music accelerates to Molto vivace, Mr. Fedoseyev again unaccountably slows the tempo. Where Chaikovsky writes Vivacissimo (Very lively) and sets the beat value at 96 per minute, Mr. Fedoseyev grudgingly rises to 76, which is slower than the tempo prescribed for a section marked Moderato assai, “Very medium” (whatever that means— but whatever it means, it is not very lively). The tempos in the Third Concerto, a posthumously published work, range even farther afield. The opening Allegro brillante (never to be forgotten by anyone who has seen Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial), marked at 138 beats per minute, loafs at 70 or less: precisely half-tempo. A piano solo, marked Poco meno (A little less) and set at 126, goes at 55: appreciably under half-tempo. A passage in the cadenza, marked Allegro vivace (literally “Merry and gay”) and set at 152, rises to a leaden 100. But when the next marking arrives—Allegro non tanto (Not quite so fast), at 116—Mr. Hoteev plunges to 60, half-tempo again. These are extraordinary deviations. You won’t find Horowitz committing anything of the sort, or even Glenn Gould, to name two notorious meddlers. But of course Mr. Fedoseyev and Mr. Hoteev bill themselves as the opposite of meddlers. They claim a puritanical fidelity to the composer, and all the authority to which the claim entitles them. By what argument can they reconcile their preaching with their practice? By the oldest dodge in the book. As noted, the Third Concerto was a posthumous work. Chaikovsky left the first movement more or less complete but the two others in an unorchestrated “particell,” or sketch score. The three were published (by two different publishers) as two separate works, the Allegro brillante as Concerto No. 3 (op. 75, 1894), the “Andante and Finale” as opus 79 (1897). Both publications were edited by Sergey Taneyev, a brilliant

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pianist and revered composer and pedagogue, who authored a celebrated textbook that reduced the study of counterpoint to a set of mathematical principles. He began his career as a protégé of Chaikovsky and remained a lifelong friend. Here is what Eckhardt van den Hoogen’s notes to the recording assert about Taneyev: “This former ‘teacher’s pet’ had no understanding at all of Tchaikovsky’s music and felt that it was his mission to approximate it to his own mathematical-speculative ideas.” In particular, Chaikovsky’s tempo markings “had to rub the ‘numbers man’ Taneyev the wrong way.” Consequently, “the metronome markings that he assigned to a number of different scores were much faster than the composer had imagined.” And since it was the nefarious Taneyev who played the première performance of the Fantaisie de Concert as well, he must have meddled with the published tempos there, too. So we can blame the spectacular tempo discrepancies not on Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev, but on Taneyev, to whose list of crimes against Chaikovsky venality is eventually added as a banal clincher. “There were good commercial reasons for bringing the master’s unpublished works out on the market,” Mr. van den Hoogen raves in righteous wrath; “after all, Taneyev’s labors should bring in at least a few rubles.” Is there any evidence to support these allegations? Don’t be silly. Their purpose is to eliminate evidence that contradicts the performers’ absurdly swollen performances, in support of which Mr. Hoteev offers no facts of his own but rather twelve oracular dicta under the rubric “Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concertos for the Third Millennium.” They set a new benchmark in the annals of pseudo-musicological huff and puff. Every button in sight gets pushed. “The four piano concertos by Pyotr Tchaikovsky have the same significance for Russian music as do the five piano concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven for the world of Western music,” reads one. They are “really symphonies for piano and orchestra,” another predictably asserts, which allows another flattering comparison: “In this case Tchaikovsky resembles the Johannes Brahms of the Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Double Concerto.” Chaikovsky’s music exhibits all “the classical logic of musical form” while at the same time “revolutionizing the piano concerto genre.” In sum, “it is clearly evident that Tchaikovsky was far closer to the sources of Western culture at that time—Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler, not to mention Schopenhauer and Spinoza—than has generally been assumed over the past 100 years.” What nineteenth-century figure Mr. Hoteev had in mind when name-dropping the seventeenth-century Spinoza is anybody’s guess, but the remaining names are all dependably German, giving Chaikovsky the pseudo-musicological equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal. Now here is what Chaikovsky, on a visit to Vienna, wrote back to his patron Madame von Meck in the fall of 1877: “Altogether, it seems to me Germany

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is deteriorating as regards music. I believe the French are now coming to the fore.” He wrote this in reaction to the First Symphony of Brahms, “a composer whom the Germans exalt to the skies.” Chaikovsky’s verdict: “He has no charms for me. I find him cold and obscure, full of pretensions but without any real depths.” Eleven years later, in a letter to another correspondent, Chaikovsky returned to the subject with even greater vehemence: “Isn’t Brahms, in essence, just a caricature of Beethoven? Aren’t his pretensions to profundity, strength and power detestable, when the content he pours into those Beethovenian forms is so pitiful and insignificant?” Whether this is an accurate description of Brahms can be debated some other time. But I can attest to its accuracy as a description of Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev’s turgid renditions, which in their pretensions to a spuriously Germanic profundity, strength, and power make Chaikovsky’s aristocratically sumptuous and festive music seem pitiful and insignificant indeed. All that these performers succeed in proving is that Chaikovsky makes an awful Bruckner, which is something Chaikovsky could (and should) have told them. But their dogmatic insistence that Chaikovsky’s “originals” were sacrosanct, and that all attempts at revision (whether by Taneyev or by Alexander Siloti, who with Chaikovsky’s blessing published a widely used abridgment of the Second Concerto) were ill-intentioned, has an authentically Brucknerian ring. It is the claim that Bruckner scholars, beginning with Robert Haas, have long been making against the shortened Schalk and Loewe editions, which helped the master’s symphonies overcome early resistance, just as Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorfully orchestrated abridgement of his friend Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov helped the opera achieve its present status in worldwide repertory. Recent investigations by Benjamin Korstvedt, Bryan Gilliam, and Morten Solvik have shown the Bruckner question to have been tinged with antiSemitism. Well, what German question isn’t? The ugly specter makes people eager to turn away from the problem and, as one critic put it recently, consign it to “some leafy campus.” The subtexts that inform our knee-jerk pieties are no mere academic matter, though. We need to bring them to consciousness if we ever want to shake free. The cases of Musorgsky and, now, Chaikovsky show that the dogmatic antieditorial stance has other roots as well. Taneyev and Siloti, Chaikovsky’s mediators (or “adulterators,” to use their present accusers’ ugly word) were not Jewish. Even though Siloti, of Italian descent, was in the eyes of rabid Russian nationalists also ethnically suspect, the peremptory rejection of their interventions is tinged, rather, with another sort of blanket intolerance. Its source lies in the ancient and inveterately asocial modernist principle Jean-Paul Sartre enshrined in the motto of his once-famous play No Exit: Hell is other people.

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Not only editors, in this late-late-Romantic view, but also performers, critics, and (especially) audiences are a composer’s natural enemies. All, that is, are potential threats to the sanctity of the creator’s individual genius and his autonomy of action and decision. It is by now the most tedious cliché of twentieth-century criticism that “an eagerness to please” (to quote another recent reviewer) is the worst composerly vice. After thus lumping and damning the work of six young composers, the reviewer found a seventh item “refreshing in its disagreeableness,” for that connoted authenticity. It is easy to see how an attitude of extremist individualism, bone tired in “the West,” might still appeal to Russians recently released from Soviet tyranny. But again, compare Chaikovsky, who wrote of Wagner (with whom Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev now want to associate him) in solidarity with the audience. “Before, music strove to delight people,” he complained. “Now they are tormented and exhausted.” The only sort of performance misanthropic modernism might sanction would be a reconstruction of the earliest authorial text, preferably one that existed before the work was ever performed—before it was exposed, that is, to the corrosive atmosphere of social mediation (or, more simply, to Other People). As it happens, an ideal test case lurks among the Chaikovsky piano concertos: the famous First. Its initial exposure to an Other was a famous fiasco, when Chaikovsky played it at a private Christmas Eve gathering in 1874 for Nikolai Rubinstein, its intended soloist, and received a cruel rebuke. This Rubinstein, who as director of the Moscow Conservatory was then Chaikovsky’s employer, was the brother of the more famous Anton (Chaikovsky’s main teacher) and a virtuoso of commanding authority in his own right. As Chaikovsky reported to Madame von Meck, the pianist pronounced the concerto “worthless, absolutely unplayable; the passagework so broken, so incoherent, so unskillfully written that it could not even be improved.” “The work itself was bad, trivial, common,” Chaikovsky (and Rubinstein) went on. “Here and there I had stolen from other people; only one or two pages were worth anything; all the rest had better be destroyed, or entirely rewritten.” Acting for once (and practically the only time in his life) like a good modernist, Chaikovsky published the concerto, in defiance of Rubinstein, “without altering a single note,” as he thundered to Madame von Meck. That was the version originally performed by Hans von Bülow in Boston in 1875 but not printed in full score until 1955. I assumed, from the proud proclamation that the present CDs contain nothing but “unabridged original versions,” that I would finally get to hear it. And while resurrecting superseded first drafts (like the notorious Sibelius Fifth Symphony issued a couple of years ago by Bis) is often just a bid for attention, and touting them as revelations is nearly always folly, hearing them (once) is always interesting. The prospect of hearing the “Boston” version of

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the First Concerto, the very one reviled by Nikolai Rubinstein, is what sparked my interest in the present set. Imagine my disappointment, then, when the piano entered with the familiar chords banged out by hands crashing from a great height in three distinct keyboard registers, rather than rolled sonorously by hands in constant contact with the keys and in the low-to-middle register alone. The crash-bang effect was Siloti’s idea, actively solicited by Chaikovsky and first published in an edition of 1889, the last to appear during the composer’s lifetime. Ten years earlier, in a previous revised edition, Chaikovsky, now over his pique with Rubinstein, had gratefully incorporated the suggestions of Edward Dannreuther, the pianist who had given the English première and who sent Chaikovsky proposed revisions for 145 measures in the first movement. They simplified and regularized—yes, and made more conventional—the passagework, which in Chaikovsky’s “unpianistic” original had tended to slow the performer down. Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev’s Brucknerian Chaikovsky would surely have rejected Dannreuther’s help, or even made additional complications to heighten viscosity. Yet while they continue to insist on tempos on the far side of molasses that might easily have accommodated the original figuration, Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev remain unaccountably faithful to the familiar Siloti-cum-Dannreuther text. They excuse the apparent contradiction with a typical pseudo-musicological rationalization: Chaikovsky is known to have conducted from the 1889 score. That gives evidence of his preference, all right. For those who need the composer’s permission to leave the room, that makes the version recorded here “authentic.” But it is no more “original” than your Cliburn or your Horowitz. All it shows is that Chaikovsky did not fetishize his unabridged originals the way modern pseudo-musicologists do, and that his blustery restorers, like most performers who have made similar claims, practice what they preach only to the extent that it suits them. So is there nothing at all worth hearing here? There is one thing. In addition to the four concertos and a little Allegro in C minor composed while Chaikovsky was studying with Anton Rubinstein at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the set contains a concert fantasy in F minor called Ungarische Zigeunerweisen (Hungarian gypsy tunes), by Sophie Menter, a rich pupil of Franz Liszt, who got her teacher to write (or sketch) the piece for her shortly before his death in 1886, and Chaikovsky to orchestrate it in 1892. It is a hoot. And it is given a relatively de-Brucknered performance (Bruckner being as unlikely a gypsy as Chaikovsky is a Bruckner) in which Mr. Hoteev shows that he can play the piano after all. The opening cadenza, which sounds the way a cimbalom would sound if played by the Phantom of the Opera, is almost worth the price of admission. If you buy it, though, please remember that I said “almost.”

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Oh, and Boris? It turns out that Mr. Gergiyev is no more serious about keeping textual matters straight than Mr. Hoteev and Mr. Fedoseyev. The recording gives the 1869 and 1872 versions of the opera as they appear to one casually perusing the 1975 Oxford University Press score, edited by David Lloyd-Jones. To learn what was really in the two versions (which overlap considerably) you need to read the footnotes and critical report, and Mr. Gergiyev evidently hasn’t bothered. Thus the “1869” cell scene has the offstage choruses added in 1872, and the “1872” opening and death scenes still sport passages Musorgsky cut from them when revising. Does it matter? Not if you are merely offering yours as another subjectively motivated performance. As such, Mr. Gergiyev’s readings have much to recommend them. They are exceedingly brisk, effective, efficient. The orchestra digs into Musorgsky’s oft-scorned scoring with a gusto and an éclat that make you wonder why Rimsky-Korsakov was ever called in to doctor it. But the conductor is clearly the star of the show, and that makes for a considerable flattening-out of the drama. The only place where real characters emerge is the 1872 Polish act, thanks particularly to the forceful Marina of Olga Borodina, who sings like a real prima donna. All the others, including both Borises (Nikolai Putilin and Vladimir Vaneyev), sing like troupers on good modernist behavior. So we have here the only Boris on records, maybe the only one ever, to be dominated by the Polish act. And that kind of a Boris is not Musorgsky’s kind. Claims of textual fidelity turn out, as usual, not to be much of a guarantee of authenticity. But textual fidelity will matter greatly to those who buy this set out of legitimate curiosity, thinking that now they will really hear the two versions plain. They won’t. Which is in every way a shame. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

In the interests of full disclosure, the anonymous critic who wanted difficult questions about Bruckner banished to “some leafy campus” was of course Bernard Holland, the New York Times music staff’s most dependable antiintellectual. The one who condemned the desire to please was of course Paul Griffiths, also very much in character. Readers who would like to hear the “Boston” version of the First Concerto can find it on an Arabesque CD (Z6611) with Jerome Lowenthal, piano, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra under Sergiu Comissiona. That recording was already ten years old in 1999, but I only discovered it later. I had to argue rather strenuously against an editor who considered my reference to the Bruckner problem a gratuitous playing of the anti-Semitism card. (The Times, regarded by anti-Semites as a “Jewish” paper, is at times unduly sensitive on this score.) Now I can tell why I was so insistent on including it: it was a signal, picked up by more than a few, that the issue lurked

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behind this recording as well. Vladimir Fedoseyev was the protagonist of a second scandal, in 1977–78, when he fired the Jewish members of the Moscow Radio Symphony, beginning with those who had submitted requests for exit visas to Israel. As I have explained in a previous book, Defining Russia Musically, issues of national purity are inevitably highly fraught in Russia, and discussions of stylistic or even (as here) textual authenticity in the arts can never be free of unsavory subtexts. Andrej Hoteev responded to my review with a huffy and evasive letter to the Times, dated 15 March 1999, which the editors deemed much too lengthy to print. Since Martin Anderson, a reviewer for Fanfare magazine who had published an exceedingly credulous interview with Hoteev there, received a copy of the letter and claimed, in the issue of July-August 1999, that it successfully “meets all Taruskin’s points in detail,” I think it will be useful (and only fair to Mr. Hoteev) to print it here. Most of it consists of irrelevancies or rebuttals of points I never made, but it raises a few substantive points that do demand a serious reply. I signal them by interpolating, within the text of the letter, bracketed boldface numerals corresponding to my numbered points that follow it. Richard Taruskin’s article “Russian Originals De- and Re-Edited” (February 28) purports to review my four-CD set of the complete works for piano and orchestra by Tchaikovsky. All six works—the three concertos, the Fantaisie de Concert, Bohemian Melodies, and the Allegro in c—were recorded on the basis of Tchaikovsky’s manuscripts and other unpublished primary sources in collaboration with the Tchaikovsky Archive in Klin, near Moscow. Professor Taruskin attempts to deny this fact. His argument is shot through with assertions which range from the pseudo-scientific to the completely inaccurate, leavened with some straightforward mistakes. The truth is quite simple: Professor Taruskin has never seen the “Russian Originals”—Tchaikovsky’s manuscripts— of which he writes. Allow me [to] offer a few examples of his errors. Prof. Taruskin writes that Tchaikovsky conducted his Piano Concerto No. 1 from the so-called “third edition:” prepared by Siloti and published by Jurgenson in 1889. But Tchaikovsky never did so; in fact, he never even saw this edition, since it was published after his death. Professor Taruskin has been mislaid [sic] by his reliance on secondary sources. This Siloti edition contains more than 200 important changes and weakenings of Tchaikovsky’s original—in tempo, articulation, dynamics and more, in the piano and orchestral parts alike. Cuts in the finale make nonsense of Tchaikovsky’s strict sonata-rondo form. The recordings by Horowitz and Cliburn that Prof. Taruskin mentions were made on the basis of this third edition; our recording was not. On his last appearance as a conductor, on October 16, 1893, Tchaikovsky used the 1879 Jurgenson edition of the First Concerto, making many important annotations in the score in pencil. This copy, which is preserved in the Tchaikovsky Archive, gives the composer’s own Urtext. There are also two manuscripts of the First Piano Concerto, dated December 22, 1874, and February 9, 1875, both in the Glinka Museum of Moscow. These sources all give many

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unknown, unpublished details—but Alexander Goldenweiser, whose first Urtext edition Professor Taruskin mentions, was acquainted only with some of them. Our aim was to reconstruct and record the absolutely authentic version conducted by Tchaikovsky on that last October 1893 concert. Professor Taruskin appears to know nothing about it.[1] Professor Taruskin asserts that the pianist Edward Dannreuther revised 145 bars for Tchaikovsky. That is a myth, arising again from Taruskin’s reliance on secondary sources. There is simply no documentary proof of a collaboration between Tchaikovsky and Dannreuther on the 1879 Jurgenson edition.[2] Professor Taruskin further asserts that there is an organic unity in the second edition of 1879 and the third edition prepared by Siloti; but, as explained above, Siloti’s cuts destroyed the composer’s structural concept. It is touching to see how much Professor Taruskin worries about the posthumous reputation of Sergei Taneyev. But Taneyev doesn’t need defending: His outstanding qualities—both musical and personal—are a matter of international, historical note, and Tchaikovsky and Taneyev enjoyed deep mutual respect. But throughout his life Taneyev was sharply critical of a number of Tchaikovsky’s works: he described the Fourth Symphony as “bad ballet music” (letter from Tchaikovsky to Taneyev, April 7, 1878) and in 1891 so severely castigated the symphonic ballad The Voyevoda that Tchaikovsky ripped up the score in a fit of depression. (It was later reconstructed from the orchestral parts and conducted by Nikisch; when Taneyev heard it this time, he found the music very attractive and much regretted his earlier judgement.) And so it was with the Third Piano Concerto, which Tchaikovsky composed in three movements. Taneyev, along with Siloti, criticized “the length and the lack of virtuosity” of the work, so much so that Tchaikovsky wanted to destroy it, although Taneyev persuaded him instead to consider cutting it. Tchaikovsky nonetheless wanted to seek the opinion of other pianists—but 3 weeks later he was dead. Professor Taruskin suggests that the problem of Taneyev’s and Siloti’s lack of understanding of Tchaikovsky’s music is one of my own invention, and he paints a[n] idyllic-romantic picture of the musical identity of all three. But Taneyev’s criticism of Tchaikovsky’s music is not up for debate, nor is the extent to which Tchaikovsky was hurt by it. The Voyevoda is one example. The Third Piano Concerto is another. Professor Taruskin fails to mention that Taneyev—by preparing the Allegro brillante first movement as a singlemovement work, complete in itself, and the other two movements as an Andante and Finale for piano with orchestra—directly contravened Tchaikovsky’s intentions, indicated clearly in the material he left, of composing a threemovement concerto. Here are some facts Professor Taruskin might like to consider if he still doubts Tchaikovsky’s goal: 1) the manuscript of the three-movement Third Concerto contains more than 270 pages 2) on the last page of the first movement Tchaikovsky wrote “first movement finished”

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3) on the last page of the third movement he wrote: “Finale: end” 4) on the last page of the slow movement he wrote “Finished and God be thanked” 5) in a letter to his brother Anatol ( July 6, 1893) he writes “I have completed two big works—[a] symphony and [a] piano concerto (No. 3 in three movements).” Our aim was to present the Third Concerto in the three-movement form that Tchaikovsky intended, before Taneyev’s and Siloti’s attack.[3] The recordings of the Second Concerto, the Fantaisie de Concert, and the Allegro in c minor were likewise based on careful study of Tchaikovsky’s original, unpublished manuscripts. For Professor Taruskin’s information, the tempo indications given in brackets in the score of the Fantaisie de Concert and the first movement of the Third Concerto—for not following which he criticizes Vladimir Fedoseyev and me— are suggestions made by Taneyev; they are not Tchaikovsky’s markings.[4] All the information given above is documented fact, and a wealth of further evidence could be brought forward to demonstrate the inaccuracy of Professor Taruskin’s arguments, which seem to be based, with surprising faith, on secondary material. The records at the Tchaikovsky Archive in Klin confirm that he has never been there to examine Tchaikovsky’s original manuscripts—over 1,500 pages of “Russian Originals.” My researches have benefited from the active support and participation of the acknowledged experts Professors Polina Vaidman and Lyudmila Korabelnikova of the Tchaikovsky Society in Moscow. I have also (again, unlike Professor Taruskin) examined Tchaikovsky’s original sketches, diaries and correspondence. Perhaps Professor Taruskin should look at some of this material before he leaps into print with a mixture of illinformed supposition, ahistorical assertion and bad-tempered bluster.

[1] However Mr. Hoteev chooses to justify his use of the Siloti crash-bang version of the First Concerto, his use of it contradicts his claim to be restoring Chaikovsky’s “Russian Original,” and exposes the claim as a means of justifying an eccentric and substandard performance. [2] No one claims that Chaikovsky and Dannreuther actively collaborated; Mr. Hoteev’s phrasing is cagey. The relevant documents include Dannreuther’s copy of the concerto in its original, published two-piano score, now kept at the British Library, which contains his penciled amendments; a letter from Chaikovsky to Dannreuther (first published in the British journal The Musical Times in 1907), thanking him for his “very sensible and practical suggestions”; and the 1879 Jurgenson edition of the full score, with revised piano part, which Mr. Hoteev now claims to have used, and which corresponds, to the extent of 145 measures total, with Dannreuther’s amendments. [3] The first movement of the Third Concerto was posthumously published before the rest of the piece because it did not have to be reconstructed

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from sketches. There was never any pretense, by Taneyev or Siloti or anyone else, that the two publications of movements from the Third Concerto were not drawn from the same unfinished piece. (Nor did Taneyev call Chaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony “bad ballet music.” In a letter to the composer he did complain that parts of the symphony reminded him of ballet music, a genre he thought incompatible with the symphonic style. Chaikovsky, who used the genres of waltz and polonaise in his symphonies as consistently as Haydn or Mozart used the minuet and contredanse, answered that if the music was good—as Taneyev seemed to admit—it did not matter if it reminded anyone of the dance.) [4] The metronome markings in the Fantaisie de concert are found in the reduction for two pianos, made by Chaikovsky himself and published in 1884, as well as in the full score, edited by Taneyev for posthumous publication in 1893. Even were the markings Taneyev’s, however, they could still be shown to be “normal” within the performance practice of their time (for example, by collating metronome markings with verbal tempo indications in other scores edited by Chaikovsky, like those of his symphonies) rather than eccentric, like Mr. Hoteev’s.

11

A New, New Boris?

When the Metropolitan Opera revives Modest Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov on Friday evening under the baton of Valery Gergiyev, it will be introducing a new orchestration by Igor Buketoff to supersede the composer’s original scoring, reinstated at the Met with a great deal of “authentistic” fanfare under Thomas Schippers in 1973. Why the backsliding? Is it backsliding? We are probably in for a new installment of an endless debate. Musorgsky died of the effects of alcoholism just one week after his fortysecond birthday. Thus, although it is rarely noted or remembered, he was— like Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, and Mendelssohn—a romantically short-lived genius who had nothing but an early period. Unlike those others, he managed to live into his fifth decade, but he ended up with far less than they did to show for his time on earth. Where the others were brought up (as Schumann enviously said of Mendelssohn) “only for music,” Musorgsky was born into an aristocratic landowning family long distinguished in arms, at a time when professional training in music was to be had in Russia only in the form of the sort of grubby apprenticeship from which his social rank effectively barred him. His earliest surviving composition, a polka for piano composed during his first year at the elite Cadet School of Guards in St. Petersburg, was written at an age when Mozart had already composed three operas and broken 100 in the Köchel catalogue, and when Mendelssohn, an even greater prodigy, had four comic operas and eight string symphonies under his little belt. At nineteen, Musorgsky resigned his guards commission to devote his full time to composition, expecting to join what was already a distinguished Originally published as “A New, New ‘Boris’: Applying Makeup to a Genius’s Flaws” in the New York Times, 14 December 1997. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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Russian line of leisured dilettantes, beginning with Glinka. But three years later, in 1861, the tsar double-crossed him by emancipating the serfs. Along with thousands of other members of his class of petty feudal lords, Musorgsky was deprived of his family’s traditional source of income. He had to go out and get a demeaning civil service job that would now be performed by a Xerox machine, and settle for the life of a Sunday composer, not a leisured one. Unlike the more fortunate Glinka, he never had the luxury of unimpeded time for creative work or for concentrated study. He remained handicapped by a weak technique, which (whatever its effect on the quality of his work) made him laborious and experimental in his creative habits, and kept him from finishing most of his larger projects. To compound the irony, it was just then that the means for proper academic schooling in musical composition became available in Russia, with the opening of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1862 and, with it, the possibility of a respectable career as a composer. Chaikovsky, only a year younger than Musorgsky, was a member of its first graduating class. He became the first of a new breed of prolific Russian composing professionals, just as Musorgsky became the last of the superannuated line of noble autodidacts. You can imagine how they felt about each other. Musorgsky, whose raw genius even Chaikovsky grudgingly acknowledged, began spouting the rhetoric of the campus radical, denouncing all established traditions, all refinement of manner, all “business as usual,” and touting the virtues of rawness, coarseness, and blunt, primitive immediacy: truth, in a word, as opposed to mere beauty. The pursuit of the latter, he wrote, was “callow childishness, art in its infancy.” It was in this spirit that he composed the aggressively antitheatrical original Boris in 1868 and 1869. But with time, even Musorgsky began to acquire some proficiency, and he moderated the extremity of his early “realistic” style. The revised Boris, completed in 1872 and performed in 1874, was a far more conventional opera than its intransigent predecessor. Khovanshchina and The Fair at Sorochintsy, the operas that followed Boris, continued its path of reconciliation with tradition and reaffirmed the beginnings of professionalism, which (as Musorgsky was coming to realize) had a good side after all. Musorgsky was on the point of arriving. And then, suddenly and tragically, he died, with both his later operas unfinished and Boris in limbo, unexportable to any other house than St. Petersburg’s Mariyinsky Theater. Musorgsky’s friend Rimsky-Korsakov now stepped in, completing and revising his works, assuring their survival and, in the case of Boris, eventual triumph the world over. That triumph came at a certain price to the composer’s reputation, however. It meant acknowledging the deficiencies of his technique and the necessity of revision, thus implicitly ratifying the value, and final victory, of the traditions Musorgsky had once so proudly flouted.

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But he had another surviving friend, the arts publicist Vladimir Stasov, who remained nostalgically faithful to the radicalism of their irresponsible youth and opposed Rimsky-Korsakov’s efforts at “normalizing” the composer’s work for the sake of popular acceptance. A master propagandist, Stasov campaigned to vindicate Musorgsky’s image—one Musorgsky himself had begun to shed—as an infallible original who, far from being in need of conventional techniques, pointed the way toward everyone’s emancipation from them. Stasov’s tactics are worth savoring. At first he acknowledged Musorgsky’s shortcomings, merely asking that they be kept in perspective. But soon he was insinuating that those finding fault with Musorgsky’s technique had “displayed their incapacity to understand his talented innovations, the novelty of his aims and the profundity of his musical expression.” Finally, he asserted that “despite all his imperfections,” Musorgsky “has irresistibly affected the spirit and emotions of those of his listeners who have not yet been spoiled by school, by classrooms, Italian habits and vapid traditions.” These pronouncements were treated as a joke in Russia. But when Musorgsky’s works, and “Boris Godunov” above all, began to travel, Stasov’s position found echo and became influential. It happened first in Paris, where Sergey Diaghilev’s 1908 production of the opera unveiled not only Musorgsky’s genius but also that of Fyodor Chaliapin, making his “European” debut in the title role. The French cult of Musorgsky was set in motion by the dazzled Debussy’s exclamation that the Russian’s music was completely “spontaneous and free from arid formulas,” and that its composer was therefore “something of a god in music” who “will give us a new motivation to rid ourselves of ridiculous constraints.” Pure Stasov, that. Unexpectedly, Diaghilev’s production unleashed a backlash against RimskyKorsakov, whose tremendously skillful and effective scoring (made even grander for the occasion at Diaghilev’s request) had vouchsafed the opera’s Parisian success. All at once “skill” and “effect” became dirty words in the modernist lexicon, mere “ridiculous constraints.” Dudgeon reached a famous peak in a book by Debussy’s friend Robert Godet, in which Rimsky’s version was compared, measure by measure and line by line, with the original and predictably excoriated at every turn, while the original, precisely because of its “truthful” transgressions, was exalted. The neoprimitivist Musorgsky cult was playing fatefully into burgeoning Parisian modernism and its close cousin, the nascent “authenticity” movement. An immediate result was the republication of the original Russian vocal score, followed by the first publication anywhere of the 1872 orchestral score as edited by the outstanding Soviet musicologist Pavel Lamm. Now that that score was available, many houses tried it out. Its starkness, its darkness and its fairly muffled quality, hitherto ascribed to the composer’s inexperience, were now widely touted as integral to his stark, dark historical vision.

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That is certainly a defensible position, even a persuasive one with respect to the composer’s intentions (if not his achievement); and it has been vindicated on recordings, beginning with the Angel set issued in 1977 under Jerzy Semkow, which used a magnificent new edition of the original orchestration by David Lloyd-Jones. But despite the best will in the world to hear it otherwise, Musorgsky’s orchestration has always sounded fatally tinny and bodiless in the big opera houses of Western Europe and America. The Met, the biggest barn of all, has tried to toe a fine line between the fashionably authentic and the practicable. In the 1950s it used a version by Karol Rathaus, a Polish-born composer then on the faculty of Queens College, which was basically an adapted Lamm score, beefed up where necessary. In the 1960s, the ultra-beefy Shostakovich version, first prepared in 1940 for the former Mariyinsky Theater (now the Kirov), was used. As noted, the Met tried (and advertised) the Musorgskian straight and narrow in the 1970s. But as Richard Woitach, the conductor who covered for Maestro Schippers, recently “confessed,” hundreds of individual spot adjustments were made in rehearsals, so that in the end what the audience heard was a virtual Rathaus score. Enter Igor Buketoff. An American of Russian ancestry, Mr. Buketoff, now eighty-two, is a conductor and orchestrator of long experience, and has been a recognized scholar of Russian music ever since he contributed the section on Russian chant to Gustave Reese’s venerable textbook on medieval music nearly sixty years ago. Record collectors with long memories will recall Mr. Buketoff’s best-seller of 1968, in which he conducted the London New Philharmonia Orchestra in Chaikovsky’s 1812 with overlays of genuine artillery fire and air force bands, and with all its choral chants and folk songs “restored” to their original words. More recently he was authorized by Rachmaninoff’s heirs to orchestrate the single surviving act of the unfinished opera Monna Vanna, which Mr. Buketoff conducted with the Philadelphia Orchestra and later recorded. According to materials furnished by the Met, Mr. Buketoff’s dream of rescoring Boris goes back to his teenage years, when the Lamm full score first appeared. He went through it with his teacher, Konstantin Nikolayevich Shvedov, an émigré composer and church musician who, Mr. Buketoff says, was an “associate” of Rimsky-Korsakov. Russian sources shed no light on the relationship between the two composers, who lived and worked in different cities. But through his link with Shvedov, and Shvedov’s with RimskyKorsakov, Mr. Buketoff claims a direct and uniquely qualifying line of musical descent from Musorgsky himself. Be that as it may, Mr. Buketoff’s “restoration” of 1812 already evinced some strange notions about “authenticity” in works of art, and the assertions he now makes on behalf of his restored Boris are dubious, to say the least. Unlike the scrupulous Rimsky-Korsakov, but like many performers and arrangers

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today, he wants it both ways: to claim that he has indeed improved Musorgsky’s orchestration on the basis of his own superior practical knowledge but also that he has restored Musorgsky’s original voice on the basis of his privileged insight into the composer’s intentions. Any arranger artless enough to believe it, or artful enough to appreciate its value as hype, can make this safely unverifiable claim. Mr. Buketoff, who has freely conflated Musorgsky with Rimsky-Korsakov on the way to an ideal realization, is even less entitled to it than was Rathaus, who never made it. All that he or anyone can fairly claim is improvement: beauty, not truth. And about that we shall see. Intentions alone cannot justify an artistic endeavor. Results are what count, and the results on Friday will be Mr. Buketoff’s. (So will be the intentions, but we can leave that to the philosophers.) They may be great. Let’s hope so. But they will not be Musorgsky’s. To claim otherwise, however sincerely, is to engage in (self-) deception. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

Even before the Buketoff orchestration was heard, its claims were rendered moot by the conductor, Valery Gergiyev. Anthony Tommasini, reporting in the Times, five days after my preview appeared, on a rehearsal he attended, noted that “Mr. Gergiyev felt that even Mr. Buketoff’s work needed adjustments, and . . . was uninhibited about making them. At one point he said to the brass players: ‘The trumpets give a nice, bright color when they appear once in a while. But the way it is orchestrated here they become too much a presence in a long passage. So let’s cut them.’” Later, Mr. Gergiyev described the Buketoff version as the result of “a long, quiet talk with Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich.” That seems about right, and my sympathies are entirely with the eclectic Mr. Gergiyev. We can never know another’s intentions, and so we can never follow them in his absence. What we need are our own (preferably well-informed) intentions, and the courage of our convictions. That way, although we can never produce an “authentic” performance, we have a chance of producing a good one. (NB: Igor Buketoff died, aged eighty-six, on 7 September 2001.)

12

Christian Themes in Russian Opera A Millennial Essay

The millennium to which my title refers is that of the Christianization of Russia, which took place in 988, and which was recently celebrated the world over, not least in newly broad-minded Russia herself. (This essay was prepared for and read at an international symposium, “The Millennium of Christianity in Rus’: The Impact of Christianity on the History of the Eastern Slavs,” held at the Library of Congress on 26 May 1988.) And yet the designation is somewhat imprecise: the millennium was really that of a sovereign’s baptism. After considering and rejecting Judaism and Islam (so the legend goes), the Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev embraced the Christian faith and established it as a state religion—the statiest state religion that ever was. The distinction is necessary if the subject of these remarks is to have any meaning at all, and it will also help explain why “Christian Themes in Russian Opera” could well be the title of one of those proverbial “short books,” alongside, say, “Famous Organists of the Eastern Orthodox Church,” or “Ecclesiastical Music Patronage in the U.S.S.R.” By the eighteenth century the Russian state religion had become a veritable government agency; so it is not surprising that under the tsars no less than under the Soviets (if for different reasons) its theatrical representation was taboo. Theater being essentially a frivolous thing (and opera the most frivolous theatrical genre of all), portrayals of the Orthodox Church, its rituals, its doctrines, or its clergy (and in opera any monks or clergy at all), were proscribed by the tsarist censorship as inherently blasphemous, just as portrayals of Romanov tsars (or in opera any tsar at all) were proscribed as First published in Cambridge Opera Journal 2 (1990), 83–91, copyright Cambridge University Press, reprinted with permission; reprinted in Christianity and the Arts in Russia, ed. William C. Brumfield and Milos M. Velimirovic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 97–104.

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inherently seditious.1 “We do not allow the Patriarch or monks to appear on the stage,” wrote Faddey Bulgarin, one of the chief censors in the employ of Nikolai I, during whose reign Russian opera, as a subject worthy of serious artistic consideration, came of age.2 Bulgarin wrote with reference to Pushkin’s Boris Godunov (1825), which, though passed for printing in 1831, was banned from the stage until 1866, and even afterwards could only be produced in heavily bowdlerized versions. By 1870, the year of its first production, the play had already been turned into an opera, the most illustrious of all Russian historical operas. When Musorgsky wrote the first version of it he knew that he was setting to music a play that had had difficulties with the censor, and that there would be even more stringent obstacles to his opera’s clearance than there had been in the case of the play. It may be yet another measure of his vaunted antiprofessionalism that he persisted; but it was also an indication of the fact, well known to all Russian authors, that the censorship was in practice arbitrary and therefore somewhat flexible, and that individual cases could be negotiated, at least in the more relaxed phases of Alexander II’s reign. A precedent had been set in 1862, when Verdi’s La Forza del destino had its gala world première, at St. Petersburg’s Bolshoi Theater, with its Franciscans (Padre Guardiano and Fra Melitone) undisguised, and the church service that constitutes the second act finale intact—this at a time when Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots was performed in Russia as “The Guelphs and the Ghibellines,” Verdi’s own Les Vêpres siciliennes as “Ioanna di Guzman,” and Rossini’s Mosè as “Zorò.” The rule about pre-Romanov tsars was effectively circumvented in 1872 by Rimsky-Korsakov, working through a highly placed intermediary, so that Ivan the Terrible could appear on the stage and even sing in Rimsky’s first opera, Pskovityanka (The maid of Pskov).3 This paved the way for Musorgsky’s portrayal of Ivan’s successor. But the prohibition with respect to the Orthodox clergy remained in force. When Musorgsky’s opera was, after much travail, finally accepted for performance, it was on condition that the first scene of the first act, which takes place in a monk’s cell, be omitted, and that when that monk, Pimen, reappears near the end of the opera he be identified merely as a hermit (otshel’nik). Varlaam and Misaïl, the vagabond monks who accompany the Pretender in the Inn Scene, had to be identified only as tramps (brodyagi). The only ecclesiastics left in the original production were the Polish Jesuits. Musorgsky never lived to deal with the censor about his other operas, but it is a foregone conclusion that The Fair at Sorochintsy, with its farcical pop or village priest, would have been rejected (as the composer after all had every reason to expect; even his innocuous little song “The Seminarist” had been banned—and actually confiscated, having been printed abroad). This may be one reason why Rimsky-Korsakov made no effort to restore the piece after Musorgsky’s death.

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As these examples warn us, Christian themes had for the most part to subsist at the margins of opera in Russia. Even Old Testament themes were rare. The best-known Russian biblical (or, to be scrupulously exact, Apocryphal) opera was Alexander Serov’s Judith (1863), whose theme of seduction and murder was hardly Christian. Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Ruth (1887) was hardly more than a colorful—and by that late date epigonal—exercise in the Oriental vein. Anton Rubinstein’s Maccabees (1874), originally written to a German text but staged in Russian at the Mariyinsky Theater in 1877, was another bloody piece like Serov’s, with three warring nationalities each represented by a chorus: Greek slaves, Syrian warriors, and victorious Hebrews. It was an attempt to wed Les Huguenots with Nabucco, and for a while it was Rubinstein’s most popular opera. But nineteenth-century Russians could hardly identify like Risorgimento Italians with oppressed peoples, their country being an oppressor nation second to none. Much as in Ruth and Judith, the religious theme in Rubinstein’s Maccabees was mainly a pretext for decorative ethnic color. As for Rubinstein’s so-called sacred operas (dukhovnïye operï), which were really oratorios sung in costume, they were written without exception for German houses and were never staged in Russia, although some had concert performances there. One that did not and could not was the last of them, Christus (1892), which depicted the entire life of Christ according to the Gospels and seems to have been the first musical stage piece with a New Testament subject. It was staged once only, in Bremen in 1895. It does not belong to the history of Russian opera at all. Pre-Orthodox Christianity makes an occasional appearance in Russian operas set in ancient Rome. Thus the ingénue Chrysa in Rubinstein’s Nero (1876) proclaims herself a Christian so that she can be martyred by the chorus and provide the pretext for an apotheosis that follows the emperor’s suicide in the last act, wherein an offstage chorus sings of the advent of the Lord and a cross appears miraculously in the sky. This ludicrous if once popular piece was written to a French libretto for a production at the Paris Opéra that never took place. Its first performances were given in German in 1879. It reached Russia in 1884 but was sung to its original French libretto by the resident Italian opera troupe, then in its very last St. Petersburg season, and very much on its last legs. The Russian-language première did not take place until 1902, by which time Nero had even been given in New York. Its importance in the history of Russian opera is negligible, and so was its development of the Christian theme. The same may be said of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Servilia (1901), surely his least-known and least important opera, which is based, like Pskovityanka, on a play by Lev Alexandrovich Mey, and which is also set in the time of Nero. The title character, the daughter of a senator, having been converted to Christianity by the example of a secret Christian who saves her life,

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in turn converts, by dying innocently, a whole stageful of Romans in time for the final curtain, which falls on a choral Credo à la Palestrina. In Rimsky’s Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (1905), though the titular miracle that saves the city from the Tatars must have been wrought by the Christian God (it is announced, at any rate, by the spontaneous ringing of church bells), the only supernatural agents in evidence are the traditional vatic birds of Slavonic mythology, Sirin and Alkonost. Thus we have a typical example of Rimskian dvoyeveriye, his eager adoption of the syncretic “double faith” of Russian folk religion, to place alongside his setting of Gogol’s Christmas Eve (1895), which resounds with the residual music of the pagan agrarian calendar (the kolyadki), and in which the stage is alive with demons, goblins, and witches. It is only the pagan side of dvoyeveriye that is visible in Christmas Eve, of course, as it is in Chaikovsky’s treatment of the same story in Vakula the Smith (1874), later rewritten as Cherevichki (Holiday boots, 1885). Elements of Christian mysticism are just visible enough in Kitezh for Sergey Gorodetsky, the poet responsible for the Sovietization of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar in 1939, to have proposed a similar operation for Rimsky’s work. But in the end this was not deemed necessary. No one could possibly take Rimsky’s Christian themes, or Rubinstein’s, or Chaikovsky’s, the least bit seriously. Christianity in Russian opera, like Judaism, was only a decorator color, and religious colors were often interchangeable: witness Serov’s Hebrews in Judith, whose music sounds like everybody else’s Christians, because the composer had to reserve the usual Jewish stereotype for the Assyrians. Chaikovsky made fun of the would-be librettist who proposed to him an opera on the Hussites and Taborites. “It turns out he just likes the fact that they sang hymns,” he wrote in 1874 to his brother Modest, a future librettist himself.4 Yet no one can listen to the colossal hymn in the first act of The Maid of Orleans (1881), or to the third act finale, and doubt that it was above all the chance for impressive religious color that attracted Chaikovsky to Schiller’s play. .

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By my count there are precisely three Russian operas that embody a Christian theme in a nontrivial way and can be meaningfully viewed as participating in the peculiar history of Christianity in Russia. One of them, of course, is Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, in which a group of Christians, acting as Christians (but not just singing hymns), furnish one of the major historical and ideological components in this most historiographical and ideological of operas.5 Yet having characterized Khovanshchina in this way, one is hard put to define the ideology it embodies or justify its historiography. The latter is a mad anachronistic jumble, despite the fact that the libretto was assembled in direct and unprecedented fashion

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from documents, without any mediating literary source. And the former, the embodied ideology, is ambiguous enough to have supported the most contradictory interpretations, though one interpretation has been more or less built into the opera in the course of its various posthumous redactions. This standard interpretation casts the Old Believers as the symbol of all that was outmoded and antiquated in Russia. They were Moscow, forced to make way for the new spirit of Russia that would be born in St. Petersburg. They were Asia, withering away in the wake of triumphant Europe. In short, they were Rus’, perishing in the flames out of which modern Rossiya would take wing. They were for dramaturgical purposes not a religious group at all but only a superstitious foil to the forces of modernization. That made them palatable to the censor, too. The Old Believers, from the vantage point of the established church, were not Orthodox, nor did they possess any hierarchical clergy. Their ecclesiastical opponents, the Orthodox clergy headed by the Patriarch Nikon, were inevitably excluded from the libretto, for the same reason that the young Tsar Peter and the regent Sophia had to be kept offstage. But whereas the temporal authorities could be represented by stand-ins—Golitsïn, Shaklovity—the Old Believers had to function as a historically disembodied force, schismatics without a cause save opposition to all that was new, as Dosifey, their aristocratic leader, affirms in that colloquy of princes that forms the drama’s second act. Now, owing to two critical lacunae in the score as he left it, we will never know whether this interpretation, and the melioristic view of Russian history that it implies, represented the composer’s attitude. We do know that it was the way Musorgsky’s colibrettist, Vladimir Stasov, saw things, enthusiastic anticlericalist that he was. Much of what we know of Stasov’s attitudes toward the events of the libretto comes by way of his letters to Musorgsky, in which he frequently criticized what he regarded as the composer’s muddleheaded treatment of themes Stasov saw as clear-cut. He wanted the role of the nun Susanna expanded, for one thing, so as to make sure that the Old Believers were well identified with the “side of ancient Russia” that was (in Stasov’s words) “petty, wretched, dull-brained, envious, evil and malicious.”6 The melioristic view was fixed once and for all by Rimsky-Korsakov, who had to fill the gaps in the piece as well as orchestrate it. It was his decision to recall the theme of the Prelude, the “Dawn over the Moskva River,” in place of the quintet Musorgsky never got around to writing at the end of act 2, right after Shaklovity announces the young Tsar Peter’s opposition to the Khovanskys and the mutinous musketeers. At a stroke all ambiguities were resolved: Peter was “day”; the Muscovite opposition, in all its manifestations, was “night.” This simplified view is driven home again at the very end of the opera. The final chorus, on a melismatic raskol’nik or schismatics’ chant Musorgsky had taken down from the singing of a friend and designated for the conclusion of the opera, is followed and trumped by a brassy reprise—entirely

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Rimsky Korsakov’s idea—of the Preobrazhensky March that had represented Peter in the fourth act finale. Shostakovich, brought up to accept the Soviet view of Russian history, in which Peter’s reforms are portrayed even more unambiguously as positive than they had been by the nineteenth-century “statist” historians on whom Stasov and Rimsky-Korsakov relied for their ideology, saw no reason, when it came his turn to revise Khovanshchina, to reject Rimsky’s final chorus, even though he worked ostensibly from Musorgsky’s original vocal score as recovered and reconstructed by Pavel Lamm.7 In addition, he transferred Rimsky’s reprise of the “Dawn” music from the end of act 2 to the very end of the opera, thus completing the equation of the Old Believers with Ivan Khovansky’s musketeers as representatives of benightedness. Without all these reprises, first of Peter’s March and then of the Dawn, the Old Believers would have the fifth act of Khovanshchina all to themselves. And, as they trudge off to their mass suicide, accompanied by the sober strains of their psalm, the opera would end on a note of quiet pessimism, a sense of loss. Loss of what? Of the only characters in the drama who have displayed any redeeming humane characteristics whatsoever; who had not engaged in denunciations, betrayals, acts of violence, or depravity; who have on occasion shown forgiveness, tolerance, resignation, selfless love; who have acted, in short, like Christians. The fifth act, as Musorgsky evidently intended it (and as realized uniquely in the version of the opera Diaghilev presented in Paris in 1913 with the help of Ravel and Stravinsky), acts as a gloss on the rest of the drama—a Christian judgment that calls the necessity of the political events portrayed in the other four acts severely into question. As glossators, moreover, Musorgsky’s Old Believers have an independent and indispensable role to play within the drama; they are no longer tweedledum to the Khovanskys’ tweedledee. To say this much is by no means to impute a Christian viewpoint to Musorgsky himself. He had his own reasons for a pessimistic view of Russian history, reasons that have been entirely glossed over by the Stasovian and, later, the Soviet views of him, which cast him quite inappropriately in the role of a musical narodnik, a radical populist. Though this cannot be the place for it, no aspect of Russian musical historiography is in more drastic need of revision.8 .

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The suggestion that Musorgsky’s historical viewpoint may not have been entirely “progressive,” and further, that the Christian theme may have been his rather un-Orthodox vehicle for insinuating a conservative viewpoint on the action of his “popular drama,” leads us naturally to our final pair of operas, in which the Christian theme represents an element of an altogether Orthodox ideology, the so-called Official Nationalism that had been a particularly obnoxious instrument of the first Nikolai’s domestic policy.

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This doctrine, formally proclaimed in 1833 by Nikolai’s minister of education, Sergey Uvarov, promulgated a trinity of interdependent values to which Russians were expected to subscribe: Orthodoxy (pravoslaviye), autocracy (samoderzhaviye), and nationality (narodnost’).9 One of the most perfect artistic embodiments of these ideas, though rarely acknowledged as such in conventional historiography, was Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar, the very work that laid the cornerstone (in conventional historiography) for the development of a Russian national school in music, and which has in consequence acquired a reputation for progressive nationalism, even populism avant la lettre. Nothing could be more fantastic. The libretto for this opera issued from the very nerve center of the samoderzhaviye. It was the work of Baron Yegor Fyodorovich Rosen, the secretary to the future Alexander II, and the Russian concept of nation it celebrated was inextricably bound up with that of a divinely sanctioned dynastic legitimacy. It was in the name of the dynastic rights of the Romanovs, the Russian ruling house from 1613 until the Revolution, that the peasant Ivan Susanin performed his heroic self-sacrifice, an act that was in equal measure the supreme Christian deed and the supreme civic deed. Just how synonymous civic and Christian values could become in a work motivated by Official Nationalism we may learn in the third act of Glinka’s opera, when Susanin and his family express their spontaneous joy at daughter Antonida’s betrothal by falling to their knees and praying for their tsar. “Bozhe,” they sing, “lyubi tsarya! Bozhe, proslav’ tsarya.” (Lord! Love the tsar! Make him glorious.) And between the vocal phrases the orchestra insinuates the first hint of the melody that will bring the opera to its massive, exultant conclusion as the people greet Mikhaíl Romanov’s entry into Moscow. As the Kremlin church bells ring out, the populace exclaims (in words by Vasiliy Zhukovsky, both a great poet and a government censor): Slav’sya, slav’sya, nash russkiy tsar’! Gospodom dannïy nam tsar’ gosudar’! Da budet bessmerten tvoy tsarskiy rod! Da im blagodenstvuyet russkiy narod! [Glory, glory to you, our Russian Caesar! / Our Sovereign, given us by God! / May your royal line be immortal! / May the Russian people prosper through it!]

This is pravoslaviye as Nikolai I might himself have defined it: the celebration of the state religion, meaning literally the religious veneration of the state in the person of the tsar. The first writer to point out the many fascinating adumbrations of the Glory theme in the earlier acts of A Life for the Tsar was Alexander Serov, the greatest music critic Russia ever produced, and in his day an important composer as well.10 It was he who in 1865, a good decade after the generally accepted heyday of Official Nationalism, brought the doctrine to its operatic

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apotheosis with his Rogneda, the one opera to concern itself directly with the theme of established Christianity in Russia. It was a celebration, in fact, of the very event so recently commemorated, the Great Prince Vladimir’s conversion in 988. The plot of this opera was concocted by the composer—in collaboration with a group of conservative literary men now identified as pochvenniki or “men of the soil,” which included Apollon Maikov, Apollon Grigoryev, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky—out of a pair of unrelated episodes in Mikhaíl Zagoskin’s novel Askold’s Grave, whose main plot had already served as the basis for a once famous opera of the same name by Alexey Verstovsky. One of these episodes concerned Rogneda, a Varangian princess who, having been abducted by Vladimir and first forced to become his wife and bear his son and then banished to a tower, makes a vengeful attempt on Vladimir’s life. She is foiled but spared execution by the intervention of the son, Izyaslav. That is the story as related by the Kievan chronicles.11 In Zagoskin’s version Rogneda steals into Vladimir’s chamber, where she finds him mumbling in his sleep about a Christian he had encountered that day. In the next chapter of Zagoskin’s novel, the witch Vakhrameyevna is seen recounting with some amazement how the prince had foiled Rogneda’s attempt on his life but then shown her mercy. The implication is clear: Vladimir had acted under the impression of Christian teachings. The other episode from the novel, the one about which Zagoskin has the prince dreaming at the time of the attempted murder, concerns a young Christian pilgrim, whose bride has been abducted like Rogneda by Prince Vladimir, but who nevertheless saves the prince from a savage bear at the cost of his own life.12 In the opera the prince, rather than dreaming about this object lesson in Christian charity, is reminded of it at the very point of Rogneda’s intended execution by the offstage approach of the pilgrim band to which his savior had belonged and who, being neither yet Orthodox nor an organized clergy, could appear onstage without provoking the censor. (They are recognizable both to Vladimir and to the audience by virtue of a reprise in the orchestra of the melody to which they had sung a hymn in the third act.) Vladimir shows mercy to Rogneda and embraces the new faith on the spot. In its opposition of bloodthirsty paganism and pacific Christianity, the personification of their warring tendencies within the figure of the sainted Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich, founder of the Russian state, and the remotivation of the action in such a way that the Rogneda episode becomes something like the efficient cause of Russia’s conversion, Serov’s opera directly aped Glinka’s in its aspiration to commit a civic deed. And the deed was duly rewarded with a crown stipend that made the composer financially independent for the rest of his life. He was the first musician ever to be so honored in Russia, and the first creative artist since Gogol, another apostle of Official Nationalism, some twenty years before.

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As an embodiment of the official doctrine, Rogneda went far beyond anything of Glinka’s or Gogol’s in its blatancy. I have already cited the quatrain on which the choral epilogue of A Life for the Tsar reached its climax. Here now is its counterpart in Rogneda, the work of a poetaster named Dmitry Averkiyev, in which the Christian theme, in both the figurative and the literal musical sense, and far more explicitly even than in Glinka’s work, is tied to the complementary concepts of autocracy and nationhood. It is sung to yet another reprise of the act 3 Pilgrims’ hymn: Pokoris’ krestu, prosvyati narod, Veru pravuyu utverdiv zemle. I vragam grozna, i na vek slavna, Svyatorusskaya budet zhit’ zemlya! [Submit to the cross, consecrate thy people, / affirming the true faith to all the land. /And awesome to her enemies, and in eternal glory, /the holy Russian land will ever live!]

Official Nationalism (which might just as well have been called Official Orthodoxy) lived longer in opera than in any of the other Russian arts. We may still detect an echo of it in the prologue to Borodin’s Prince Igor (first produced—posthumously—in 1890), when the title character, a twelfth-century princeling (“insignificant, shifty and pugnacious,” as one recent admirer describes him,13 and motivated, according to the famous medieval “Lay” that furnished the raw material for the libretto, by greed and a thirst for personal glory), proclaims the purpose of his campaign against the Polovtsï in terms befitting a nineteenth-century autocrat: “Idyom mï s nadezhdoy na boga za veru, za Rus’, za narod!” (We go with trust in God for our faith, our Russia, our people!) And if Christianity did not survive the Revolution as an emblem of the Russian state, Official Orthodoxy certainly did survive, and was given a new formulation by Stalin in his call for an art that was “national in form and socialist in content.”14 The many operas, beginning with Tikhon Khrennikov’s Into the Storm (1939), that encase the person of Lenin and promote the religious veneration of both the icon and the state for which he stands have continued to embody an updated but essentially unaltered “Christian theme” such as had served previously to sanctify the Russia Lenin overthrew.15

NOTES

1. For citations of relevant law and contemporary opinion, see Robert William Oldani Jr., “New Perspectives on Musorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov,’” PhD diss. (Michigan, 1978), 200–201. 2. Report to Nikolai I on Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, cited in Oldani, 204. 3. See Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, My Musical Life, trans. Judah A. Joffe (London: Eulenburg Books, 1974), 125–26.

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4. Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, vol. 5 (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1959), 372. 5. The most recent thematic discussion of the Khovanshchina libretto, and the most cogent, is Caryl Emerson, “Musorgsky’s Libretti on Historical Themes: From the Two Borises to Khovanshchina,” in Reading Opera, ed. Arthur Groos and Roger Parker (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 235–67. See also Boris M. Gasparov, Five Operas and a Symphony: Word and Music in Russian Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), chapter 4. 6. Letter to Musorgsky from Vienna, 15/27 August 1873, translated in Jay Leyda and Sergei Bertensson, The Musorgsky Reader (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947), 245. 7. For an outline of the statist position see R. Taruskin, “‘The Present in the Past’: Russian Opera and Russian Historiography, ca. 1870,” in Russian and Soviet Music: Essays for Boris Schwarz, ed. Malcolm H. Brown (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1984), 77–146 (esp. 91–96); rpt. in R. Taruskin, Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 123–200 (141–50). Gasparov presents evidence that Musorgsky himself consulted the work of the statists for the sake of period verisimilitude (Five Operas and a Symphony, 97–99). 8. For an attempt to supply it, see R. Taruskin, Musorgsky: Eight Essays and Epilogue, esp. 3–37 (“Introduction: Who Speaks for Musorgsky?”). 9. See the standard account by Nicholas Riasanovsky, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825–1855 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), esp. chapter 3 (“Official Nationality: The Ideas”). 10. See his “Opïtï tekhnicheskoy kritiki nad muzïkoyu M. I. Glinki: Rol’ odnogo motiva v tseloy opere Zhizn’ za tsarya” (Essays in technical criticism on the music of M. I. Glinka: the role of a single motive throughout the opera A Life for the Tsar) in A. N. Serov, Izbrannïye stat’i, vol. 2 (Moscow: Musgiz, 1957), 35–43. 11. See George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948), 57. 12. See Sochineniya M. N. Zagoskina, vol. 6 (St. Petersburg and Moscow: M. O. Vol’f, 1901), 256–66, 302–6. 13. Vladimir Nabokov, notes to his translation of The Song of Igor’s Campaign (New York: Vintage Books, 1960), 74. 14. “O politicheskikh zadachakh universiteta vostochnikh narodov” (On the political tasks of the University of the peoples of the East,” speech at a meeting of the students of the Communist University for the Toilers of the East, 18 May 1925), in Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Voprosï Leninizma (Moscow: Partizdat TsK VKP[b], 1931), 137. 15. It would be a mistake to assume that this line was exclusively a manifestation of the Stalin period. Its more recent representatives included October (1964) by Vano Muradeli and The Brothers Ulyanov (1967) by Iuliy Meytus (thanks to Caryl Emerson for tidings of the latter).

13

The Case for Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the great composers for the lyric stage, even if no one outside Russia wants to believe it. His fifteen operas are the largest such body of work ever composed by a Russian for Russian consumption. (Anton Rubinstein composed even more, but not just for Russia.) Most remain in active repertory at home, although only Le Coq d’Or, his very atypical last opera, is internationally famous. When you add that RimskyKorsakov was responsible for the original or standard performing versions of Dargomïzhsky’s The Stone Guest, Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, and Borodin’s Prince Igor, and recall that even Glinka’s operas are performed in Rimsky-Korsakov’s editions (produced in collaboration with Balakirev), his contribution seems simply staggering. Excepting only Chaikovsky, virtually the whole Russian opera repertory is Rimsky’s creation. Though much honored at home (among other things, the St. Petersburg Conservatory is named after him), abroad he is ignored (but for three exasperatingly overplayed orchestral showpieces) if not reviled (for his once necessary editorial work on Musorgsky). He is perhaps the most underrated composer of all time. .

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The future composer was born into an old aristocratic clan, long distinguished in military and naval affairs. Educated for a career in the family tradition, he graduated as a midshipman from the College of Naval Cadets in St. Petersburg in 1862 (his brother Voin, twenty-two years his senior, was by then the school’s director) and embarked almost immediately on a military First published, in two installments, in Opera News 56, no. 16 (May 1992): 13–14, 16, 60, and no. 17 ( June 1992): 24, 26, 28, 57. Reprinted with permission.

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cruise that lasted two and a half years and took him by way of the Baltic to England, thence to both Americas, and home by way of the Mediterranean. By the time of this trip Rimsky-Korsakov, who had shown a remarkable aptitude for music at an early age, had been introduced (by Theodore Canille, his last piano teacher) to Mily Balakirev. In characteristic fashion, Balakirev put the talented but untutored seventeen-year-old right to work on a symphony, which the boy took with him on the long voyage but did not complete, losing interest in music as the cruise wore on. Once back in St. Petersburg, he again came under Balakirev’s spell, joined the latter’s regular circle (soon to be known as the Moguchaya Kuchka or Mighty Handful, later as The Five) and finished the symphony in time for performance on 19 December (31 December 1865, to give both the Western and the Old Style [hereafter O.S.], or Julian, calendar dates)—his public debut as composer. Over the next two years a combination of sheer talent and Balakirev’s inspiring domination got Rimsky-Korsakov (now a commissioned officer and settled into an undemanding sinecure befitting his high social rank) through the task of creating three substantial orchestral works. These established his reputation as a musician. By the end of 1868 the gifted dilettante, who by his own later confession still “could not decently harmonize a chorale,” felt ready to embark on an opera. He spent the next four years writing it. The high ideals of the Balakirev circle, Russia’s Davidsbund—mirroring in their way the liberalism and “civic” esthetics of the 1860s—decreed that Rimsky-Korsakov’s first opera would be a serious historical drama. For a subject he chose a particularly high-minded specimen, Lev Mey’s Pskovityanka (The maid of Pskov), a play that explores the character of Ivan the Terrible and portrays him (following the theories of Sergey Solovyov, an influential liberal historian) as a clairvoyantly enlightened despot. The focus on a complex tsar protagonist parallels that of Musorgsky’s contemporaneous Boris Godunov. Such parallels are many and run very deep, the result not only of the two young composers’ shared outlook but also of their shared bachelor quarters at the time both operas were gestating. One scene in Pskovityanka goes even farther than the original Boris toward putting into practice the advanced ideals of dramatic realism that the Mighty Kuchka then preached. In the second act the Pskov republican council, known as Veche, meets to consider its options in light of Ivan’s threatened invasion. Summoned by a bell, the crowd assembles piecemeal, their confusion conveyed by a chorus divided into five groups that parley with mounting intensity until all five are singing (shouting) at once to different words and different themes. Various speakers mount the platform to address the meeting in naturalistic recitative, the crowd responding just as naturalistically with scattered exclamations and mutterings. The end of the scene depicts the secession of a party of young mutineers, whose leader strikes up a recruitment song in mocking farewell to the cautious elders. For this purpose

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Rimsky-Korsakov appropriated a folk song from Balakirev’s recent anthology. The leader, following authentic folk practice, intones the first line as precentor, the gathering party answering responsorially, singing the rough harmony Balakirev had collected in the field. Against this the composer pitted anguished protests from the elders in recitative style, plus continued naturalistic ejaculations from the rest of the chorus, while the Veche bell continues its harmonically adventurous tintinnabulations in the orchestra. The resulting montage of almost unretouched folk song, solo and choral recitative, and representational orchestral effect is the epitome of “kuchkism,” the more so for being prompted by Mey’s original dramatic text, unmediated by any formal libretto. It was the high-water mark for Russian operatic realism and became Musorgsky’s model for the new Kromy Forest scene in the second version of Boris Godunov. That a virtually untrained composer was able to bring off this breathtaking scene was a tour de force deserving the cachet of genius. Conversely, it was a project that only an untrained composer would then have ventured. And it represented something from which Rimsky-Korsakov soon recoiled, with the result that although there are masterpieces among them, and although they contain veritable miracles of harmony and instrumentation, his later operas do not embody conceptions of comparable audacity and brilliance. Instead, Rimsky-Korsakov became a sort of classicist, concerned more with quality of realization than with novelty of conception. As realization became increasingly accomplished, conception became increasingly traditional. What brought about the change was a heroic feat of belated self-education, motivated at first by an unexpected invitation, in 1871, to join the faculty of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the very Goliath in opposition to which the Davids of the Kuchka had defined themselves. As he put it in his memoirs, “Having been accepted at the Conservatory as a professor, I soon became one of its best and possibly its very best pupil.” Chaikovsky, with whom he consulted at this time, wrote to his patroness, Mme. von Meck, that “Korsakov . . . evidently is undergoing a crisis; and how this crisis will end is hard to predict. Either he will become a great master or he will founder at last in contrapuntal tricks.” He did become a great master, and he did periodically founder. His very first project after finding his academic feet was an unsuccessful revision of Pskovityanka, in which pedant definitely had the upper hand over master. It was never performed or published, but it was symptomatic. For the rest of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov was plagued with neurotic self-doubts, giving rise to an exaggerated work ethic that occasionally led him to what he recognized as “medium, not to say mediocre” efforts, alternating with periods of creative blockage during which he kept himself in motion by editorial work and by writing books, among them a famous orchestration manual and an

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incomparable autobiography, Chronicle of My Musical Life, as laconic as Berlioz’s is magniloquent but just as fascinating, and full of an unsparing self-knowledge that puts most other memoirists to shame. .

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The first new stage piece following the conservatory appointment was May Night (1878–79), a comic opera after Gogol. Like Pskovityanka, it belonged to a genre to which Musorgsky was making a simultaneous contribution (The Fair at Sorochintsy), but this time the products were very dissimilar. For one thing, the spirit of Glinka hovers over Rimsky’s work more tangibly than over any other opera by a composer of his generation—and it saved Rimsky from his “contrapuntal tricks.” He had just collaborated with Balakirev on an edition of Glinka’s works (which involved, among other things, scoring the stage-band music for Ruslan and Ludmila). In its general approach to orchestration—that open-textured, primary-hued idiom, instantly recognizable as Rimskian (abounding in “leitmotivic” timbres, such as the solo violin for Hanna, the ingenue)—as well as in details (the combination of piano and harp to represent the hero Levko’s bandura, the buffo idiom of the Village Head, the sentimental romance style of the love duet, the polonaise rhythms in the act 2 trio, the whole-tone harmonies at moments of supernatural horror), the score is a loving homage to the earlier master, particularly direct in the somewhat archaic but telling use of natural brass. It was through imitating Glinka that Rimsky-Korsakov truly found himself. Mastering Glinka’s extraordinary lightness freed him to wear his new-won learning in May Night with delightful nonchalance—for example, in the grotesque fugatos for the Head, the Distiller, and the Clerk in the farcical second act. There are also some nice touches of parody: a village-band travesty of the Ruslan finale in the betrothal celebration at the end, and an echo (perhaps by now not altogether friendly) of one of Musorgsky’s choruses from the prologue to Boris Godunov when the village bailiffs, in act 2, plead with the Head not to send them out into the dangerous night. To all of this Rimsky added something romantically nationalist and very much his own: a deliberate cultivation of the ritual aspects of folklore as an avatar of the immemorial Slavic agrarian religion. The grave ceremonial dances (khorovods) and holiday songs for the women’s chorus that form the background to the action in the framing acts are shifted to a timeless plane when transferred to the chorus of rusalki, the fabled Dnieper mermaids. Even though the mermaid music in May Night is beholden to German prototypes, Weber’s Oberon in particular, the evocative way it mirrors on a transcendental level the more obviously indigenous ritual music of the human characters strikes an intensely moving, quintessentially Rimskian chord that would resonate in many later scores and still echoes in some of Stravinsky’s.

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The high point of Rimsky’s early allegorical manner was reached in 1881 with Snegurochka (The snow maiden), after a springtime parable by the great Moscow dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky. Because of its continuous music and intricate network of folkloristic and “fantastic” leitmotives, RimskyKorsakov’s opera makes the most of the metaphorical nexus of seasonal cycle, folk ritual, and human emotion to which Ostrovsky’s artistically transformed “pantheistic” folk tale gave form. The death of winter and the triumph of the sun—memorialized in the seasonal songs (kalendarnïye pesni) through which, Rimsky noted, “to this very day . . . the ancient pagan sun worship lives unconsciously in the people”—is symbolized by the title character’s melting “love death,” the sacrifice through which the frozen land of the Berendeyans is at last redeemed and warmed. This in turn symbolizes the procreative instinct of which human love is the subjective manifestation. The enchanting ambiguity is that the symbolism may be construed in either direction: human experience can be viewed as the sentient agency of the eternal cycle, or the seasonal round, with its cast of fanciful characters, may be viewed as poetic metaphor for a pattern of human experience. Either way, folk ritual and its accompanying music mediate between the realm of nature and the realm of humankind. That, rather than simplistic notions of nationalism, was the chief significance of folklore for this composer, and what makes his music at its best so affecting. Rimsky’s folk rituals continued their eternal round in Stravinsky’s early masterpieces, albeit at a somewhat higher volume and with an even more remorseless objectivity, lending Le Sacre du Printemps and Les Noces their uncanny cultural resonance. In The Snow Maiden surface events are accompanied by a lofty panoply of seasonal songs and khorovods that cover the whole folk-agrarian calendar, from Maslenitsa (Shrovetide, marking the end of winter) to Kupala (midsummer, the peak of the sun god Yarilo’s ascendancy), the latter reflected in the name of the character Kupava, the bride of the shepherd Lel (the Slavonic Eros). In this way, as he already had done to a modest extent in May Night, Rimsky-Korsakov said he “managed to connect, with a subject I adored, the ceremonial side of folk life that gives expression to the survivals from ancient paganism.” A special glory of The Snow Maiden is its orchestra—“the Glinka orchestra perfected,” as the composer put it, by the use of chromatic brass. Still seconding Glinka’s preference for bright, transparent hues, with much solo use of instruments as “leit-timbres” (e.g., Snegurochka’s flute and Lel’s clarinet), and still taking over from Glinka such tricks as the use of piano and harp in tandem to represent the Russian bardic psaltery (gusli), Rimsky manages to achieve much greater warmth and sonority without ever swamping the voices. Some of the orchestral textures, especially those alive with nature sounds, like Spring’s arrival in the prologue or Snegurochka’s love ecstasy in act 4, are so alluringly memorable (Ravel and Stravinsky certainly

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remembered them!) as to clinch Rimsky’s status as the nineteenth century’s premier orchestral colorist. .

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After The Snow Maiden came the biggest creative hiatus in Rimsky-Korsakov’s career, this time filled with oppressive teaching duties at three institutions, and with selfless editorial work on the legacies of Musorgsky, who had died in 1881, and Borodin, who had died in 1887. When Rimsky returned to composition in 1888 it was at first to orchestral works: his trio of concert warhorses (Scheherazade, Capriccio Espagnol, and the Russian Easter Overture) all date from 1887–88, the exact midpoint of his career. These were followed by Mlada, a mythological opera-ballet based on an aborted project on which four of The Five (sans Balakirev) had worked briefly in 1872. Rimsky was attracted once again to the subject by its superficial plot and atmospheric parallels with Wagner’s Ring (first performed in St. Petersburg in 1889–90), which fascinated Rimsky by its scoring, and which he now wished to emulate. Yet, however important it may have been in rousing him into operatic action, the Wagnerian fixation was a passing—or perhaps more accurately, a sporadic—affair for Rimsky-Korsakov, who continued to hold Wagner esthetically at arm’s length. To call it “the climacteric of Rimsky-Korsakov’s creative life,” as Gerald Abraham does in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, is to exaggerate its impact considerably. What was chiefly Wagnerian in Mlada was the scoring. An immense orchestra is required, including triple winds (plus extra flute), a pit complement of thirteen chromatic brass and a stage band of twelve natural horns or tubas for the temple scenes (acts 2 and 4), plus an assortment of exotic or specially designed instruments onstage for Cleopatra’s appearance in act 3: piccolo, clarinets, timpano piccolo, eight to ten “lyres” (little autoharp-like affairs set to produce a diminished-seventh chord, glissando) and two sets of brass panpipes (tsevnitsï, tuned to play a scale derived from the same diminished-seventh chord by interpolating passing tones; the resulting scale of eight notes to the octave—for which reason it is now called octatonic— became a permanent resource for supernatural effects and would become the very basis of Stravinsky’s early modernistic style). In place of the bright, primary-hued sonority of “the Glinka orchestra perfected,” Rimsky-Korsakov now went after the burnished Wagnerian glow, achieving it by means of multiple doublings, dovetailed voicing, and the use of augmented brass as a sonorous “cushion.” Only a ballet (and by extension an opera ballet) could command the full stage resources of the crown-sponsored Mariyinsky Theater (known in Soviet times as the Kirov). Counting on a mammoth spectacle, Rimsky-Korsakov cannily timed his music to accord with it, with the result that for all its powerful sonority, and despite its extravagant richness of color and texture,

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Mlada makes an overly protracted, rather insubstantial impression in concert or recorded performance. As the composer put it in his autobiography, it “suffers from an underdeveloped dramaturgy, which is an inadequate complement to its folkish and fantastic aspects.” Elsewhere he called it “cold as ice.” Depressed by its failure, as well as by various family bereavements, he made a second revision of Pskovityanka that finally satisfied him (1891–92) and, having (as he put it) “closed accounts of the past,” he foreswore composition. He did not touch a piano or commit a note of original music to paper for more than a year. .

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It was Chaikovsky’s death, late in 1893, that seemed to release RimskyKorsakov from his “neurasthenia” (as his doctors had diagnosed it) and brought on the relatively untroubled creative period that lasted the rest of his life, during which he became almost exclusively a composer for the stage, completing an opera on average every eighteen months. The first of these eleven operas was based on Gogol’s story Christmas Eve, on which Chaikovsky also had written an opera (Vakula the Smith, later revised as Cherevichki). That it amounted to an exorcism can hardly be doubted, especially since Rimsky so heavily touted the differences between his setting and Chaikovsky’s, priding himself in good old “kuchkist” fashion on his fidelity to the literary source, for which he professed great reverence (a reverence asserted somewhat peculiarly at the very end of the opera, when the singers step out of character to offer a spirited hymn, “To the Memory of Gogol”). The words of his libretto are derived wherever possible from Gogol’s dialogue, and the opera is instructive from the technical point of view for the way the composer managed to write conventionally rounded musical numbers (like Oksana’s Glinkaesque coloratura aria before the mirror in act 1) on Gogol’s undoctored prose. Yet though he did not sacrifice the comic elements in the story to the love intrigue, as Chaikovsky had so characteristically done, Rimsky’s opera departs no less significantly from Gogol—and no less characteristically. As in May Night, his other Gogolian opera, but far more overtly, Rimsky-Korsakov placed enormous emphasis on the fantastic and mythological elements, magnifying them far beyond their original importance. From Alexander Rubets’s anthology of Ukrainian folk music he appropriated a whole series of Christmas songs, known as kolyadki, on which he constructed explicit parallels connecting the action of the tale with the pantheistic world of sprites and demons, symbolizing nature. (He also borrowed from Rubets for more conventional purposes, including one tune—the village Head’s leitmotif—that Musorgsky already had employed in the folk recitatives of The Fair at Sorochintsy.) The old deities Kolyada (whence kolyadka) and Ovsen, avatars of the sun god at the beginning of its annual cycle, are virtual characters in Christmas

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Eve. And just as in Mlada, with its human, “fantastic” and “hellish” kolos, earthly existence is mirrored in the timeless dimension by juxtaposing human and “demonic” kolyadki. Most of the supernatural interpolations in Christmas Eve are gathered in one big balletic divertissement in act 3 (an obvious echo of Mlada)—a marvelously imagined and detailed depiction of Vakula’s flight on devil-back to St. Petersburg (actually two divertissements, for the briefer return trip is also shown). One detail deserves special mention—the string glissando of natural harmonics, which Stravinsky claimed to have invented in The Firebird. Rimsky’s next opera, Sadko (1894–96), marked a turning point of a rather different kind. It was excluded from the Mariyinsky Theater’s repertory by personal order of Tsar Nicholas II, who demanded, “Find me something a bit merrier.” By that time the Russian crown monopoly on theaters had been eased, and Rimsky-Korsakov was able to get Sadko staged by the Moscow Private Opera Company, owned by the railroad tycoon Savva Mamontov. Itself an opera glorifying a merchant entrepreneur, Sadko could not have been a more symbolic choice to inaugurate a relationship between Russia’s leading opera composer and leading arts patron. Over a period of five years, beginning with the Sadko première, the Mamontov company would introduce no fewer than six Rimsky-Korsakov operas, and also—no less important— Rimsky’s editions of the operas of Musorgsky. Young Fyodor Chaliapin (who sang the role of the Viking Trader in Sadko beginning in 1898) was involved in most of these productions, and it was under Mamontov’s auspices that the great basso first made contact with the role of Boris Godunov, in Rimsky’s version. As to Rimsky-Korsakov’s stylistic development, Sadko brought to its peak that time-honored dichotomy established by Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila, whereby the human world is represented by diatonic and folkloristic music, the fantastic by a chromatic idiom fashioned out of virtuosic manipulations of “artificial” scales and strangely sensuous harmonic progressions based on them. The second scene of Sadko has become a classic delineation of the technique: it is here that the title character, a seafaring Novgorod minstrel, whose musical idiom is founded on that of the ancient Slavic epics known as bïlinï, first encounters the Sea King and his entrancing daughter, with their slithery scales of alternating tones and semitones. The accelerating rhythm of the stylistic contrast makes the scene at once aurally and dramatically gripping. At this point Rimsky-Korsakov, while not slackening his newfound creative pace, took an extended break from mythologized folklore. His next opera, the one-act Mozart and Salieri (1897), was a psychological study in a declamatory style modeled on that of Dargomïzhsky, to whom the opera, both in style and by explicit dedication, was a nostalgic tribute. Then came two quasihistorical works based, like Pskovityanka, on dramas by Lev Mey. They too

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seem retrospective and nostalgic. The first, Boyarinya Vera Sheloga (1898), is another one-act work in declamatory style. A setting of the first act of Mey’s Pskovityanka, it incorporates some music from the abortive 1877 revision of Rimsky’s first opera and is usually performed as a prologue to the opera in its now standard, revised version. The Tsar’s Bride, which followed in 1899, is an adamantly conventional (hence anti-“realist”) number opera, replete with concerted ensembles and a symphonic overture that but for its coda is dramaturgically neutral. Rimsky was trying to shake his typecast image as fantastic fabulist, and also seeking to distance himself from his iconoclastic “kuchkist” past. Clearly the product of crisis following the final revision of Pskovityanka, The Tsar’s Bride implied repudiation of that opera (and of Wagner) in favor of the classical operatic mainstream from Mozart to Verdi—and Chaikovsky. The earnestness of Rimsky’s project, and its urgency for him, may be measured by the music he composed in the late 1890s on the way to The Tsar’s Bride, which includes (besides Mozart and Salieri) forty-three romances and duets, all composed in the summer of 1897 in an effort to assimilate the traditional lyric style after a youth misspent in “declamatory” experimentation. In this the composer refused to see regression but, on the contrary, saw the renovation of his style and the validation of his claim to consideration as a major operatic figure on the world stage. His success may be measured by the fact that The Tsar’s Bride has become his most popular opera in his homeland, a repertory staple in every theater of the old Soviet empire from Tallinn to Tbilisi, from Minsk to Vladivostok. It usually fails abroad, since it conforms neither to established Western notions of its composer’s strengths nor to Western ideas of what “Russian music” is supposed to be. The few Western critics who have taken note of The Tsar’s Bride generally have gone out of their way to insult it. “One tired-sounding number follows another, and some of it is truly terrible,” wrote one enthusiastic devotee of Sadko and Tsar Saltan. “Rimsky was trying to go the way of the romantic historical grand opera, and I doubt he meant a note of it.” These unjustified remarks epitomize the whole paradoxical history of Russian opera’s reception at home and abroad. The traditionalist line initiated by The Tsar’s Bride found continuation in two other operas, which failed to duplicate the success of the first. Servilia (1901)—also after Mey, and dedicated to his memory—is set in Neronian Rome. Pan Voyevoda (1903) is set in seventeenth-century Poland for the sake of local color, but its libretto (by Ilya Tyumenev) is compounded of stock elements, some (like the elimination of a love rival by poison) lifted rather transparently from The Tsar’s Bride, in whose libretto Tyumenev had had a hand. Of greater interest than the opera to which it is appended is the composer’s prim performance note to Servilia—one of those documents that

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informs us, by what it interdicts, of conditions the composer expected to encounter (hence of standard contemporary practice): In the performance of his operas the composer does not admit devices, reckoned as dramatic, that lie outside the realm of musical art, as for example: speaking, whispering, laughing, shouting, and so on. He demands singing exclusively, with clearly defined pitch, whether the music be “arioso” or declamatory, since he is convinced that only in this way can a truly musical-dramatic effect be achieved. In the lyrical moments of the opera, those artists onstage who are not occupied with singing must in no way distract the audience from the singing with superfluous acting or gestures, since an operatic work is above all a musical work. The author knows better than anyone else which spots in the opera will seem at first glance to be suitable for cutting. If he did not cut them himself before publication, it is because he considered that to do so would be destructive of the work’s artistic form and dramatic meaning. If cuts should appear desirable to others, they may be made only with the author’s permission and under his supervision. Otherwise the author does not consent to the production of his work.

The phrase in italics (Rimsky’s own) is one that reappears obsessively during his late period, both in performance notes and in letters, and again must represent the mature composer’s squeamishness with respect to his own radical past. .

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With The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899–1900) Rimsky-Korsakov returned to Russian folklore as the source of his inspiration—but with a difference. Where earlier he had been the musical counterpart of Alexander Afanasyev, the famous ethnographer who laid the foundations of the Russian “mythological school” (and whose fundamental work The Slavs’ Poetic Outlook on Nature Rimsky had called his “pantheistic bible”), the composer now emerged more as a counterpart to the “neonationalist” painters whose work was marking a new departure in Russian art. Many of them—like Victor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Vrubel, and the somewhat younger Ivan Bilibin—designed sets and costumes for Mamontov’s Russian Private Opera. (Vrubel’s wife, the soprano Nadezhda Zabela, created a number of Rimsky-Korsakov feminine leads, including the Swan Princess in Tsar Saltan.) Neonationalist artists sought stylistic and formal inspiration, not only subject matter, in folklore. Just so, Rimsky now became an inspired musical illustrator of fairy tales, adapting his musical palette, as visual artists did, to a garish if fetching color scheme influenced by the cartoonish peasant woodcuts known as lubkí. The brash little trumpet tune that introduces every scene in Czar Saltan is a perfect musical translation of that style, functioning in the opera exactly like a priskazka, the

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verbal flourish with which the authentic folktale spinner would seize his listeners’ attention. With Kashchei the Deathless (1902), unexpectedly inspired by a chance perusal of Siegfried, Rimsky returned for the last time to the old, somewhat shopworn stylistic dualism of Ruslan: icy-evil-supernatural-chromatic versus sunny-humane-diatonic. The new opera’s considerable musical interest lies in what was from the beginning its motivation and pretext: the frankly experimental deployment of the chromatic genus to the point where, as the composer put it, “one can go no farther without passing over into hyperharmony [sverkh-garmoniya].” Taking off from act 2, scene 1, in Siegfried (Alberich and Wotan at the mouth of Fafner’s cave), which is built throughout over a tonally ambiguous tritone ostinato, Rimsky allowed the tritone a similar stability throughout Kashchei the Deathless (until the inevitable resolution to D major, Rimsky’s sun key, at Kashchei’s demise). The devilish interval is variously embedded in scales of whole tones or alternating whole tones and semitones, which in turn provided the raw material for a triadic yet tonally suspensive harmonic syntax based on cycles of thirds in place of fifths. The result is a remarkably sustained, ultimately quite un-Wagnerian essay in evocatively frigid but also exceptionally rigid harmonic sequences. While no one would claim Kashchei the Deathless to be one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s better operas, it has fascinated historians of early-twentieth-century music as a Baedeker to the common practice out of which Stravinsky’s modernistic idiom (his “hyper-harmony”) emerged. With his next—he thought last—opera, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia (1905), Rimsky continued and developed the neonationalist trend inaugurated in his work by The Tale of Tsar Saltan. Kitezh is conceived from first to last as a stylization of folk art, both as to sound and as to structure. One telling detail of this conception, which may not be readily apparent as such to non-Russian listeners, can serve as illustration. The finely wrought orchestral texture abounds in overlays of multiple subdivisions of the beat; the frequent 5/8 patterns refer specifically to the meter of the Russian wedding songs that also play—not necessarily at the same time— on the musical surface. The libretto of Vladimir Belsky, too, is a neonationalist milestone in its masterly stylization of neofolkloric and neo-Scriptural rhetoric. Setting it, Rimsky drew on a lifetime of experience in imitating a wide variety of traditional musical genres, now including church chant. The chorus of supplication in act 2 provided the model for a neonationalist, folkecclesiastical style that survived Rimsky, reaching its peak in Stravinsky’s Les Noces, which—like many of that composer’s “Russian” works—is quite specifically beholden to Kitezh, the opera on which his teacher was at work during the early period of Stravinsky’s tuition. In its ambitious, syncretic subject matter, its eclectic style and lofty ethical tone, Kitezh is a kind of creative testament. In interviews he gave around

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the time of the opera, Rimsky tended to deprecate the neo-Russian style he was bringing to a culmination and, so far as he was concerned, exhausting. That he saw the work as a valedictory is strongly suggested by the extraordinary care he took in writing it and the highly critical standards he was pressing on himself. Alternative redactions and rejected drafts fill up a whole supplementary volume in the centenary edition of his collected works. There is no problem of “versions,” however. Rimsky brought the work to what he felt was its definitive form before the first performance and did not revise it afterward. It is unpleasantly ironic that of all Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas only the last, a trifling parody based on Pushkin’s mock folktale The Golden Cockerel (1906–07), should be a repertory item in the West. Its popularity, a result of Diaghilev’s spectacular, widely copied Paris 1914 production (thanks to which the opera generally is called by its French name, Le Coq d’Or), has greatly distorted perceptions of Rimsky’s work and the evaluation of his achievement. He is generally thought of as a composer who did trivial things superlatively well, whose work—compared as it usually is, invidiously, with Musorgsky’s—“consists of color rather than expression,” as M. D. Calvocoressi put it long ago. Yet in his finest operas Rimsky-Korsakov did important things. In the astoundingly precocious Pskovityanka he brought to its peak the historicalrealist genre best known in the West from Musorgsky’s work. If Rimsky could not match Musorgsky in psychological penetration, that need not condemn him: no one else did, either. It is enough that Pskovityanka contains the greatest crowd scene in all Russian opera, which probably means in all opera. In The Snow Maiden he created a pantheistic, animistic musical universe that carries utter conviction, mediating affectingly between reality and myth; the title character’s little love death is among the most touching pages in the repertory. The scene of Fevronia’s spiritual translation in Kitezh replays this episode at a heartrending level of expression. Between them, Sadko and Tsar Saltan demonstrate the enormous stylistic and poetic range the Russian folk melos could yield in the hands of a genial connoisseur. The fourth act of The Tsar’s Bride embodies a congruence of grandiose formal means and intense dramatic power to set beside the third act of Aida. And his unmatched ability in natural and magical illustration gave rise throughout Rimsky’s career to harmonic and instrumental inventions that are in a class of their own. It is only by arbitrary convention that they are, or can be, distinguished from “expression.” The trouble always has been the amount of subtext required for full comprehension. Rimsky-Korsakov is a composer who cannot travel light. His work is a semiotician’s dream and a critic’s nightmare. Unprepared to receive its implicit messages, alien ears are likely to fasten on its suspiciously decorative packaging and what can seem an unacceptably high (but characteristically

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Slavic) level of ritualized repetition or sequence. Richard Strauss’s reaction to the Christmas Eve Suite was typical of smugly scoffing Occidentals: “That is all very well, but unfortunately we are no longer children.” Yet those who will take the trouble to make themselves properly receptive—which means knowing the texts and something about their contexts—will find in Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas some of the most multivalently evocative and transporting music in the world.

14

Kitezh Religious Art of an Atheist

Igor Stravinsky once defined sincerity in art as “a sine qua non that at the same time guarantees nothing.” Is it even a sine qua non? Audiences at the Brooklyn Academy of Music will have a chance to ponder that question when they attend the Kirov Opera performances of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia, by Stravinsky’s teacher Nikolai RimskyKorsakov. This opera of 1904, Rimsky’s fourteenth and next-to-last (and, many think, greatest), was first performed at the Kirov, then called the Mariyinsky, in St. Petersburg in 1907. It is a remarkable work of religious art, and it was composed by an atheist. Rimsky’s positivistic and materialistic world view was well known to his contemporaries. It thoroughly formed his artistic beliefs and his teaching. He used to tell his pupils, including Stravinsky, that art was nothing more than technical know-how, and that the more one knew, the more one would know how to express. He loved experimenting with weird harmonies of a kind that many of his fellow composers (Scriabin, for one) thought mystical. A disciple, struck by one of these uncanny chords, asked the master what it meant. “I don’t know what it means,” Rimsky replied. “All I know is, it has three resolutions.” After a painful evening at Lev Tolstoy’s estate near Moscow, during which the great novelist, who had given up art for religion, vainly exhorted RimskyKorsakov to do likewise, the composer apologized for having exasperated his host. “Not at all,” Tolstoy reassured him. “For me it’s been very interesting to come face to face with gloom.” Rimsky’s attitudes can seem very modern for an artist who lived in what we persist in calling the Romantic era. They sound a bit like Stravinsky, in Originally published in the New York Times, 26 February 1995. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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fact—the Stravinsky who during his “neoclassical” phase so delighted in flaunting his anti-Romanticism. But the same Stravinsky made a special point of deploring what he called his teacher’s “bourgeois atheism.” In one of his conversation books he recalled how Rimsky, at the dinner table, pooh-poohed the idea of “resurrection, . . . drawing a zero on the tablecloth as he said, ‘There is nothing after death; death is the end.’” Stravinsky continued, somewhat improbably, “I then had the temerity to suggest that perhaps this was also merely one point of view, but was made to feel for some time thereafter that I should have held my peace.” But of course the émigré Stravinsky had his reasons for making a great show of religious faith in defiance of the Bolsheviks. (And one of his reasons for ostentatiously despising Rimsky-Korsakov in later life was that Rimsky was a true-blue bourgeois liberal.) He made a great show of it in his music, too, with spectacular results in the Symphony of Psalms and, much later, the Requiem Canticles. Rimsky, for his part, was not above churning out church choruses for performance by the Imperial Court Chapel Choir, at whose school he taught part-time exactly until he qualified for a pension. He quoted Orthodox Church chants in a couple of works, including one of his most popular orchestral showpieces, the Russian Easter Overture. In another orchestral work, a memorial for his friend and publisher Mitrofan Belyayev, he quoted a chant (so he wrote) precisely because he did not have it in him to come up with any original “religious lyricism.” So how can one explain Kitezh, not only a work overflowing with heartrending religious lyricism (without benefit of church chants) but one in which the most poignant scene of all portrays the title character Fevronia’s bodily resurrection? The answer seems to be that the religion in the opera, while nominally Christian, is really a pantheistic pagan folk religion. And that enabled Rimsky to draw inspiration from musical folklore, his eternal well, and also from that other great nineteenth-century pagan, Richard Wagner, whose nominally Christian Parsifal, together with the avowedly pagan Ring cycle, served as Rimsky’s chief model in ways both overt and well hidden. The sixteenth-century hagiography of St. Fevronia of Murom, on which the opera’s libretto was based in part, was a prime document of what the Russians call dvoyeveriye, or “double faith,” in which Christian elements rubbed shoulders with remnants of pre-Christian Slavonic mythology. Religious syncretism of this kind was not confined to Russia, as our pagan Christmas trees attest each year, but nowhere else was it as proudly acknowledged or displayed, at least by artists. The Kitezh libretto is from a literary standpoint one of the very best in opera, the work of a statistician named Vladimir Belsky, who on weekends happened to be a poet and stylistic connoisseur of genius. With its mixture

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of history (the Mongol invasion of 1223), pantheistic folklore, and Christian mystery, it is in its way another masterpiece of dvoyeveriye. Like many opera librettos, it disintegrates into nonsense if its story is recounted prosaically in strictly sequential fashion. Its main event is the miracle that saves the holy city of Greater Kitezh from destruction by the Mongols (or Tatars) as the result of a prayer uttered by the pure maiden Fevronia, betrothed to Vsevolod, son of the city’s ruling prince, as she is being abducted by the invaders. Rather than praying for her own deliverance, she selflessly wishes that the town be made invisible to its enemies. The miracle takes place in the next scene, as a golden haze descends on the beleaguered city. While the wonder is evidently wrought by the Christian God, and is announced by the spontaneous ringing of all the town’s church bells, the only supernatural agents to appear on stage are Sirin and Alkonost, the traditional prophet birds of Slavonic mythology. They become visible (and audible) to the helpless, exhausted, and wounded Fevronia in a magic transformation scene, in which the forest where she has been abandoned turns into a fantastic garden. Alkonost sings to Fevronia that she is about to die, and Sirin foretells her translation to eternal life. This whole scene is a replay, on a much-exalted, sacralized plane, of the final scene in Rimsky’s earlier opera The Snow Maiden (1882), which depicts the chilly title character’s melting in ecstasy at the warm rays of the love sun. Fevronia’s spiritual translation is another nature ecstasy of this kind, for she is identified from the beginning of the opera as an apostle of folk pantheism. When asked by Vsevolod at their first meeting whether she attends church, she answers: “Is not God everywhere? You may think my forest an empty place, but no—it is a great church, where day and night we celebrate the Eucharist!” In a final pantheistic beatitude Fevronia is miraculously transported into the invisible city, where she meets the resurrected Vsevolod (killed in battle with the Tatars) and completes her marriage vows, interrupted two acts before by the invasion. Even this much of a synopsis is already replete with Wagnerian resonances. The miracle music, especially the music that accompanies Fevronia’s soul on its journey into the invisible city, recalls the ostinato bass from the Parsifal Good Friday Spell, and there is even a sort of Dresden Amen à la russe in the concluding wedding scene. The oft-reprised music of the opera’s opening scene accompanies Fevronia’s pantheistic rapture with virtual Forest Murmurs, and the same scene from Siegfried lies behind the apparition of Sirin and Alkonost, Russian cousins to Wagner’s Forest Bird. Even Fasolt and Fafner, from Das Rheingold, send greetings, when one oafish Tatar (Burundai) kills another (Bedyai) in a dispute over spoils. But the Wagnerian reverberations are always mediated through a filter of Russian folklore that was wholly Rimsky’s own. In his late operas Rimsky broke through to a new way of synthesizing folk and “high” (or, less invidiously,

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professional) art. Instead of merely quoting folk tunes as subject matter, the way any academic painter might choose a peasant as a subject, Rimsky began abstracting formal procedures, characteristic rhythms, dissonant harmonies, and primitive counterpoints from folk music so that it began to influence and, actually, modernize his style. A wonderful example is the recitative writing in Kitezh, much of which takes the form of rapid parlando with five syllables to a beat. It is a strikingly new effect, but it is based on the traditional meter of peasant wedding songs, which also play (not necessarily at the same time) on the opera’s melodic surface. This kind of stylistic absorption of folk motifs was much more common in Russian painting than it was in music. Art historians, accordingly, have a name for it; they call it “neonationalism.” There were only two important musical neonationalists: Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky. And Kitezh was a tremendous watershed for Rimsky’s greatest and most ungrateful pupil. Stravinsky witnessed every stage of the opera’s gestation, for it was written precisely when he was beginning lessons with Rimsky. The première was the biggest Rimskian occasion Stravinsky attended as part of the composer’s inner circle. Together with his mother (the widow of the Mariyinsky Theater’s leading basso) and his brother Gury (then aspiring to a career in his father’s footsteps), Stravinsky sent an enormous wreath to the theater, and it was handed up to Rimsky-Korsakov from the pit at the end of the performance, amid cheers not only from the audience but from the orchestra as well. The most formative aspect of Stravinsky’s relationship to Kitezh is also the least known. He was among the Rimsky-Korsakov insiders who helped the composer prepare the piano-vocal score. Thus Stravinsky knew several scenes of the opera the way one knows a piece only when one has copied it out note by note. Two of those scenes had repercussions in his own music— one immediate and relatively unimportant, the other delayed and profound. The immediate repercussion can be seen in a little-known Stravinsky romance for voice and piano, “A Song of the Dew,” a 1908 setting of an imitation folk poem by Stravinsky’s acquaintance Sergey Gorodetsky (best known to operagoers as the Soviet hack who three decades later sanitized the libretto to Glinka’s Life for the Tsar). The piano accompaniment is a virtual collage of passages from the opening scene of Kitezh, which Stravinsky had arranged for piano. The delayed repercussion suffused what is Stravinsky’s neonationalist masterpiece and, in the opinion of Russian connoisseurs, his greatest work: the choral ballet Svadebka (The peasant wedding), still best known as Les Noces, the French title under which it was first performed, by Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. It, too, is full of echoes from Kitezh, the action of which revolves around a Russian folk wedding that is interrupted and resumed.

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One particular passage of the opera especially haunted Stravinsky’s inner ear: a choral folk-ecclesiastical supplication in act 3, in which the basses sing in thirds and the tenors double the lower part at the octave—a very unusual and distinctive spacing. Stravinsky appropriated this device for the first time in 1910, for Petrushka, and many times thereafter, but mainly in instrumental works. In Svadebka he finally used it in the same vocal context as Rimsky had, for a chorus of supplication. And the folk text to which he set it was a variant of one that Rimsky had used in Kitezh: a prayer to the blacksmith saints Cosmas and Damian, the traditional patrons of peasant marriages, to “forge us a fine wedding” (in Russian, skuy nam svadebku). “Svadebku!” In the nominative case it is the title of Stravinsky’s ballet. The Stravinsky literature abounds with apocryphal accounts, many of them planted by the composer himself, of how he got the idea for his neonationalist pinnacle and how he thought up its unusual “peasant Russian” name. Forget those stories. He got the idea, and the name as well, from Kitezh.

15

Sex and Race, Russian Style

Unless we take the proper steps, the New York City Opera’s new production of Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, that baggy monster of hormone-enriched Russian cabaret, that steamy borscht of harem girls, church bells, high nationalism and basso profundo, could get us thinking. For along with the pretty tunes that Broadway stole (for Kismet) and the sweaty male dances that made Parisian ladies swoon, the opera broaches some matters that have grown touchy since the innocent days (or so we may imagine them) when it was new, 100 years ago. Don’t worry, be happy, some critics advise. “Suspension of moral indignation,” one has even gone so far as to suggest, is a necessary part of opera appreciation. Almost needless to say, he was defending Wagner. “Never forget,” he says, in case of dismay at Wagner’s Jewification of his villains and buffoons, “that in 1850 anti-Semitism was perfectly normal to the politics of Christian Europe.” Don’t let “our current ecumenism” or “our newfound urge after justice for all” get in the way of having a good time, he soothes, using the hospital nurse’s version of the first-person plural. Political and social ideals, however good or bad, are fly-by-night. A good tune is forever. Fear not. We won’t forget that anti-Semitism was perfectly normal in the Europe of 1850, or 1950. But what are the implications? The chief one, as best I can make out, is that great music sanitizes anything it touches, including us. Is that so? Is music sanitary? Or is music persuasive, an engulfing force that lessens resistance to whatever words or images it carries to our minds and hearts? Originally published in the New York Times, 4 September 1994. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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But what has all of that got to do with a great big candy puff like Prince Igor? Shouldn’t we just be grateful that against all odds it even exists for us to enjoy? Like many Russian operas, it was the work of a committee. It took Borodin, a full-time chemist and medical school administrator, eighteen years, from 1869 to his death in 1887, not to finish it. He left behind a great chaotic mess of manuscripts at every stage from verbal plan to rough draft to fully orchestrated number. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin’s friend and colleague, and Alexander Glazunov, Rimsky’s star pupil, had more to do than compose what was missing (for example, the famous overture, entirely the work of Glazunov) and orchestrate the drafts. Having done all that, they had to decide what to include, for there was a great deal of redundancy and actual duplication in what the composer had accumulated (for example, Igor’s act 2 aria, which Borodin completed and orchestrated twice), even as glaring structural gaps yawned in the plot, representing the parts he never got around to. When Pavel Lamm, the great Soviet music editor who restored the original versions of Musorgsky’s operas, came to Prince Igor, he threw up his hands. He prepared a transcription of all the sketches and drafts but despaired of finding a way to give the “original” Prince Igor a definitive form. From Lamm’s materials it can be ascertained that Rimsky and Glazunov pruned away some 1,787 bars of music, almost one-fifth of the total Borodin had left. (Even so, the four-fifths they published in full score in 1896 is too much for most houses, and the City Opera—in its Dejan Milidanovic production, with a largely Slavic cast—will follow long-standing tradition in dispensing with most of the published act 3.) The opera, as performed since the 1890 St. Petersburg première, lacks a major arson and rebellion scene that Borodin wrote for the end of act 1; a magnificent chorus of Russian prisoners meant for somewhere in the middle; and a trio of captive Russian princes. Alternative performing versions have been put forth over the years, the most substantial being the one prepared in the early 1970s by a troika of Soviet opera doctors. Their version, which includes all the missing numbers mentioned above, has not caught on, possibly because its pretense at “authenticity” was so easily seen through; for one example, both versions of Igor’s aria are inexplicably included. So what we are left with, and what will be seen in New York, is a sprawling torso, its simple but nevertheless incoherent story line traditionally excused on account of its “epic” genre, and its inept dramaturgy redeemed by music so alluring as to keep the opera, despite its gargantuan handicaps, perpetually alive on the fringes of the repertory. The plot, inspired by but freely departing from the twelfth-century “Lay of the Host of Igor,” Russia’s earliest literary classic, turns Russian history into a set of lacquer-box illustrations. It can be summarized in three sentences, each corresponding to one act of the

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original scenario by Vladimir Stasov, a librarian friend of the composer. (In the Rimsky-Glazunov performing version there are four acts, the second having undergone mitosis.) First act: Igor Sviatoslavich, Prince of Novgorod-Seversk, sets out on a war of aggression against the Polovtsi, a neighboring Turkic tribe, bidding farewell to his wife, Yaroslavna, and leaving Putivl, his capital, in the hands of his dissolute brother-in-law, Vladimir Galitzky, who promptly runs amok. Second act: Captured by the Polovtsi and royally entertained by Khan Konchak, the Polovtsian chief (who has presented his daughter Konchakovna as a consolation prize to Igor’s son Vladimir), Igor longs for his freedom and secretly plots escape with the help of Ovlur, a Polovtsian turncoat. Third act: Igor returns to Putivl, where he is greeted deliriously, not only by Yaroslavna but by all the former followers of Galitzky (personified by a pair of roistering minstrels, Skula and Yeroshka, the former played at the première by the basso Fyodor Stravinsky, who identified so strongly with the long-gestating opera that he had named his third son after it). Perhaps more than any other nineteenth-century opera, Prince Igor is the sort of farrago that all self-respecting nineteenth-century composers, especially in high-minded Russia, professed to scorn. Act 2, the only act in the standard performing version that consists almost entirely of numbers Borodin lived to complete, can serve as paradigm. It is framed by decorative “Oriental” numbers (the famous Polovtsian Dances) that set the scene and supply the routine choreographic diversion endemic to grand-operatic second acts. The subplot, the romance of Vladimir and Konchakovna, is given a risibly redundant exposition: lengthy da capo entrance arias for each, separated by a pair of tiny choral numbers that serve to bring Ovlur furtively on stage, and followed by a duet, longer than the two arias combined, that is cast in the most stereotypical format imaginable. (He: “Love me?” She: “Love you.” She: “Love me?” He: “Love you.”) The lovers having sung, they scurry off, almost as if in a Baroque opera, to make way for the title character, who enters to sing a da capo aria of remorse and longing, the opera’s centerpiece. It is followed, after a brief scene and dialogue, by another extended aria for another bass soloist, Khan Konchak, who, like Igor, enters for no other purpose than to sing (about his princely hospitality). The only real dramatic episode takes place during that little dialogue between the bass arias when Ovlur steps out of the shadows to propose the escape plan to Igor. Otherwise the act is a classic “concert in costume,” one large vocal number following (but hardly motivated by) another. It would be just as silly a piece of kitsch as this description has no doubt made it seem were it not that every number in it is a masterpiece. Borodin’s exotic idiom, though it followed and enlarged on the examples of Glinka

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and Balakirev, was an intensely personal, flexible style, of all Borodinesque idioms the one most instantly identifiable as his. It was the supreme musical expression of what Russians call nega, the lush languor of the Orient as viewed through European eyes. More “universally,” it was quite simply the nineteenth century’s sexiest music bar none, not even Bizet’s Carmen. But dear, dear, with talk of Orientalism and sex, I fear I’ve opened Pandora’s box. So for those who want to soak up their nega undisturbed, and to insure the successful suspension of their moral indignation, I offer a catalogue of things one must not think about during a performance of Prince Igor. To begin with, one must not recall that all during the opera’s eighteenyear gestation, its plot was being reenacted in real life. Russia, then one of the world’s two imperial superpowers, was competing avidly with Britain in what Kipling called the Great Game, a protracted imperialist war in central Asia against a Muslim Holy League led by the Khan of Bokhara. One should not know that, along with most of educated Russia, Borodin and his idea man enthusiastically supported this war, which came to an end only in the 1980s with the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan. The evidence for such forbidden knowledge includes virtually all the differences between the opera’s plot and the literary source. Pay no heed to Ovlur, Stasov’s invention, a “good Indian” straight out of Fenimore Cooper, whose treachery against his people is heartily approved, along with his appeal to Igor to break the bonds of chivalry for the sake of Russian “honor.” (In the scenario Ovlur is Yaroslavna’s retainer; in the eventual opera his improbable connection with Yaroslavna is severed, and he is just a turncoat ex machina.) Under no circumstances should one be aware that Stasov’s scenario ended with an epilogue Borodin did not live to compose, in which the wedding of Vladimir and Konchakovna was celebrated after a second, successful campaign. The scene had no precedent in Russian literature or history, yet it epitomized the scenario’s ideology. In captivity Igor would not assent to a marriage that would have made his son a Polovtsian, even postponing his escape to prevent it, but he rejoices at home in the same marriage when it “annexes” the Khan’s daughter as a Russian and a Christian. Above all, do not notice how Prince Igor, the most aggressively nationalistic of all Russian operas, finally made overt the pervasive subtext to the many nineteenth-century Russian essays in Orientalism: the racial justification of Russia’s militaristic expansion to the east. The twelfth-century Igor of Novgorod-Seversk was (in Vladimir Nabokov’s inimitable words) “an insignificant, shifty and pugnacious prince” squabbling with his neighbors over trade routes. The operatic Igor is a veritable Crusader: “We go with trust in God for our faith, our Russia, our people,” he anachronistically proclaims in

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the spirit of Alexander II, through most of the opera’s composition the reigning tsar. As for the chief musical glory of the score, the sultry nega music in the middle acts, pay no attention to the fact that it epitomized not just the East but the seductive, erotic East that emasculates, enslaves, and renders passive. Its syncopated, undulating melismas and descending chromatic lines— Borodin’s inspired evocation of languid limbs, writhing torsos, arching necks—are accompanied by real-sounding “ethnic” drone basses and snakecharmer timbres precisely because Russian necks do not arch and writhe. The music of the male Russians (the only kind in act 2) is ethnically unmarked, square cut, declamatory—in a word, purposeful. So you can see why those sybaritic central Asians were simply no match for Tsar Alexander’s purposefully advancing troops. The potent Orientalist nega motif is summed up and concentrated in Konchakovna’s bizarrely entrancing music. As a name, she exists only in the opera. The pretext for her invention was a line in the “Lay” in which Khans Gzak and Konchak, plotting against Vladimir’s knightly resolve, briefly consider (in Nabokov’s deliberately archaic English) “entoiling the falconet by means of a fair maiden.” And that is how Borodin conceived a role that is unique in all of opera: an ingénue played by the throatiest contralto imaginable. In the act 2 love duet with the ostensible heroic tenor, her voice coils all around, and especially beneath his, to startling effect. The falconet is indeed entoiled, his manhood negated. Rendered impotent with respect to his (and his father’s) mission by a sinister Oriental charm, he must be sacrificed. The escaping Igor leaves him behind. Dangerous stuff, this music. I wonder how it would play in Afghanistan. But over there they surely know how to suspend their moral indignation. They must realize, and so should we, that stereotyping the Orient as a sexual playground and a place of duplicitous barbarian politesse is perfectly normal to the politics of Christian Europe. “We often think too much” when we go to the opera, our critic reminds us. I trust that these instructions on what to ignore will help shield the City Opera audience from making that mistake. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

The articles I co-opted as foils for this piece were of course by Bernard Holland, the Southern gentleman on the New York Times music staff whose campaign to elevate moral indifference into a high esthetic cause would soon earn him promotion to the rank of chief music critic. Both articles had appeared during the month preceding my piece (“New Rules, but Wagner Loses Again,” on 7 August 1994; “Mozart’s ‘Abduction’ as a Sort of Musical,” on 14 August 1994). The Wagner item had already provoked a response from me. In that article Mr. Holland had suggested listening to opera as if it

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were instrumental music, “sound without morals.” “The key of B flat doesn’t lie, cheat or steal,” he gloated; “it’s just there.” I couldn’t resist sending this in for fun (it was published as a letter on 21 August): I have just the Wagner piece for Bernard Holland: the Sonata for Piano, op. 1, composed in 1831, when Wagner was 18. It’s in B flat, the key that doesn’t lie, cheat or steal, and it’s “just there,” the way Mr. Holland prefers. While he enjoys it, critics who don’t mind having to confront the intellectual and moral issues that important artworks inevitably raise can go on grappling with Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal.

My “churlish article” (as it was described in a letter the Times published on 18 September 1994) earned its share of brickbats from those who were concerned to defend the reputation of the historical Prince Igor (their beef, of course, was more with Borodin and Stasov than with me) and those who wanted to defend Borodin’s portrayal of the Polovtsi against the “Orientalist” charge. Why, “Borodin created some of his most beautiful melodies for them,” according to Edward Rothstein, writing in the Times the next month (“When Worlds Collide on the Operatic Stage,” 9 October 1994). Yes, that is just the trouble, isn’t it?

16

Yevreyi and Zhidy A Memoir, a Survey, and a Plea

I spent the academic year 1971–72 in Moscow, researching a doctoral dissertation on Russian opera in the 1860s. Like many dissertations, it became my first book.1 The purpose of my stay, like that of any other exchange student, was educational. But my real educational experiences—again, as in the case, I daresay, of most exchange students on their first extended stay abroad—took place outside of the library, on the streets, in the dormitory, and in the homes of acquaintances and (in my own, especially privileged case) relatives. The most poignant one of all took place in the big room, inside a kommunalka or communal apartment on Petrovka Street, three blocks from the Bolshoi Theater, where the widow of my first cousin once removed, a man with whom I had corresponded for years and whom I long wanted to meet, resided. Indeed, corresponding with this cousin was my initial motivation for learning Russian, and my disappointment at his death, which occurred a year before my first visit to my ancestral homeland, was keen. In Russian a first cousin once removed is called an uncle once removed (dvoyurodnïy dyadya), and so I called his widow Aunt Nina, which felt right since she was at least forty years older than I. She and I became very close. One day I showed her a picture of the girl I then expected to marry. She asked a question that absolutely floored me: “Is she Jewish or American?” That question taught me more about Russia and its history than anything else I learned that year. And more than that: my mature understanding of anti-Semitism dates from that moment. First published in Word, Music, History: A Festschrift for Caryl Emerson, ed. Lazar Fleishman, Gabriella Safran, and Michael Wachtel, Stanford Slavic Studies 29–30 (Stanford: Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Stanford University, 2005), 537–52. Reprinted by permission of the publishers.

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I felt I could only answer her question in the spirit in which it was asked, and so I told her that my fiancée was American. “But so am I,” I added, not expecting to be understood. The fact that American Jews regard neither “American” nor “Jewish” as an ethnicity was entirely foreign to Russian thinking. Indeed, no American but a “native American” thinks of the word “American” as being an ethnic designation: the rest of us are hyphenated: AngloAmericans, Russian-Americans, Italian-Americans, whatever. The part that comes after the hyphen refers to our family histories, not our ethnicities. And yet, even to Americans, and even to Jewish Americans, “Jewish” means something other than a nationality. I have never regarded myself as a Russian-American. There has never been any question in my mind that if I am some hyphenated sort of American, then “Jewish” belongs in front of the hyphen. And yet I hardly practice the Jewish religion at all. People like me usually describe themselves as “cultural Jews,” but our Jewishness is not simply cultural. There is a language involved (which most of us don’t speak), there are venerable customs (which most of us don’t follow), and there is something of a shared history (which most of us know vaguely at best). But even without a shared language or shared customs we nevertheless do feel a sense of kinship with other Jews, both in this country and abroad, and that sense of kinship, to the extent that we acknowledge it, does determine whatever sense of ethnicity we have. That sense waxes and wanes in inverse proportion to our sense of security. During the Six-Days’ War in 1967 I felt more Jewish than at any other time of my life, since I am too young to remember the Holocaust (although it was in progress when I was born). The Holocaust is often cited, even more by Jews than by non-Jews, as the glue that cements the Jewish-American sense of identity, the way the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence symbolize and foster the unhyphenated, nonethnic sense of American identity. But I do not agree with that. I would argue, rather, that for Americans a sense of social identity depends on a sense of otherness, whether internal or external. As evidence I will offer the moment in my life when I felt the most American. It too occurred during my year on the academic exchange, when I went to a Leningrad performance, sung in Russian, of Porgy and Bess. I knew that I was hearing Gershwin’s music with other ears than the rest of the audience, and the tingly feeling that gave me lasted throughout the performance. I don’t get that feeling at all when listening to Porgy and Bess in America, nor do I get it when listening, say, to klezmer music—though I imagine that if I heard klezmer music in Russia, especially after my Aunt Nina posed her amazing question, I might have tingled. And I certainly don’t get it when I listen to Russian music, although Russian music, starting during that same year abroad, was for a long time my primary scholarly focus, which in turn defined my professional identity. I often get into interesting discussions with the ethnomusicology students at

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Berkeley when I question them on their frequent interest in studying the music of their own ethnic heritage. I call that “roots musicology” or (less patiently) “rootsicology,” and I am skeptical of it, simply because to me the essential mark of a scholar is skepticism, while a sense of belonging breeds advocacy and a necessarily lowered critical guard. (I can cite virtually the whole Russian literature on Russian music in support.) When my interlocutors inevitably point out the glass house they see me living in, I take a perverse pleasure in assuring them that, to me, Russian music is definitely the music of the other, and that the more intimately I know it, the more other it seems. Why this litany of confessions? It is not just to locate and advertise my subject position—a routine exercise among ethnomusicologists, and increasingly one that unprefixed musicologists feel the need to emulate—but rather to signal the approach that I have come to see as the correct one where Russian-Jewish relations are concerned, and especially where they impinge on matters of my own professional concern, namely matters of artistic representation. A very interesting book could be written—if no one else volunteers, perhaps I’ll write it—that would offer a musical parallel to Solzhenitsyn’s Dvesti let vmeste (Two hundred years together), his history of those relations as they unfolded between 1795 and 1995.2 The main point of both books would likely be the same: that destructive anti-Semitism is an occasional outcropping of such relations, and always a danger, but it usually occurs in response to specific and local historical conditions and events, while the sense of the Jews as other is a constant, whatever their legal status may be, and is expressed as much in philo- as in anti-Semitism. Jewishness is an issue wherever it is noticed. And where has it not been noticed? The othering of Jews is often held to be tantamount to anti-Semitism, but the two can be usefully distinguished, even in fraught cases. Before getting to the Russian cases, which are my ostensible subject, I’d like to recall one more American instance, because it was fated to return to active discourse and debate in the wake of Philip Roth’s novel The Plot against America.3 The book imagines a wartime America with Charles A. Lindbergh as president. Its idea was prompted, according to the author, by the fact that isolationist Republicans wanted to run Lindbergh against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, when Roosevelt was seeking an unprecedented third term. Somewhat anachronistically, Roth extrapolated the imagined horrors visited upon American Jews under a Lindbergh presidency from a notorious speech Lindbergh gave in Des Moines, Iowa, on 11 September 1941, some months after Roth counterfactually installed him in the White House.4 After warning that “the three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration,” and complaining that the Jews were an even greater threat to American interests than the British because of “their large ownership and

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influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government,” Lindbergh made a familiar disclaimer: I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.

And he concluded that “leaders of the Jewish race are not American in interests and viewpoints.” Lindbergh’s speech is chilling not only because we now know what nobody knew then: that the fate of millions of Jews was hanging in the balance in the most literal and horrible way. What leaps out at us now, or ought to, is the asymmetry of Lindbergh’s pairing of Britons and Jews. The United Kingdom was indeed a foreign power, but many of the Jews whose entreaties Lindbergh was resisting in the name of American interests were American citizens. Lindbergh was making exactly the same distinction that my Aunt Nina made at a later time and in a different place. Her question was benign: although not of Jewish birth, she had married a Jew and regarded herself as a Jew (though she was even less a practicing one than I). Lindbergh’s speech, in retrospect, is sinister. But I do not believe it was motivated by hatred of the Jews, or even the sort of casual anti-Semitism the Hungarian-Jewish writer Kálmán Mikszáth had in mind when he so cunningly defined anti-Semitism as “hating the Jews more than is necessary.”5 Lindbergh, like my Aunt Nina, could not conceive that the categories of American and Jewish might overlap; and while their difference could be tolerated or even ignored in ordinary times, at times when the interests of American security seemed to him so irrevocably opposed to Jewish interests, that difference had to be regarded as an internal threat. The Jews were no longer an internal other; they were now an enemy within. That is how Russians have looked at Jews ever since there were Russian Jews to look at. The Russian empire acquired its Jews not through immigration, the way America did, but through annexation. Solzhenitsyn chose the year 1795 as the starting point for his history because that was the year of the third Polish partition, when the eastern portion of the Polish kingdom, the portion most heavily settled by Jews, was finally swallowed up by the Russians. He recognized, however, that the actual beginning of the Jewish presence within the Russian empire was the first partition, that of 1772, which brought under Russian rule most of what is now Belarus, because that was the one that first gave Russia a Jewish population in the millions. Almost from the very beginning, the official policy of the Russian state toward its Jews was

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one of containment. The territories they inhabited were circumscribed in 1791 by a cherta osedlosti, the “pale of settlement,” to which they would henceforth be confined. Only by special dispensation, usually having to do with desirable skills, were Jews permitted to reside in Russia proper. Any Jew living in a Russian city was not just a member of an ethnic minority; no matter how he dressed or how well he spoke Russian he was regarded, and usually shunned, as a resident alien. The pale of settlement was formally repealed, by the way, not by the Soviet government, which claimed credit for doing so, but by the Provisional Government under Kerensky, in one of its first acts: a law called “On the Abolition of Religious and National Restrictions,” adopted on 20 March 1917 (O.S.). In Polish, Belorussian and Ukrainian, Jews were called zhidy, a term the local Slavic populations picked up from their Jewish neighbors, who referred to themselves in their own vernacular as Yidn, deriving from the Hebrew Yehudim, after the biblical kingdom (previously tribe) of Judah, the name of one of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob after his battle with the Angel). The Russians took over this word to describe the contemporary diaspora Jews who were now the tsar’s subjects. The Russian name for the Old Testament Israelites or Hebrews, however, was the cognate yevreyi (singular, yevrey). Because the one term described an unwelcome, often feared, internal other, deliberately weakened by the law, and the other term described an ancient nation admired for its strength, the two terms gradually acquired contrasting connotations. By 1863 the great lexicographer Vladimir Dahl felt justified in decreeing definitively, in the first volume of his Etymological Dictionary of the Living Great-Russian Language, that the word zhid was “a derogatory term for yevrey.”6 Contemporary usage varied considerably, of course, but among literate Russians, anyway, the word zhid was henceforth known as a slur, to be avoided in polite company. One of the places where, presumably, the term was avoided was the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music—an institution founded, a year before Dahl’s dictionary was published, by Anton Rubinstein, a baptized Jew who had used his celebrity as an international virtuoso to cultivate the sponsorship of the highest aristocratic circles in support of an official patronage organization, the Russian Musical Society (Russkoye muzïkal’noye obshchestvo), which funded the first fully professional orchestra in the Russian capital, and its feeder, the conservatory. Rubinstein saw the organization as the means through which he and his fellow musicians could secure the officially recognized title of “free artist” (svobodnïy khudozhnik), the equivalent of a midlevel civil service rank, which entitled its bearer to various rights and privileges, including that of being addressed by social superiors in the respectful second person plural, and—most important for Jews—the right to residence beyond the pale. Thus the St. Petersburg Conservatory, joined four years later by a sister institution in Moscow and later by conservatories in Kiev and Tiflis, was from

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the start a de facto instrument of Jewish emancipation. And indeed, the eventual Society for Jewish Folk Music (Obshchestvo yevreyskoy narodnoy muzïki), which was actually a society for the advancement of art music by Jewish composers, was formed (in 1908) by alumni of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, under the sponsorship of their beloved composition teacher Nikolai RimskyKorsakov.7 Now, since the terms yevreyi and zhidy had become nearly polarized in meaning in Russian colloquial speech before the latter term was semiofficially but artificially assimilated to the former in polite discourse, we might expect their respective musical representations to show that difference. I want briefly to survey that facet of Russian musical representation in the period before the establishment of the Society for Jewish Folk Music, when the representing was being done not by Jews but by Russians, leading to what I referred to once, in a New York Times article, as a curious repertoire of Jewish songs by anti-Semites.8 Of course I might have said Hebrew songs, but then there would have been no curiosity and no irony—and no article, perhaps. The earliest layer of Russian representations involved depictions of the biblical Israelites, a group that has always had a particularly strong appeal to modern nationalists, even the anti-Semites among them. That appeal was already apparent in the eighteenth century, when the Handelian oratorio, a genre whose most typical subject was the triumph of the Chosen People over its enemies, made its composer a fortune. The British public, whom historians often identify as the earliest modern nationalists, responded—just as Handel had gambled that they would—to his representation of victorious Israel as if it were a representation of themselves, and they did so explicitly, through their public spokesmen in the press. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a review of Israel in Egypt that appeared in the London Daily Post following the oratorio’s première performance in 1739. After first marveling at the spectacle of national unity—’a crowded Audience of the first Quality of a Nation, headed by the Heir apparent of their Sovereign’s Crown, sitting enchanted at Sounds’—it quickly proceeds to the inevitable reverse side of the coin: Did such a Taste prevail universally in a People, that People might expect on a like Occasion, if such Occasion should ever happen to them, the same Deliverance as those Praises celebrate: and Protestant, free, virtuous, united Christian England, need little fear, at any time hereafter, the whole Force of slavish, bigotted, united, unchristian Popery, risen up against her, should such a Conjuncture ever hereafter happen [italics original].9

The phenomenon of simultaneous idealization of the biblical Hebrews and bigotry toward modern Jews is common enough in contemporary American politics as well (need one name names?)—and so it will not surprise us that a similar dual perspective can be found from the very beginnings of Russian

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nationalistic thought, including its musical manifestations. Glinka, the founding father of the Russian national school, railed furiously in his letters and conversations against “the zhid Rubinstein,” whose musical cosmopolitanism, backed in his push for musical professionalization by the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, the German-born aunt of Tsar Alexander II, represented in Glinka’s eyes a distinct threat to Russian musical autonomy.10 (The fact that Rubinstein was an entirely assimilated Jew who had been baptized in the Russian Orthodox faith had of course no bearing on Glinka’s perception of him.) And yet Glinka wrote a pair of yevreyskiye pesni (Hebrew songs) to words from the play Prince Kholmsky by his friend Nestor Kulkolnik that portray Rakhil (or Rachel), a suffering pure maiden who martyrs herself for love. One of them, which later found a home in Glinka’s cycle Farewell to St. Petersburg (Proshchaniye s Peterburgom) was written, as Glinka recalled in his memoirs, for a young Jewish girl with whom he was infatuated in Berlin in 1833.11 Yes, some of his best friends, even lovers, were Jews. But more to the point, the Jews in Prince Kholmsky (actually heretics of the Judaist persuasion) were innocuous characters, not the villains of the piece. The villains are the Livonian knights (the same malefactors that Alexander Nevsky defeated in history and in Eisenstein’s movie with music by Prokofieff) who try to subvert and annex the loyal (and anachronistic) tsarist government of Pskov. Rakhil’s Yevreyskaya pesnya, to words beginning S gornikh stran / pal tuman/ na dolinï/ i pokrïl/ ryad mogil/ Palestinï (From mountainous parts the fog fell on the valley and covered a row of tombs in Palestine), a martial number inspired by the anticipated triumph of return to the ancestral homeland, is as often sung on the recital stage by men as by women.12 Although it is by the oldest composer, it is not the earliest yevreyskaya pesnya in the Russian musical canon. That distinction belongs to Yevreyskaya melodiya by Miliy Balakirev, the driving force behind the New Russian School (as they called themselves before Stasov coined the term Mighty Kuchka)13 and the one Russian composer who qualifies as a nationalist in the strictest construction of the word. Not surprisingly, he was also as vicious an anti-Semite as ever cheered a Black Hundreds pogrom. His “Jewish song” is a setting, to a Russian translation by Mikhaíl Lermontov, of “My soul is dark: Oh quickly string the harp,” one of Lord Byron’s Hebrew Melodies. It dates from 1859, the year in which the zhid Rubinstein’s Russian Music Society, under the patronage of the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna and Count Matvey Wielhorski, was founded.14 The zhid Rubinstein himself published a setting of the same text in 1868. Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of all of these “Jewish songs” is the absence in them of any stereotypical stylistic “Jewishness.” That is even, or especially, true of the Yevreyskaya pesnya composed in 1867, to a translation from the Song of Songs by the Russian poet and playwright Lev Alexandrovich Mey, by Modest Musorgsky, who was the most conspicuously antiSemitic of all Russian composers.15 Its style is more distinctive than that of

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the others—somewhat melismatic, somewhat chromatic, and leading-toneless or “modal” at cadences. But these are traits found in many compositions by Musorgsky, including settings of Russian folk or folklike texts, and particularly the role of Marfa, the Old Believer heroine of Khovanshchina. Archaic religiosity, rather than oriental exoticism or “othering,” seems to be the representational point. The reason for the relatively unmarked style of all of these songs should be obvious. The composers themselves—whether out of nationalism or personal affection—identified with the voice personas of their settings, which inhibited whatever urge they may have felt to exoticize them. But lest it be thought that Russian representations of yevreyi were always free of racial stereotyping, consider a companion piece to Musorgsky’s by RimskyKorsakov, also titled Yevreyskaya pesnya, also set to a Song of Songs translation by Lev Mey, composed in the same year, 1867, and dedicated to Musorsgky.16 It displays the whole orientalist rigmarole—most conspicuously, of course, the augmented seconds without which a Jewish style is unrecognizable (at least to goyim).17 And here is a paradox: Rimsky-Korsakov was the one Russian composer of his generation who was as demonstrably free of antiSemitic prejudice as his colleagues were marked by it. He proved it in a timehonored way, by not only permitting but practically forcing his daughter Nadya to marry a Jewish conservatory pupil, Maximilian Steinberg, who had become her father’s pet. (Steinberg later became his father-in-law’s musical and literary executor and inherited his position on the conservatory’s composition faculty.) Of course the musical idiom in which Rimsky-Korsakov cast his “Jewish song,” while it does share some characteristics with authentic Jewish folk and liturgical music (for example, the “Ahavoh-rabboh” mode of synagogue cantillation or the “frigish” style of Yiddish folk music), was nevertheless just an all-purpose orientalist idiom. I call it the “harem style,” the one Rubinstein used to represent the Caucasus in his opera The Demon (1875), Chaikovsky to represent Arabia in The Nutcracker (1892), Musorgsky to represent the Persian slave girls in Khovanshchina (posthumously produced in 1886), and Borodin to represent the Turkic Polovtsï in Prince Igor (posthumously produced in 1890)—in every case to contrast an oriental other against a Russian self. And yet in the two Russian operas that actually represent the biblical Hebrews, their musical idiom is unmarked. One was Makkaveyi, or Die Maccabäer by the zhid Rubinstein; the other was Yudif ’ ( Judith) by Alexander Serov, who despite the fact that he had a Jewish grandmother, or because of it, was especially vituperative against Jews in private correspondence, railing against the “zhid-charlatan Meyerbeer,” calling Rubinstein’s conservatory the fortep’yannaya sinagoga (piano synagogue), the organization that supported it “the zhid Musikverein,” and its director one who “jabbers and scribbles in three or four

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languages equally illiterately, since all these languages are foreign to him,” as to all zhidy.18 The crispest of all musical illustrations of the polarized Russian attitude toward Jews is the fact that this typical despiser of zhidy wrote a fiveact opera extolling yevreyi. But the harem style had been preempted in Yudif ’ by the Assyrians, just as in Die Maccabäer it had been preempted by the Syrian foe. And so the Hebrews became the “self” in the self/other dichotomy, and their style remained unmarked (save perhaps by a mild Mendelssohnian Protestantism). Saint-Saëns had faced the same problem, and found the same solution, in Samson et Dalila (1877), yet another reason to link French musical orientalism with the Russian brand. There was nothing remarkable, and certainly nothing uniquely Russian, about it. Musorgsky, however, was unique—and is a problem. I have called him the most conspicuously anti-Semitic Russian composer not because—or not only because—his letters are particularly noisome in their derision of Jews. No composer’s private correspondence need affect the public perception of his music. In fact, Musorgsky’s flattering portrayals of yevreyi are particularly abundant. In addition to his Yevreyskaya pesnya there is also the song Tsar’ Saul (King Saul, 1861) after Byron, and two choruses: The Destruction of Sennacherib (Porazheniye Sennakheriba, 1867) and Joshua (Iisus Navin, 1877), the latter actually based on the theme of a Hasidic nigun, or wordless song, that Musorgsky had used first in his unfinished opera Salammbô. But alone among his contemporaries and compatriots, Musorgsky portrayed zhidy as well as yevreyi, and here is where we find augmented seconds and the like in cartoonish abundance. In the opening market scene from The Fair at Sorochintsï there is a pair of whining burlesque Jews, vying unbecomingly with the gypsies. And of course there is the famous piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (1875), with its distasteful portrayal of two loathsome Jewish mugs—or is it only one? The piece is usually interpreted as showing a rich Jew being importuned or inveigled by what is known in Yiddish as a kabtsn, a poor man reduced to begging or petty crime. As one can see from Musorgsky’s autograph,19 the title of the piece is “‘Samuel’ Goldenberg und ‘Schmuÿle,’”—and it is rarely if ever correctly transcribed. The use of the quotation marks points up the fact, easily overlooked by non-Jews, that the two zhidy in the picture have the same name: one Germanized, the other in the original Yiddish. The only likely explanation—the only explanation, at any rate, that seems likely to me—is that we are dealing not with two zhidy but only one, and that the portrait is a brazen insult: no matter how dignified or sophisticated or Europeanized a zhid’s exterior, on the inside he is a jabbering, pestering little “Schmuÿle.” The sanitized title by which the piece is generally known, “Two Jews: Rich and Poor” (Dva yevreya: bogatïy i bednïy), originated in Vladimir Stasov’s 1881 obituary for the composer.20 It was taken over by Pavel Lamm in his critical edition (Moscow and Vienna, 1931), where Musorgsky’s original title was

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suppressed. There is, by the way, no extant picture by Victor Gartman (or Hartmann), the artist whose pictures Musorgsky memorialized in his suite, that shows two Jews, and none bearing the title of Musorgsky’s piano piece. It is usually assumed, again on Stasov’s say-so, that the composer conflated two different portraits of Jews made in Sandomierz, Poland.21 If that is true, the title and all its implications are Musorgsky’s alone. It was in fact an idea that was often expressed in the anti-Semitic press. Here is how it was put in an article that appeared in the journal Kiyevlyanin in 1881, the year of Musorgsky’s death. (It may be worth pointing out that Kiev, the largest Ukrainian city and now the capital of independent Ukraine, was at the time one of the cities that, although located within the pale of settlement, were forbidden to Jews.) “The aspiration of the Jews to middle and higher educational institutions in order to receive rights and diplomas,” the article declared, “could not possibly be considered a desirable phenomenon. The education at state expense of Jews, who remain in the end the same zhidy as the masses from which they came, serving exclusively Jewish interests, and defending their co-religionists by all means permissible and impermissible, was a profound mistake.”22 That, I would suggest, is approximately what Musorgsky meant to convey in his Jew-baiting piano portrait. My argument about the meaning of “‘Samuel’ Goldenberg und ‘Schmuÿle,’” minus the concluding quotation from the Kiyevlyanin (which I discovered later), was tucked into a footnote on page 382 of my Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue, a 415-page book otherwise devoted almost exclusively to the composer’s vocal works. And yet many of the book’s reviewers devoted whole paragraphs to my footnote, mainly in an effort to dismiss it, often with indignation. The dimissals ranged from the bland assertion that “the truth lies in the ideology of the beholder” to a rebuke that I should have sought in the popular Pictures “an excuse [!] for the exploration of Musorgsky’s anti-Semitism.”23 In his Master Musicians volume on Musorgsky, David Brown—the man who believed a moth-eaten rumor about the circumstances of Chaikovsky’s death and installed it in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians—pronounces my interpretation “implausible.” The reason? Musorgsky had told Stasov he wished to include the two sketches given him by Hartmann, and though incorporating them into a single piece, the very distinct musical identities he retained for them argues against conflation. Like many of his class, Musorgsky had anti-Semitic tendencies, but there is no reason to imagine that a composer who had so often presented specimens of humanity in its less attractive forms [!!] without ever hinting at a moral posture should, in the present instance, be taking a disdainful view of what his piece would seem to be projecting: an impoverished Jew begging from a rich one. In inventing his polyglot title Musorgsky seems merely to have been clarifying the very different socio-cultural statuses of his personae.24

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Why then the quotes around “Samuel” and “Schmuÿle”? And why then would Stasov have felt the need to suppress the title? Why is Brown so eager to play along? Would a scholar in any other discipline than musicology fight off skepticism with such a lapse of intellect? Why is musicology so resolute in its naive sentimentality, so reluctant to recognize that music we do like can be written by people we don’t, and even by people who don’t like us? Brown’s, Russ’s, and Fanning’s reactions are quite of a piece with those of another British admirer who said of another attempt of mine not to flinch in the face of the unpleasant subtexts that can haunt beloved works, “I do not believe it is just the chagrin of having my lollipop snatched away from me by the playground bully . . . that makes me feel this as exaggerated, even presumptuous.”25 Alas, I think that is just what it is. Must we reduce important works by significant composers to the level of lollipops? Is that the only level on which we can enjoy them? Must we always seek comfort in art? Or can we also admit that art criticism can and perhaps ought to have an ethical dimension, at least insofar as it requires us, when acting as critics or historians, to interpret meaning as we have come to understand it? I am delighted in the present instance to be deserting my own pusillanimous discipline for a venue where I can expect assent, and especially glad to have these lucubrations appear in a volume dedicated to Caryl Emerson, whose commitment to scholarly and critical ethics has been my inspiration for more than twenty years. NOTES

1. R. Taruskin, Opera and Drama in Russia as Preached and Practiced in the 1960s (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981; rpt. with a new preface, Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1993). 2. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Dvesti let vmeste (1795–1995), 2 vols. (Moscow: Russkiy put’, 2001). 3. Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004). 4. The full text of Lindbergh’s speech may be found at http://vanguardnewsnetwork .com/index100.htm. 5. My thanks to Judit Frigyesi and Peter Laki for this marvelous quote, from Mikszáth’s novel Destruction of the Jews. 6. Vladimir Dahl, Tolkovïy slovar’ zhivogo velikorusskago yazïka, vol. 1 (St. Petersburg and Moscow: M. O. Vol’f; rpt. Tokyo: Nauka, 1984), col. 1345. (Dahl recognizes it as having been the “staroye narodnoye nazvaniye yevreyev,” which in this context should probably be translated as “the old folk [or peasant] name for the Jews.”) 7. See Klára Móricz, Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in TwentiethCentury Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 14–15. 8. R. Taruskin, “’Jewish’ Songs by Anti-Semites,” New York Times, Arts and Leisure, 21 September 1997, 23–24. 9. “R. W.,” letter to the London Daily Post, 18 April 1739; Otto Eric Deutsch, Handel: A Documentary Biography (London: A&C Black, 1955), 544–45.

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10. See Robert C. Ridenour, Nationalism, Modernism, and Personal Rivalry in Nineteenth-Century Russian Music (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), 83, citing Boris Asafyev, Anton Grigor’yevich Rubinshteyn v ego muzïkal’noy deyatel’nosti i otzïvakh sovremennikov (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1929), 61. 11. M. I. Glinka, “Zapiski,” Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, vol. 1, ed. A. S. Lyapunova (Moscow: Muzïka, 1973), 262. 12. See M. I. Glinka, Romansï i pesni, vol. 2 (Moscow: Muzïka, 1970), 42–43. 13. See R. Taruskin,“What is a Kuchka?” in Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), xxxiii-xxxiv. 14. See Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev, Romansï i pesni, ed. G. L. Kiselev (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1937), 77–82. 15. See M. P. Musorgsky, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy, ed. Pavel Lamm, vol. 5, part 4 (Moscow and Vienna: Muzgiz and Universal, 1928; rpt. as vol. 10 of Modest Mussorgsky, Complete Works (New York: Edwin F. Kalmus, n.d.), 2–5. 16. See N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, Romansï, vol. 1 (Moscow: Muzïka, 1969), 38–40. 17. For details on the Russian “orientalist rigmarole” see R. Taruskin, “Entoiling the Falconet,” in Defining Russia Musically (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 152–85. 18. A. N. Serov to V. V. Stasov, 28 October 1846, cited from Vladimir Sergeyevich Baskin, A. N. Serov: Biograficheskiy ocherk (Moscow: Jurgenson, 1890), 28 (“zhidcharlatan”); Konstantin Ivanovich Zvantsov, “Alexander Nikolayevich Serov, 1857–1871 gg.: Vospominaniya o nem i ego pis’ma,” Russkaya starina 59 (1889): 347 (“zhid Musikverein”); Feofil Matveyevich Tolstoy (Rostislav), “A. N. Serov: Vospominaniya,” Russkaya starina 44 (1974): 363 (“jabbers and scribbles”). 19. Published in facsimile in M. P. Musorgsky, Kartinki s vïstavki dlya fortepiano (Moscow: Muzïka, 1975), 12. 20. Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov, “Modest Petrovich Musorgsky,” Vestnik Yevropï, 1881, nos. 5–6; rpt. V. V. Stasov, Izbrannïye sochineniya (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1952), vol. 2, 161–213 (the listing of the Pictures is on page 209, note1) . 21. V. V. Stasov, “17 pisem k A. M. Kerzinu,” Muzïkal’nïy sovremennik, 1916, no. 2, 21. 22. Kiyevlyanin, no. 92 (26 April 1881), quoted in John D. Klier, “Zhid: Biography of a Russian Epithet,” Slavonic and East European Review 60 (1982): 14. 23. David Fanning, Musical Times ( July 1993): 394; Michael Russ, Music & Letters 76 (1995): 454. 24. David Brown, Musorgsky: His Life and Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 238. 25. Jeremy Noble, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 124 (1999): 290 (reviewing my Defining Russia Musically).

17

The Antiliterary Man Diaghilev and Music

For the last two decades of his career Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was dogged by a devoted Boswell, a banker and musical dilettante named Vasily Yastrebtsev, who kept a diary of his almost daily contacts with the composer that is for historians a treasure trove of (sometimes unwittingly) revealing glimpses of the musical and cultural scene in fin-de-siècle St. Petersburg. Here is a choice item, dated 22 September (O.S.) 1894: Rimsky-Korsakov told us about the curious visit he received from a certain young man . . . who, though he probably already considers himself a great composer, nonetheless wished to take theory lessons from Nikolai Andreyevich. His compositions turned out to be worse than nonsensical. Rimsky-Korsakov told him his opinion straight out. The other, it seems, took offense, and, leaving, said, not without arrogance, that he still believed in himself and in his powers, that he would never forget this day, and that someday Rimsky-Korsakov’s opinion would occupy a place of shame in his future biography and would make him more than once regret his rashly uttered words of long ago, but that then it would be too late.1

The young man was the twenty-two-year-old Sergey Diaghilev, not long before arrived in St. Petersburg from his familial estate near the provincial town of Perm. Rimsky’s story was the springboard, in Yastrebtsev’s account, for a merry discussion of the psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso’s theories, then widely accepted, which sought to explain “decadence” of all kinds, including cultural and artistic, in terms of actual genetic decay. Diaghilev, to general hilarity, was dubbed a “mattoid,” Lombroso’s term (derived from matto, Italian Originally published in The Art of Enchantment: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes 1909–1929, ed. Nancy Van Norman Baer (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco/Universe Books, 1989), 112–21.

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for insane) for what other turn-of-the-century psychologists called “borderline dwellers,” especially “graphomaniacs,” semi-insane persons who feel a strong impulse to write. From then on, as he began to make a name for himself in St. Petersburg cultural affairs (though not, of course, as a composer), Diaghilev would remain a figure of fun for the Rimsky-Korsakov circle. One of the intimates of this group from around 1903 was Igor Stravinsky—and what could be more ironic, given that from 1909 till Diaghilev’s death two decades later Stravinsky’s career would be so inextricably and symbiotically linked with that of the great impresario? But as long as Rimsky-Korsakov was alive, Stravinsky’s devotion to his teacher effectively shielded him from exposure to Diaghilev. “Living in the same city,” he recalled much later in a memoir ghostwritten by Walter Nouvel, Diaghilev’s intimate, “I naturally had more than one occasion to meet him, but I never sought these occasions.”2 How this gulf was bridged is one of the really crucial chapters in the early history of musical modernism. What kind of a musician was Diaghilev? To judge from the “Pièces faciles” for piano four-hands that Stravinsky composed in fun with his impresario in mind as playing partner, the latter’s practical skills were meager indeed. As a singer, huffing and puffing through the tenor part of his own incoherent setting of the Fountain Scene from Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, he made no better impression, as we learn from a memoir by Nouvel, transmitted through Arnold Haskell.3 Though ungifted and (in the best Russian tradition) undisciplined, his ardent early efforts to excel in composition and performance at least show how important music was in Diaghilev’s scheme of things artistic; and this would tell, much later, on the way he shaped the “synthesis of the arts” that was ballet. Where he showed his genius was in connoisseurship— the connoisseurship, as Stravinsky testified more than once, of “a barin, which means a grand seigneur.”4 It was a well-chosen word. Whatever else it may have been, the DiaghilevBenois World of Art movement (known in Russian as Mir iskusstva) was a vigorous reassertion of aristocratic values and taste in reaction to the embourgeoisement that had gradually crept over once vital and innovative tendencies in Russian art and music and ossified them. The realist and nationalist schools that had put Russia on the artistic and musical map in the 1860s and 1870s had by the nineties turned stale, sentimental, and routine. In part this was the result of official recognition and the awarding of academic positions to their leaders (for radicals, once in power, invariably turn reactionary), and in part it was because so many leading Russian artists had been co-opted (as we say nowadays) by wealthy patrons from the merchant class (Pavel Tretyakov in painting, Mitrofan Belyayev in music), who, so lavishly paying the piper, began calling the tune. Artistic nationalism had turned narrowly jingoistic during the reign of Alexander III (the “bourgeois tsar”), who competed with Tretyakov in acquiring “realist” (but in fact ever more idealized and

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sentimental) paintings, and who finally expelled the once-regnant Italian opera from the St. Petersburg stage. This left the field to a native product that, once pungent with veiled political comment (as in Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov), was now increasingly given over to a lacquer-box folklorism that celebrated nationality per se (epitomized by Rimsky’s Sadko, which actually glorified a legendary seafaring merchant of old Novgorod). Above all, bourgeois art purveyed messages: when on the offensive the messages tended to be critical; when on the defensive, celebratory. No matter what kind, messages, in the Mir iskusstva view, threaten to dominate and hence debase their medium (which is precisely what Benois had in mind when he referred to Russian art of the 1860s, in a phrase that became a watchword, as “one big slap in the face of Apollo”).5 The aristocratic view of art is one that sees it frankly as decorative—one of life’s luxuries, not a moral preceptor or the agent of national selfrealization. It celebrates the spirit of creative play, not the satisfaction of animal needs (“the soul, not the belly,” as the composer Anatoly Lyadov put it).6 True art, in the words of Benois, sought to evoke “not laughter, not tears, but a smile.”7 And that is why among Russian musicians Diaghilev revered not Rimsky-Korsakov but Chaikovsky, who (but for a couple of neurotically confessional symphonies that had become disproportionately popular) epitomized the decorative, cosmopolitan values Diaghilev esteemed and for whom, just as in the eighteenth century to which he was esthetically so strongly drawn, folklore represented not “the nation” but only “the peasantry.” And that is also why of all musical and theatrical genres, Diaghilev and his fellow Miriskusniki esteemed most highly not the opera—so freighted with the residue of rabble-rousing, message-mongering realism— but the ballet. To the Rimsky-Korsakovs all this was only so much degenerate estheticism, spelling not renewal but its very opposite, decadence. It was a throwback to an outmoded esthetic, that of the Enlightenment, far from what the nineteenth century regarded as enlightened. Aristocratic tastes, in the eyes of a bourgeois liberal, were ethically remiss. Vladimir Stasov, the great tribune of realist and nationalist art, countered Benois’s remark about a slap in the face of Apollo by branding the World of Art leadership a band of “spiritual beggars.”8 What Musorgsky called a “thinking” artist could never take seriously what the poet Apollon Grigoriev, writing for a journal edited by Dostoevsky, called “the fruits of M. Petipa’s and St. Léon’s nonsensical imagination,” naming the two Frenchmen who had guided the fortunes of the Russian ballet from the 1840s until the end of the century.9 Hardly a “national” art, and degraded as it was by association with empty operatic divertissement (often forcibly interpolated into otherwise serious dramatic works), ballet was regarded by most Russian composers as an entertainment for skirt-chasing snobs and tired businessmen, to be furnished by specially

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imported hacks in the service of the Imperial Theaters. The only exceptions were, again, Chaikovsky and, latterly, Glazunov. Considering that Glazunov had been one of Rimsky’s prize pupils, the critic Semyon Kruglikov asked the master in 1900 whether ballet had perhaps matured to the point where composers of the front rank might profitably apply themselves to it. Rimsky was intransigent: I’m inclined to think not, probably. And therefore I myself will never write such music. In the first place, because it is a degenerate art. In the second place, because miming is not a full-fledged art form but only an accompaniment to speech. In the third place, balletic miming is extremely elementary and leads to a naive kind of symbolism. In the fourth place, the best thing ballet has to offer— dances—are boring, since the language of dance and the whole vocabulary of movement is extremely skimpy. With the exception of character and national dance (which can also become tiring), there is only the classical, which makes up the greater part. These (that is, classical dances) are beautiful in themselves; but they are all the same, and to stare for a whole evening at one classical dance after another is impossible. In the fifth place, there is no need for good music in ballet; the necessary rhythm and melodiousness can be found in the work of any number of able hacks today. In the sixth place, in view of its paltry significance in the spectacle, ballet music is usually performed in a sloppy, slapdash way which would tell sorely on the work of a highly talented composer.10

History—a history Diaghilev did more than anyone else to shape—has made a mockery of this assessment, but in the context of its time and place it was entirely reasonable, if one-sided. What transformed the ballet as practiced at the Mariyinsky Theater under Petipa, which is all that Rimsky knew, into the art of the Ballets Russes, which contributed so many musical and choreographic masterpieces to the treasury of twentieth-century art, had a great deal to do with another major tenet of World of Art thinking. This was the movement’s unprecedented creative attitude toward folklore, once again untroubled by those “cursed questions” of social value and social responsibility that had burdened an earlier generation of Russian artists (and which would come back with immeasurably greater force to burden later ones). Approached simply for itself rather than as an expression of “the people’s spirit,” and apprehended directly rather than as evidence of “the people’s condition,” folk art in the eyes of the Miriskusniki was an esthetically autonomous “world of art” that shared and in large part inspired ideals of exuberant fantasy, transcendence of sensory reality, and, perhaps above all, a cool, rarefied—shall we call it classical?—impersonalism. A Rimsky-Korsakov took from folklore only thematic material (as a realist painter might take his subject matter) treating it in a conventional manner decreed by the local conservatory (where Rimsky was the senior professor). By contrast, an artist in the newer tradition—art historians call it “neonationalist”—sought in folklore something far more basic to his vocabulary and technique, often

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employing it as an instrument of self-emancipation from that academic mainstream, even its downright subversion. One of the best assessments of neonationalism in the musical theater can be found in a review by the eminent Russian art critic Yakov Tugenhold of Diaghilev’s 1910 saison russe in Paris, which had included the premiére of Stravinsky’s Firebird. “The folk,” he wrote, “formerly the object of the artist’s pity, is becoming increasingly the source of artistic style.”11 And here is how Diaghilev himself put it several years later, when during his one visit to America he was asked by the music critic Olin Downes to explain the genesis of the Ballets Russes’ esthetic innovations: “In objects of utility (domestic implements in the country districts), in the painting on sleds, in the designs and the colors of peasant dresses, on the carving around a window frame, we found our motives, and on this foundation we built.”12 .

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Diaghilev’s earliest professional engagement with music was a concert series he organized in Paris in the spring of 1907. In itself it gave little evidence of his esthetic predilections, which is in its paradoxical way a perfect testimonial to his mastery of the art of conquest. Whereas his Paris art exhibition the previous year had been frankly and proudly tendentious in its snubbing of realist and nationalist painting, the concerts catered conspicuously to hackneyed Parisian notions of quasi-Asiatic Slav exotica. Works by the “Mighty Kuchka” (aka The Five) dominated the programs, along with not only Lyadov and Glazunov but also such arrant epigones as Balakirev’s latter-day disciple Sergey Lyapunov.13 Chaikovsky, whose music was the most representative of any nineteenth-century master’s of the kind of Europeanized Russia the 1906 art exhibit had so zealously, even polemically, promoted, was known to be box-office poison in Paris, as he remains to this day, and so he was deliberately played down, represented only by Francesca da Rimini and his fairly uncharacteristic Second Symphony with its folkloristic, quasi-kuchkist finale. Diaghilev, who took enormous pride in the fact that at his concerts “literally the whole ‘Faubourg’ could be found in the loges of the bel étage,”14 had surely taken Faubourg prejudices into account as indeed he would do for the next twenty-two years. (Even he must have savored the irony of the occasion, though, when at the last concert of the series his bejeweled and bemedaled audience rose to its feet to acclaim Sadko, the merchant’s opera par excellence.) But if Diaghilev the showman could pander, Diaghilev the esthete found ways of propagating his views. That, after all, is what it takes to become a “tastemaker,” and it is what makes his activity, even a century later, such a fascinating and instructive object of study. His epochal 1908 production of Boris Godunov—an opera that, finally, stood for virtually everything Diaghilev hated in art—is a perfect case in point. Its selection was foreordained because it had

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been for decades a cult object among Parisian cognoscenti, ever since SaintSaëns had brought the vocal score back from Russia and shown it around to his friends. To bring it to Paris in a spectacular production befitting the traditions of the grand opéra, and with the more-than-spectacular Chaliapin making his Western debut in the title role, was an opportunity no impresario with Diaghilev’s instincts could resist. Although ulterior motives are not to be discounted, the production itself possessed a fantastic and influential integrity, albeit obviously not with respect to the work itself, which was mangled and mauled to where Musorgsky himself might not have recognized it. As a synthesis of art and music over which he was able to exercise total control, Diaghilev’s 1908 Boris represented the precise locus of confluence of neonationalist currents and the estheticizing tendencies of the World of Art. By present-day standards of textual fidelity it was a travesty. Whole scenes were dropped, others were rearranged without regard to narrative logic, Rimsky-Korsakov’s gaudy orchestration was used and even augmented, and casts of thousands were unleashed on the slightest pretext. But in the context of Diaghilev’s esthetic agenda it was magnificently authentic and very much attuned to nascent modernist attitudes. To summarize the matter, Diaghilev’s Boris was born of and did much to foster an unliterary, even antiliterary, conception of musical theater, one the impresario made explicit some years later in an interview with a New York reporter: “Literary things one reads. It is not necessary to hear them spoken on the stage.”15 He viewed theatrical synthesis as a series of vividly projected impressions carried to the eye by the movement of bodies and the sets, costumes, and lighting, and to the ear by the music. In its cumulation and contrasts, the sequence of images created its own coherence and logic, and that sequence could if necessary override the conventions of linear narrative. Language only made a distracting counterclaim on the faculty of hearing. The counterclaim was eliminated, of course, in ballet, and that is just what Diaghilev brought to Paris at last in 1909, although he still billed his show as a “saison d’opéra russe.” The main vehicle would be Le Pavillon d’Armide, a joint creation of Benois, the choreographer Mikhail Fokine, and the composer Nikolai Tcherepnin, who was at once Diaghilev’s staff conductor, Benois’s nephew by marriage, and a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, thus neatly bridging in his person all the contending political factions that had formerly estranged the World of Art from the world of contemporary Russian music. This patently Chaikovskian ballet, to a subject derived from a story by Théophile Gautier, at last represented World of Art tastes at full strength to the Parisian audience. Diaghilev and Benois were convinced it would usher in a new epoch in the annals of artistic synthesis. They planned a ballet evening, to run alongside several operas featuring Chaliapin, in which Le Pavillon d’Armide would be showcased between two other recent dance compositions

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of Fokine. One was Les Sylphides, to music by Chopin (for which Diaghilev, with what still seems uncanny prescience, commissioned two orchestrations from the young Igor Stravinsky after hearing the latter’s Scherzo fantastique on its St. Petersburg première in January 1909); the other was Cléopâtre, which had been performed in Russia under the title Egyptian Nights (after Pushkin’s erotic poem Yegipetskiye nochi) to music by Arensky. For Paris, Diaghilev scrapped the original score and substituted what Nouvel sneeringly called a salade russe, consisting of fragments of Arensky preceded by the overture to Sergey Taneyev’s opera The Oresteia, interspersed with music by RimskyKorsakov (the apparition of Cleopatra from Mlada) and Glazunov (the Autumn Bacchanale from The Seasons), finishing off with the Persian Dances from Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and with Tcherepnin supplying some connective tissue. Another salade russe was hastily concocted under the title Le Festin when several of the operatic projects fell through. And one of the latter, Borodin’s Prince Igor, was reduced to just the second act, which consists mainly of a ballet, the famous Polovtsian Dances. Thus ballet was willy-nilly far more conspicuous than opera in the programs of the 1909 saison russe. The result was a triumph that led to the permanent founding of the Ballets Russes and changed the course of twentieth-century artistic history. But even as they hailed Diaghilev’s spectacular achievement, all the critics agreed that music had made the poorest showing when compared with the plastic and visual components. What had been the dominant element in the Wagnerian synthesis had unaccountably become recessive in Diaghilev’s. The impresario was put as it were on notice that in any future productions music would have to be brought up to the level dance and design had reached in 1909. What everyone wanted was a musical frisson to match those administered by the designers and dancers: Benois, Bakst, Roerich, Fokine, Nijinsky, Pavlova, and the rest. And this could only mean a neonationalist score that would provide a novel and worthy counterpart to the decorative and choreographic delights of the Polovtsian Dances and Cléopâtre, for these represented for the French the quintessence of Slav exotica-cum-erotica, the raison d’être, as far as most of them were concerned, for Diaghilev’s activity in their midst. And that is how The Firebird came about, and how Igor Stravinsky met his destiny, when first Tcherepnin, then Lyadov, and who knows how many more established musicians either declined or backed out of participating in the project. The ballet’s well-won status as a world classic makes it hard to see now for the anomaly it was then. For this very deliberately, in fact demonstratively “Russian” work had no antecedent in Russian art and was expressly created for a non-Russian audience. Only the circumstances of Diaghilev’s “export campaign” created the need for a Russian national ballet. These circumstances told greatly on the work’s form and facture. Lacking any immediate forebear in the classical Russian ballet, The Firebird took its

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place rather as heir to the long line of folkloric “magic” operas that had begun with Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila and continued through RimskyKorsakov’s marvelous series. In these works it was customary to differentiate the Russian folk song style associated with human characters from a colorful, recondite harmonic idiom reserved to the supernatural ones. Stravinsky remained obedient to these conventions in his inexhaustibly coloristic, transcendently decorative score, quoting or imitating folk songs (khorovods and “lyrical songs” of the type known in Russian as protyazhnïye) for Ivan Tsarevich and the princesses, and resorting to artificial scales of whole tones or alternating tones and semitones to depict the Firebird and Kashchei the Deathless, avatars respectively of benign and evil magic. This strict stylistic division was maintained, as well, in Petrushka, with both its aspects presented in elemental, maximalized terms that gained the work a reputation for genuine radicalism to which The Firebird (and—it must be said—the Diaghilev enterprise as a whole) did not generally aspire. The fantastic harmonies associated with the puppets, and the title character in particular, while based securely in time-honored traditions of chromaticism à la russe, indulged in a few extensions of the inherited techniques that produced bitingly dissonant combinations (e.g., the so-called Petrushka chord, which however may be found in a few earlier European scores, such as Ravel’s Jeux d’eau and Strauss’s Elektra, and even in some late sketches by RimskyKorsakov himself). At the same time the diatonic folkloristic element was lowered in tone from the evocatively archaic ambiance of the khorovods and processionals in The Firebird to the level of cacophonous street music, ca. 1830. The sheer simplicity of the crowd music in the outer tableaux was the boldest and most modernistic stroke of all, given the musical scene in the decade preceding World War I. For pages at a time the music proceeds with an absolutely unvarying pulse, with unchanging dynamics, and, almost unbelievably, without a single sharp or flat. To achieve such freshness with such simple means, and with no hint of either monotony or lack of sophistication, was surely Stravinsky’s most startling achievement and the first real earnest of his genius. But it all proceeded directly from the premises of neonationalism, in which faith he had been instructed not by Rimsky-Korsakov, who detested and despised the “neo,” but by Diaghilev and Benois. The most radical aspect of Petrushka, though, was only indirectly related to the music. It was the first “new” ballet for which the score had preceded, and hence controlled, the choreography. Fokine, who considered himself the creator of The Firebird, found this degrading. It was one of the reasons for his sudden departure from the Ballets Russes in 1912. But this order has become the norm, as witness Balanchine’s well-publicized creative methods, and for making it so Diaghilev deserves the credit. It was in this crucial upgrading of the role of the ballet composer that Diaghilev the musician manqué exerted his profoundest influence on the genre, which led to its miraculous and

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altogether unexpected resurgence and its dramatic upgrading in the twentieth-century scale of artistic values. Petrushka’s more immediate impact was on the young French composers — the interwar generation of Les Six—who began exploiting with a vengeance its esthetic of the concrete and the actuel, turning out tours de force of chic simplicity that Diaghilev happily incorporated into his postwar repertory. His role as a catalyst for so many Franco-Russian and Slavo-Gallic crossfertilizations was another signal Diaghilev contribution to the stylistic development of twentieth-century music, especially since so many of the ballet scores he commissioned, at least in the early part of his career as impresario, have become staples of the concert hall. Of no other ballet is this truer than of Stravinsky’s third prewar ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps, which has established itself far more firmly in the concert hall than on the ballet stage. While much has been made of its neoprimitivist harmonic and rhythmic qualities, what is less often emphasized is the way Sacre brought to a peak the neonationalist principles on which the esthetic of the Ballets Russes was founded. Stravinsky limited his thematic material largely to melodies confined to a four-note scale segment (the so-called minor tetrachord) that is found in much archaic Russian folk music, and he derived his harmony largely from the “artificial” tone-semitone scale (which can be constructed from two such tetrachords). In this way he succeeded for the first time in fusing the diatonic/folkloric and the chromatic/fantastic idioms of Russian art music, which till then had followed parallel lines of development in his own works as much as in those of his predecessors. He pursued this integrated style to its apex in Les Noces (Svadebka), an extraordinary ballet accompanied by choral singing that was dedicated to Diaghilev. It was fully composed before the end of the war, but not fully orchestrated till 1923, the year of its belated and in some ways anachronistic first performance. It was another distinction of Diaghilev’s export campaign to have catalyzed this unforeseen yet in retrospect inevitable and indispensable capstone to the musical traditions of the Mighty Kuchka, that faction of composers to whose work the great impresario had been indifferent at home. Again, it was the paradoxical status of the Ballets Russes as a Russian company performing abroad that had brought it about. But the neonationalist apogee was not by any means the whole Diaghilev legacy. Before the war he also produced ballets by leading French composers (as well as Richard Strauss) and in particular commissioned masterpieces from Ravel (Daphnis et Chloë) and Debussy (Jeux). The latter, though not a successful ballet and never revived after its première season (1913), gave an interesting—if perhaps only unwittingly prophetic—glimpse of the programmatically antiromantic direction the Ballets Russes would take after the war. Then they would shed their outmoded coat of oriental luxus and emerge, lithe and athletic, to celebrate with calculated frivolity what Cocteau

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called choses en soi (“things in themselves”). The “things” could be simply dance qua dance, perhaps the truest light in which to view all those “neoclassical” divertissements of the late wartime and immediate postwar seasons, beginning with the Scarlatti-Tommasini Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur in 1917 and running to seed with the Handel-Beecham The Gods Go A-Begging in 1928. Or, somewhat later, they could be the joys of everyday contemporary life (as led, needless to say, by the carefree cynical rich who made up the Ballets Russes audience), beginning with Poulenc’s Les Biches of 1924 and culminating in the last Diaghilev season with Le Bal by Vittorio Rieti. Jeux had had a lawn-tennis action, but the tennis game it portrayed was metaphorical, not a chose en soi. It had stood, enigmatically, for the intricate maneuvering of human relationships. The mysteriously opulent Debussy score, full of veiled timbres and complex harmonies, did not accord with the ostensible concreteness of the stage action. After the war everything was sharp-etched line and primary hue, and nothing was made to last. Today’s actualité is tomorrow’s period piece, and that has been the fate of the vast preponderance of the postwar Diaghilev repertory. Only a few Stravinsky scores from this period—Pulcinella (1920), Apollon Musagète (1928)—have stood the test of time, and even some of his have gone dowdy. A case in point is Mavra, an opéra bouffe after Pushkin that had been originally intended as a cabaret skit for Nikita Baliev’s Théâtre de la Chauve-Souris. Its music parodied the Italianized Russian-Gypsy idiom out of which Chaikovsky had emerged (and which formed the main part of the Chauve-Souris repertory). It was a style associated in Russia with gentry tastes, which is to say, with tastes such as Diaghilev’s. For this reason its production by the Ballets Russes in 1922 was surrounded by a huge preliminary fanfare, for it was Diaghilev’s last-ditch effort to get Paris to recognize the European Russia he loved. (The year before he had tried to win London over to it with a lavish production of Chaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and almost lost his shirt.) He preceded the Mavra première with a gala concert pointedly entitled “La musique russe en dehors des ‘cinq’” (Russian music besides “The Five”) and gave press interviews attaching to Stravinsky’s little farce an importance it could hardly justify in the event, and in which he could scarcely have believed. In fact it is hard to know what Diaghilev really thought of the fashionable ephemera he found himself promoting after the war. He always kept up a brave front. Francis Poulenc has left us in his memoirs a vivid picture of the great impresario calling after him as Poulenc was leaving to see a revival of the prewar Petrushka: “Mais quel ennui!”16 Yet to his intimates he often expressed impatience with the “musiquette” the Faubourg now demanded. No great new Russian came his way after Stravinsky. Prokofieff was a half-hearted modernist who achieved his best work after returning to Soviet Russia, where he could be himself without pressure from the likes of Diaghilev to keep up

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with Parisian taste. Le Pas d’Acier (The dance of steel), his opportunistic “Soviet” ballet of 1927, was a tawdry example of “radical chic” long in advance of the term. Prokofieff’s Le Fils Prodigue (The prodigal son) of 1929 suffered, by contrast, from an incongruity that neatly reversed the one that had beset Jeux: great pathos on stage, sketchy choses en soi in the pit. The less said about Vladimir Dukelsky and Nicolas Nabokov, perhaps, the better; nor did the seventeen-year-old Igor Markevitch, Diaghilev’s great find in the last year of his life (but from whom he did not have time to commission a ballet), live up, as a composer, to his early promise. Reflections of this kind point up the inevitably contingent nature of an impresario’s relationship to the culture of his time, for he must be as much a reactor as an instigator, a supplier to a demand he can only do so much, finally, to create, no matter how expert his “nose” and no matter how aggressively he intervenes in the shaping of the work he catalyzes. Diaghilev was by no means the single-handed transformer of modern taste he is sometimes made out to be. The most that can be said for him is that he managed to preserve an “enlightened” aristocratic sensibility in an age of increasing barbarism, and to guide the Franco-Italian traditions of musical theater successfully, if not quite intact, into the twentieth century. Ultimately it was a view of art as distinguished entertainment that he upheld, disdaining equally what was undistinguished and what failed to entertain. He is as easily overrated as underrated, for taking a stand on Diaghilev means taking a stand on the essence and the ends of art. If he did not lead the “quest for the Holy City,” as Sergey Lifar, his last premier danseur, rather fatuously insisted, neither was he just “an irascible gentleman in top-hat and silk muffler, who happened to possess a wonderful flair in the matter of dancing,” which is all that Vladimir Nabokov could discern in him.17 But then Nabokov was something of a literary man. NOTES

1. Vasily Vasilievich Yastrebtsev, Nikolai Andreyevich Rimskiy-Korsakov: Vospominaniya, 1886–1908, ed. A. V. Ossovsky, 2 vols. (Leningrad, 1959–60), 1:207. 2. Igor Stravinsky, “The Diaghilev I Knew,” trans. Mercedes de Acosta, Atlantic Monthly192, no. 5 (November 1953): 33. 3. Arnold Haskell, with Walter Nouvel, Diaghileff: His Artistic and Private Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), 51. A pretty enough but ordinary romance by the teenaged Diaghilev, to words by Alexei Tolstoy, was issued in 2005 by the Swedish BIS label (BIS 1502, “Tolstoy’s Waltz,” Chiyuki Urano, baritone, with Lera Auerbach, piano). 4. Stravinsky, “The Diaghilev I Knew,” 33. 5. Alexandre Benois, “Vrubel’,” Mir iskusstva 10 (1903): 40. 6. Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov, “Lichnost’ Lyadova,” Muzïkal’nïy sovremmenik 2, no. 1 (September 1916): 33.

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7. “Beseda o balete,” in Teatr (St. Petersburg, 1908), 108. 8. “Nishchiye dukhom [1899],” in V. V. Stasov, Izbrannïye sochineniya (Moscow, 1952), 3:238. 9. “Russkii teatr v Peterburge,” Epokha 3 (1864): 232. 10. Letter of 2 February (O. S.) 1900. N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy: Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, vol. 8b (Moscow, 1982), 105. 11. “Russkii sezon v Parizhe,” Apollon 10 (1910): 21. 12. New York Times, 19 January 1916; quoted in Richard Buckle, Diaghilev (New York: Atheneum, 1979), 300. 13. The Mighty Kuchka were the St. Petersburg composers grouped around Mily Balakivev (1837–1910) who termed themselves the “New Russian School” of selfconsciously national music. The other four were Modest Musorgsky (1839–81), Alexander Borodin (1833–87), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), and César Cui (1835–1918). In Russia, thanks to a notorious 1867 review by Stasov, they were usually called the “mighty little bunch” (moguchaya kuchka), whence “kuchkist,” “kuchkism,” etc. 14. “Uspekhi russkoy muzïki,” interview in Peterburgskaya gazeta, no. 180 (4 June 1907); rpt. I. S. Zilbershtein and V. A. Samkov, Sergey Dyagilev i russkoye iskusstvo (Moscow, 1982), 1:205. 15. “Diaghileff Talks of Soul of the Ballet,” New York Post, 24 January 1916. 16. Francis Poulenc, My Friends and Myself, trans. James Harding (London: Dennis Dobson, 1978), 127. 17. Vladimir Nabokov, “Diaghilev and a Disciple,” New Republic (18 November 1940): 699.

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From Fairy Tale to Opera in Four Moves

The Love for Three Oranges, the only one of Sergey Prokofieff’s eight operas to enjoy unqualified success and repertory status during the composer’s lifetime, is indebted for its title, and for the general outlines of its plot, to the celebrated fiaba teatrale, or “fable for the theater,” by Carlo Gozzi, first produced in 1761. It is, to be precise, an adaptation of an adaptation of Gozzi. But Gozzi’s work was itself an adaptation. With each telling the tale became further encrusted with theatrical artifice and literary doctrine, even as the tellers advertised naive simplicity. The end product of this most peculiar 250-year gestation, composed in New York by a Russian for performance in Chicago in French, was a prescient little exercise in the irony we have long taken for granted in modern theater. So cozy and familiar have its distancing tactics become that it is hard to recapture their strangeness, or to appreciate the coyness of the composer’s demurrer: “They found mockery and challenges and grotesques in my Oranges, when all I had done was write a merry show.”1 Behind the comic mask lay an icy countenance, a foretaste of the ban on all pathos that would dominate European art between the world wars in the name of a re-imagined, vicariously restored “eighteenth century.” Never before, and never again, was Sergey Prokofieff so clearly ahead of his time. Nevertheless, a review of the successive adaptations of the “oranges” tale will uncover considerable precedent in the background of the young Prokofieff’s precocious modernity: not only the tradition of the tale itself, and not only the tradition of the commedia dell’arte on which Gozzi drew, but an immediate, local, and very characteristic precedent in St. Petersburg theatrical circles. Prokofieff’s great success was in integrating music into an existing, Originally published in the San Francisco Opera program book, summer 1995.

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highly volatile compound of verbal text and miming. His comedy subsists in the interaction between sight, sound, and word. “The punch lines of his jokes can come in any one of the three elements,” Malcolm H. Brown, America’s premier Prokofievite, has written, echoing the comment of an astonished British critic, Donald Mitchell, that The Love for Three Oranges “scarcely makes even lunatic sense if not both heard and seen.”2 That is already enough to justify opera as a genre, which is more than many a fine composer has managed to do. .

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The parable of the three pieces of magic fruit and the prince who finds his true love inside one of them shows up in literature for the first time in 1634, as part of the earliest printed collection of European folk and fairy tales: Il Pentamerone, subtitled Lo cunto de li cunti (The tale of tales), by Giambattista Basile, Count of Torrone, who is believed to have collected its contents in Crete and Venice.3 Written in the Neapolitan dialect, the collection was published over half a century before Perrault brought out his Mother Goose. Like Boccaccio’s Decamerone (or the 1001 Nights, or the Canterbury Tales), Basile’s Pentamerone was organized around a running situation that motivated all of the stories it contained. In this case the motivating device was a fable of a king with an unhappy daughter, Zoza, who never laughed. After trying all kinds of conventional pills to purge her melancholy without success, the king orders a large fountain of oil to be set in front of the palace gates, thinking that when the oil ran down the street it might cause some accident that would amuse her. What finally gets Zoza to laugh is a mishap suffered by an old witch, who immediately places a curse on the princess for mocking her. The girl is forced on a quest for a handsome prince, Taddeo, whom she almost manages to discover and wed. But she is outsmarted at the last moment by a black slave girl named Lucia, who marries the prince in Zoza’s place. By a series of ruses, in which she is aided by a trio of benign fairies, Zoza arouses in Lucia an insatiable appetite to hear stories. The prince commands that the ten best storytellers in the kingdom tell one story a day for the next five days. The Pentamerone consists of the stories they tell, of which The Three Citrons (Le Tre Cetre) is the last. The tale parallels Zoza’s own story in such uncanny fashion that it frightens Lucia into admitting her treachery. She is executed, and Zoza’s quest is consummated. The tale of the three citrons, which brings about this resolution, concerns a prince named Ciommetiello who, under a delusion, seeks a princess “the color of blood and cheese.” He finds her in the third of the three citrons given him by an ogress in a distant country to which his quest has led him. (All three citrons contained fairy princesses; the first two disappeared when the prince did not give them water in time.) The prince leaves the fairy

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princess while he travels home to fetch her a bridal gown, whereupon a black slave girl—yes, her name is Lucia—frightens the princess off with a hairpin and takes her place. Lucia is duly crowned queen when the surprised but dim-witted prince is crowned king. The fairy princess, meanwhile, turns herself into a dove, flies to Ciommetiello’s kingdom, retransforms into a citron and thence into a maiden, exposes her rival, and reclaims her groom. .

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This harmless if not quite inoffensive dual fancy began its bizarre career as a theatrical hobbyhorse in the middle of the next century, when Gozzi, an impoverished Venetian aristocrat, declared war in the name of art on Carlo Goldoni and Pietro Chiari, the reigning local dramatists. They were complementary figures, rivals: Goldoni was the virtuoso of bourgeois realism, Chiari a specialist in lofty melodrama. What united them was contempt for the antiquated freak show known as commedia dell’arte, which together they had almost succeeded in killing off. To Count Gozzi, staunch upholder of the older tradition, Goldoni and Chiari were but the two faces of a single plebeian coin: “commonplace and transparent inanities on the one hand, inanities sonorous and oracular upon the other.”4 In his Useless Memoirs, published near the end of his eighth decade, Gozzi tells us how Goldoni, master of “those vulgar scenes from life” that were polluting the taste of Venetian theatergoers, responded to his critic’s sallies. Meeting Gozzi at the bookstore where the latter sold his diatribes and slanders, Goldoni opined that “it is one thing to write criticisms, another thing to compose dramas which shall fill the public theaters with enthusiastic audiences.” Whereupon Gozzi boasted that he could put Goldoni and all his cohorts out of business by dramatizing the merest fairy tale in the very manner they despised most, that of the slapstick comedy of masks.5 And so he did. Within a year of the first performance of Gozzi’s L’Amore delle tre melarance (The Love of the Three Oranges), as he retitled it—by Antonio Sacchi’s commedia dell’arte troupe in the 1761 carnival season—Goldoni had to flee Venice for Paris. Over the next several years Gozzi produced nine more theatrical “fables”—including such other familiar operatic subjects as La Donna Serpente (Wagner, Die Feen), Turandot (Busoni, Puccini, not to mention Weber’s incidental score to Schiller’s translation) and Il Re Cervo (Henze, König Hirsch)—and single-handedly revived the moribund commedia. For a couple of decades he was regarded everywhere in Europe as the wonder of the theatrical world. Dr. Johnson’s crony Joseph Baretti placed him second only to Shakespeare.6 Unlike his later fiabe, The Love of the Three Oranges was just a scenario for commedia dell’arte improvisation, not a fully written-out script. Although both the author’s memoirs and the preface to the play seem to imply that its

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source was just a bedtime story everyone knew, we can tell that Gozzi relied on Basile. His plot actually combines the tale of the three citrons with that of Princess Zoza, Basile’s linking tool. Gozzi’s prince-protagonist Tartaglia, like Zoza, is a melancholic who cannot laugh, and who is both cured (inadvertently) and cursed (deliberately) by a witch who suffers a mishap as a result of the fountain gag (in Gozzi’s version there are two fountains: one spouting oil, the other wine, both rancid—Goldoni and Chiari lampooned again). It is the peculiarly humiliating curse that determined Gozzi’s strange title: the witch condemns the prince to fall in love with three oranges—“three particular oranges, not just any oranges”—and chase them to the distant corners of the earth. It is only when the oranges are opened that Tartaglia’s love object becomes human(oid). Because he was adapting Basile’s tales to the commedia dell’arte conventions, Gozzi had to make room in his version for a large number of traditional masks. Tartaglia himself was one. Others included Pantalone (cast as an adviser to the king), the lusty wenches Smeraldina and Brighella (cast as servant underlings of Tartaglia’s enemies, Smeraldina taking over the role of the black slave girl), and, of course, Truffaldino. The last-named, a species of Arlecchino, was the mask worn by Antonio Sacchi himself and figures as a major character in every one of Gozzi’s fiabe. In The Love of the Three Oranges Truffaldino is the jester who first tries to cure Tartaglia’s melancholia, then accompanies him, Sancho Panza-fashion, on his quest. During the heyday of Gozzi’s popularity in Germany, the Tartaglia/Truffaldino pair provided Emanuel Schikaneder with a model for Tamino and Papageno in The Magic Flute, another theatrical quest fable that, thanks to Mozart, has eclipsed the fame of its prototype. (In Il Re Cervo Truffaldino is actually a bird-catcher like Papageno.) As for Gozzi’s witch, she is the ubiquitous Fata Morgana, who figures by name in a number of Basile’s Neapolitan tales. She is provided with a benign counterpart, the magus Celio, who helps Tartaglia gain his objective. The two rival supernaturals (compare Sarastro and the Queen of the Night) are the only characters for whom Gozzi provided fully written-out speeches in the scenario, and here is where the literary satire most obviously shows through. Fata Morgana’s bombastic “Martellian” verses (so called after a pretentious neoclassical dramatist of the day) parody Chiari, while the folksy Celio is Goldoni’s surrogate. Erudite burlesque reaches its height in a little set piece in act 2—Gozzi called it the “quarrel trio” (contrasto in terzo)—in which three masked characters, plotting against Tartaglia, fall into a dispute about dramatic values. Clarice declares her preference for “tragic performances, in which you find characters hurling themselves from windows or turrets without breaking their necks, and similar miracles” (Id est Opere del sig. Chiari, Gozzi duly notes in parentheses); Leandro plumps for comedies of manners

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(Id est Opere del sig. Goldoni); Brighella, the author’s stand-in, pleads for “the improvised comedy of masks, an innocent popular diversion.” .

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“Oh, what a lot he’s given me!” wrote Vsevolod Meyerhold to a friend who had made him a gift of Gozzi’s works in 1912.7 The great director had already been trying for some years to resurrect the art of theatrical improvisation, having become as disgusted as Gozzi with the dual debasement of the theater by purveyors of vaulting melodrama and petty naturalism. By the next year he had instituted a veritable academy of histrionics all’improvviso in his St. Petersburg studio, where his friend Vladimir Solovyov gave practical demonstrations of commedia dell’arte techniques and taught them to Meyerhold’s pupils. So carried away were the two of them with The Love of the Three Oranges, the most elaborate document ever printed of the commedia dell’arte in action, that (together with a scholarly co-conspirator named Konstantin Vogak) they adapted it for performance in Russian. A performance was planned for October 1913, but it didn’t take place, since the collaborators could not get a composer to join them at the time. (“I’ve grown cool toward Strauss,” Meyerhold wrote to Solovyov, as if he could have had the world’s most famous composer for the asking. “We need a Frenchman. Or else, one of the latest Russians.”)8 In the 1914–15 season Meyerhold staged the piece without music at the Tenishev Gymnasium in St. Petersburg. As an official employee of the Imperial Theaters, he had to do his experimental work under a pseudonym, for which purpose he appropriated the name of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Doctor Dapertutto. So central had Gozzi and his scenario become to “Dr. Dapertutto”’s esthetic program that Meyerhold launched a little magazine to propagandize his ideas, called it Love for Three Oranges; or, Doctor Dapertutto’s Journal, and published his translation in the first issue ( January 1914).9 Meyerhold and his collaborators took Gozzi’s “quarrel trio” as their jumping-off point. It grew enormously in their conception to become, both temporally and spatially, the frame of the entire play. The spatial frame was to consist of twin turrets on opposite sides of the stage, housing a collection of clowns representing esthetes of differing and antagonistic persuasions. The action was to commence with a parade, in which the actors portraying the esthetes—divided into camps of “realistic comedians” (bïtovïye komiki) and “high tragedians” (sugubïye tragiki) would enter dueling with quills. The fight was to be broken up by a trio of “cranks” (chudaki). One, restraining the comedians, shouts: “We are fed up with your wares, contemptible farce mongers, these four- and five-act comedies without any content at all, but with the inevitable pistol shot at the end!” Another, holding off the tragedians, thunders: “We are bored to death with plays that have such a load of dreary philosophy and such a dearth of healthy laughter, to say nothing of stagecraft!”

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The third, pointing at the audience, was to say, “Look—they are waiting there for some actors who can show them the real thing!” The battle, thus joined, would continue in an undertone (and with frequent eruptions) throughout the play. The esthetes’ constant comment on the action, and their strenuous exhortations to the actors, would furnish the temporal frame. Meyerhold’s Love for Three Oranges was one of the very earliest applications of the illusion-destroying “art as art” gimmickry that would within a couple of decades become as great a theatrical cliché as any other. What makes it historically so significant is the clarity of its descent from a cynical eighteenthcentury aristocratic model. Even if Prokofieff had never set it, Meyerhold’s response to Gozzi would have been a key document of the nascent modernist manner and its sources. .

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Thanks to Prokofieff, it is much more than that. He and Meyerhold met late in 1916 at the Petrograd apartment of Albert Coates, the English conductor, who then headed the conducting staff for opera at the Mariyinsky theater. Coates was then organizing the production of an iconoclastic (though in Russia not unprecedented) opera-in-recitatives that the twenty-five-year-old composer had written to a libretto he had drawn himself from Dostoyevsky’s novella The Gambler. Meyerhold, then a staff director at the Mariyinsky, recognized in Prokofieff the “new Russian” he had been looking for and offered on the spot to take over the direction of The Gambler from an older regisseur who was finding it unmanageable. This collaboration did not materialize: the February revolution of 1917 put an end to plans for producing new operas in Petrograd that season. It was only the first of many aborted collaborations between Meyerhold and Prokofieff, who over the next twenty-three years embarked on many joint ventures yet never saw a single one of them through to performance. What might have been a comedy of errors abruptly turned into tragedy in 1939, when the director was arrested and condemned weeks before the slated première of their final collaborative project, the opera Semyon Kotko. After the Bolshevik coup in October 1917 Prokofieff decided to emigrate to the New World by way of Siberia and Japan. Disappointed, yet taking a hopeful long view, Meyerhold “gave Prokofieff the first issue of our journal Love for Three Oranges on the very eve of his departure for America,” as he wrote to Solovyov, meanwhile “exhorting him to write an opera on our scenario. He said, ‘I’ll read it on the boat.’”10 Prokofieff arrived in San Francisco with some notes toward a libretto in hand. (He was a man of real literary gifts, as anyone knows who has read his autobiography.) Having secured a commission from Cleofonte Campanini, the director of the Chicago Opera, the composer went to work early in 1919 and delivered the finished score on the first of October. It took more than

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two years before the work achieved production, owing in the first place to Campanini’s sudden death, but in the second to Prokofieff impossible demands. (He insisted on compensation for the delay in implementing the contract.) Mary Garden, who took over the directorship of the company, finally agreed to the composer’s terms, and the opera was given under his baton on 30 December 1921, with Nina Koshetz in the role of Fata Morgana.11 Its enormously successful Soviet premières took place in 1926 (Leningrad, Academic Theater—the former Mariyinsky—with Ivan Yershov as Truffaldino) and 1927 (Moscow, Bolshoi Theater under Golovanov, with Nadezhda Obukhova as Clarice and Antonina Nezhdanova as Ninetta). These triumphs—coupled with the fiasco in the West of his next opera, The Fiery Angel—played a major part in persuading Prokofieff to come home to Russia in the 1930s. Compared with Meyerhold’s scenario, the opera shows a bit of inevitable streamlining. The character Brighella is eliminated; the protectors of the oranges (a gate, a rope, a dog, and a cook) are reduced to just the cook (modeled in Prokofieff’s score after the male-voiced witch in Hänsel und Gretel and equipped with a threatening ladle). Only one reference to the old Venetian disputes survives in the libretto, and it is probably unwitting: Leander, plotting with Clarice to worsen the prince’s hypochondria, recommends a diet of booming “Martellian verses.” The composer made other minor alterations as well: Ninetta, the fairy princess, is briefly turned before Prokofieff’s denouement not into a dove but, more incongruously, into a rat; the act 1 card game between Fata Morgana and the king’s protective magician Celio (a notorious dramaturgical stumbling block) was entirely Prokofieff’s idea. The biggest change, though, was the hugely expanded role accorded the Greek chorus of onstage spectators—the very thing Meyerhold and his colleagues had already so notably expanded out of Gozzi’s little “quarrel trio.” To Meyerhold’s comedians, tragedians, and cranks (the latter numbering three in the scenario, ten in the opera), Prokofieff added groups of “lyricists” (liriki), forever demanding “romantic love, moons, tender kisses,” and “empty heads” (pustogolovïye), bent on “entertaining nonsense, witty double entendres, fine costumes.” In this way he thought to cover every possible sort of hackneyed operatic situation and the sort of taste that demanded it. Prokofieff’s comedians, tragedians, lyricists, and empty heads butt in whenever the action approaches one of their pet stereotypes to egg it on, puncturing in the process whatever mood they meant to abet. The cranks, eager to foil all factions (but particularly the tragedians), do more than that. They actually intervene in the plot, Pirandello-fashion (but before Pirandello!), change its course, and utterly destroy all stage illusion. It is they, not the prince, who come up with the water that saves Ninetta’s life. It is they, not Celio, who abduct Fata Morgana to one of the onstage towers and enable the good sorcerer to transform the giant rat back into the fairy

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princess in time for the wedding. The play, literally, is their plaything. (And art, so the composer implies, is ours.) Notwithstanding its sublimated eighteenth-century inspiration, Prokofieff’s Love for Three Oranges deserves recognition as one of the first harbingers of a true twentieth-century esthetic. Like The Gambler, it is cast in what Prokofieff called a “declamatory” style; but (“taking the American temper into account,” as he put it in his autobiography),12 the composer provided a few more obviously lyrical moments cast in fugitive rounded forms (though the great love duet seemingly promised and musically anticipated in the desert scene is thwarted when the lyricists break into a distracting paean in praise of great love duets), and there are a couple of diverting, now famous instrumental showpieces (the march in act 2, the scherzo in act 3). The musical style derives from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Golden Cockerel by way of Stravinsky’s Petrushka: its nub and essence is the exploitation of a tritone-related harmonic polarity as a cadential succession (as in the opening announcement, in the prologue, of the start of the show), as a vertical “polychord” (at moments of horror; e.g. the curse music in act 2, scene 2) or as the governor of a bipolar tonal plan (as in the act 3 scherzo). When the temporarily forgotten opera was given its earliest postwar revivals (especially the Ljubljana revival of 1956 that traveled to the Holland Festival and was recorded there), it was the presciently multileveled, distanced action that amazed.13 Musicians were struck, too, by the mutually validating affinity between the ironically detached, constantly interrupted antics on stage and the idiosyncratically discontinuous structure of the score.14 Unlike many modern classics, moreover, it was easy to enjoy, one of the early epitomes of a revolution in taste that cultivated hygienic belly laughs to replace the neurasthenic wheezing of prewar “decadence,” a therapeutic to counteract late Romanticism’s gangrenous grandiosity. The emblematic moment, just as it was for Gozzi, is the scene of the hypochondriac’s cure: at the sight of Fata Morgana’s knobby knees and withered behind, Tartaglia goes into gales of laughter, represented in the music by a little set piece over an ostinato, and with the prince’s “ha-ha-ha-HAA” an inevitable parody of the opening four notes of—need I say what? Now that the modernist tradition has itself gone as puffy and decadent as the Opere del sig. Chiari, it may be time once again to avail ourselves of Prokofieff’s buffered multivitamins.

NOTES

1. Serge Prokofieff, “Avtobiografiya,” in S S. Prokof ’yev: Materialï, dokumentï, vospominaniya, ed. Semyon Isaakovich Shlifshteyn, 2nd ed. (Moscow, 1961), 177. 2. Malcolm H. Brown, review of Serge Prokofieff, L’Amour des trois oranges, op. 33, MLA Notes 39 (1982–83): 468; Donald Mitchell, “Prokofieff’s ‘Three Oranges’: A Note on its Musical-Dramatic Organisation,” Tempo 41 (1956): 20.

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3. The editions I consulted were Il Pentamerine [sic] del cavalier Giovan Battista Basile; overo, Lo cunto de li cunte, trattenimento de li piccerille di Gian Alesio (Naples, 1697), and Il Pentamerone; or, The Tale of Tales, Being a Translation by Sir Richard Burton . . . from Giovanni Battiste Basile (New York: Liveright, 1943). 4. Useless Memoirs of Carlo Gozzi, trans. John Addington Symonds (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 168. 5. Ibid., 181. 6. Ted Emery, “Carlo Gozzi in Context,” Introduction to Carlo Gozzi, Five Tales for the Theatre, trans. Albert Bermel and Ted Emery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 1. 7. To S. S. Ignatov, 14 March 1912; V. E. Meyerhold, Perepiska (Moscow, 1976), 143. 8. Meyerhold, Perepiska, 154. 9. In Russian, Lyubov’ k tryom apel’sinam, ili Zhurnal Doktora Dapertutto. I am indebted to the Lilly Library of Indiana University for a photocopy of this bibliographical rarity, procured with the kind assistance of Malcolm H. Brown. 10. Letter of 18 February 1926; Meyerhold, Perepiska, 388. 11. Prokofieff, “Avtobiografiya,” 166–68. In the midst of rehearsal, Prokofieff recalled, when he was having difficulties making himself understood, one of the choristers shouted to him from the stage, “Why are you struggling with English—half of us here are Russian Jews!” (170). 12. Prokofieff, “Avtobiografiya,” 164–65. 13. The recording was issued in America on Epic records (4 SC-6013). 14. See the article by Donald Mitchell cited in note 2.

19

To Cross That Sacred Edge Notes on a Fiery Angel

Nina Petrovskaya, born in Moscow in 1884, was one of those writers who never write anything, without whom no literary movement is complete. Her name would be forgotten by now even by the most intrepid historians of Russian Symbolism were it not for her having been endowed, as the poet Vladislav Khodasevich put it, with a gift for living—and loving—out of all proportion to her gift for art. Half of literary Moscow was smitten with her, he wrote. Nor was it an unrequited passion, to judge by the number of Russian poets, great and small, whose lives became entangled with Petrovskaya’s. The least of them, perhaps, was the one she married, Sergey Krechetov (né Sokolov), a minor poet but, as head of the Gryphon publishing house, a major force in Moscow literary life. Among the poets Gryphon published was Andrey Bely (né Boris Bugayev, 1880–1934), who at the turn of the century was the leader of a young decadent-cum-spiritualist faction known as the Argonauts. Petrovskaya joined this circle in 1903, became madly enamored of its charismatic, fiery-maned leader, in whom she saw “a new Christ,” and managed to awaken his interest in return—at first, as he later recollected, by virtue of her “special sensitivity” to his doctrine of “mysterial love,” but eventually on a more ordinary level of human desire. Their physical liaison brought about a spiritual crisis—the “tragedy of sex,” Bely called it—and within a year he fled from the demanding, self-dramatizing Petrovskaya, exiling himself to the town of Nizhny-Novgorod (later Gorky, where Andrey Sakharov would one day be detained). For years thereafter Bely would remain in a state of Originally published in the booklet accompanying Deutsche Grammophon 431 669–2 (1991): “Serge Prokofieff, The Fiery Angel,” with Siegfried Lorenz (Ruprecht), Nadine Secunde (Renata), and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. © 1991 Richard Taruskin.

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perpetual flight from “the gryphoness.” For her part, Petrovskaya was locked in a state of perpetual agonized pursuit. Unable to possess her “angel with demon’s wings,” Petrovskaya sought revenge in a liaison with his most potent rival, Valery Bryusov (1873–1924), the virtual founder of Russian Symbolism, who in 1904 had reached his pinnacle as leader of the movement, and defender of its hegemony, when he assumed the editorship of Vesï (The scales), the critical journal that was its chief literary organ. The next two years were a veritable pandemonium of passion, jealousy, spite, and fury for all three points on this most celebrated of Russian literary love triangles. Bryusov described the period as one long “mental duel” with Bely. Like many “decadents” a student of the black arts, he resorted to exorcisms—in which Bely, too, believed, and at which he took mortal fright. He had violent recurring dreams of bloody retribution, which were later played out in poetry, and finally challenged his antagonist to an actual “empirical” duel on a flimsy pretext. Bely refused the challenge, sending Bryusov instead a long, self-justifying letter and also publishing a poem, “To an ancient enemy” (Starinnomu vragu), which Bryusov took as his ultimate defeat in the “mental duel.” In a final dream he saw himself mortally wounded by Bely and woke up spiritually reconciled to his opponent. Bryusov’s affair with Petrovskaya, who remained obsessed with Bely, lasted another five years, until 1911. Incredible though it seems, it was while he was still living out the last, relatively peaceful, stage of his relationship with Petrovskaya that Bryusov committed the history of the whole stormy triangle to paper in a rather grandiose roman à clef, which he published in Vesï in 1907–08. A true erudite who habitually titled works in Latin (Tertia vigilia, Urbi et orbi) and Greek (Stephanos), Bryusov cast The Fiery Angel (Ognennïy angel) as a “sixteenth-century romance” set in Renaissance Germany, where burgeoning humanism coexisted uneasily with a highly rationalized, scholastically elaborated occult lore. The novel’s detailed subtitle not only adds to the period flavor but amounts to a virtual synopsis: A True Story in which is related of the Devil, not once but often appearing in the Image of a Spirit of Light to a Maiden and seducing her to Various and Many Sinful Deeds, of Ungodly Practices of Magic, Alchemy, Astrology, the Cabalistical Sciences and Necromancy, of the Trial of the Said Maiden under the Presidency of His Eminence the Archbishop of Trier, as well as of Encounters and Discourses with the Knight and thrice Doctor Agrippa of Nettesheim, and with Doctor Faustus, composed by an Eyewitness.

The maiden, a strident hysteric named Renata, was obviously modeled on Nina Petrovskaya. The angelic/demonic title character—or at any rate his human manifestation (as Renata insists) in the form of blindingly blond Count Heinrich—was Bely’s stand-in. Bryusov’s persona was the “Eyewitness,” a well-meaning, uncomprehending knight named Ruprecht. The

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novel is cast in the form of Ruprecht’s memoirs or confessions, enabling Bryusov to recount the story from his own first-person perspective. Point for point the main events of the novel parallel the real-life drama, both its waking and dreaming forms—bearing in mind that in the novel, as in the lived experience, the two levels of existence are not clearly distinguished, and that Bryusov has somewhat idealized his own role and motives: the radiant angel Madiel appears to the child Renata, and offers her the secrets of a mysterial love; when her desire for him takes a physical turn, the angel dissolves in a fiery aureole, leaving her condemned to a life of mystical (read: sexual) obsession. At the novel’s beginning Renata, possessed by spirits, meets Ruprecht and tells him her past history; Ruprecht falls in love with her and selflessly commits himself to abetting her quest of Madiel with “cabalistical sciences and necromancy.” Renata spies Count Heinrich and recognizes in him Madiel’s incarnation. When he hides from her she sends Ruprecht after him to demand satisfaction. The two men fight a duel in which Ruprecht is almost mortally wounded. Renata tends to Ruprecht’s convalescence; they live for a time as a happy couple; but finally she leaves him. For this last event, Bryusov relied on (accurate) prophecy rather than recollection. He continued, in fantasy, to have Renata join a convent and infect the nuns with her hysteria. She is condemned as a witch and burned at the stake. In the novel’s final scenes Ruprecht encounters Heinrich after Renata’s death and is reconciled with his old rival. (One might easily imagine Nina Petrovskaya shocked or humiliated by the end of the novel as her thenlover Bryusov had conceived it; but no: in good Symbolist style she began to live its last phases, even to the point of converting to Catholicism and taking the name Renata.) Bryusov’s Fiery Angel is an engrossing novel. (It was published in 1930 in an English translation by Ivor Montagu and Sergei Nalbandov and has been reprinted since then.) As with any good roman à clef, its biographical basis is not essential to its enjoyment or comprehension as literature. Its dominant theme, abstracted from the author’s sufferings and turned to potent artistic account, is the eternal symbolist theme—the relationship between levels of physical and spiritual existence. Its overriding purpose, for which the turbulent events of Bryusov’s life merely provided the pretext, was (in the words of the novel’s penultimate sentence) “to cross that sacred edge that divides our world from the dark sphere in which float spirits and demons,” so as metaphorically to explore the ambiguities of reality and experience—and, ultimately, of morals. It was simply as an engrossing novel that The Fiery Angel captured the imagination of Serge Prokofieff, who read it in New York toward the end of 1919. He had no knowledge of those of its aspects that had made it the talk of literary Moscow a dozen years before; Russian musicians were as a rule amazingly aloof from avant-garde movements in the other media. It was just “one

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of the few really artistic Russian books” that came his way during his sojourn in America (1918–22), immediately after leaving his newly Bolshevik homeland, a period dominated by The Love for Three Oranges, an opera commissioned by the Chicago Opera and performed there in 1921. The idea of turning Bryusov’s novel into an opera came virtually on the heels of completing The Love for Three Oranges in October 1919. What attracted him to the project emerged a few years later in correspondence with his close friend, the composer Nikolai Myaskovsky, who thought the novel somewhat “theological” for operatic treatment. “Of theology there is little in The Fiery Angel,” Prokofieff wrote back, “but of orgies there’s no end.” The main orgy was the one in the convent, and from the first Prokofieff saw that scene as the opera’s inevitable culmination, toward which everything else must tend. As in the case of The Love for Three Oranges and its predecessor—The Gambler, after Dostoevsky (1916)—Prokofieff began by writing his own libretto, in prose. (In this he was following what might be called the “radical tradition” in Russian opera, stemming from the work, and in particular the theorizing, of the young Musorgsky.) Whereas the novel, as a first-person narrative, inevitably centered on Ruprecht, the author’s surrogate, Prokofieff’s libretto overwhelmingly emphasized Renata, the possessed maiden. Her perpetual hysterics dominate every scene but two, making her role one of the longest and (in terms of range and volume) most demanding in opera. The concentration on Renata entailed the sacrifice of a great deal of colorful action. Among the scenes eliminated were one of the orgies (Ruprecht’s real, or imagined, attendance at a black mass), and even Ruprecht’s duel with Count Heinrich, which was reduced in the opera to an entr’acte between the two scenes of act 3. In compensation, Prokofieff hoped to gain what he saw as an operatic sine qua non—a “steady dramatic crescendo” building inexorably from Renata’s hallucination in act 1 to the shattering climax in the convent. (The first draft of the scenario ended with Renata’s death—its absence in the finished opera is often decried by critics—but Prokofieff considered it anticlimatic and, in view of the presence of Faust and Mephistopheles in an earlier scene, too likely to remind audiences of the death of Marguerite in Gounod’s overly familiar opera.) Ending at the high point, however crude a ploy by the standards of the well-made play or novel, was an article of operatic faith with Prokofieff: “If the audience should doze off somewhere in the middle,” he wrote to Myaskovsky, “at least they’ll wake up for the final curtain.” Dozing off was unlikely, though: on the way to the final curtain there would be the harrowing and orchestrally extravagant spirit conjuration, the gruesome confrontation with Agrippa and (Prokofieff’s idea) his trio of skeletons, the earsplitting “duel” entr’acte, the burlesque of Faust and Mephistopheles, and—the main

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thing—a mounting trio of maddening confrontations between the impossible Renata, ever obstinate yet ever changeable, and the long-suffering Ruprecht, so aptly described as “the all-time Man Who Won’t Take No for an Answer.” After a very quick start—the first act was completed in piano score by March 1920—work on the opera soon bogged down, owing to its pianistcomposer’s heavy concert schedule. Having accumulated sufficient funds from his performance fees, Prokofieff retreated in March 1922 to Ettal, a town near Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps, so as to devote full time to the opera in a location congruent with its setting. He managed to complete the vocal score before the end of the next year. The work is cast in a naturalistic declamatory idiom similar to The Gambler’s, except that far greater reliance is placed on a conventional network of orchestral (and, occasionally, vocal) leitmotives. There are three main ones, apparently corresponding to the three main characters, and they all make their appearance in the scene first sketched in 1920. The obtuse Ruprecht’s, a suitably blunt cadential phrase, is heard at the very outset (ex. 19.1). The obsessive Renata’s is a patently Stravinskian ostinato that provides the background to practically her whole immense role (ex. 19.2). The only fully developed melody among the opera’s leitmotives—indeed, practically the only lyrical melody in the entire score—is the theme presumably associated with Madiel (though Myaskovsky interpreted it as the “love theme,” and in a perhaps hasty passage in his autobiography Prokofieff called it the “Renata theme”; ex. 19.3). It is a purely diatonic tune that was originally intended for a “white-key” quartet Prokofieff sketched on board a Pacific steamer en route from Japan to San Francisco in 1918. There are also several extended monologues for Renata that make an effect comparable to that of a traditional operatic scena, if not an aria. In these monologues, and also in some of the minor roles (e.g., the Innkeeper in act 1), Prokofieff makes telling use of a clever “lyricalizing” technique he had pioneered in his long narrative setting of Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling (op. 18, 1914), whereby a characteristic pitch sequence acts as a sort of “melodic mold” into which just about any line of prose can be poured by observing characteristic “Musorgskian” rules of good Russian declamation. For all these reasons The Fiery Angel makes nothing like the provocatively “antioperatic” impression Prokofieff deliberately created in The Gambler. Despite its superficially modernistic style and the absence of conventional numbers, the later work is no esthetic gauntlet but a bravura score that exhibits many of the traditional grand-operatic virtues—though it hardly crosses any sacred edge. Prokofieff looked forward to having it both ways: he expected his new opera not only to confirm his reputation as a leader of international modernism but also to establish him as a reigning genius of the lyric stage. It did not turn out that way. In fact, so far from accomplishing his objec-

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Example 19.1. Ruprecht’s theme.

! 44 YCO C

g

C C

C C

CO C C B

Example 19.2. Renata’s theme.

C YC

C WC ! 68

C

C YC

XC WC C

C

C YC

XC WC C

C C

Example 19.3. Madiel’s theme, or love theme.

! 24 C !

C

B

C

C B

B

B

B B

C C

C C

B B

C C

B B

B

tives, The Fiery Angel was unquestionably the greatest fiasco of Prokofieff’s career, one from which it is fair to say he never fully recovered. One after another, envisioned—even promised—productions failed to materialize, beginning with a 1925 proposal by Albert Wolff to stage the work at the Opéra Comique in Paris, where Prokofieff was by then living. (The plan fell through when Wolff lost his post as the theater’s director.) Next Bruno Walter accepted The Fiery Angel for production at the Städtische Oper in Berlin, where The Love for Three Oranges had had a great success. In the summer of 1926 Prokofieff signed a contract for the 1927–28 season and had to orchestrate the opera in a great hurry. He managed this task by devising a labor-saving system he used for the rest of his life: he would work up a “particell,” or “short score”— meaning an extended piano score on several staves, with detailed indications of instrumentation—and leave the job of actually writing out the full score to a paid assistant. (In 1926–27 that assistant was a Russian music student named Georgiy Nikolayevich Gorchakov; later, in the Soviet Union, the role was reserved for the distinguished music editor Pavel Lamm.) Even so, Prokofieff complained that “this accursed creature has worn me down completely; I have to check over score pages with thirty-six staves and crawl through two bars per day, gnashing my teeth the while.” Despite all his efforts and ingenuity he did not finish the orchestration until September 1927. He had missed his dead-

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line, and the Städtische Oper canceled the production. When in 1930 the Metropolitan Opera expressed interest in the score, Prokofieff undertook a revision that would have made for an expanded scenario, closer to Bryusov’s original conception; but negotiations with the Met never got past the stage of desultory agreement-in-principle, and the additional scenes were never written. (They exist only in a list of planned revisions now in a Moscow archive.) Meanwhile, the second act—minus the scene with Jacob Glock and (incredibly!) without the all-important seance—was performed on 14 June 1928 at a Paris concert under Serge Koussevitzky, who as the opera’s publisher had a vested interest in its promotion. Prokofieff described the occasion in a letter to Myaskovsky. Though he put a brave and characteristically jocular face on it, it is clear that he found the opera’s reception troubling—and with good reason. “It had a great success, though the local listeners received it in a fairly superficial way,” he reported, adding ominously that “the Diaghilev party took a hostile attitude toward it.” The antipathy of the fashionable moderns should have tipped Prokofieff off that he had fallen sadly behind the march of chic. He would never recapture his former standing with the Paris tastemakers. For one as addicted to prestige as Prokofieff it was an intolerable situation, which would lead him inexorably back to Russia and, eventually, to the tragic Stalinist finale of his career. But not even in his musically conservative homeland could The Fiery Angel achieve production. Myaskovsky reported that one of his students, to whom he showed the score, reacted unfavorably to its outmoded “Wagnerism.” But that was the least of it. The Soviet Union was, after all, the least hospitable venue imaginable for an opera having to do with religious mysticism and sexual obsession. As late as 1935 Myaskovsky rather naively supposed the opera might be staged in a sufficiently “antireligious” fashion to pass the political censorship, but there was also totalitarian prudery to contend with (as Shostakovich would find out only a year later, to his great cost, in connection with his Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District). Prokofieff tried to make light of things. “Could it be that in Moscow they saw a Wagnerian influence in this opera?” he wrote back. “What the devil! I had nothing of the sort in mind and don’t even like that composer any more. And tell your little modernist, by the way, that another little modernist, whom they tout hereabouts as the very Moses of modishness, was not above whistling a bit of Meistersinger in his Apollo!” But invidious comparisons with Stravinsky were exactly what he had the most to fear. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Prokofieff undertook a salvage operation. Having extracted a suite from his opera, he found that “the material unexpectedly packed itself up into a four-movement symphony.” It would be his Third (op. 44, 1928), which he gratefully dedicated to the ever supportive Myaskovsky. Since so many of the themes in The Fiery Angel were conceived “abstractly,” in advance of the operatic project, Prokofieff always insisted that the symphony was not

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a summary or an ersatz of the opera but an independent, nonprogrammatic composition. With the completion of the symphony, the opera on which it had fed was, in the words of Charles Bruck (eventually the opera’s first conductor), “carefully packed up and consigned to oblivion” in the basement of the Éditions Russes de Musique, Koussevitzky’s firm. Prokofieff never lived to see staged—or even hear in the orchestra—the work on which he had labored for seven years and which to the end he considered to be the chef d’oeuvre of his period in emigration. Few composers could have had any greater disappointment. After World War II the score was unearthed by Hans Swarsenski of Boosey and Hawkes, the firm that had acquired the Koussevitzky catalogue. The first complete (concert) performance was given on 25 November 1954, in French (under the title L’Ange de feu), at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris by forces of the RTF (French Radio) under Bruck, with Lucienne Marée as Renata. Two years later this performance was recreated for records, but with Jane Rhodes in the main role. The stage première took place in Venice (at La Fenice, 14 September 1955), as part of the Eighteenth International Festival of Contemporary Music. Nino Sanzogno was the conductor, and Dorothy Dow sang Renata. It took another thirty years before a vocal score was published with the original-language text (Moscow: Muzïka, 1985). Although there was a production in the provincial city of Perm, The Fiery Angel was never mounted on the major operatic stages of the U.S.S.R. Postscriptum: Nina Petrovskaya, alias Renata, having fled Russia in despair after the collapse of her relationship with Bryusov, was Prokofieff’s Paris neighbor all during the period in which he was revising and orchestrating the opera he had unknowingly based on her life—a life that would end some months before the disastrous partial première of The Fiery Angel. She never learned of the opera’s existence, as its composer never learned of hers. Her fate, as unhappy as that of the work she had unknowingly inspired, was described in a famous memoir (Renata’s End) by Vladislav Khodasevich, and, much later, in the memoirs of Khodasevich’s widow, Nina Berberova. It is from Berberova that we quote: Her life was tragic from the very day she abandoned Russia in 1912. How she made a living in Rome during the First World War, no one asked; she probably lived in part by charity, if not worse. At night she couldn’t sleep, she needed time and again to stir up the past. Khodasevich sat with her in what was called my room. I resigned myself to sleeping in his room on the couch. Tortured by conversations and smoking, grown numb from her drunken tears and codeine-inspired delirium, towards morning he came and lay down next to me, frozen, tired, half sick himself. Sometimes I tried to force her to

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eat something, to take a bath, to wash her hair, to launder her underwear and stockings, but she was already incapable of anything. Once she left and did not return. She had no money. A week later she was found dead in the garret of a Salvation Army flophouse: she had turned on the gas. It was February 23, 1928.

POST-POSTSCRIPTUM, 2008

The Fiery Angel was one of the triumphs of the post-Soviet operatic stage, in a production that changed many minds about the opera, including mine. Though I moderated my opinion in public, both in the piece reprinted here and in my article on the opera for the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, until the fall of 1994 The Fiery Angel had always seemed to me the epitome of operatic kitsch, a pretentious yawn popular with those easily titillated by a modernism consisting of screaming meemies onstage and blaring ostinatos in the pit. That opinion easily withstood my first encounter with the opera on stage, at the Los Angeles Music Center in the fall of 1987. Perhaps it is even a true estimation of The Fiery Angel as Prokofieff conceived and executed it. But the joint Kirov Theater-Covent Garden production of the opera, brilliantly staged by David Freeman, which opened in December 1991 in St. Petersburg at practically the exact moment the Soviet Union came to an end, and played San Francisco in the fall of 1994, was a stunning coup de théâtre of a kind the composer never foresaw. In Freeman’s production, the “orgies” that attracted Prokofieff to the subject of Bryusov’s novel were certainly in place, but the “theology” was back as well, thanks to the St. Petersburg Mariyinsky Theater Acrobatic Troupe, which with extravagant physical aplomb incarnated the “spirits” that haunt Renata from one end of the opera to the other. Because Freeman, unlike Prokofieff, had understood the nature of Bryusov’s Symbolism and seen its dramatic potential, the spirits were real to the audience. All at once we were on Renata’s side of the “sacred edge.” She was no hysteric but a true clairvoyant, and so were we. The other characters, in their efforts to restrain her, were not rational beings but defectives—as we ourselves are defective, we began to think, in our “normal” lives. What the Russians call inoy svet (the “other world”), and what Charles Baudelaire and the other French pioneers of Symbolism called the au delà (the “world beyond”), had been made palpable. We left the theater as skeptical as Bryusov himself at the reality of the phenomenal world, the world of appearances that we normally inhabit without a qualm. In that production, at least, The Fiery Angel is a great opera—or, at any rate, a great theatrical experience. The man who called Ruprecht “the all-time Man Who Won’t Take No for an Answer” (a phrase for which I have been unjustly given credit) was the

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singer and vocal coach Conrad L. Osborne, an operatic connoisseur extraordinaire, who reviewed opera recordings for High Fidelity magazine from the 1950s to the 1970s, the period of my own initiation into music connoisseurship and record collecting, and who contributed a remarkable early survey of Russian opera on records to the magazine in 1974–75.

20

Prokofieff’s Return

In January of 1990 Kurt Masur, soon to be appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, led the San Francisco Symphony in a program that included Sergey Prokofieff’s familiar cantata based on his music to Sergey Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky. The program had been set long in advance, and I was hired to write the notes for it. I did so during the summer of 1989, and was forced to confront anew the old problem of “political” art. Ostensibly celebrating the victory of a thirteenth-century Russian despot over an alliance of Germanic and Finnish invaders, both the film and the cantata were actually motivated by transparent contemporary parallels. Russia in 1938 was facing a new hostile alliance of Germans and Finns, and a new despot needed to marshal popular support. Conceived in opportunism and in fear, glorifying the person and serving the policies of a tyrant who was just then gorging himself with special gusto on the blood of his countrymen, Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky was executed under the supervision of whole cadres of apparatchiki, with Nikolai Cherkassov, a notorious Party watchdog, in the title role. The cantata was an attempt, on the part of a newly Adapted and updated from a preconcert lecture given in Minneapolis before a Prokofieff concert by the Minnesota Orchestra on 26 March 1992, cobbled together from several previously published articles: “Sergei and the Bear” (review of Harlow Robinson, Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography), New Republic, 6 April 1987; “Serge Prokofieff: Symphony-Concerto, op. 125; Alexander Nevsky, op. 78,” Stagebill (San Francisco Symphony) 9, no. 5 ( January 1990); “A Parable of Bitter Times,” Stagebill (San Francisco Symphony) 10, no. 7 (April 1991); and “Prokofiev, Hail . . . and Farewell?” New York Times, Arts and Leisure, 21 April 1991 (copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), to which I have added a sampling from the Arts and Leisure letters column that appeared on 12 May 1991 (including my answer to my critics: something the Times no longer allows).

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returned composer who had been learning some hard lessons in the facts of Soviet cultural life, to ride the movie’s coattails to elusive official approbation. Both film and music were shamelessly hyperbolic, dramaturgically blatant. They were, in short, propaganda. Could such a project possibly give rise to a first-class work of art? “Like it or not, the answer is yes,” I wrote in 1989, and went on to praise Prokofieff’s music for its outstanding stylistic and technical qualities, particularly the deftness, the originality, and the expressivity of its orchestration. I felt I was making an effective answer to that complacent dictum we tend to mouth in the West without reflecting: that art, to be authentic, must be politically and even morally “disinterested” (read: aloof). I quoted a letter that Ned Rorem had recently written to the editor of the New York Times, in which he had rehearsed an old refrain of his, that “the more an artwork succeeds as politics, the more it fails as art.”1 Alexander Nevsky, I contended, succeeded both as politics and as art, and put the lie to what I called Mr. Rorem’s smug and self-validating platitude. And then I went to the concert. Between the summer of 1989 and the beginning of 1990 the world had changed. Not three weeks before the performance the contorted corpses of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu had shown up on television, the most startling evidence yet that totalitarian authority in Europe had suddenly collapsed. Some weeks before that we had seen the jubilant dancers atop the Berlin Wall and learned that among the heroes of the events leading up to the awesome moment of its breaching had been the politically influential conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, none other than Kurt Masur. And here he was now in San Francisco, presiding over a noisome display of Stalinist triumphalism. Under the circumstances the performance was to me almost physically repellent. More upsetting yet was the ovation that followed. Not that it signified approval of the cantata’s political message; what dismayed me was precisely that no political message at all had been perceived, just a rousing piece of music. Just music. Agreeable noise. Is that what is meant by “succeeding as art”? Far from being won over to Ned Rorem’s view, I was more convinced than ever that pretending that art—or “classical music” at the very least—was by definition apolitical had done more than anything else to marginalize it and trivialize it in our musically disappointing time. I put these reflections down on paper for the first time in the early spring of 1991, having been asked by the Times for an Arts and Leisure piece on Prokofieff to appear on 21 April, the Sunday closest to the composer’s hundredth birthday, which fell two days later. I knew of course that these were not typical centennial sentiments that I was expressing, but since (as I later explained in response to a column full of furious complaints) my concern was with the living rather than the dead, I felt it would be useful to air them.

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Indeed I felt it was urgent to do so. Yet despite whatever forebodings I may have had, I was unprepared for the storm that followed. It so happened that on the very day my dubious tribute appeared Mstislav Rostropovich chose to honor the Prokofieff centennial with a New York concert that featured, of all things, another performance of Alexander Nevsky—a choice that still strikes me (both for the reasons I have given and for some others I will offer later) as a singularly callous and tasteless one. Be that as it may, the conjunction of this performance and my article (which the Times typically sensationalized with a headline, “Prokofiev: Hail . . . and Farewell?”) provoked a little scandal. I pass over the ordinary vituperation (as when Harlow Robinson, the author of a shallow biography of the composer, called me the Kitty Kelley of musicology) or the ordinary hate mail (such as the letter to the editor from a reader who wrote in to say “I wish I knew Richard Taruskin’s birthday so that I might observe it properly”) in favor of three serious responses by professionals, which exemplify what in the article (deliberately adopting a term of Soviet abuse for its shock value) I called the “formalist stupor” that has so debased the role and the value of art in our culture. In his review of Rostropovich’s concert for the Times, which appeared on Prokofieff’s actual anniversary, John Rockwell violated the newspaper’s professed rule against what it calls “self-reference” and countered my Sunday piece by extolling the magnificent effect that the cantata made under Rostropovich’s baton—“all that metallic high percussion at the end!” he gushed—and wondered whether I really meant “to dismiss the claims of art” when assessing the value of the work. “Surely,” he contended, “music can still be permitted to make its own claims on posterity’s attention; and when that music is delivered in a performance as convincing and politically ‘correct’ as Mr. Rostropovich’s, those claims are only re-emphasized.”2 But of course I do dismiss what Mr. Rockwell chose to call “the claims of art,” since, as I put it in the article, they are in my view only the claims of “agreeable noise.” Such a way of receiving a work like Alexander Nevsky is a perfect example of the formalist stupor—our committed pretense that a piece of “good” music is nothing more than the sum of its sounds and the patterns they make. And if anyone knows what Mr. Rockwell meant by a “politically ‘correct’ performance” (unless it was merely a reference to Rostropovich’s anti-Soviet credentials), I should be grateful to receive instruction. Ned Rorem wrote in a little later to protest my interpretation of his philosophy of art, and to elucidate it: Since I don’t like being called smug and self-validating, let me spell out my meaning. Politics means propaganda, and propaganda means indoctrination, or the attempt to alter another’s thinking. Propaganda is direct, while art is reflective; a speech by a leader, evil or benign, is surely more effective at inciting

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change (from lethargy to patriotism) than even the greatest—or indeed, the crassest—art. Art, insofar as it is art, does not change us; rather it shows us what we did not know we knew, intensifying our already held convictions. Music that does impel action tends to be not even music per se but a hypnotic beat inciting us to battle. (Could I compose a piece that would make us march away from battle, I would devote my career to that, and to hell with art!)3

Art, insofar as it is art, does not change us. That could serve as a textbook example of tautology—that is, precisely, a self-validating dictum. If I venture to cite an example of art that has changed me, Mr. Rorem can dismiss it by definition, for if it has changed me it cannot be art. Making impregnable definitions to support our prejudices (for that is what “insofar as it is art” accomplishes) does indeed lead to arrogant conceit. And it is only arrogant conceit that reassures an artist like Mr. Rorem that if he cannot wholly transform the world with a single stroke of the pen he need not try with his art to make a little bit of difference. It is what so often seduces artists (perhaps unwittingly) into the trivial pursuit of mere métier, craft— not art for art’s sake but style for style’s sake, technique for technique’s sake. Do I sound now like a Lenin or a Zhdanov? If I do it is because fear of totalitarian perversion causes us to hug the opposite perversion—the notion that the artist owes us nothing, but we owe the artist a living. Finally, Leighton Kerner wrote in the Village Voice that I was asserting “the artistic bankruptcy of [Alexander Nevsky, or] any other music written because of a political agenda.”4 No, that’s Mr. Rorem, not me. What I was trying to convey to my readers (and some did get the message) was that the meaning of an artwork is not a wholly invested meaning but one that arises out of a relationship between the art object and a perceiving subject, who, I believe, ought to be alive to the world and perceive art, along with everything else, in the light not only of esthetic but also of ethical and moral values. What a piece of music says is not always or only what its composer meant to say. In fact, it cannot be that. (How, indeed, would we know?) Prokofieff did not always play toady to the tyrant as willingly and openly as he did in Alexander Nevsky. Many of his works now cast him as the tyrant’s victim, not his shill. The products of the composer’s last five years fall inevitably in the victim category, as do those of every one of his compatriots in the final stages of Stalin’s deranged despotism. As anyone knows who knows Soviet music, the period 1948 to 1953 was all sweetness and light, full of innocuous evocations of innocent childhood, practically the only safe topic left. Think of Prokofieff’s Seventh Symphony or his Winter Bonfire, or even the Cello Sonata—saccharine stuff, exquisitely made but unlistenable to any who know what savage threats coerced the soothing sounds. (Would it be better not to know? Let’s ask Santayana.)

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While the experience of hearing that San Francisco performance in January of 1990 rendered Alexander Nevsky unlistenable to me for a good long while thereafter, the experience never blinded me to its artistic and craftsmanly virtues, or those of its composer. I will always marvel at the orchestration. I will always dumbfoundedly admire Prokofieff’s epic talent, his ability to work with a minimum of bluster on a monumental scale. Of how many other composers, in an age of poetic constipation, could that be said? Who else, within living memory, could have brought off an opera the size of War and Peace and have it welcomed into the repertory? Prokofieff’s facility of invention will never cease to amaze me, likewise his gift of finding melodies and harmonies simple enough for any apparatchik to like, yet stylistically unique, convincing, and (at their best) magically evocative. His way with modulation is without peer, as innovative as the work of any of the more obvious modernists of the twentieth century—and totally intelligible to the ear’s mind, as theirs, so often, is not. Without the help of found objects (for he despised quotatious composers), Prokofieff was able, in Alexander Nevsky, to summon up a folk archaic universe of his own creation, one that a listener can believe in and imaginatively inhabit—just as he was able to “create” nineteenth-century European Russia in War and Peace or Renaissance Verona in Romeo and Juliet. In short, it was Prokofieff’s special genius to have proved, more compellingly than any other twentieth-century musician, that (as Schoenberg put it) there was still “plenty to be said in C major.” And that is why Prokofieff was among the last composers in history, along with Poulenc, Britten, and Shostakovich, to make a large and many-sided contribution to the standard repertory (with his the largest and most many-sided of all); and why, whatever the cost, he may have been right to return to Stalin’s Russia, where music such as he alone could supply was—whatever the reason—still in demand. But can we still listen to it the way we used to do? Or does a lot of it speak to us now of a time better consigned, so far as the performing repertory is concerned, to the dustbin of history? Apparently we can, and do—just as we still listen to Carl Orff’s celebrations of Nazi youth culture by way of the Goliards (in Carmina burana) and Catullus (in Catulli carmina); as we still listen to Respighi’s evocations of the glory that was Mussolini’s Rome. But is it really so easy to say no to Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini and yes to Prokofieff, Orff, and Respighi? Are there no costs? It was Prokofieff’s ultimate bad fortune not to have outlasted the period of his oppression and co-option. Fate played him a trick no novelist would dare contrive, and he died on 5 March 1953, the very same day as the dictator. Thus with Prokofieff, in contrast to Shostakovich (who lived on for two decades and more), there has been no exculpating revisionism, no distancing from the unhappy past, no de-Stalinizing memoirs or quartets. Where artistically less distinguished works by the younger composer are now routinely

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read as furtive protests and exalted as the secret diary of a nation, Prokofieff’s have not had the benefit of any such saving ventriloquism—till now, anyway, in the wake of my perceived attacks. (Harlow Robinson has claimed, preposterously, in response to me that Prokofieff’s Sixth Symphony was a “dissident” work, as if there were any dissidents in Stalin’s Russia except in Siberia or below the ground; and Valeriy Gergiyev has made the same claim, even more preposterously, for Prokofieff’s Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution.) The same historical forces that have elevated the obviously suffering Shostakovich to the rank of secular saint have caused the coolly stoical Prokofieff’s stock to plummet. In the words of the Soviet émigré choreographer Valeriy Panov, “after Shostakovich, Prokofiev seems like a child.”5 .

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An attempt at reassessment can be detected in some centennial remarks by Alfred Schnittke, widely regarded in the early 1990s as the foremost Russian composer.6 Speaking at a Prokofieff festival in Germany, where he was by then living, Schnittke raised anew the perennially vexing question: Why did he go back? It is a question that has been asked now for more than seventy years. Why, after a decade and a half as an émigré celebrity in New York and Paris, did this brilliant musician accept Soviet citizenship in 1932, take up permanent residence in Moscow in 1936, and spend the fifteen years from 1938 until his death in enforced estrangement from the West, writing the works that for all their easy stylistic accessibility are now—for some of us, anyway—so fraught with pain? Looking back from our present post-Soviet, post-Communist perspective, it can only seem a tragic mistake. As already implied, the last five years of Prokofieff’s life were a nightmare: most of his music was banned; his first, abandoned, but only legal wife, the mother of his children, was arrested and sent into the Gulag (can we even imagine the guilt, the shame, and the sense of impotence that must have caused him?); and his health was shattered. Along with all the other most prominent Soviet composers, he was publicly denounced in February 1948 by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in its infamous Resolution on Music. As the most celebrated of them all, his name headed the list, and he had to have lived in mortal terror. Practically the only work of his that retained official approval during the Zhdanovite half decade was, yes, Alexander Nevsky, which the composer came to hate as it was continually blaring from the radio when practically all his other music went unplayed. This we know from a late-Soviet memoir by Prokofieff’s son Svyatoslav7—and Rostropovich should have remembered it, and known better than to program this of all Prokofieff’s works in a concert dedicated to his memory.

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The opera War and Peace, Prokofieff’s crowning opus, on which he labored for a dozen years, frantically revising and re-revising it in a hopeless effort to stay abreast of the Party line, was hounded from the stage on the eve of the first performance of its second part; Prokofieff never got to see it complete. Even the opera he wrote for purposes of explicit exculpation, a propagandistic saga of wartime heroism called The Story of a Real Man, was persecuted. Unremitting anxiety prevented his full recovery from a concussion suffered in a fall; he existed as a semi-invalid, a shut-in, forced to limit his work time to a single pitiful hour each day. He died at the age of sixty-one looking twenty years older, a broken man. So why did he go back? The usual answer is couched variously, depending on the coucher’s point of view, in terms of patriotic nostalgia, spiritual crisis, or venal opportunism— plus the composer’s naive or megalomaniacal conviction that the force reducing lives to rubble wherever he looked would never touch him. Prokofieff himself emphasized patriotic nostalgia, at least in public. In a widely quoted comment he made to a French reporter in 1933, he let it be known that “the air of foreign lands does not inspire me because I am Russian, and there is nothing more harmful to a man than to live in exile, to be in a spiritual climate incompatible with his race.” 8 Soviet writers unanimously favored spiritual crisis, never failing to compare the composer with the hero of his 1929 ballet The Prodigal Son. The ninth chapter (entitled “Efflorescence”) of Israel Nestyev’s official biography is headed by an epigraph from the biblical parable itself: “For this thy brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost, and is found.” 9 Tikhon Khrennikov, head of the Union of Soviet Composers from the fateful year of the Resolution on Music until the equally fateful year 1991, made an odious comparison in the course of an obituary for Stravinsky, who had lived out his years in resolute emigration, and who died in New York in 1971: “It was Prokofieff’s good fortune that he returned to his homeland in time. Having experienced a creative crisis in the late ’20s and early ’30s . . . the great artist sensed that he needed new life impressions. And his Soviet homeland gave him these new impressions.” Khrennikov contrasted Prokofieff’s happy fate with that of Stravinsky, who, “living far from his homeland . . . withdrew further and further from the national source that had fruitfully nourished his creative imagination, [which] gradually wasted amid the ‘universalizing’ tendencies of the general European musical development.”10 Stravinsky himself may serve as spokesman for the last, least flattering, explanation: according to him, Prokofieff’s return was “a sacrifice to the bitch goddess and nothing else; he had had no success in the United States and Europe for several seasons, while his visit to Russia had been a triumph.”11

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And yet these views are not irreconcilable if they are set within a broader historical context, and if personal considerations—call them tragic flaws, if you like—are given their due. Prokofieff was a pampered prodigy, raised by doting middle-class parents who were persuaded, and who persuaded their son, that he was a second Mozart. (Stravinsky, by contrast, was raised as a gentry dilettante whose parents marked him for a civil service sinecure and actively discouraged his professional involvement with music. His artistic development was slow.) Prokofieff was brought up to regard peers and rivals as inferiors, but he also grew up fatally dependent on the approval of benign authority. (Stravinsky grew up a repressed rebel, who nurtured a passionate envious hatred of those on whom benign authority smiled, such as Alexander Glazunov and the now forgotten Maximilian Steinberg, Rimsky-Korsakov’s most favored pupil and eventual son-in-law.) Prokofieff was an obsessive rater of things. He assigned “grades” to the books he read and the music he heard in boyhood and adolescence, a habit that reflected his view of human relations. He saw all such relations in terms of rank. Throughout his life he tyrannized those “beneath” him—to the point where even his friends, in the words of the pianist Alexander Borovsky, thought him “a real sadist”—and he sucked up to those “above.”12 His married life was symptomatic. With his ill-fated first wife (whom he never really divorced), it was one continuous, ferocious squabble, as memoirs by onlookers attest.13 He found happiness in late middle age with a doe-eyed slip of a girl (whom he never really married), fourteen years his junior, who regarded her life’s mission as that of Handmaiden to the Lord. She also had good Party connections. This ambitious, narcissistic man was never really a musical rebel, even when carefully cultivating the image of an enfant terrible at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His “advanced” musical vocabulary was a way of tyrannizing his peers, but it clothed a conventional musical syntax and expressive rhetoric. He was a shallow modernist who made sure that academicians—like Nikolai Tcherepnin, his protector on the conservatory faculty—could always detect his underlying allegiance to (and mastery of) the traditional skills and values on which grades were based. With his fabulous melodic gift and a keyboard facility any full-time virtuoso might have envied, Prokofieff was able to give his music a dazzling professional gloss, a veneer of harmonic daring, and an instant imprint (as even Stravinsky had to concede) of personality. Yet his music was as academic as could be when it came to “form,” and absolutely primitive when it came to rhythmic construction and elaboration. These limitations came to the fore when his benign authorities were Diaghilev and the Parisian tastemakers. The works Prokofieff produced in the years immediately following his graduation from conservatory were in the main weak imitations of Stravinsky. In the Scythian Suite (originally conceived

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as a neoprimitivist ballet like The Rite of Spring) and the cantata Seven, They Are Seven (Semero ikh) he was able to catch something of the crashing orchestration and the brusque “polyharmonies” of Stravinsky’s great ballet. But its tonal logic and its rhythmic syntax eluded the younger man. Prokofieff’s imitations were rhythmically square and dull. The cantata came out a veritable series of grandstand cheers (“Se-me-ro ikh! Se-me-ro ikh! Se-me-ro se-me-ro se-me-ro ikh!”). No wonder fastidious critics in Russia during the immediate prerevolutionary period used to call Prokofieff a musical futbolist (soccer champ). In bid after pathetic bid for recognition as a leader of the international modern movement, the émigré Prokofieff revealed the tawdriness of his artistic aims and his ingrained reliance on old forms and rhetoric. His grandiose Second Symphony (1925), a score he fussed over endlessly in his determination to make it as complex as he possibly could, was a monumental flop. The Parisian public and press, who had just greeted Stravinsky’s early neoclassical works as the dernier cri, saw right through the overloaded surface to the inflated, outmoded nineteenth-century “symphonism” Prokofieff continued to purvey. At the time of his early negotiations with the Soviets, Prokofieff was reeling from the greatest fiasco of his career: an opera, The Fiery Angel, on which he had worked for eight years but—eerie premonition of War and Peace!— could not get produced anywhere, although he offered it to houses on both sides of the Atlantic. A concert performance of a single heavily abridged act in Paris under Serge Koussevitzky (who as the opera’s publisher had a stake in its success) was the only chance Prokofieff ever had to hear what he thought to be his greatest work. Like his last two Soviet operas, it would reach the stage only after his death. Like the Second Symphony, The Fiery Angel was sonically “progressive” but, by Parisian standards, esthetically old hat. Prokofieff suffered an evil premonition at the Koussevitzky concert, when two fellow émigré musicians Prokofieff couldn’t stand—Leonid Sabaneyev, who had been an ardent disciple of Scriabin, and Alexander Grechaninov, an epigone of the Mighty Kuchka—“came up to me,” as he reported in a letter to his friend Myaskovsky in Moscow, “and began singing the act’s praises. At this I became rather ashamed and decided that the piece was perhaps mediocre after all.”14 Prokofieff in Paris, then, was a man with a great need to dominate who found himself trapped in the heavily populated second string behind Stravinsky. As for America, the émigré writer Nina Berberova overheard him in New York saying, “There is no room for me here while Rachmaninoff is alive, and he will live another ten or fifteen years.”15 Andrey Boreyko, the Russian émigré conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony, heard a corroborating tale from Svyatoslav Prokofieff: “When my father was asked why he moved back to Russia in 1936 he said, ‘I didn’t like to be Russian composer No. 2 in Europe

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after Stravinsky, and No. 2 in the U.S. after Rachmaninoff. I liked to be No. 1, and that’s why I chose Soviet Russia.’” (“Ironically,” Boreyko adds, “in Russia he became No. 2 after Shostakovich, at least for many serious musicians!”)16 In 1927 Prokofieff experienced the triumphant reception in the Soviet Union to which Stravinsky alluded. In an interview published shortly after the fact, Stravinsky unkindly, but not inaccurately, attributed this success to the “inconstancy” of Prokofieff’s musical makeup.17 What he surely had in mind were the avowedly accessible pieces Prokofieff made a habit of turning out alongside the programmatically difficult ones: the Second Violin Concerto of 1923, for example, and above all the Third Piano Concerto, which since 1921 had been the composer’s own concert platform Bucephalus. To hardened modernists these pieces represented pusillanimous or cynical career insurance. Prokofieff himself knew better, as we all know now. His simpler style embodied his true, inimitable self. It was in these pieces, which he wrote for the sake of audience appeal, and not in the ones he wrote for the sake of his reputation with the snobs, that his full originality, his particular genius, resided. It was time to beat a tactical retreat. What the Soviet Union represented for Prokofieff was a pond—provincial, perhaps, but undeniably huge—in which he would be beyond dispute the biggest fish. It was a place where artistic and political authority was one, and where that authority promised to be, for him, benign. In the antimodernist, doctrinally optimistic Soviet Union, the high-spirited, “life-affirming” music— attractive, inventive, novel yet not aggressive or excessively challenging—that came effortlessly to the mind of this old conservatory boy would be valued at a premium. The promise of munificent state commissions (beginning in 1932, with the score to the Soviet film Lieutenant Kijé ) would, moreover, release Prokofieff, who lived to compose, from the need to earn money as a performer. Nor can there by any doubt that he was given solemn assurances— not only by his original seducer, a hack novelist by the name of Alexander Tarasov-Rodionov, well known within the Russian expatriate colonies of Western and Central Europe as a Soviet agent, but by real authorities like Nadezhda Bryusova, the bureaucrat in charge of Soviet music education (and the sister of Valeriy Bryusov, the symbolist poet on whose novel Prokofieff had based the libretto of The Fiery Angel ), or Bryusova’s boss, Anatoly Lunacharsky, the People’s Commissar of Popular Enlightenment—that he would be exempt from overt political pressure. He must have thought he had evidence that this would be true. In 1932, the year he accepted Soviet citizenship, the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians, the one Soviet organization that had opposed him in 1927 and all but wrecked his Soviet tour of 1929, was abolished by government decree. In 1936, the year he closed his Paris apartment, the notorious Pravda editorial, “Muddle Instead of Music,” which marked the beginning

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of the darkest, most oppressive period of Soviet arts policy, made no mention of him, although he was a far more conspicuous target than poor Shostakovich, whom it scared half to death. In 1939 the great stage director Vsevolod Meyerhold was arrested and disappeared into oblivion just as he and Prokofieff were collaborating intensively on the staging of Semyon Kotko, Prokofieff’s first Soviet opera. Yet the composer was untouched, and the production proceeded on schedule (if not without bureaucratic meddling with the libretto). A man as ambitious and self-absorbed as Prokofieff had no trouble reading good omens in all of these events, crazy as that may seem in hindsight. In his centennial speech Alfred Schnittke had to face up to the irreducible quotient of careerism in Prokofieff’s decision to return, and to the characteristic indifference his “apolitical” façade camouflaged. “It goes without saying that this man knew the horrible truth about his times,” Schnittke rather chillingly asserted; “he simply did not allow it to overwhelm him.” Simply. And now the ventriloquist’s voice is heard: “[Prokofieff’s] way of thinking stayed within the bounds of classicism,” Schnittke conceded, “but all the greater was the tragic power of utterance in all those gavottes and minuets, those waltzes and marches of his.” And finally: Prokofieff refused as if on principle to recognize the apocalyptic turning point in the history of the twentieth century, which had begun with such ebullience. He thought he could hold out against it with a sportsman’s cold composure; he seemed neither to hear nor to see the approach of an annihilating havoc without precedent in human history. Or rather, he did not wish to see or hear. Such a stance united him to a certain extent with his great contemporary and rival Igor Stravinsky.18

But Stravinsky’s stance, while perhaps equally self-interested, was not at all self-deceiving. Nor was it “apolitical”: Stravinsky was a committed rightwinger between the wars. His political awareness allowed him to recognize the “turning point” for what it was, and he did not go back into the whirlwind. Schnittke insisted that on balance Prokofieff’s move paid off—and, with a heavy sense of irony, one has to agree. “Surely, had he stayed in the West he would have lived longer,” Schnittke allowed, referring to the illnesses, exacerbated by stress, that made Prokofieff a semi-invalid in his last years.19 “But in that case there would probably never have appeared such famous works as . . .” and here anyone can step in and finish the sentence with a list of favorite Prokofieff scores. Most will indeed date from the heinous Soviet period, and there’s the irony. Yet it may be that the Prokofieff we will treasure the longest will be the youngest. In the earliest phase of his career, before the prodigal ever left his father’s house, the prodigy turned out a trio of precocious, virtually flawless masterpieces: the First Piano Concerto, composed at age twenty for use as

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a conservatory graduation piece; the First Violin Concerto, which established Prokofieff as perhaps the greatest twentieth-century master of the scherzo; and the Classical Symphony, in which he first displayed his special genius for finding novel things to say in a well-worn style. One cannot listen to these fresh, somewhat bumptiously high-spirited pieces now without a twinge. They exude delight in creative play and confidence in a future that would cruelly betray their young creator. Knowledge of that future is now an ineluctable part of what we bring to our hearing of these works, and therefore an integral part of their meaning for us. However simple his vocabulary, however ingenuous his intentions, Prokofieff’s message has become a supremely complicated and disquieting one. For his most authentic contribution to our culture was his life. He is our musical Faust, our pitiable and terrifying Everyman. His biography, with its central crossroads motif, has become myth. More than just a cautionary tale, it is the elemental parable of the buffeting the arts have suffered in the great twentieth-century totalitarian states. It would be heartless to blame the unlucky composer for so spectacularly backing wrong horses, even when contemplating him, on his final foreign tour of 1938, nonchalantly sketching themes for Zdravitsa, known in the West as the “Toast to Stalin” (and one of his most lucrative state commissions), poolside at a Hollywood luxury hotel. It would be callous to blame him for making mistakes any one of us, given his gifts and opportunities, might just as easily have made; and yet he bears their indelible curse. “Suffering and great as that nineteenth century whose complete expression he is, the mental image of Richard Wagner stands before my eyes,” wrote Thomas Mann at the beginning of an immortal essay.20 We might not wish to claim a comparable greatness for Prokofieff. His sufferings were imposed, and his century was awful, the most atrocious and spiritually vacant in human history. But between man and times there was the same fatal congruence. As we say good riddance to the century, we may also find ourselves saying farewell, and sorry, to the man. NOTES

1. Ned Rorem, letter to the editor, New York Times, 18 April 1989. 2. John Rockwell, “Rostropovich Wears 2 Hats to Honor Prokofiev,” New York Times (national edition), 23 April 1991, B3. 3. Ned Rorem, in “Letters,” New York Times, Arts and Leisure, 12 May 1991, 6. 4. Leighton Kerner, “Icing a Reputation,” Village Voice, 14 May 1991, 80. 5. “Statement by Valery Panov,” distributed at a symposium “The Interior Shostakovich,” sponsored by Bucknell University in association with Harper and Row in New York, 9 September 1980, in conjunction with the publication of Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Told to and Edited by Solomon Volkov, trans. Antonina W. Bouis.

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6. Alfred Schnittke, “Slovo o Prokof’yeve,” Sovetskaya muzïka 11 (1990): 1–3. A translation can be found in A Schnittke Reader, ed. A. Ivashkin, trans. J. Goodliffe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 61–66. 7. Svyatoslav Prokofiev, “O moikh roditelyakh: Beseda sïna kompozitora s muzïkovedom Nataliyey Savkinoy,” in Sergey Prokof ’yev 1891–1991: Dnevnik, pis’ma, besedï, vospominaniya, ed. M. E. Tarakanov (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1991), 229. 8. Serge Moreux, “Through the Eyes of a Friend”; quoted in Israel V. Nestyev, Prokofiev, trans. Florence Jonas (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960), 241. 9. Nestyev, Prokofiev, 276. 10. L. S. Dyachkova and B. M. Yarustovsky, ed., I. F. Stravinskiy: Stat’i i materialï (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1973), 8–9. 11. Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Memories and Commentaries (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960), 65. 12. Quoted in Harlow Robinson, Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography (New York: Viking, 1987), 199. 13. See, for example, Nicolas Nabokov, Old Friends and New Music (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1951), chapter 8 (“Srg Srgvtch Prkfv”); or Vernon Duke, Passport to Paris (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1955), 121–24. 14. S. S. Prokofieff and N. Ya. Myaskovsky, Perepiska (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1977), 281. 15. Nina Berberova, The Italics Are Mine, trans. Philippe Radley (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), 356. 16. Quoted in a letter by Paul Moor in response to an article on Prokofieff by Terry Teachout, available online at http://listproc.ucdavis.edu/archives/mlist/ log0310/0003.html 17. “Beseda so Stravinskim,” Zhizn’ iskusstva (Leningrad), 14 June 1927; quoted in I. Stravinskiy: Publitsist i sobesednik, ed. Victor Varunts (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1988), 74. 18. Schnittke, “Slovo o Prokof’yeve,” 2. 19. Ibid., 2. 20. Thomas Mann, “The Sufferings and Greatness of Richard Wagner,” in The Thomas Mann Reader, ed. J. W. Angell (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1950), 420.

21

Tone, Style, and Form in Prokofieff’s Soviet Operas

When Prokofieff returned to Russia he never imagined that he was turning his back irrevocably on the West. A world-famous composer and pianist, he foresaw only the continuation of a brilliant international career. Although Soviet historiography dates his return to the year 1932, Prokofieff maintained an apartment in Paris until 1936. In 1938 he made a lengthy concert tour of Western Europe and the United States, and he planned another for 1940. Then, on 23 August 1939, the curtain fell. With the signing of the Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany became (in a popular phrase of the time) “sworn friends,”1 and cultural intercourse between Russia and Western Europe came to a virtual standstill. The pact gave way to the so-called Great Patriotic War in 1941, and the Patriotic War, in turn, to the Cold War. Prokofieff spent his last fifteen years in isolation. The period of Prokofieff’s residence in the Soviet Union was, moreover, a time of especially hard-line esthetic policy. In 1932, the very year Prokofieff first took up part-time residence in his Soviet homeland, a sweeping reorganization of the country’s cultural life took place. All existing literary and artistic organizations were liquidated and replaced by the Writers’, Artists’, and Composers’ Unions, bodies overseen by and directly answerable to the Communist Party.2 Party controls were asserted gradually but inexorably and finally clamped tight around music, and opera in particular, with the publication of the Pravda editorial of 28 January 1936—“Muddle Instead of Music,” an attack on Shostakovich’s The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. In this diatribe against modernism, which dates from Prokofieff’s first year of full-time residence in the Soviet Union, the approved style for Soviet opera was for the Originally published in Studies in the History of Music, vol. 2 (New York: Broude Bros., 1988), 215–39. Reprinted with permission.

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247

first time identified with the “classical traditions” of nineteenth-century Russian music. Quasi-Tolstoyan ideals of simplicity and universal accessibility were asserted and held up as an enforceable requirement, and traditional Russian xenophobia was brought into play in condemnation of composers and operas that enjoyed favor with “bourgeois audiences” abroad.3 Well, at least Prokofieff had not been guilty of this last. In fact, with the exception only of The Love for Three Oranges—which enjoyed favor not only abroad but in the Soviet Union too during the period of the New Economic Policy—his operatic career had been one of unremitting failure. At the moment of his return he was reeling from the greatest setback of his career— the utter fiasco of The Fiery Angel, on which he had labored for seven years but which he had not been able to get produced though he had offered it to opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic. The Gambler, the work with which the twenty-four-year-old Prokofieff had self-confidently set out to revitalize opera in 1916, waited thirteen years for its first production, and that had taken place neither in Russia nor in Russian but in Brussels, of all places, and in a French translation. There had been no further performances. Maddalena languished unperformed in a publisher’s warehouse (where, for complicated legal reasons, it continued to languish until 1979).4 Has an important composer—and one, moreover, who saw opera as his supreme vocation— ever had a more frustrating career? It hardly seems that Prokofieff would have needed guns pointed at his head to reconsider the stylistic and dramaturgical commitments that had brought him so little success. And yet, given the pressures both internal and external, the wonder is how little he compromised in his early Soviet years. Throughout his life, in fact, Prokofieff remained true to the operatic ideal of his youth—the throughcomposed dialogue opera in prose. There was a tradition for this sort of thing in Russia, centering around two radical works of the late 1860s— Dargomïzhsky’s The Stone Guest and Musorgsky’s Marriage. These were not so much operas as “sung plays,” to borrow Kerman’s useful term, that is, verbatim settings of preexistent stage dramas, in which the whole idea of dramma per musica was scrapped in the interests of realism and “truth,” and the problem of the structure of the libretto bypassed.5 The Stone Guest was a setting of one of four so-called Little Tragedies in verse that Pushkin had written in 1830. Musorgsky’s Marriage, an even bolder break with operatic tradition, was a setting of a laconic prose comedy by Gogol and deserved, far more than Dargomïzhsky’s work, to be designated a “recitative opera.” In these works, virtually all shaping was done by the text, give or take a few skimpily deployed leitmotives, but the musical interest was at all times centered in the voice parts, never the accompaniment. This rather aberrant manifestation, which Musorgsky christened opéra dialogué, came and went without leaving, it seemed, much of a trace on the development of Russian opera. And then, all at once around the turn of the

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century, composers everywhere began reopening the questions these strange Russian works had raised. The other three “little tragedies” of Pushkin were set between 1897 and 1903 by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, and César Cui.6 Abroad, Émile Zola was furnishing naturalistic prose texts to Alfred Bruneau, who as critic, significantly enough, was one of Russian music’s most active foreign propagandists.7 A similar laconicism characterized the libretti of the Italian verismo school (though Italy was never willing to give up verse, however terse). Musorgsky’s ideal of approximating the “intonations of the speaking voice” reached its apogee in the operas of Janácek and served Schoenberg’s expressionistic purposes as well. Nor should we forget that some of the early twentieth century’s most influential operas—Pelléas and Salome come instantly to mind, to say nothing of the somewhat later Wozzeck—were “sung plays.” It was in this atmosphere that Prokofieff came of age, and the influence of Musorgsky’s Marriage on him was especially direct. He witnessed the work’s improbably belated première performances in 1909 and at the very same time composed an expressionistic recitative scena on the final pages of one of Pushkin’s little tragedies, A Feast in Time of Plague (previously set by Cui).8 Interviews Prokofieff gave the press shortly after completing The Gambler paraphrase the aggressive, militant letters Musorgsky wrote around the time of Marriage and the first version of Boris—letters that had been given an important edition in 1916, the very year of Prokofieff’s opera.9 Like Musorgsky, Prokofieff called for the complete renunciation of the set piece in favor of freely flowing dialogue, and he dismissed verse texts as “an utterly absurd convention.” Not only was Prokofieff personally committed to the idea of a prose recitative opera that made little or no departure from the dramaturgy of the spoken drama, he actually saw in it the only chance of salvation for an art form whose validity was being called into question by such trendsetters as Diaghilev and Stravinsky. But whereas Musorgsky’s motivation had been a neoAristotelian conviction that mimesis of speech was the key to the portrayal of character and emotion—a conviction that seems to have come in large part through Georg Gervinus and his Händel und Shakespeare (1868)10—Prokofieff’s concerns were more narrowly those of stage-craft, what he called the “scenic flow” in his interviews related to The Gambler.11 Perhaps because Prokofieff’s philosophy of opera was strongly tied not to an overriding philosophy of art but only to considerations of effect, there were important differences in practice between his prose operas and Musorgsky’s. These are hinted at in a letter with which Prokofieff’s lifelong friend and artistic confidant Nikolai Myaskovsky greeted the belated publication in 1930 of The Gambler in piano-vocal score: It pleases me extraordinarily—a real solution to the problem of declamationalintonational opera. It is the same task as was set by Marriage and The Stone Guest, only now solved for the first time in a way that gives music its due.12

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An examination of Prokofieff’s operas through The Fiery Angel, along with his extended narrative song in prose, The Ugly Duckling after Andersen— which was conceived as a kind of operatic trial balloon right before The Gambler and exhibits all of the operas’ salient musical and textual characteristics in a more neatly self-contained form—reveals a concern for declamation that matches Musorgsky’s but also a far more varied musical embodiment. At the naturalistic extreme there is a kind of Russian Sprechgesang in which rhythm, tempo, and contour are modeled fastidiously on the patterns of conversational speech, with particular care taken with that most endemic of Russian linguistic traits, the tonic accent. In quick spoken Russian, the accent is spaced evenly and creates something approaching a beat, around which unaccented syllables arrange themselves in freely varying gruppetti. Lines set in just this way are legion in Musorgsky, common in Prokofieff, and surprisingly rare in the work of other Russian composers. Prokofieff is also given to an inherently more “musical” recitative style that suggests knowledge of and affinity for the somewhat earlier example of The Stone Guest. In this style of writing, the text is carried by phrases of equal note values, usually introduced and terminated with one or two notes of greater duration. This method is not at all a naturalistic way of setting Russian speech, but it has obvious antecedents in Italian and particularly in French recitative. At climactic moments, Prokofieff is apt to slow the tempo of the voice part to a patently “singing” pace—something that Musorgsky never permitted in Marriage, and Dargomïzhsky only rarely in The Stone Guest. At such moments in Prokofieff, regular lyric phrase structure in parallel rhythmic periods often emerges. The way Prokofieff was able to achieve this lyrical quality without departing either from the prose medium or from scrupulous adherence to correct declamation is perhaps his most original operatic technique, and the one by which he was most conspicuously able (recalling Myaskovsky) to “give music its due.” Prokofieff often invents a melodic idea quite independently of his text. This phrase can then act either as a leitmotif or as an abstractly musical “theme.” It furnishes a kind of mold into which just about any line of prose can be poured by observing the prosodic habits described above. Example 21.1 shows how the trick is done in The Ugly Duckling. The hypothetical model, deduced from a comparison of all the variants, is given above the various rhythmic versions we actually hear in the course of the musical narrative. The most obvious instance of this technique in the early operas is the small part of the Innkeeper in the first act of The Fiery Angel (ex. 21.2). Her two appearances are framed by lines set to the same melodic model, which here acts as an identifying leitmotif. The use of such “melodic molds,” as we may call them, gives Prokofieff a much greater versatility in his prose settings than Musorgsky enjoyed in Marriage. No longer bound to his text as sole shaper of every musical utterance, the composer is free to conceive his music a bit more abstractly and thematically, confident that through his method practically any prose text can be made to fit it.

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Example 21.1. The Ugly Duckling, op. 18 (1914). “mold”

! 2

C

(C )

g ! 68 C

WC

(C )

g C WC

C

C

(C )

g C

S

CO

C

V ze - lyo - nom u - gol - ke, (In a green nook among the burrs…)

! 68 C O

WC

Yey bï - lo (she was bored…)

! 68 C

g C

g C

g

CO WC

sre - di

YC

g ! 24 W C

g

g C

g C

C

C

g

68 68

g YC C C S h h vï - vo - dok

C

g

g Gg g T YC C YC

C

g

C

U - tya - ta niz - ko klan -ya - lis’ (The ducklings bowed low to the Spanish duck.)

T WC

SO

CO

skuch - no

C

g

g

lo - pu - khov

g

CO

Po - shol u - ti - nïy na (The brood of ducklings went out into the courtyard.)

g ! 24 Y C

C

gF g C C

g C

68

(C )

C

g T

C

C

h h tol’ ko

h

i

C

CO

pti - chiy

g -

G C C h h

Plo - kho pri - shlos’ bed - no - mu (Things went badly only for the poor ugly duckling.)

YC

C

span - skoy

T

G C C h h

YCO S

dvor.

YC

g C

g

ut - ke

24

24

YCO C h hj

ne - kra - si - vo (mu utyonku)

Attention to purely musical shape is felt on the larger levels of design, too. More sensitive than either Dargomïzhsky or Musorgsky to considerations of musical form—possibly because, unlike them, he was a conservatory graduate—Prokofieff was far more disposed than they to give his vocal compositions an easily comprehended overall shape. The use of melodic molds, for instance, ties The Ugly Duckling into a neat ABA package. And sometimes unifying devices do double duty, as much rhetorical as musical, as in the case of a textual refrain set invariably to the same musical idea—one of Prokofieff’s favorite methods.13 The composer also made considerable use of what may be called the “generalizing accompaniment,” which unifies long spans or returns in thematically significant or recapitulatory ways,14 as well as of what might be termed the “underlying melody,” reminiscent of the Italian

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Example 21.2. The Fiery Angel, op. 37 (1919–27), act 1, scene 1: the Innkeeper’s répliques.

! 44 W B

T

Gg g C C C

C

R C

C

Zdes’, go-spo-din rï - tsar’. (Here, sir knight, this is the best room.)

g g g T T Gg g 4 ! 4 WC C C C C C

C

C

È - to

C

S C

T C

g

g C

g

luch-sha - ya

g g C C C

C

Mo-zhet bït’, go-spo-din rï - tsar’ zhe - la - yet vi - na (Perhaps sir knight would like some wine or some lamb?)

! 44 W B

G T Cg Cg C

C

C

R C

Akh, go-spo-din rï - tsar’, (Ah, sir knight, better not to ask about her!)

g g g ! 44 W C W C C S

G T Cg Cg C

C

C

C

g C

g

CO

YC

g B

kom - na - ta.

g Gg g C C C

CO g YC B

i - li ba - ra - ni- nï?

J g C Cg Cg Cg Cg Cg

B

C

luch - she ne spra-shi-vai - te pro ne - yo!

R C

gi gi gi gi gi C C C C C C gi C gi C gi C

Pro - shchai-te, go-spo-din rï -tsar’, i da u-be-re-zhot vas ot ne-yo (Farewell, sir knight, and may Heaven protect thee from her!)

B

YC

ne - bo!

parlante technique: a recurrent melody without dramatic associations which accompanies the voice part at formally strategic moments, but is itself never sung.15 In sum, then, Prokofieff took as his operatic point of departure what we may call the traditions of Russian operatic radicalism. For all his careful attention to form and proportion, he made sure that not one of his pre-Soviet operas sported so much as a single “closed” vocal number. The only “detachable” music in them, if one may put it so, is orchestral, and in the case of The Gambler and The Fiery Angel, even that much was detachable only by dint of considerable recasting.16 Prokofieff sought, and in large part achieved, a truly ongoing scenic action, supported by music that asserts perhaps a more conspicuous shaping role than in the works that provided him with his evident models, and yet where—in keeping with just about every Russian composer’s anti-Wagnerian credo—at least as much musical interest is concentrated in the voice part as in the orchestra. The latter is never permitted to preempt the musical content of the opera to the extent that it does in the operas of the Wagner-Strauss school, for this had always been the principal Russian objection to Wagnerian opera. Though leitmotif is employed, as it had been in Dargomïzhsky and Musorgsky, its use is restrained and rather primitive compared with the Wagnerian prototype, lest it compromise the essential nature of the sung play by turning it—to cite the other member of Kerman’s dichotomy— into a “symphonic poem.”17

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prokofieff’s soviet operas

.

.

.

That Prokofieff did not at first regard his return to the Soviet Union as the stylistic watershed it now appears to be is evident from an essay he wrote describing his first Soviet opera, Semyon Kotko (1939), on a subject derived from Valentin Katayev’s novella Ya—sïn trudovogo naroda (I, son of the working people).18 Despite Prokofieff’s oft-quoted lip service to “a new people, new feelings, a new life [requiring] new means of expression,” we realize on reading the essay that these new means—new, that is, to Soviet audiences—are in fact Prokofieff’s accustomed style. No less than in his cocky Gambler interviews, Prokofieff expresses the conviction that operatic action must be dynamic and continuous, that the traditional numbers format prevents this, and that static musical moments on stage are to be avoided at all costs. Recognizing that this prescription was a bit radical for Soviet tastes, and recognizing, too, that Soviet arts policy was increasingly oriented toward the safest elements in the Russian “classical heritage,” Prokofieff adopts a sly tactic in promulgating his operatic credo before his new audience: he paraphrases a well-known letter to Mme. von Meck in which Chaikovsky acknowledged his operatic failures and admitted that—in Prokofieff’s words, now—“when a person goes to an opera he wants not only to hear but to see.”19 Prokofieff goes on to justify his operatic procedures by citing precedents not only from Chaikovsky’s writings but from his operas as well. One remembers that 1940, the year in which Prokofieff wrote his essay, was Chaikovsky’s centenary, and a kind of official canonization of the nineteenth-century master was taking place in line with the Communist Party’s new interest in resurrecting the classical Russian tradition. Prokofieff cites two kinds of aria, both of which can be found in Yevgeny Onegin: the “Lensky type,” which paralyzes action, and the type exemplified by Tatyana’s Letter Scene, which carries the action along. Prokofieff promises that “my opera will have this second type of aria” and goes on to advertise the fact that “this is, of course, far more difficult, and occasionally I have had to substitute vocal parts which, though not arias in the exact sense, offer no less opportunity to the singer.”20 One has to admire the way in which Prokofieff, not usually credited with a great deal of musico-political adroitness, managed to describe Russian radical opera in terms of its virtual antithesis. Prokofieff insisted on prose texts and unbroken action to an extent his librettist Katayev found “terribly pedantic.”21 Katayev had envisioned a musical setting for his novella along the lines of the “song opera,” a genre hatched in the 1930s as a kind of answer to Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth and classically represented by Ivan Dzerzhinsky’s Quiet Flows the Don and Tikhon Khrennikov’s Into the Storm. (The latter had its première the same year as Semyon Kotko and in the same theater—a circumstance that inevitably led to invidious comparisons.) The song opera took for its basic unit of construction such doggedly accessible

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forms as strophic couplets and patter songs, and employed them dramaturgically in blatantly “expository” fashion, in keeping with the didactic aims of Socialist Realism. Little wonder, then, that Prokofieff and Katayev did not get along. The composer, for one example, considered absurd the librettist’s proposal to have a character who happens to be a sailor identify himself as such by dancing the yablochko (the famous “Russian Sailor’s Dance” familiar to concertgoers from Glière’s Red Poppy ballet suite).22 The librettist, for his part, was bemused by Prokofieff’s penchant for complex, multileveled scenic action, where as many as three scenes are played simultaneously in a frantic effort to avoid stasis.23 But there are important differences between Semyon Kotko and Prokofieff’s earlier operas—differences that suggest that Prokofieff did genuinely look to the classical Russian tradition for guidance. I would contend, though, that at this point he did so not directly in response to Soviet pressure, the brunt of which he was yet to feel, but because he was determined not to repeat the staggering failure of The Fiery Angel. Most fundamental is a return to certain basic principles of dramaturgy he had formerly eschewed as outmoded. In his 1940 essay Prokofieff rationalized the choice of Katayev’s novella as subject by noting “its many contrasting elements: the love of young people, the hatred of the representatives of the old world, the heroism of struggle, mourning for the dead, the rich humor characteristic of the Ukrainian people.”24 It was probably the Nazi-Soviet pact that caused Prokofieff to omit from his description what is obviously the opera’s fundamental contrast: the German invaders with their twisted, dissonant march music, and the open-hearted diatonicism of the positive characters, full of melodic turns appropriated from Russian and Ukrainian folk music. Never before in his operatic career had Prokofieff paid the slightest attention to elements of genre or to national character, and his prior dramaturgical convictions had rejected contrast in favor of a more organic dramatic shape based on a sustained cumulative sweep—what he had called in the case of The Gambler a “steady dramatic crescendo.” The libretti of Maddalena, The Gambler, and The Fiery Angel are all without significant elements of contrast, and this above all had been the undoing of the last-named opera. Determined, as I say, not to repeat this blunder, Prokofieff went so far the other way as actually to copy the plot of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, the very fountainhead of the Russian classical tradition in opera. Glinka’s work is a paradigm of contrast dramaturgy—the underlying contrast being again expressed in terms of nationalities25—and it shares with Semyon Kotko the high patriotic theme of defending the motherland against foreign invasion. Prokofieff’s opera contains a scene not present in the original novella, in which the Germans intrude upon the hero’s and heroine’s betrothal ceremony, exactly as the Poles interrupt a similar scene in Glinka’s opera. The composer even recalled at this moment the swinging krakowiak and polonaise rhythms Glinka had used in his not overly subtle characterization of the Polish

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soldiers. The effect in Prokofieff’s work is a kind of announcement of kinship with the classical traditions of Russian opera. Further “classicalizing” modifications in Prokofieff’s style include the introduction of a limited number of vocal set pieces, the incorporation of elements of genre both in the form of “interpolated” numbers and as a more generalized stylistic influence, and a noticeable effort to “lyricalize” the opera—all, it should be emphasized, within a continuing reliance on through-composed prose declamation as basic dramatic medium and provider of continuity. The effort to lyricalize was born of Prokofieff’s newfound reliance on contrast. In Semyon Kotko levels of lyricism are not only functions of dramatic situation and mood, as had formerly been the case in Prokofieff’s operas and in The Ugly Duckling, but are now an element of characterization as well. To put it baldly, positive characters sing, villains declaim. Thus, to observe Prokofieff’s new lyric style, we should look first to the roles of the hero and heroine, to the “kid sister” Frosya, and to the Ukrainian revolutionary partisans. A couple of technical observations will help us to understand this new lyricism. First, canny craftsman that he was, Prokofieff tried to give his music a more lyrical aspect by casting some of the dialogue, which would ordinarily have been set as recitative, as actual rhythmic speech—the kind of thing one indicates with “x’s” in place of noteheads. This increased the total range of vocal styles by adding another level at the unmusical end, and by contrast emphasized the lyricism at the opposite extreme without recourse to formal arias. It was therefore possible for Prokofieff to make the somewhat puzzling claim that in Semyon Kotko he had “avoided dry [secco?] recitative.”26 In fact, what he did was to take the musical prose of his earlier opera and resolve it, in effect, into two precipitates: one more melodious than before, the other less so. Recitative, as Prokofieff used the term in his essay, was what would have fallen between the two styles. In more common usage, of course, much of what Prokofieff referred to as “aria of the second type” was in fact a variety of recitative—more precisely, “melodic recitative,” to borrow a term from the critical vocabulary of César Cui.27 The reasons for Prokofieff’s modification of approach can be deduced from a paragraph in which the composer attempted to meet an anticipated objection to the “unmelodiousness” of his style: Any melody is easy to memorize if its design is familiar. On the other hand, if the design is new the melody will not impress itself on the ear of the listener until he has heard it several times. And more: an opera may have few tunes, but if each tune is repeated several times the listener will remember them. If there are too many tunes the listener will be unable to absorb them all at the first hearing and is apt to mistake abundance for poverty. . . . Although it would obviously have been more advantageous from the standpoint of immediate success to have filled the opera with melodies of familiar design I preferred to use new material and write new melodies of new design and as many as possible.28

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These remarks can easily be seen as a protest against the facile folksiness and the constant tune-plugging of the song operas of the thirties. But there is another dimension here as well. For when referring to “the listener,” Prokofieff cannot have meant only Soviet listeners, who had as yet had no opportunity to judge Prokofieff’s operatic style. He must also have had in mind the Western listeners who had rejected The Gambler and The Fiery Angel. And, despite the show of defiance, Prokofieff had in fact striven to limit and more fully develop his melodic material in Semyon Kotko than he had in his earlier through-composed operas, where he had truly written “as many melodies as possible,” meaning that, except for a few leitmotives and melodic molds, practically every line of text took a new melodic phrase. Beginning with Semyon Kotko there is an effort to “give music its due” at even the prosiest moments. This aim noticeably influenced the structure of the libretti in the Soviet operas, for now repetitions of words and phrases, as pegs on which to hang repetitions of melodic phrases, were actively sought and exploited as formalizing agents. No longer were such repetitions merely the pretext for ostinati (as in Renata’s ravings in The Fiery Angel or Lyubochka’s ravings, obviously derived from Renata’s, in act 3 of Semyon Kotko), but rather they offered a way of giving memorable thematic structure to a scene without recourse either to formal aria or to the more obvious device of orchestral melody. The best example of this can be found in act 1, scene 2, of Semyon Kotko, the very first scene to have been composed (in March 1939). In the dialogue of Semyon and his bride Sonya, Sonya tries rather coquettishly to cut the encounter short with the teasing phrase, “Well, with that let’s say bye-bye” (Nu i s tem dosvidan’ichka), a phrase lifted directly out of Katayev’s novella. In the original scene as Katayev wrote it, the line occurs twice—once uttered by Sonya and once by Frosya.29 In the libretto, Sonya alone sings it, and she sings it no fewer than seven times.30 Its melodic contour becomes a transitory leitmotif to which a few other lines of text are also set, according to the principle of melodic molds Prokofieff had pioneered in his earlier operas, and it is even occasionally echoed by the orchestra alone. The line shares the characteristic play on the major and minor third that reaches its apotheosis in the love music of act 3, the so-called Nocturne—all in all, a most instructive instance of the limitation and “thematization” of recitative melody in the interests of overall unity and memorability. Example 21.3 shows the relationship of the line to others that share its major-minor motive. The use of folk genre in the opera requires comment by reason of its novelty in Prokofieff’s operatic style. The only instance of actual quoted folk melody occurs in Frosya’s song (also in the second scene of act 1), the middle section of which is based on a Ukrainian melody that had already served Chaikovsky for Vakula’s third-act aria in Cherevichki. Unlike Chaikovsky’s, Prokofieff’s use of the tune does not violate the tenets of “realism.” Frosya, left alone on stage, actually sings the folk song in the course of the action. She does

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Example 21.3. Semyon Kotko, op. 81 (1939). a. Act 1, scene 2. SONYA

! 68 C h

I

SEMYON

h

C

s tem

h

C

WC

g

WC

g h

C h

F

Õ! W C Q

C

do - svi - dan’ - ich - ka.

Son

XC -

T C

Y

!

ya!

b. Act 3, scene 1: Nocturne.

Y C ! Y YY 44 h

C YC

C

C XC C C

C C

C C

C

C C C C

etc.

not express her own personal feelings “to” the melody the way Chaikovsky’s character does, in a manner that already offended the nineteenth-century “kuchkists.” But while Prokofieff’s positive characters never sing their dialogue to folk melodies, their musical speech does contain melodic elements (“intonations,” as Soviet critics would call them) abstracted from the general style of folk music. An example obvious enough not to require documentation comes from the act 1 love duet (ex. 21.4). The cadential formula 5–4–1 is familiar from world-famous Russian melodies found in compositions ranging from Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat to Solovyov-Sedoy’s Podmoskovnïye vechera (Moscow nights). Prokofieff made no attempt to set to their authentic melodies the wedding song texts that Katayev had incorporated into his novella (much as Ostrovsky had often worked similar material into his plays). Characteristically, Prokofieff preferred to invent his own tunes. In the second act these choral wedding songs form the background against which the betrothal scene is played—a device with roots in Russian opera going all the way back to the eighteenth century. But when one of the wedding choruses is reprised at the opera’s finale, sung to a new text rejoicing in the dawn of Soviet power, we cross the boundary into specifically Soviet esthetic terrain, as we do again when a chorus accompanying the burial of a revolutionary martyr is sung to a theme that had been heard previously as one of the hero Semyon’s leitmotives. To use Semyon’s theme as the basis of a general expression of faith in the revolution is to tie the individual to the collective in a way that has obvious connections with the tenets of Socialist Realism and with the dramaturgy of the song opera. But such devices had been specifically opposed by the operatic radicals of the nineteenth century on the grounds that they excessively generalized the portrayal of character. Despite these touches and others like them, Valentin Katayev predicted the

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Example 21.4. Semyon Kotko, act 1, scene 2.

Õ!

WWWW

SEMYON

2 R 2

C Ne

W W W W SONYA S C C !

Ved’ ya

C

C C

mo - gu,

C

C XC

ob - rat

-

C XC

C

C WC WC

ne

mo - gu

C C

WC

te - bya

C

C

no ver - nus’ k te - be

C

C C B

ni - kak

pu - stit’.

C

C C C

na

B

B

etc.

vsyu zhizn’.

(I simply cannot let you go. — Don’t worry, I’ll be back for good.)

failure of Prokofieff’s opera drawn from his novella. He was right. A controversy, largely devoted to the fruitless sacrifice of Prokofieff’s opera on the altar of Khrennikov’s Into the Storm (or the other way around), raged for half a year in the Soviet musical press. But the verdict stood for decades. Here it is in the words of Israel Nestyev, whose biography of Prokofieff has been somewhat tarnished by the passage of time, particularly as regards once controversial works over which the pendulum of official opinion has swung since the late 1950s: The theme of heroism is poorly realized in the opera. The portrayal of the hero, Semyon Kotko, is kept too strictly within the bounds of everyday life; his ideological growth, his transformation into a conscious fighter for the Revolution, is reflected neither in the action nor in the music of the opera. The Bolsheviks Remenyuk and Tsaryov also lack heroic stature. There are no musical themes which express the selfless struggle for Soviet power. Particularly disappointing in this respect is the finale, with its idyllic song, which in no way expresses the pathos of the Civil War.31

Prokofieff, in short, had made the common mistake of confusing Socialist Realism with realism. As a matter of fact, Nestyev’s remarks are inaccurate. What else could have been the purpose of the patently interpolated scene of Tsaryov’s funeral with its chorus in folk style to the words of the famous poem Zapoved’ (Testament) by the nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet Shevchenko? This monumental affair is immediately felt to be, its prerevolutionary words notwithstanding, the opera’s most authentically “Soviet” moment. And why else did Prokofieff quote Semyon’s leitmotif precisely here, if not to reflect “his transformation into a conscious fighter for the Revolution”? But it is senseless, after all, to try to rebut a dogmatic position. During the 1940s not only Prokofieff’s stock but that of his operatic forebears, too, plummeted precipitously. Yuri Keldïsh’s 1948 History of Russian Music emphasizes, in its treatment of The Stone Guest, “the stamp [it bears] of a somewhat hermetic and raffiné intellectualism,” and underscores, to the point where it emerges as a kind of warning, that the work—and works like it—can

258

prokofieff’s soviet operas

never achieve popularity.32 Tolerable in a remote historical personage like Dargomïzhsky, hermetic intellectualism was, in the Soviet Union just before the war (and even more just after it), of more than questionable merit. .

.

.

Before turning to Prokofieff’s response to this latest operatic failure it might be well to recall briefly the way in which Musorgsky, Prokofieff’s most kindred operatic spirit and his adopted mentor, had dealt with an esthetic cul-de-sac of his own. One of the enigmas of Musorgsky’s career has always been the stylistic retrenchment he seems to have made around the time of his revisions of Boris Godunov. It is difficult indeed to explain why Musorgsky went so much further in reshaping his masterpiece than anything that much maligned body, the Imperial Theaters Directorate, had demanded of him. The new-old direction initiated by the second version of Boris, moreover, was confirmed and carried much further in the two unfinished operas that ensued. Without presuming here in passing to give a definitive answer to this substantial and complex question, I would draw attention briefly to two documents.33 The first is a letter from Musorgsky to Rimsky-Korsakov written right after a private run-through of some scenes from the first version of Boris at Stasov’s summer estate. There, a rather bemused Musorgsky found that some of his audience thought his peasants “bouffe,” as he put it, while “others saw tragedy.”34 The other document is a passage in the memoirs of Musorgsky’s literary collaborator Arseniy Golenishchev-Kutuzov, who recalled Musorgsky’s confiding, on his deathbed, his wish to “get away from all this prose, which . . . doesn’t give one a chance to breathe.”35 It would seem that Musorgsky felt the need, toward the end of his career, to “give music its due” to a greater extent than prose would let him. The letter to Rimsky-Korsakov certainly suggests a stylistic crisis in the making: Musorgsky, perceiving that in the eyes—or rather, ears—of his audience prose recitative was ineluctably bound up with comedy, its traditional vehicle, begins to rethink his whole operatic technique with an eye toward elevating its tone to the level of true tragedy. This would help account for the kinds of changes he made in the second version of Boris—changes that involved the elimination of some of the crowd music and the unwonted introduction of a formal aria into the title role. A wish to elevate the tone of his work may also have prompted Musorgsky’s puzzling decision to interpolate such a wealth of often trivial genre numbers—particularly into the second act, which also contains Boris’s aria— that, ironically enough, at least one of them is almost invariably cut in performance. By making more decisive the contrast between what is bouffe and what is tragic, these genre interpolations helped define and focus the latter. Prokofieff faced a similar dilemma and made a similar response. The criticisms leveled most consistently against his operas by Soviet critics and officials had mainly to do with tone—with Prokofieff’s failure, due to his commitment to prose and through-composed techniques of construction, to

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attain the tragic, heroically exalted tone his subjects, particularly his Soviet subjects, demanded. And some of the ways Prokofieff came to terms with his critics were very much like Musorgsky’s: the strengthening of the lyric element, both by permitting closed and detachable vocal numbers and by further “musicalizing” his prose declamation along lines—it should be emphasized— already implicit in his earlier work; the incorporation, sometimes amounting to out-and-out interpolation, of genre elements he had formerly shunned; the strengthening of the role of leitmotif and reminiscence to the point where they could assert their traditional form-governing properties. And in addition Prokofieff sought ways of strengthening the ties between his operas and those of the “classical,” rather than the “radical,” Russian operatic tradition. We have seen that all of these aspects are already present in Semyon Kotko. They continued, now definitely under Soviet pressure, to increase in prominence. Prokofieff’s next opera, Obrucheniye v monastïre (Betrothal in a Monastery), after Sheridan’s Duenna, is usually looked upon as a kind of refuge in comedy— that is, a retreat to a dramatic medium for which Prokofieff’s methods were unquestionably suitable and in which there could be no requirement for heroism. But even in the case of this opera there is evidence that Prokofieff consciously “Sovietized” his style. Although it is little remarked, little documented, and all but uninvestigated in the secondary literature, the work underwent a thorough revision in 1943 that produced what amounted to a second version, after the cancellation of its announced première in 1941. A single laconic sentence in a statement Prokofieff made shortly before embarking on the revisions indicates that the composer felt it necessary to enhance the melodic content of the opera’s recitatives.36 In a textual note at the end of the published vocal score the editor, Yevgeniy Ratzer, specifies the extent of the revisions, which was indeed considerable.37 Indeed, a huge esthetic gulf separates Betrothal from Prokofieff’s other comic opera, Love for Three Oranges. The earlier opera is pure farce, and virtually limited in its vocal style and forms to prose recitative in the composer’s earlier manner. The later work is a lyrical romantic comedy, with a heavy reliance on rounded vocal numbers—albeit mainly of minuscule proportions in the manner of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, a work that had an indubitable influence on Prokofieff’s work—and an equal reliance on the device of reminiscence. Either opera could have been handled in either way; the differences cannot be attributed to their respective literary sources. Fortunately, we are in possession of copious documentation for the creative history of Prokofieff’s next opera, War and Peace, so we may point with some certainty to striking parallels between this third of Prokofieff’s Soviet operas and Boris Godunov.38 Of particular interest is the recasting of the role of General Kutuzov in the second half of the opera, the scenes of war. A glance at the creative history of his two arias (scene 8, before the battle of Borodino; and scene 10, the war council at Fili) will further illuminate the role of genre and of classical precedents in the transformation of Prokofieff’s

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operatic style, along with some further stages in the process of imbuing his prose recitative with elements of traditional operatic lyricism. The aria on the battlefield, originally a tiny arioso, was augmented around the beginning of 1945 with a second part in classical ternary form, the outer sections of which were based on Prokofieff’s arrangement (unpublished until 1967) of a Russian lyrical folk song (protyazhnaya) called “Zelyonaya kuvshina” (The green jug). At first intended for the cycle of folk song arrangements published as opus 104, a cycle on which Prokofieff was to draw extensively for The Story of a Real Man, “Zelyonaya kuvshina” was not published with the rest, for it was, in the composer’s opinion, not entirely appropriate to the original words, and the folklorist Yevgeniy Gippius, who had provided Prokofieff with the song, disapproved of the composer’s proposal to substitute a contrafact text.39 There was nothing, however, to prevent a contrafacture of a more radical kind, and the mood of the setting, if not the original song itself, seemed to express well the special combination of resolution, faith, and tranquility that characterizes Kutuzov on the battlefield. In the opera the original folk melody sounds forth in the trumpets, while Kutuzov follows its contour with a typical Prokofieff prose arioso of the period (ex. 21.5). While based in principle on the melodic mold technique, it embodies what for Prokofieff was a new kind of vocal lyricism, motivated perhaps in part by Myaskovsky’s not altogether favorable reaction to the first draft of War and Peace. Reversing his former opinion, Prokofieff’s closest friend now objected, in a letter to a third party, to the way the singers were made to “‘speak’ against a background of marvelous music in the orchestra.”40 As if in answer to this kind of criticism, Prokofieff repeatedly teases the vocal line up to its highest register on unaccented syllables, in startling contrast to his former regard for the niceties of declamation, and most unnaturally of all, the highest note is reached in the midst of a short melisma— the kind of decorative touch one will seek in vain in any prior Prokofieff opera, Soviet or otherwise, save where the intention was clearly satiric. Kutuzov’s second aria, the famous hymn to Moscow, later reprised to form the opera’s grand choral finale, was the most rewritten item in the opera. The original conception, once again, was a short arioso linked to the scene 8 arioso (in its original conception) by shared leitmotivic material. It was the conductor Samuil Samosud who goaded Prokofieff into expanding Kutuzov’s big moment into a full-fledged aria, one of the opera’s central moments. For this aria, too, Prokofieff adapted a melody he had originally composed in an altogether different context, the film music for Sergey Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible.41 Samosud put his request to Prokofieff in the form of a comparison with the big arias of Ivan Susanin and of Prince Igor in the operas named for them. But what is almost uncanny is the way Prokofieff’s solution to the problem recapitulated Musorgsky’s process of revising Boris Godunov’s act 2 monologue, “I have attained the highest power.” In both instances declamation over a texture of leitmotives was replaced by lyrical melody borrowed from a previously

prokofieff’s soviet operas

261

Example 21.5. War and Peace, op. 91 (1941–52), scene 8: Kutuzov’s aria (1945). Zelyonaya kuvshina (trumpets)

[

C

BO

! c C

KUTUZOV B # c C ] Zhe - lez

[

]

! #

B C B god;

C -

stra

C -

C

C

BO

na - ya

B C

C C C ne

C

BO h

grud’

C C h

ne

shit

BO

C C WC C C h h -

C h

C

bo - it - sya

B

CO h

C

B C h

C h

C

C h

C

su - ro - vo - sti

C

CO C C C C C WC h h

sya ne - smet - nïkh

h

h

C

po -

A A

etc.

pol - chishch vra - ga.

(The iron breast fears no storm; nor does it quail at the enemy’s numberless hordes.)

composed work (in Musorgsky’s case from the unfinished opera Salammbô) and for the identical purpose: exaltation of tone and monumentalization of form.42 .

.

.

The final stage of all these processes may be observed in The Story of a Real Man. This is the opera Prokofieff was working on at the time of the Communist Party’s Resolution on Music of 10 February 1948. Prokofieff wrote a widely publicized letter of response to the Central Committee in which, besides a certain amount of pro forma recantation, he voiced with surprising courage the gist of the operatic credo he had formulated in connection with Semyon Kotko some eight years before. In fact it is evident that he had dusted off his old essay of 1940, which had not been published at the time, and paraphrased whole sections of it in those parts of his letter that touched on opera. About the work in progress he furnished little in the way of specific information beyond a somewhat hedged pledge that there would be “lucid melody, and as far as possible, a simple harmonic language,” some “contrapuntally developed choruses” on Northern Russian folk songs, and new—for him—emphasis on ensembles, the worst of all operatic bêtes noires for adherents of the radical operatic realism of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth.43 In the event, The Story of a Real Man does give some evidence of a wish to placate, for it is in many ways a very faithful musical reflection of the Socialist Realist principles so notably embodied in the Boris Polevoy novel that furnished the composer and Mira Mendelson, his colibrettist and common-law wife, with their subject. The opera is a good example, to begin with, of the special Soviet

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prokofieff’s soviet operas

brand of “conflictless” dramaturgy that was felt at the time to be the most suitable for the treatment of Soviet themes—the theory being that in Soviet classless society there were no special conflicts, and so traditional conflict dramaturgy could not reflect Soviet reality. Accordingly, in Prokofieff’s opera there are no negative characters, for all that it is a war story, and the only struggle is the one waged by the wounded hero against his own despair. Then, too, a basic tenet of Socialist Realism is that art be optimistic (“life-affirming,” in standard Soviet critical jargon), and so this opera about the agony of a legless aviator opens with the jolly music of Prokofieff’s March for Wind Band, op. 99. Besides the March, no fewer than nine Prokofieff compositions of the 1930s and 1940s—most of them examples of that most quintessentially Soviet of all musical genres, the massovaya pesnya (mass song)44—along with a couple of previously published folk song arrangements and such other representatives of contemporary Soviet reality as a waltz and a rumba, are embedded in Prokofieff’s opera, in most cases as patently, even clumsily “interpolated” numbers, virtually unchanged. This raises the obvious and tantalizing question: at what point was all of this Soviet genre music injected? The hunch is inescapable that it was only after the Party Resolution that the grafting took place, and that the version of the opera finally staged and recorded in 1960 by the Moscow Bolshoi Theater, in which, among other changes and cuts, the overture was suppressed, may in fact have been closer to the original conception than the published score. Some of the Soviet genre is incorporated into The Story of a Real Man in a more subtle and sophisticated way, and at a profounder level of the drama. Here we may observe a more genuine, and perhaps more sincere, response to the demands of Socialist Realism. One of Prokofieff’s mass songs of the 1940s, “Pesnya o rodine” (Song of the fatherland), op. 79, no. 1, runs through the opera as a motto (sung to a new set of allegorical words about an oak tree that weathered a storm) and also furnishes a leitmotif which is made to bear the weight of the drama’s turning point. As in the funeral scene of Semyon Kotko, the fate of the individual is tied to the collective through the personalized use of genre motifs. The “story of a real man” is based on a novel that in turn was based on the true story of a flyer shot down in the early days of World War II. He loses both his legs but lives to fly again. In most respects Alexei Meresyov, the flyer, is a typical “positive hero” of Soviet literature. But the relatively relaxed conditions of cultural policy during the war are reflected in the early stages of the story, where the wounded man is portrayed in the throes of an understandable, if rather un-Soviet, despondency. He is brought round in the second act by an old commissar he meets in the hospital. The Commissar shows Alexei a clipping about a Russian aviator of World War I who triumphed over a similar handicap. When Alexei complains that his condition is worse than the other’s, the Commissar imperturbably reminds him that he, after all, is a Soviet man, and answers Alexei’s protests by repeating this phrase like a hypnotic litany; each repetition is sung to the theme of the “Song of the Fatherland,” and each is

prokofieff’s soviet operas

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transposed a half step higher than the last. Finally, the Commissar is wheeled out, but Alexei, left alone to reflect, takes up the refrain and pushes it up yet another two half steps. The curtain falls on a new man. In example 21.6, “Song of the Fatherland” is given first in its choral “motto” form, and then as it is used in the “conversion” scene. Alexei’s protests are set in Prokofieff’s older manner, with careful attention to the contour and rhythm of natural speech. The Commissar’s motto-derived refrain, however, obeys a “higher” reality, much as Socialist Realism was supposed to reveal a higher truth than what Soviet critics call naturalism. Judged by Musorgskian standards of declamation, the Commissar’s utterances reveal all the earmarks of clumsy contrafacture. The line, “After all, you are a Soviet man,” would be given one single heavy accent, thus: “A ved’ tï zhe soVETskiy chelovek!” Its more emphatic repetitions would show an even more pronounced headlong dash to what Russian linguists call the “intonational center.” But Prokofieff takes no steps to prevent the particle “a” and the conjunction “no” from falling on long notes, and on the downbeat at that. It would be easy to hypothesize the adjustments Prokofieff might have made in the prosody, according to the principles of melodic molds he had long since developed; these, too, are given in the example. Removing the unaccented first syllable from the downbeat only minimally distorts the motto melody, and so the fact the Prokofieff chose not to take this simple step in the interest of declamation is a fair measure of what we may accordingly recognize to have been a genuine, rather than a forced, modification of his esthetic convictions. Here, too, we can find instructive analogues in Musorgsky, without benefit of Soviet esthetic dogma, in the folk song recitatives of The Fair at Sorochintsï. And before Musorgsky, Alexander Serov had tried to make urban folk song the bearer of drama at all levels from recitative through grand ensemble in his posthumously produced Vrazhya sila (The power of the fiend), a work given an epochal revival at the Bolshoi (in a revision by Asafyev) in 1947, the very year Prokofieff started work on The Story of a Real Man. Recalling the early critiques of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, which saw the composer’s highest achievement as consisting in “raising folk song to the level of tragedy” and expanding the concept of folk song to include all musical artifacts appropriated from the environment, we might suggest that Prokofieff tried through folk song to raise the tone of his work to a dramatic level comparable to that of the Russian classical tradition. To regard The Story of a Real Man as nothing more than a concession to the rigors of totalitarian discipline and the musical blatancy of the song opera would be a mistake, then. What is also often overlooked is the fact that of all Prokofieff’s Soviet-period operas, this one is the only one that is truly innovative from the dramaturgical point of view. New ground is broken—it has since become, alas, a densely populated terrain in Soviet opera—in adapting cinematic techniques to operatic purposes.45 These, of course, were techniques Prokofieff had had ample opportunity to observe in his

Example 21.6. The Story of a Real Man, op. 117 (1947–48). a. Motto.

W ! W 43 B

C

Vï - ros v

C

C C C C C

C

BO

Plav-nyakh du - bok mo - lo - doy,

B

C C C

BO C

S B

krep-kiy du - bok ku - drya - vïy.

(In Plavny there grew a young oak, a strong, leafy young oak.)

b. Act 2, scene 6: Alexei and the Commissar.

W W 3Orch. ! 4 B

C C

# W W 3COMMISSAR S S C 4

C S C

Pro - chol?

W ! W C # WW

C h

WC

B

C

C WC C h h h

B

C C C C

C C C C h h h h

S

C WC

CO C h jh

B

C

B

g

SC

C

ALEXEI g g g B O Cg O Ci C O Ci

YYY B C

zher - ka

S

-

COM.

B YYY

No

g

C

g B

S

C C

C

h

zhesh?

Od-noy stu - pni…

vet - skiy che-lo - vek. On le-tal na

W O ! W B C # WW

BO

h

U

BO

COM.

T

C

C GC C h h h

ALEXEI

C S

C C

Nu, chto ska

tol’ - ko od - noy stu - pni.

W ! W C # WW

C

C

C WC

ne - go

C

C C

B C

C C

A

ved’



C

C

C C

ved’



zhe

C

C C

C

so

-

so -

C C C C C C C C C C h h h h

Pro-sto è - ta -

C C

vet

C

zhe

C C

Far-ma-ne. Raz-ve è - to sa-mo - lyot?

C

C

B

C C C C jh jh C C C jh jh C j C jh h h h h

C

ne bï - lo

-

h

C h

C

C h

C h

C

skiy che - lo continued

prokofieff’s soviet operas

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Example 21.6 (continued )

Y ! YY BO

CO C C C C C C TO # ALEXEI YYY T C h jh jh jh jh hj h Na nyom che-go bï ne le - tat’? COM. B O # YY Y

WWWW

WBO C

C C

XCO WC WC XC W C W C h jh h h h h - tï, ni lov - ko - sti ne XC WC S S

C CO C jh h jh

ni bï - stro

Q

vek.

WW ! WW C C

# WWWW C

C

C WC C

C C

C

S

na

C

C

C

ko



vsyo

h

-

C

C C

C

zhe

BO

Q C C

C

WWWW

-

C

Q

na - do.

# WWWW C O

Od

C

WWWW

so

-

vet

-

h

C h

Q

C h

C h

C

BO

skiy che - lo - vek!

(—Have you read it? Well, what do you say? —He only lost one leg. —Only one… But then, you’re a Soviet man. —He flew a Farman. You call that an airplane? It’s just a glider. —But after all, you’re a Soviet man. —Anyone could fly it. You don’t need speed, you don’t need reflexes… —But still, you’re a Soviet man.)

c. Hypothetical “correction” of the Commissar’s declamation.

# WW 3 S 4

C C

C

A

ved’



C zhe

or, better yet:

# WW S S

h

C h

C

A ved’

C tï

C zhe

famous collaborations with Eisenstein and other Soviet filmmakers. The methods of flashback and montage are employed in The Story of a Real Man so as to permit characters present only in the hero’s imagination— particularly his waiting bride, Olga—to appear on stage and even to sing. And what could be more appropriate—even necessary—in an opera wholly concerned with an internal struggle, in which the title character never leaves the stage? In the second scene of the opera, Alexei, crawling through a forest on his belly, takes out and gazes upon a photograph of his beloved. Olga then appears to the audience “as she appears in the photograph” and

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prokofieff’s soviet operas

sings the first of the opera’s interpolated songs—a diminutive ternary number in which she recalls their happy meetings in the past. The opening of act 2 shows Alexei in the hospital, delirious after his operation. The operation itself and consultations with the surgeons appear to him in flashbacks, as does Alexei’s mother, along with Olga (who sings the same tune as in the preceding act), and Alexei’s best friend, another flyer. The whole is “montaged” into one of the most strangely motivated yet convincing ensembles in all of opera. In conclusion, a note of caution may be in order. In dealing with Prokofieff’s Soviet period it is easy to fall into an accusing tone, to speak of coercion and capitulation. But most of the modifications Prokofieff’s Soviet style displays are implicit in his earlier work, and ultimately it is possible to recognize the underlying continuity that links all phases of Prokofieff’s career. It is possible, too, especially when contemplating a masterpiece like War and Peace, to see the modifications as introducing a new versatility into Prokofieff’s operatic technique and therefore as constituting a legitimate enrichment of what had been a rather one-sided approach to musical drama. When we read in Mira Mendelson’s reminiscences that it was precisely the scene of Andrei Bolkonsky’s death—the present scene 12 of Prokofieff’s War and Peace—that first suggested musical possibilities in Tolstoy’s novel to the composer, we have a fair measure of how far he had come from the days of his brash youth, when opera was to be seen only in terms of an irrepressible forward momentum with no time either to look back or to stand still.46 For this scene is a veritable object lesson in the use of reminiscence, a device the young Prokofieff had scorned. It would seem that Prokofieff discovered—as Musorgsky had discovered before him—that there are dramatic possibilities afforded by music that the spoken drama cannot match, and that herein lies the special virtue, indeed the raison d’être, of opera.

NOTES

1. See Valentin Katayev’s extraordinarily frank remarks to Ludmila Skorino on his collaboration with Prokofieff on Semyon Kotko, in L. Skorino, Pisatel’ i ego vremya (Moscow, 1965), 307. 2. For an account of this period, see chapter 6 of Boris Schwarz, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917–1970 (New York: Norton, 1972). 3. The full text of this editorial (Sumbur vmesto muzïki) is reprinted in Sovetskaya opera: sbornik kriticheskikh statey, ed. M. Grinberg and N. Polyakova (Moscow, 1953), 11–13. An English translation may be found in Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin, Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, 2nd ed. (Belmont CA: Thomson/ Schirmer, 2008), 422–24. 4. See Rita McAllister, “Prokofiev’s Early Opera ‘Maddalena,’” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 46 (1970): 137–48, and idem, “Prokofiev’s ‘Maddalena,’ a Premiere,” Musical Times 70, no. 3 (March 1979): 205–6.

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5. Joseph Kerman, Opera as Drama (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), chapter 6: “Opera as Sung Play” (the term is there applied primarily to Pelléas et Mélisande). 6. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart and Salieri (1897); César Cui, A Feast in Time of Plague (Pir vo vremya chumï, 1901); Sergey Rachmaninoff, The Miserly Knight (Skupoy rïtsar’, 1903). 7. The Bruneau-Zola operas were Messidor (1897), L’Ouragan (1901), and L’Enfant roi (1905). L’Ouragan was given in Moscow in a Russian translation in 1905. Bruneau, in his Musiques de Russie et musiciens de France (Paris, 1903), which is heavily indebted to Cui’s La Musique en Russie (Paris, 1880), reports of Dargomïzhsky’s Stone Guest that it marks “an important date in the history of Russian music, since on almost every page in it declamation replaces arias, duets, and choruses in traditional and conventional form. . . . It is one of the most patently ‘advanced’ (if one takes into account the period when it was written) and most vigorously and remarkably imagined scores that I know.” If Bruneau truly knew it, and not just through Cui’s book, this might suggest that Dargomïzhsky’s work was not totally without influence outside of Russia. It is very likely that Bruneau did know the work at first hand, since he not only knew many Russian musicians but also made a quasi-official musical tour of Russia on behalf of the French government in 1901–02. 8. The public première of Marriage (one act in piano-vocal score, as it was left by the composer) took place at one of the Karatïgin-Krizhanovsky “Evenings of Contemporary Music” on 19 March (1 April) 1909 (cf. Pavel Lamm’s note to the published score of the work [Moscow, 1933]). Prokofieff, who had begun to appear himself on these programs at the end of the previous year (see Israel Nestyev, Prokofiev, trans. Florence Jonas [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960], 34), undoubtedly attended not only the performance but the rehearsals as well. On his scene from A Feast in Time of Plague, see Prokofieff’s Autobiography (Moscow, 1973), 575. As a child, Profokieff had made a previous setting of the whole play (see his Autobiography, 134–47, passim). 9. M. P. Musorgsky, Pis’ma k V. V. Stasovu, ed. N. F. Findeyzen (St. Petersburg, 1916). Letters to Rimsky-Korsakov and to the Purgold sisters had appeared in the Russkaya muzykal’naya gazeta between 1909 and 1911. 10. See Musorgsky’s autobiographical sketch, in The Musorgsky Reader, ed. Jay Leyda and Sergei Bertensson (New York, 1947), 420. The matter is pursued in Boris Asafyev, “Muzykal’no-èsteticheskiye vozzreniya Musorgskogo,” in M. P. Musorgsky: K pyatidesyatiletiyu so dnya smerti, 1881–1931. Stat’i i materialï, ed. Yu. Keldïsh (Moscow, 1932), 33–49, and in my own “Handel, Shakespeare and Musorgsky: The Sources and Limits of Russian Musical Realism,” in Music and Language, Studies in the History of Music 1 (New York: Broude Bros., 1983), 247–68; rpt. in Taruskin, Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 71–95. 11. These interviews are reprinted in S. S. Prokof ’ev: Materialï, dokumentï, vospominaniya, ed. S. I. Shlifshteyn, 2nd ed. (Moscow, 1961; henceforth abbreviated Prok: MDV), 205–6. 12. Letter of 12 June 1931. Published in M. G. Kozlova and N. R. Yatsenko, ed., S S. Prokofiev i N. Ya. Myaskovskiy: Perepiska (Moscow, 1977), p. 357. 13. Cf. the setting of the recurring line “That’s because I’m so ugly” (Èto ot togo, chto ja takoy gadkiy) and its derivatives, in The Ugly Duckling (Moscow, 1962), at rehearsal numbers 21, 26, 42, 50. 14. Cf. The Ugly Duckling, rehearsal numbers 1–3, 35–37, 38, 47–49.

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15. Cf. the middle section of The Ugly Duckling (rehearsal numbers 26–35). 16. Music from The Fiery Angel was reshaped into the Third Symphony, op. 44 (1928). Four Portraits and the Denouement from “The Gambler,” op. 49, a symphonic suite put together in 1931, gave the composer trouble. He had to sort the pages of his piano score into piles on the floor corresponding to the four characters whose portraits he was trying to extract from the seamless “scenic flow” of his opera. See Nestyev, Prokofiev, 237. 17. Kerman, Opera as Drama, chapter 7: “Opera as Symphonic Poem” (on Wagner). 18. “Semyon Kotko,” written in 1940 for a projected symposium on the production of the opera by the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater; published for the first time in Prok: MDV, 235–38. 19. Chaikovsky put it this way (27 November [9 December] 1878): “In composing an opera the stage should be the musician’s first thought; he must not abuse the confidence of the theatergoer who comes to see as well as hear” (Modeste Tchaikovsky, The Life and Letters of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, trans. and ed. Rosa Newmarch [London, 1906], 1:358). Prokofieff’s appropriation ignores a fundamental difference in context: Chaikovsky speaks not against the use of “numbers” but against the excessively “symphonic” style he had himself employed in The Voyevoda and Vakula the Smith. 20. Prok: MDV, 236–37. 21. Skorino, Pisatel’ i ego vremya, 301. One reason that Prokofieff may have been a difficult collaborator was that he had written his own librettos for The Gambler, Love for Three Oranges, and The Fiery Angel. 22. See Marina Sabinina, “Semyn Kotko” i problemï opernoy dramaturgii Prokof ’yeva (Moscow, 1963), 83. 23. Skorino, Pisatel’ i ego vremya, 301. 24. Prok: MDV, 236. 25. The contrast of Polish and Russian music lay at the very root of Glinka’s conception of the opera, by his own oft-quoted declaration; cf. his autobiographical Zapiski, in M. I. Glinka, Literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska, vol. 1 (Moscow, 1973), 267. 26. Prok: MDV, 237. 27. This was a “kuchkist” catchword, coined initially in connection with The Stone Guest. For an especially systematic explication of “melodic recitative,” see Cui’s 1889 article “A Few Words on Contemporary Operatic Forms” (Neskol’ko slov o sovremennïkh opernïkh formakh), in C. Cui, Izbrannïye stat’i (Leningrad, 1952), 405–16. 28. Prok: MDV, 237. 29. Valentin Katayev, Ya, sïn trudovogo naroda (Moscow, 1937), 58, 62. 30. See the vocal score (Moscow, 1950), 43–49. 31. Nestyev, Prokofiev, 318. 32. Yuri Keldïsh, Istoriya Russkoy muzïki, vol. 1 (Moscow, 1948), 465–66. 33. For such an attempt, see my “Musorgsky vs. Musorgsky: The Versions of Boris Godunov,” 19th-Century Music 8 (1983–84): 91–118, 245–72; rpt. in my Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue, 201–99. 34. 23 July (4 August) 1870. See Modest Musorgsky, Literaturnoye naslediye, vol. 1 (Moscow, 1971), 117; also The Musorgsky Reader, 148. 35. The Musorgsky Reader, 412. 36. “The première of Betrothal in a Monastery was to have taken place in 1941, but the war prevented the production from opening. Since then two years have gone by

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and, leafing through the opera after this interval, I saw a whole series of places in it in a new light, and likewise found that several recitatives could be made more melodious” (Prok: MDV, 243). 37. “In all, more than a dozen places were redone, including several parts of scenes 1, 4, 5, and 7 that were rewritten entirely. Of the vocal parts, that of Don Jerome underwent the most substantial change” (S. Prokofieff, Obrucheniye v monastïre [Moscow, 1964], editorial note on page 361). According to Mira Mendelson’s memoirs, Don Jerome’s part was at first written tiringly high for the singer, in the interests of giving the character a grotesque, “shrieking” characterization (Prok: MDV, 381). 38. Much of the creative history of War and Peace is excellently summarized in Malcolm H. Brown, “Prokofiev’s War and Peace: A Chronicle,” Musical Quarterly 63, no. 3 ( July 1977): 297–326. To Brown’s sources should be added a study by A. Volkov, “Voyna i mir” Prokof ’eva: Opït analïza variantov operï (Moscow, 1976). 39. See V. Blok, “Neopublikovannïye rukopisi Prokof’eva,” Sovetskaya muïzka 31, no. 4 (April 1967): 94. 40. To Vladimir Derzhanovsky, 21 February 1942. Cited after Brown, “A Chronicle,” 302. 41. There the melody appears in the Velichaln’aya (chorus of celebration) and in “Kak na gorochke dubchiki stoyat” (The young oaks are standing on the hill). 42. The two versions of Boris’s monologue may be conveniently compared in the Oxford full score, edited by David Lloyd-Jones: Modest Musorgsky, Boris Godunov (London, 1975), 1:365–74 (1874 version); 2:976–78 (1869 version). The relevant passage of Salammbô is from the High Priest’s part in the temple scene (act 3, scene 1, which also provided material for the close of the scene of Boris’s death in the later opera). See M. P. Musorgsky, Polnoye sobraniye sochineniy, ed. P. Lamm, vol. 19 (Moscow, 1939), 108–9. 43. Prokofieff’s letter is given in English translation in Nicolas Slonimsky, Music Since 1900, 4th ed. (New York, 1971), 1373–74. It was originally published in Sovetskaya muzïka 1 (1948) : 66–67. 44. These are: Anyutka, op. 66, no. 2 (1935; in 1936 awarded second prize in a masssong contest organized by Pravda); “Pesnya o rodine” (Song of the fatherland), op. 79, no. 1 (1939); “Podruga boytsa” (The soldier’s girl) and “Lyubov’ voyna” (Love is war), op. 85, nos. 5 and 7 (1942–42); “Zelyonaya roshchitsa” (The green grove), “Son” (A dream), and “Sashenka,” all from op. 104 (1941); Two Duets for tenor and baritone, op. 106 (1945). For details on these pieces and the use to which Prokofieff put them, see S. Shlifshteyn, S. S. Prokof ’yev: Notograficheskiy spravochnik (Moscow, 1962), 66–109, passim. A consideration of mass songs, that is, songs for mass distribution and unison singing by organized amateur choruses (such as were published in every issue of the mass-distribution Soviet music magazines), and their role in Prokofieff’s operatic style may be found in chapter 2 of M. Sabinina, “Semyon Kotko” (see note 22 above). 45. For an interesting discussion of Prokofieff’s dramaturgical innovations in The Story of a Real Man, see L. Aleksandrovsky, “Muzïkal’naya dramaturgiya operï S. Prokof’yeva ‘Povest’ o nastoyashchem cheloveke’,” in Iz istorii russkoy i sovetskoy muzïki, ed. A. Kandinsky (Moscow, 1971), 189–206. 46. M. Mendelson-Prokofieva, “O Sergeye Sergeyeviche Prokof’yeve,” Prok: MDV, 388.

22

Great Artists Serving Stalin Like a Dog

Like so many works of Soviet art, and like their creators, Ivan the Terrible, a zealously nationalistic film by the great director Sergey Eisenstein with music by the great composer Sergey Prokofieff, had a difficult life. It was planned as a monumental trilogy. Part 1, released in 1944, won Stalin Prizes (first class) for both Sergeys. Part 2, completed in 1946, was banned. Part 3 was never made. Unlike the score for Alexander Nevsky, Eisenstein’s and Prokofieff’s previous nationalistic epic, the one for Ivan the Terrible was never turned into a concert work by the composer. The second part of it was threatened with oblivion. It was salvaged by Abram Stasevich, who conducted the soundtrack and, in 1961, made of it a grandiose oratorio. It was recorded in the Soviet Union under Stasevich and in the West under Riccardo Muti. Then it sank back into Lethe. Beginning on Thursday, the New York Philharmonic, under Yuri Temirkanov, will attempt another renascence—“A Philharmonic Celebration,” no less—presenting clips from the film with live music. Some works are better forgotten. This is one. It is hard to imagine what, beyond its sheer ostentation and the names of its creators, could be motivating the revival now of so blatant a piece of Stalinist triumphalism. Why can’t it just enter the nitrogen cycle with the other mammoths and mastodons of Soviet high-priestly culture: the novels called Cement, the Peter the Great trilogies, the Spartacus ballets, the Lenin symphonies? Why can’t it be left on its side with all the other fallen statuary in some musical theme park of superannuated tyranny? Why resurrect it in glory? What’s to celebrate? Originally published in the New York Times, 28 May 1995. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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Answers to these questions will presumably be forthcoming along with the performances, because the “celebration” will include preconcert lectures, a symposium at the society for Ethical Culture, a “dialogue with commentary,” an archival exhibit and a screening of “historic documentary footage from Prokofiev’s life and times.” Participants include the composer’s son, Oleg, curators from the Glinka Museum in Moscow and a historian from Georgetown University, with Harlow Robinson, the author of an English-language biography of Prokofieff, at the helm. The problems they must address are daunting. Ivan the Terrible painfully poses all the hardest questions involving art and its purposes. The chief one is this: Is it possible to forget that this movie and this score, whatever their artistic merits, conveyed as poisonous a message as art has ever been asked to monger? And from that follow these: Whatever the sympathy we feel for the human plight of artists who worked under killing constraints, and however strong our human impulse, therefore, to focus on their “purely artistic” achievement, is it really possible to ignore the content of their work? And if it is possible, is it desirable that we make ourselves indifferent to the horrific ideas to which they lent such compelling artistic support? For make no mistake: Ivan the Terrible, film and score alike, is dedicated to the proposition that abstract historical purposes justify bloody acts in the here and now. The vicarious Stalin worship in Alexander Nevsky is usually excused on the grounds that Soviet nationalism served a concrete and necessary purpose in wartime (even though the movie preceded the war) and that the person of Stalin was the only icon around which Soviet nationalism could properly gel. The war was over by the time Ivan the Terrible was seen. And the parallels in this case go beyond the adoration of Stalin to the vindication of the purges of the 1930s and the glorification of the NKVD, the vastly bloodier forerunner of the KGB. The sixteenth-century figure of Ivan the Terrible has been a contentious motif in Russian history, and an ideological bellwether ever since the first modern history of Russia was written. The author of that enormous book was Nikolai Karamzin, who in 1803 was named official court historiographer by Tsar Alexander I. Karamzin’s patron, a member of the Romanov dynasty, was a descendant of one of the noble houses Ivan the Terrible had tried to destroy. So it is not surprising that the official historiographer portrayed Ivan as an unmitigated monster. The tricky task was to condemn Ivan without condemning the autocracy through which he worked his evil deeds, for it was Alexander’s instrument as well. So Karamzin cast Ivan as God’s test of Russia’s submission, a test Russia passed with flying colors, and for which the country was later rewarded with (among others) Alexander I. (Karamzin’s bloodthirsty Ivan can be found embodied in Chaikovsky’s opera The Oprichnik.) In the second half of the century, the optimistic Hegelian philosophy of history hit Russia. That doctrine, in ridiculous reduction, held that everything

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that got us where we are today was for the best. Since everything included Ivan, he was duly reinterpreted. His crimes, in Karamzin’s view, lay in the lawless zeal with which he stamped out his opponents and in the monkish mafia, the socalled oprichniks, that he organized to carry out his will, in the process slaughtering innocents by the thousands. Russia’s leading Hegelian, Sergey Solovyov, pointed out that however vicious Ivan’s behavior, it did result in a strengthened Russian state and an extended Russian territory. So even if Ivan, to his contemporaries, was “subjectively” evil, he was to posterity “objectively” good. Solovyov’s Hegelian axiom was that “the great man, always and everywhere, satisfies the needs of the nation.” The nation, please note, not the people. The nation is a great abstract necessity. People are just biological accidents. (Solovyov’s Ivan, a very reflective tyrant, can be found in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Maid of Pskov.) It remained for Soviet historiography to debase the Hegelian notion into a xenophobic fascist fable in Marxist disguise. For Stalin had fastened on Ivan the Terrible as his alter ego: “a great and wise ruler,” who “guarded the country from the penetration of foreign influence and strove to unify Russia.” Henceforth it would not suffice to show that Ivan was objectively good. He—and the oprichniks, too—had to be made subjectively good as well. This was the story Eisenstein, with all the resources of his genius, had to tell. Anyone who has seen the movie remembers those noble far-off looks Ivan’s (that is, Nikolai Cherkassov’s) wonderfully expressive face assumed, even in earliest youth, at the mention of words like “Russia” or “state” or “nation.” And then there were all those vile conspiracies he had, single-handedly, to uncover and extirpate, especially the one by his aunt Yefrosinia, who wanted to replace him on the throne with her son Vladimir. Just like those old Bolsheviks—Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin—whom Stalin singlehandedly exposed in 1936, right before they would have restored the tsar. Ivan even had to contend with a Trotsky, his old friend Prince Kurbsky, who had run off to Poland and threatened a march on Moscow. Who could blame him for recruiting some fine Russian lads, fresh from Alexander Nevsky’s army (or so it seemed), to protect the nation from its foes? If you’ve seen part 2 of the film (finally released in 1958, after both its creators were dead), you remember those stout-hearted, ruddy-faced, bowltonsured oprichniks and all their good clean fun. Just like those patriotic NKVD men who saved Russia from the Bukharins, the Trotskys and their “objective” henchmen. But then the oprichniks turn terrifyingly serious and swear, Prokofieff’s music lending preternatural weight to their words, “to serve the tsar like a dog.” Prokofieff, consummate heartless professional, took pride in giving Eisenstein whatever he wanted, measured down to the second. To make his music as measurable as possible, he cast most of it in ostinatos and thumping chords

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that could be counted out to precisely the required length. Most of the music for Ivan—unlike the inspired (and therefore much more problematical) Nevsky score—is just so much footage, so to speak, and yardage and acreage. There are also two magnificent lyrical tunes (one of them recycled in the opera War and Peace) to portray the Terrible’s wonderfulness. Finally, there are some folk-archaic numbers—a wedding chorus, a lullaby, a wild and merry “Dance of the Oprichniks”—to show great-hearted, holy “Rus” ranged gratefully behind its tsar. See if they don’t remind you of “Carmina Burana,” another masterpiece of surefire totalitarian kitsch. So why do we want to see and hear this thing again? Doubtless we’ll be told in no uncertain terms. Meanwhile, here are some guesses as to the arguments Mr. Robinson and his fellow symposiasts are apt to muster.

1. The work is secretly dissident. And so is every other piece of Soviet art, it suddenly transpires (at least the ones we like). In his biography Mr. Robinson has already offered this defense. Eisenstein, he writes, “was not intimidated” by Stalin and “refused to whitewash the troubling issues” surrounding Ivan, “a complex and morally ambiguous figure” and a “psychotic personality.” (So why are all the ancient psychotic conspiracy rumors, like the one about Yefrosinia, treated in the movie as fact?) The evidence in support of this interpretation, of course, is the Stalinist ban on part 2. But where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire is the quintessential Stalinist argument, and it does great dishonor to dissidents. There’s a big difference between a dissident and a failed toady. The reason for the ban, as given in the Resolution on Cinema, proclaimed at the behest of Stalin’s henchman Andrei Zhdanov in 1946, was that Eisenstein had allowed his Ivan a moment’s Solovyovesque reflection (“Was I right?”) before reiterating his murderous determination. Who was this “Hamlet,” Zhdanov wanted to know, “without will or character”? It might also be tempting to offer the brutishly servile portrayal of the oprichniks as evidence of secret dissidence. But in fact that portrayal was singled out in the Resolution for praise. As any Stalinist knows, brutality in the service of History is no vice; compassion is the vice. 2. Eisenstein and Prokofieff were great artists; what great artists do is great art; great art transcends moral categories. To the last part: since when? Transcendence sets in, like rigor mortis, only when the victims and those who mourn them have died out. We have no trouble seeing transcendence in a Lully, or enjoying his fawning art, because nobody is left to resent his patron, Louis XIV. Stalin is not yet in that category. To the second part: so they would have us think, but just listen. To the

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first part: no argument, which makes the corruption of their maturity all the sadder. It would be above all a favor to Prokofieff to bury this, his most degraded work.

3. Hang the “meaning.” What camera work! What orchestration! This attitude can be advanced under various banners: formalist (in the academy), estheticist (in the studio), epicurean (in the glossies). It purports to defend the claims of art against what is now called political correctness by those who might once have called it puritanism. But nowadays, with high art on the defensive, it’s a dangerous argument to mount polemically. The last thing the arts need right now is insulation. It does art no credit to allow concern for it to go on justifying a lack of ethical culture. Besides, does moral engagement necessarily lessen sensitivity to beauty of utterance or form? Are those who embrace beauty indiscriminately more esthetically sensitive than those who see the need, at times, of resisting it—just as sometimes it may be necessary to resist greatness? What might we wish to resist in Ivan the Terrible? Eisenstein put it best. He cast this movie on an especially heroic scale (a scale Prokofieff had no trouble matching and enhancing) because, he wrote, he wanted to inspire his viewers with “a feeling for the vaulting power of the Russian state. That’s why the rooms are so enormous, why the ceilings are so high, why the brocades and furs glisten so”—and why the music thunders and blares so thrillingly. It’s political awe he and Prokofieff sought, most successfully, to instill, and awe is a form of fear. That is what the Russian word “Grozny”—the “Terrible” in Ivan the Terrible—was all about in the first place. Ivan needed it. Stalin needed it. Who needs it now? POSTSCRIPT, 2008

That this article elicited an impassioned response was no surprise, considering the way I fished for it. But as usual I failed to anticipate its range. A particularly persistent and regrettable theme was sounded by Herbert Shapiro, a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, who wrote to the Times to complain that my article “provides a warning of the dangers looming when critics take it upon themselves to determine which music may or may not be performed.” Is there no difference between “may” and “should”? No difference between criticism and censorship? “Aside from the fact that Mr. Taruskin does not have the political power to enforce his views,” wrote another irate reader, “his attitude toward matters artistic seems to differ little from that of any dictator.” Some aside! Others claimed turf. “Music historians should keep their hooks off film history,” wrote Gene Phillips, a professor of English and cinema history at

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Loyola University of Chicago. Vlada Petric of the Harvard Film Archive contributed some reflections on the inevitable ambiguities of artistic content: “I have been using this film for years,” she wrote, to demonstrate to my students how a true artist can overcome his manifest political beliefs, thus making the narrative more complex, and conveying also a counter-message through pure cinematic means. In the case of Eisenstein’s work, this “latent meaning” was revealed by means of the director’s profound cinematic vision, often conflicting with his rational intention. Similar contradiction between manifest and latent drives within the creative process can be found in other masterpieces of cinema, among them D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927), Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1934), and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). Clarifying “what might we resist in Ivan the Terrible,” Mr. Taruskin quotes Eisenstein’s own explication why in his film “the brocades and furs glisten so” (yet at the same time, due to shooting angles, appear pompous and ridiculous); why “the ceilings are so high” (to provide contrast to the numerous dwarfed and dark rathole-like entrances leading into lengthy claustrophobic corridors through which the tsar and his entourage must crawl like rodents), why “the rooms are so enormous” (to make the elongated silhouettes and contorted shadows even more menacing and inhumane). It is through the juxtaposition of these features that Eisenstein expressed both the “feeling for the vaulting power of the Russian state” as well as the horrifying essence of such an autocratic government, be it imperial or communist. My students instantly grasp the complexity of Eisenstein’s cinematic expression, and take it into consideration while interpreting the film’s overall message.

Right you are if you think you are. Resolving ambiguities comfortingly and attributing one’s own against-the-grain reading to the author is a handy way of dismissing problems, and citing one’s students’ agreement as corroboration is pure pedagogical self-delusion. I was quite taken aback, shortly before writing this postscript, to learn how robust is the myth that the Eisenstein’s film (like all “good” Soviet art) carried hidden or latent subversive messages. Orlando Figes, reviewing a new biography of Ivan the Terrible in the New York Review of Books (22 September 2005), repeats the old legend that the director intended his film as a moral lesson to the dictator. Writing of the unmade third part, Prof. Figes claims that it was meant to end with a confession scene in which Ivan kneels beneath the fresco of the Last Judgment in the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Assumption and offers his repentance for the evils of his reign while a monk reads out an endless list of people executed on the tsar’s command. Ivan bangs his forehead against the flagstones; his eyes and ears are filled with blood, and he sees and hears nothing. The scene of course was meant to convey not just

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Ivan’s tragedy, but the greater political tragedy of violence by the Russian state. “Stalin has killed more people [than Ivan],” Eisenstein explained to the actor Mikhail Kuznetsov, “and he does not repent. Let him see this and then he will repent.”

Needless to say, this hearsay is cited from a secondary source. Believe it, and you’ll believe any heroic fairy tale about artists under Stalin.

23

Stalin Lives On in the Concert Hall, but Why?

One of Vladimir Nabokov’s truly immortal passages lies buried in one of his least-known books, his critical study of Gogol. In a dozen pages of pure hilarious poetry, inventing one unforgettably ludicrous image after another, he impresses on his non-Russian-speaking readers the amazing range of nuances the Russian language makes available in one fabulous word: poshlust (pronounced PAW-shlust; it’s hardly posh). There is no space for such a tractate as Nabokov’s within the cramped confines of these columns, and hence no chance of conveying all the marvelous resonance of the word. The best capsule definition I can come up with might be something like highfalutin bad taste. I wish we had a single word for it, though, because it has become a pervasive feature of our concert life, by no means confined, as Nabokov came close to implying, to German art. (Perhaps that was inevitable in a book written while World War II was on.) Russians, even though they coined the word for it and presumably can see it where Germans can’t, are highly susceptible, too. And so are we in America, if two recent, deliriously successful concerts of the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus under Valeriy Gergiyev, presented with enormous fanfare as part of the inaugural Lincoln Center Festival, are any indication. For they were a colossal manifestation of poshlust in all kinds of ways: in their programming, in their promotion, in their reception, and in the comment they have elicited. What can it mean in 1996—Year Five of the Sovietless New World Order—to perform and lustily (or as Nabokov would put it, poshlustily) acclaim the worst musical dregs of the Stalin personality cult? Originally published in the New York Times, 25 August 1996. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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What can it mean to toss hats in the air for Prokofieff’s Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution? Composed for performance in the black purge year 1937, it ended by extolling the “Stalin Constitution” and its guarantee of its citizens’ Right to Work at a time when thousands of Soviet citizens were being carted off to slave labor camps in Siberia. What can it mean to squeal in rapture at the same composer’s Zdravitsa, a “Toast” to the Great Leader and Teacher on his sixtieth birthday in 1939? With revolting hypocrisy it condemns prerevolutionary repressions (“for protest the Tsar killed us, left women without husbands”) while exalting as a rawboned, guileless folk hero—some kind of Jascha Appleseed—the perpetrator of savageries twice as vile. At that very moment old Jascha was wiping his maw after gobbling up eastern Poland in a deal with another beloved honcho to the west. What are we celebrating when we go out of our way to revive this kitsch and cheer it? No, not Stalin, of course—but what? Is it a version of the same infantile in-your-face bravado many of us affect to decry in gangsta rap, made doubly reprehensible for being expressed not by the disenfranchised and resentful but by the otiose and overprivileged? Or are we celebrating the freedom to perform of our own volition works that were once forced down gullets and banned by turns? That might understandably make them attractive to Mr. Gergiyev and his hardworking players. It would be a case of replaying actively what one had endured passively, a satisfying if perhaps self-deluding exercise of personal control (though hardly self-control). But what then would be the appeal of these works to those who never had to suffer them in the first place? The American version of such an appeal might be an appeal to “rights”: our right to enjoy and perform what others (the “politically correct,” no doubt) find abominable. So perhaps we are dealing with a performing-arts version of smokers’ rights, something to place beside Philip Morris’s exploitation of the anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Cheering the Zdravitsa and the October Cantata, by this logic, would count as a heroic blow for the rugged individual—that is, the herd of rugged individuals in Avery Fisher Hall— against righteous censorship. Or is it (O shudder at the thought) some notion of the Triumph of the Human Spirit that we are seeking to extract from Stalinist art, the way our Holocaust narratives (say, Schindler’s List) try to retrieve it from the unedifying horrors of Nazi genocide? The festival program notes hinted as much, contending without any evidence that “Prokofieff must have found the request to write an ‘ode to Stalin’ quite odious,” and that “the composer really had no choice in the matter if he was going to avoid the fate of others who had been persecuted for lesser offenses.” And yet he managed to write beautiful tunes just the same, and orchestrate them with boisterous aplomb. What resilience in the face of tyranny!

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But there was no ideological gun pointed at Prokofieff’s head in 1937 or 1939. (That came later, after the war.) He wrote these pieces for the money, and for the privilege of touring in the West, as many post-Soviet musicians now concede. Until he was humiliated in 1948, Prokofieff was a famous cynic. Hand in hand with the triumph narrative goes the kind of musical spindoctoring with which we have become familiar in books like Solomon Volkov’s Testimony and Ian MacDonald’s New Shostakovich. It is an easy game to play. The will to read ironic or subversive messages meets little or no resistance from music. The official program of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony, another festival offering, invokes the aborted 1905 revolution. From the beginning it was read by dissident listeners as referring to the repression of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956, a year before its première. Neither case can be proved. They can only be believed or disbelieved. To say that Prokofieff secretly worked an anti-Stalin message between the notes of the October Cantata, as Mr. Gergiyev has been telling interviewers, takes a bit more brass. But it, too, is an assertion that cannot be empirically falsified, as we say in the lab. What Mr. Gergiyev seems to be forgetting, though, is that any number can play the game. The same kind of opportunistic reading used to be practiced from the other side in the bad old days as a way of swelling the ranks of slave laborers. Neither Mr. Gergiyev nor old Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s cultural henchman, has a monopoly on propaganda. But as Nabokov observed, propaganda of any kind “could not exist without a generous supply of and demand for poshlust.” All these reasons for performing and applauding the Zdravitsa and other pieces of its ilk are bad enough, but there are worse ones. John Rockwell, the festival director, wanted to promote them because “they have abstract musical worth—formalist integrity, if you will,” as he wrote in the program book. They are “full of stirring music that should not be repressed for reasons of misguided puritanism.” How could they be bad, in other words, if they feel so good? Mr. Rockwell denounces my contention, in the New York Times and elsewhere, that (as he paraphrases it) “the very act of performing music composed under immoral circumstances is immoral.” But no, I do not think that what he has done is immoral. Nothing as grand as that. It’s just “poshlïy.” If it is any consolation, though, it’s poshlïy in a big way: a way that woefully undermines the premises Mr. Rockwell thinks he is upholding. “Poshlust is especially vigorous and vicious,” Nabokov wrote, “when the values it mimics are considered, rightly or wrongly, to belong to the very highest level of art, thought or emotion.” If “abstract musical worth” (by which I think Mr. Rockwell really means sensuous appeal) is such a compelling argument in favor of the Zdravitsa and the October Cantata, then why not perform the works “abstractly”—without their texts? The answer is easily predicted: In that case the performances would not be “authentic”; the intentions of the composer would not be

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realized. It would violate the most fundamental ethics of classical music to perform them so. How ethical, then, are those ethics? What are we saying when we say that the integrity of works of art transcends humanitarian concerns? What are we saying when we dismiss as mere “misguided puritanism” objections to the Zdravitsa on behalf of Stalin’s victims—or to Stravinsky’s 1952 Cantata (or Bach’s St. John Passion) on behalf of the sensibilities of Jews today who do not like to be called Christ killers? Are we not saying that artists and art lovers are entitled to moral indifference—and worse, that the greater the artist the greater the entitlement? Gustav Holst once set to music the same anti-Semitic carol (“To-Morrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”) that Stravinsky set in his Cantata. It is an attractive piece. Unlike Stravinsky’s setting, it was written long before the Holocaust, in 1916. I would wager, though, that performers would be far more likely to think twice before performing Holst’s setting than they would before performing Stravinsky’s. (Ask the organizers of the BBC London Proms concerts this summer; they are performing Stravinsky’s.) By the same token, I doubt that anyone would propose Khachaturian’s stirring Poem About Stalin for performance at Lincoln Center. Why? Because Stravinsky and Prokofieff, not Holst and Khachaturian, have been certified as great artists by the promoters of classical music. Is great art ennobled by this attitude? Are we? Or are we not debased and degraded, both as artists and as human beings, by such a commitment to “abstract musical worth”? And for a final thought, has that commitment nothing to do with the tremendous decline that the prestige of classical music— and of high art in general—has suffered in our time? Mr. Rockwell, Mr. Gergiyev, and their fans have indeed struck a blow. It is not for art that they have struck it, though, but for poshlust. A blow for poshlust, by any reckoning, is a blow against art. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

Yes, yes, I know. The word, as many wrote in to remind me, is properly transliterated poshlost’. I thought it was clear enough that I was taking over Nabokov’s transliteration, which he employed both for the sake of simplicity and for the possibility of punning. The poshlusty performances and the poshlustier reception of Prokofieff’s Zdravitsa continue, now mainly abetted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. It continues to sicken me that classical music audiences are still prepared to cheer celebrations of a mass murderer because they like the tunes. Here the popular music world seems ethically superior. Pop performers and audiences pay attention to texts. Poshlusty interpretation also advances apace. A benchmark of sorts was achieved by Martin Anderson in a review—published in Tempo, then still the

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Boosey and Hawkes house organ, in October 2000—of Semyon Kotko, Prokofieff’s first Soviet opera, composed in 1939, the Zdravitsa year. The opera was based on a very orthodox socialist realist novel. Prokofieff’s treatment contains an interpolated burial scene, in which a group of revolutionaries declaim Taras Shevchenko’s revolutionary poem Zapoved’ (Testament) in the most orthodox socialist realist manner imaginable. And yet, on the strength of a cuckoo call here and a “jolly galop” there, Mr. Anderson dependably concludes his review as follows: Semyon Kotko cries out for interpretation as Aesopian double-speak that allowed dissidence to evade the censors. To date, and particularly since the publication of Testimony in 1979, it is Shostakovich who has been awarded the laurels as the composer who quietly but systematically rebelled against Stalinism in his music; Prokofieff is generally regarded as having made his accommodation with the state. Yet his mocking protest in Semyon Kotko is plain for those with ears to hear.

Indeed, that’s what “ears to hear” are for. Elsewhere Mr. Anderson speaks of “secret signals to those among Prokofieff’s listeners who would have understood his true intentions.” But why stop at Prokofieff? Those with ears to hear can find what they are looking for in the works of Kabalevsky too, or even Khrennikov. There is no risk of failure, and I am sure that Comrade Khrennikov would be very grateful to have his “true intentions” thus revealed. Since 2000, personal exculpations of Prokofieff have become ever more difficult. Recent research by Simon Morrison of Princeton University has shown that the October Cantata was Prokofieff’s idea and that he wrote the piece at his own initiative. What is more, he proposed it to the Soviet cultural authorities as early as 1932, when he was still living in Paris as an émigré. There is simply no other explanation available for the whole odious affair than opportunism. As for Zdravitsa, Prof. Morrison, in his landmark study, Prokofiev’s Soviet Years (Oxford University Press, 2008), offers both an exemplary evaluation of its expressive content and an eloquent rationale for efforts such as mine to “problematize” performances of Soviet music from the time of what since 1956 has been known as the kul’t lichnosti (the “cult of personality”) surrounding Stalin. Such works, he writes, have been the subject of debate between those who hail their musical qualities and those who condemn their texts. To reconcile the opposing impulses to suppress and valorize these scores, they must be contextualized and subjected to rigorous critical scrutiny. Such is the ethical responsibility of critics and historians alike. . . . Prokofieff believed that his music should be of ongoing, eternal service to humanity. Zdravitsa is a disturbing work, and it is disturbing because of—rather than in spite of—the soothing harmonic and melodic texture that supports the depiction of Stalin as a benevolent figure. If the music of this work is to be of continued service, it must be presented in such a way as to cause discomfort.

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This attitude, I am happy to say, is spreading. Most ex-Soviet musicians and scholars, other than those who are out to make their fortune in the West, now acknowledge this. It was a great consolation, amid all the flak I had to take for articles like this and the preceding one, on Ivan the Terrible, to receive the following, from Izaly Zemtsovsky, a great ex-Soviet scholar (ethnomusicologist): I had to share my impressions of your New York Times article. I would put it this way: unfortunately, you are right. “Unfortunately,” because I love Prokofieff’s music very much, especially his piano sonatas, all his early operas and ballets, his Third Piano Concerto, etc. “Unfortunately,” because he really was mercenary and cynical when it came to commissions. I can share with you one of the old publishers’ tales that were current in the years of my youth in St. Petersburg: Prokofieff, who had just come back from abroad, appeared at the publishing house in an elegant suit and, taking from his breast pocket a scrap of music paper, told an editor (who told me), “Here is my latest musical theme. How much can you pay me? If this much”—here he gestured to indicate a large sum; if I am not mistaken, his usual asking price for a symphony was 12,000 rubles; compare that with my salary then as a senior scholar at the Institute of Theater, Music and Cinema, which was 88 rubles a month—“then I’ll write you a symphony. If less”—8,000, as I remember—“it will be an overture, and if you only offer a little”—say, 4,000—“I won’t write anything longer than a sonata.” This is more or less the way things were, but even knowing the cynical truth, when I listen to Romeo and Juliet I am willing to forget all the evil tales for a while. . . . Of course Ivan the Terrible is a special case, and I would answer your question (“Who needs it now?”) unequivocally: besides performers who are looking to make a sensation, it accords with the mentality of our, alas, many contemporary nationalist-patriots. They are ready and willing to remember not only the Russian glories of the Terrible’s bloody era, but also the fact, especially dear to their hearts, that Ivan supposedly wrote music for the Russian Orthodox church (and the music attributed to him was published in Soviet times, as you certainly know). It is sad to write the truth about Russian history . . .

Oh, and Valeriy Gergiyev’s comment? Here is what he told an interviewer (quoted by Justin Davidson in Newsday) after this piece appeared: “To say this music should not be played, that is not American. It smells Soviet.” A year later, touring Australia, Mr. Gergiyev still had me on his mind: “Look, if you ask me who is more important, Prokofieff or Taruskin, my answer is Prokofieff with a very big P! And Prokofieff was not a pocket composer for a tyrant like Stalin. Taruskin would better speak about some American films which provoke American kids to shoot each other in schools.” Hm, now that smells Soviet.

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The Last Symphony?

The most hallowed cliché of musical biography is the one that assigns three periods to every composer’s career. Even Schubert, who died at thirty-one, has a late period in most accounts of his life. The reason is obvious: Beethoven had three periods, or so his influential biographer von Lenz insisted in 1852, when he published Beethoven et ses trois styles. Since then, all composers have been created by their biographers in Beethoven’s image. Perhaps the only composer who would have had three periods even if there had been no von Lenz, or no Beethoven, was Prokofieff. Dramatic biographical events gave his life a tripartite form. Born in what is now Ukraine in 1891, he was a child prodigy both as a pianist and as a composer. He completed The Giant, a twelve-page opera in three acts, at the age of nine. The “First Symphony of Seryozha Prokofieff” followed two years later. At the St. Petersburg Conservatory he intimidated one and all. By the age of twenty-six he had published a piano concerto, three piano sonatas, many piano pieces and songs, and had already composed several works, including the Classical Symphony, that are now in the standard repertory. That was his first period. Then came revolution and civil war, and, like many artists and intellectuals, Prokofieff joined the greatest brain drain Russia ever suffered until the 1990s. From 1918 to 1936 he lived abroad—first in the United States, next in Germany, finally (and for the longest time) in Paris—and established his world fame as a modernist composer, at first with a neoprimitivist style, later with a neoclassical one. That was his second period. And then he went back to Russia. That may suggest an ABA form, but the Russia he went back to was not the Russia he had left. It had become the Soviet Union, and it was just then embarking on a period of very strict Originally written as a program essay for the UC Berkeley Symphony, 1 May 1999.

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ideological control over the arts that was particularly hostile to modernism. Prokofieff’s decision to return home under such conditions has baffled biographers, even as it conveniently provided them with the obligatory third period to describe. Many motives have been suggested: some noble, others cynical; some personal, others political; some psychological, others pragmatic. Some have cast Prokofieff’s last seventeen years as a tragedy, others as a salvation. By the time of his death, Prokofieff and his family had suffered greatly from his decision. His first wife spent seven years in the Gulag. His sons were raised as orphans. His music, despite assurances he had been given, was severely watchdogged and, during his last five years, mostly banned from performance. He wrote potboilers to celebrate revolutionary anniversaries and Stalin birthdays: they have tarnished his reputation. At the end, along with his colleagues, he became a pawn in the tense diplomatic game known as the Cold War, both in uttered (or attributed) word and in musical deed. His health broke under the strain: a fall—caused, his doctors thought, by vertigo due to hypertension—left him a semi-invalid during the very years in which his music was under a cloud. A British journalist, Alexander Werth, whom Prokofieff asked about the health of Stravinsky (his great Paris rival, from whom, many suspected, he had retreated) thought he detected a tear streaking the composer’s cheek. And yet there can be no doubt that Prokofieff’s Soviet years witnessed a musical efflorescence. Many if not most of the works for which he is now best remembered—the ballets Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, the “symphonic tale” Peter and the Wolf, the cantata Alexander Nevsky, the Seventh Piano Sonata, the operas Betrothal in a Monastery and War and Peace, the flute (or second violin) sonata, the cello sonata, and the Symphony Concerto for Cello and Orchestra—were written during his Soviet period, and the reason for their popularity is not far to seek. Whatever the new pressures may have been, relocation in the Soviet Union freed Prokofieff from the old pressure to compete as a modernist with Stravinsky and allowed him to write the music only he could write. That music (along with that of the somewhat younger and longer-lived Francis Poulenc) was the very last music that spoke the tonal language of the traditional “common practice” period as a native tongue, without irony or pastiche, with enormous technical flair, and with great stylistic originality. And for that reason Prokofieff was the very last composer to make a permanent and many-sided contribution to the standard repertory of European (or Euro-American) classical music. His Fifth Symphony is perhaps the best evidence for that, since it is the most recent traditional “numbered” symphony to be an indisputable part of that repertory wherever “Western” classical music is played. (The only possible exception might be his countryman Shostakovich’s Tenth, from 1953; in America Aaron Cop-

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land’s Third, completed in 1946, might be a contender, but nobody knows it in Europe.) In his Fifth Prokofieff recaptured the heroic tone of the romantic symphony, which he had deliberately eschewed during his émigré years—or rather, he captured it for the first time. He owed its breadth and unembarrassed grandeur to the Soviet environment in which he worked. (Copland, incidentally, was embarrassed by the grandeur of his Third, and revised some of it away.) Like Copland’s Third, Prokofieff’s Fifth was a victory celebration. It was composed in the summer of 1944, when the tide of World War II had turned decisively—thanks in part to the American landing in France, but possibly in greater part thanks to Soviet fortitude at Stalingrad and the tank offensive near Kursk—in favor of the Allies. Prokofieff called it “a symphony about the grandeur of the human spirit.” Later, in conversation with Werth, and possibly suffering a momentary twinge of modernist discomfiture at the thought that Stravinsky might read the interview, he said it was “about the spirit of man, his soul or something like that.” Its four hefty movements are impressive structures, particularly the first and third, both extended slow compositions of a kind Prokofieff had never previously tried, except in the pas de deux from his Soviet ballets, which the third movement definitely resembles. That movement comes to a searing climax on a dissonance that would have earned Prokofieff passing grades at Princeton a couple of decades later (and that has been dependably read as “dissident” by revisionists since the Soviet collapse); but its greatest technical achievement, as well as its most moving expressive effect, is the way in which that dissonance is gradually resolved and brought to optimistic repose. It is quite true that an optimistic ending was a Soviet requirement. Prokofieff’s Fifth proves that an imposed style may nevertheless be a beautiful style, worn with sincerity and deployed with mastery. The first performance of the symphony, conducted by Prokofieff himself in January 1945 (his last public appearance as a performer), was a moving event in its own right. As Sviatoslav Richter, who witnessed it, recalled, the first downbeat was delayed, after Prokofieff had already raised his baton, by an artillery salute, fired in the distance to mark the Red Army’s crossing of the Vistula River into German-held territory. Only a few days after this triumph, Prokofieff suffered the fall that ushered in the ghastly coda of his life. The tensions of those final years, as experienced not only in Russia but in America as well, are suggested by an item that appeared in the New York Times on 11 November 1951 (datelined “Salt Lake City, Nov. 10”): “Maurice Abravanel conducted the Utah Symphony through Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony without any disturbance tonight, although he had been warned by an anonymous telephone caller that if he started he would ‘never finish it.’ Mr. Abravanel indicated he felt the call the work of a ‘crank.’” Shortly thereafter an article, “Music and Life,” appeared over Prokofieff’s signature in the Moscow

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News, a paper published in both Russian and English for foreign distribution. Some excerpts, as they appeared in English: Why should a conductor be threatened with death for including this symphony in his programme? Could it be because the music is a hymn to the freedom of the human spirit? My Fifth Symphony was intended as a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit. I cannot say that I deliberately chose this theme. It was born in me and clamoured for expression. The music had matured within me, it filled my soul. This is the music—or perhaps the idea— that is so distasteful to some people in Utah. Doubtless they prefer music that debases Man, blunts his perceptions and warps his finer feelings. . . . A great deal has been said in America and Western Europe about the artist’s mission and his freedom to create. But can the true artist stand aloof from life and confine his art within the narrow limits of subjective emotions, or should he be where he is needed most, where his art can help people to live a better, finer life? Recall the lives of Beethoven and Shakespeare, Mozart and Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Dickens, those titans of the human mind and spirit. Were they not great precisely because they followed the dictates of their conscience and devoted their talents to the service of Man? Is it not this that has made them immortal? When I was in the United States and England I heard much talk about music and who it was intended for, who a composer ought to write for and to whom his music ought to be addressed. In my view the composer, just as the poet, the sculptor or the painter, is in duty bound to serve Man, the people. He must beautify human life and defend it. He must be a citizen first and foremost, so that his art might consciously extol human life and lead Man to a radiant future. Such is the immutable code of art as I see it. I may be accused of voicing platitudes. It may be said that my arguments have only the remotest bearing on what happened in Salt Lake City. Yet I feel sure that there is an inner connection. . . . The incident in Salt Lake City is for me additional confirmation of the correctness of the path we have chosen. Our music strives to imbue the people with confidence in their strength and in their future. That is why it is so abhorrent to those who scheme to destroy that future and thrust humanity into new sanguinary wars. But they are powerless to drown out our music, our symphonies of peace and labor—of this I am certain. The Fifth Symphony was performed in Salt Lake City after all.

All those musts! Did Prokofieff actually write them? Not likely. He was by the end of 1951 virtually bedridden, forbidden by his doctors to work more than one hour a day on his music. At most, it seems, he might have signed a text that was brought to him together with a pen. Weak and exhausted, he allowed himself, as Shostakovich would later do, to be conscripted in the war of words that raged in the early 1950s over coded issues of peace and security.

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The American composer Virgil Thomson, however, was fully responsible for what he wrote when he reviewed the Fifth Symphony’s New York première, by the Boston Symphony under Prokofieff’s old friend and publisher Sergey Koussevitzky. The only movement to escape condescending rejection was the first, about which Thomson observed: The movement is a neo-Romantic work because it faces the central problem of neo-Romanticism, which is the making of sustained music out of non-angular material. This is a technical statement of the neo-Romantic meaning-problem, which is that of sustained personal lyricism. The neo-Classicists of the 1920s used either angular or motionless material. Any neo-Classicist who, knowingly or unaware, has got involved with rounded or flowing material has found himself up to his neck in personal lyricism, the most treacherous of contemporary aesthetic currents. That Prokofiev has not, in this work, found himself out beyond his depth either technically or emotionally is proof that he is not an old man yet. That he has walked out after one movement on all the serious difficulties proves also that he is not quite at home in contemporary waters.

The sententious “humanistic” dogmas of the one statement and the chary technique-obsessed estheticism of the other were equally typical of the early Cold War mood. They have persisted too long; and it would seem that suspicion in the West of any art that says yes (as Soviet art was forced to do) is abating more slowly than suspicion of “elitism” or “formalism” has abated in formerly Soviet territory. Is that because the one set of blinkers was imposed by external authority and the other was (seemingly) self-imposed? What kind of freedom is it that allows only a choice of (mental) prisons?

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For Russian Music Mavens, a Fabled Beast Is Bagged Myaskovsky: Orchestral Works. State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation; Yevgeny Svetlanov, conductor. Records International, Olympia.

I have never encountered a work by Nikolai Myaskovsky in the concert hall, and I doubt that I ever will. In this way, if in no other, I’m just too young. During the 1920s and 1930s this Russian composer, whose name has three syllables (miss-KAWF-ski), was prominent on the international musical scene. He was published, alongside Bartók and Schoenberg, by Universal Edition, Europe’s number 1 prestige firm. He served on the board of the International Society for Contemporary Music, then the world’s leading new music forum. Big-time conductors—Sergey Koussevitzky, Leopold Stokowski, Artur Rodzinski, Frederick Stock (to name only those active in America)— fought over rights to his scores. The zenith came in 1940, when the Chicago Symphony presented his Symphonie-Fantaisie as one of the works commissioned on its golden jubilee from a stellar roster that included Stravinsky, Milhaud, Kodaly, and Walton. But by the late 1930s the glamorous Prokofieff was back in Russia and had become willy-nilly the most famous Soviet composer. During World War II Shostakovich captured the world’s imagination, and he remained, however equivocally, his country’s main musical representative to the end of his life. Myaskovsky, Prokofieff’s senior by ten years and Shostakovich’s by twentyfive, was shunted aside. He did crop up once more, unhappily, as very much the fourth in the Big Four of Soviet music (after Prokofieff, Shostakovich, and his own former pupil Khachaturian) when Andrei Zhdanov, speaking for the Communist Party, excoriated them all for “formalism” in 1948. Two years later the old professor died, a respected senior citizen but no longer a contender. First published in the New York Times, 3 November 2002. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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And yet for all that I have never heard him live, Myaskovsky has been a constant and compelling presence in my musical life since I’ve had one to call my own. Like many if not most music lovers raised in the twentieth century, I owe my consuming musical interests in large part to my record collection and the explorations it has inspired, and Myaskovsky has always been the collectors’ cult composer par excellence. To become the object of a collecting fetish, a commodity must paradoxically be both relatively scarce and relatively copious. Myaskovsky’s very obscurity, by the time LPs were becoming plentiful, made him a scarcity. What made him nevertheless copious was his freakishly prolific output. Despite a late start after a first career as a military engineer, Myaskovsky logged three Beethovens’ worth of symphonies (that’s right, twenty-seven), almost as many quartets as Shostakovich (thirteen), and a respectable harvest of concertos, tone poems, piano sonatas, and songs, along with a couple of potboiler party-line cantatas (but never an opera—a wise move for a Soviet composer). That heap of symphonies was to us record geeks what grapes were to Tantalus. By the early 1980s, when LPs gave way to CDs, a Myaskovsky hound could, by dint of avid perusal of lists and enthusiastic exchange of news, have garnered fifteen of those twenty-seven symphonies. Only one—the Chicago commission, published as number 21—had been issued by name performers on major imprints. The rest were on minor labels (Colosseum, Monitor, Classic Editions) or Soviet imports. For the older, monaural, romantically unlistenable Soviet products, we had to haunt the Four Continents Bookshop or actually go to the source. For more recent stereo ones, beginning in the mid-1970s, there was Records International, a wonderful outfit that imported all kinds of geeky fare. The early CD era brought perhaps half a dozen previously unrecorded Myaskovskies, some on special geek labels like Marco Polo, into our clutches. We inched a little closer to the goal of full possession. But now the hunt is over. The beast is bagged. Last year Records International made the unbelievable offer of a complete set of Myaskovsky symphonies—indeed, all of his orchestral music, the concertos alone excepted—on sixteen CDs. The performances, mostly recorded from 1991 to 1993, are by the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation (formerly the U.S.S.R. State Symphony) under its regular conductor, Yevgeny Svetlanov. Commissioned by the Melodiya label, the project bit the dust along with Melodiya (not to mention the U.S.S.R.). Svetlanov, having with difficulty secured the rights (hence the delay), had the discs produced on his own initiative in a limited edition that was consigned to Records International. The project was done in a hurry, and there are some reminders of that haste in slightly sloppy ensemble; but the orchestra, a virtuoso band with fine woodwind soloists (especially the flutist and clarinetist, who get to begin

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several movements unaccompanied), is obviously familiar with the music as no other orchestra could have been, and the recorded sound is warm and full. Shortly before his death in May 2002, Svetlanov concluded a deal with the British firm Olympia to issue the discs singly and with program notes. As of this writing nine have appeared, containing the first nine symphonies, coupled with later ones or shorter orchestral works. So one need not invest in all of Myaskovsky to get some. What to buy if one is not buying everything? Forgive a long answer to a short question, but the only way to answer it honestly is to try to give an idea of the everything, now that such an idea is to be had. The first thing to emphasize is that Myaskovsky was no Vielschreiber, as the Germans say, no mere scribbler. Being prolific on a Myaskovskian scale may be the opposite of Great Composer behavior, but after hearing him complete, I think him distinctly greater than before. What made him so prolific? For one thing, he was a bachelor, tended by three devoted sisters. For another, he was by all accounts severely introverted, and the very turbulence of his times may have driven him yet further inward to the safe place creative solitude subjectively affords. (No need to speak of “inner emigration”; haven’t we all on occasion taken refuge in our work?) But most pertinent, Myaskovsky came of age in a time and place where symphony writing was a relatively young tradition in full swing, destined to last through the twentieth century, rather than (as in the Teutonic lands) an old one facing the onset of senility. However he may have tweaked and varied it, Myaskovsky never had to reinvent the wheel. He and his audience shared a set of settled expectations as to what a symphony was and what it did. Myaskovsky excelled at traditional symphonic writing because, regardless of style (and he had many), he nurtured an old-fashioned narrative conception of musical structure and expression. Narrative, in this sense, need not imply a program, only an assumption that significance, formal or expressive, arises out of a linked series of unfolding events. Such a discourse takes time. Myaskovsky’s movements, though thriftily based on the customary pair of subjects as a rule, generally range between twelve and fifteen minutes, sometimes reaching twenty or twenty-five; his symphonies average forty, sometimes approaching (and once exceeding) an hour. The flow is seamless; the often cyclic culminations are expertly wrought; the affective reward to a patient listener is very satisfying. Given that uniformity of method, the works are absorbingly varied in form, style, and tone, ranging from single movements to a five-movement suite-like assemblage (No. 14). Myaskovsky was, along with Bruckner, one of the rare symphonic composers who were at their best in slow movements, often in an exalted hymnic mode. (Try Symphony No. 20, previously unrecorded, for the Russian “Land of Hope and Glory.”) Though often dispensed

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with, his scherzos can also be beguiling. (Symphony No. 8 sports a tuneful one in a catchy seven beats to a bar.) The most obvious distinction of the series as such is that symphonies in the minor outnumber those in the major two to one. Well, he was Russian. But of course a lifetime of symphony writing spanning forty-one years cannot help resembling an autobiography, especially in view of the fraught social contexts in which Russian composers have always worked. There is no evading that level of interpretation, however wary one may be of its pitfalls. The chief pitfalls are stereotype and reduction. Every Soviet composer has the same biography in the usual telling: joyous modernist creativity in the 1920s disastrously degraded in the 1930s to regimented Socialist Realist clichés, followed in the 1940s by wartime patriotism giving way at the last to mindless post-Zhdanov anodynes. It is a story full of pity and terror, and its more recent variant, in which the clichés and anodynes are read as tea leaves to yield up a hidden dissident message, adds a nice Triumph of the Human Spirit to the recipe. When we knew only half of them from LPs (the half the Soviet establishment chose to promote), the Myaskovsky symphonies conformed nicely to this model. We knew the Scriabinish Third (1914), with its apocalyptic horn calls and its magnificent funeral march. We knew the Borodinesque Fifth (1918)—“the first Soviet symphony,” according to the textbooks—with its rawboned peasant heroism. We knew the turbulent Sixth (1923), with its mixture of French Revolutionary songs, Russian spiritual chants, and (of all things) the Gregorian Dies Irae. Only since the Soviet collapse—thanks to Iosif Rayskin’s excellent article in the revised New Grove Dictionary—have we known why the Requiem melody is in there: Myaskovsky’s father, a tsarist general, had been torn to bits in 1918 by a revolutionary mob. (Aha, a dissident lurks.) And we knew the Seventh (1922), which out-Stravinsky’d Stravinsky with its poignant, sustained “Petrouchka chords” and its bash-their-heads (or shoot-’em-dead) final stroke. Then the curtain of ignorance came down, to rise again on the works of the browbeaten 1930s: the primly neoclassical, well-behaved Fifteenth of 1934; the Sixteenth (1936), with its hymns to Soviet aviation (but also another funeral march—well, planes crash); and, most shockingly tame, the Eighteenth (1937), its folksy C-major platitudes coinciding exactly with the peak of the Great Terror. With the Nineteenth (1939), for military band, coinciding with the Nazi-Soviet pact, Myaskovsky seemed to hit the rock bottom of enforced Stalinist banality. He responded to the start of war with No. 22 (1941), a staunch “symphonyballad” in three folkish movements connected by a menacing tubadominated refrain. Evacuation to the Caucasus brought about No. 23 (also 1941), based on overheard exotica. (No, that was rock bottom.) Then we heard no more until the grand finale, No. 27 (1950), long touted by the faith-

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ful as the greatest of all Soviet symphonies but actually the mortally ill composer’s coerced response to Zhdanov, with a final martial hymn you couldn’t hear without a shuddering reminder of the last sentence—“He loved Big Brother”—in Orwell’s 1984. Now we know how much we didn’t know before. The major revelations of the complete set are the Tenth (1927) and especially the Thirteenth (1933; never previously recorded), both one-movement expressionistic “lyric monodramas,” to use the term Schoenberg invented for his solo opera Erwartung, but wordless and therefore (if Wagner and Nietzsche are to be believed) all the more hair-raisingly potent. I was astonished to discover how far out on the modernist limb Myaskovsky had gone before Stalin sawed it off. The Tenth, which aims to distill to its expressionistic essence the terror the protagonist of Pushkin’s surrealistic “Bronze Horseman” feels as he flees the equestrian ghost of Peter the Great through the flooded streets of St. Petersburg, is the more turbulent, hence the more conventional. The Thirteenth is unique. Despite a few dramatic outbursts, it is quietly yet unremittingly dissonant and excruciatingly slow, with many haunted silences and hollow drumbeats to punctuate the contorted melodic surface. It is, in effect, a long sleepless night set to music, a morbid psychological study that added something to my sense of what music can do. Doubtless it will be read as a response to the Great Terror, which abounds in accounts of sleeplessness and dread. But it came too early for that, if only by a year or so. Rather, it seems a last, surprisingly late reverberation from Myaskovsky’s solipsistic prerevolutionary preoccupations, epitomized by translated lines from Poe that stand atop the score of his early tone poem Molchaniye (Silence; 1909): “On his face I read a tale of grief and weariness, and loathing for all mankind, and avid lust for solitude.” Silence gives the grandiose version of these sentiments, and though harmonically venturesome and formidably scored, it may raise a giggle. The Thirteenth Symphony gives the tight-lipped, white-knuckled modern version, and it is harrowing. (It is in one of the early Olympia releases, coupled with the imposing Third; let that be the promised recommendation.) Myaskovsky must have been given a warning about his antisocial “subjectivity” following the crackdown on Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936, because soon afterward he published a formal recantation of the Thirteenth (“a blunder, . . . I will not promote it”). Strangely enough, it was published in 1945, at the tail end of the wartime relaxation of censorship. Its anomalously recent appearance in print must have played a part in attracting the wrath of Zhdanov in 1948. The events of 1936 effectively halted the expressionistic line in Myaskovsky’s development. But the other insight that exposure to his complete output brings is that the simple, pretty, anodyne style that seemingly replaced it under duress did not in fact originate then. As early as 1910, side

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by side with Silence, Myaskovsky tossed off a light and tuneful Sinfonietta in A, and he maintained his heavyweight and featherweight styles thereafter in a sort of Coplandesque alternation. The Thirteenth itself was not only followed but also preceded by the kind of Soviet music Stravinsky sneeringly dismissed as “the dancing kolkhoz” or “symphonies of socialism.” A sprinkling of sinfoniettas, divertimentos, concertinos, and the like pervades Myaskovsky’s career. These include some palpable hits, like a crackerjack polonaise, worthy of Balanchine’s Jewels, that (composed for piano in 1908) ended up as the finale of an orchestral suite, Links, in 1945. Myaskovsky’s stylistic diversity, it thus turns out, cannot be explained away as responses to external stimuli. He no longer looks so “typical.” The great thing about hearing his symphonic output whole is the way it complicates and enlarges him. Might the existence of this set belie the prediction with which this chapter began? POSTSCRIPT, 2008

Probably not, alas. Olympia Records went out of business shortly after this article appeared, and never finished its reissue of the Svetlanov Myaskovsky set on single discs. Records International sold out its consignment as well. As of this writing, the beast has slipped the bag again.

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Restoring Comrade Roslavets

In 1924 the Russian composer Nikolai Andreyevich Roslavets, then at the height of his creative powers—and at the height of his power as a cultural bureaucrat in the fledgling Soviet Union—published an article, “On Myself and My Work,” in the Moscow journal Sovremennaya muzïka (Contemporary music). It described the “powerful inner impulse” that had led him “to break with academic traditions and techniques” and find “a new system for the organization of sounds.” Never a modest man, Roslavets (pronounced R AWsluh-vyets) declared that his system was “destined to replace the old classical system, whose resources we have now finally exhausted.” It would at last provide a “stable underpinning” for the “intuitive (read: hopelessly anarchic) methods employed by the majority of composers, who, having abandoned the old ways, have found themselves rudderless and blindly adrift on the waves of an uncharted elemental sea of music.” His musical system, like the political system he served, would rescue the present moment from crisis and place it at last in productive harmony with history’s demands. Boy, did he have the wrong number. While it took the Soviet system another sixty-seven years to land in the dustbin of history, Roslavets and his musical innovations were consigned to oblivion within a decade. By 1931 he had, for “insufficient militancy,” been stripped of his posts, which included that of politredaktor (that is, political censor) for the main Soviet music publisher. He spent two years in virtual exile in Tashkent, the capital of Soviet Uzbekistan, conducting the theater orchestra, supervising music broadcasts and writing music based not on his radical theories but on local folklore. Then he returned to Moscow and taught music theory to military band First published in the New York Times, 20 February 2005. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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directors before being pensioned off in 1940, after suffering a stroke. The music he wrote in retirement conforms to idioms he declared outmoded in his heyday. He died in obscurity in 1944, at sixty-three. Roslavets’s optimistic article of 1924 was published in connection with the first all-Roslavets concert, held under prestigious auspices in Moscow. The next such concert did not take place until 1988 and was held at his birthplace, near the borders of what are now Ukraine and Belarus. On 25 February another Roslavets retrospective will be offered as part of the Composer Portrait series at the Miller Theater. It will be a wide-ranging sampling of Roslavets’s chamber music, featuring all three of his surviving string quartets, three piano works, and a selection of early songs to Symbolist poems. Even in his glory days Roslavets was for the most part a musicologist’s and composer’s composer. But the bizarre circumstances of his life, and especially his long dip in Lethe, have made him an object of intense curiosity, replete with hyperbolic praise, vituperative condemnation, and, especially, silly speculation, all in virtual ignorance of his music. The condemnation came mainly from Soviet sources. From the mid1930s until 1978 Roslavets’s name was taboo. When it finally resurfaced in print it was almost always accompanied by derogation. In 1985 the aging dean of Stalinist musicology, Yury Keldïsh, reacted in the official press to a report by Detlef Gojowy, a German scholar who had been disinterring a whole generation of Soviet musical nonpersons, angrily dismissing the suggestion that Roslavets could have been a formative influence on the young Dmitry Shostakovich. “N. Roslavets,” Keldïsh snarled, “wanted to be the Russian Schoenberg.” But, he continued, “the actual sound of his compositions fatally recalled the late Scriabin, only without Scriabin’s poetic charm or his ‘airborne’ quality.” In typical post-Stalinist fashion, Keldïsh allowed that some of the criticism Roslavets had received “might sometimes have been unjustifiably severe” but maintained that Roslavets’s appearance was, nevertheless, “an altogether secondary phenomenon, which left no noticeable trace in Soviet musical culture and could hardly have had any influence on the creative development of Shostakovich, who burst like a bright star on the horizon of Soviet music in the 1920s.” To say this at a time when there was little or no possibility of testing the claim, since Roslavets’s music was still under a ban, was of course despicable. (Four years later, in 1989, the appearance of two meaty and informative articles on Roslavets in the same journal—Sovetskaya muzïka, the official organ of the Union of Soviet Composers—was one of the most exhilarating musical harbingers of Gorbachev’s “glasnost’.”) But no less dubious is the last sentence of the article on Roslavets in the latest edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001), a reference work that makes a specialty, it seems, of spreading rumors about Russian musicians (like that of

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Chaikovsky’s suicide, retailed as scholarly fact in the 1980 edition). “During the remaining four years of his life” after his disabling stroke, we are told, “Roslavets suffered from cancer and another stroke, illnesses which paradoxically saved him from arrest by the security forces.” This smacks of Cold-War fantasies that have become lamentably familiar (thanks to recent shrill debates about Shostakovich) and that cast all victims of Soviet power as dissidents. As his curriculum vitae shows, Roslavets was at all times an enthusiastic servant of the Soviet state and a believer in the system even at its Stalinist peak. One of his last works, composed in wartime (when Soviet censorship and control of cultural policy were at an all-time low), was a morale-building propaganda song: “Come and Visit Us, Stalin” (Priyezzhai k nam v gosti, Stalin). Roslavets’s “crimes” were more artistic than political, and his main one was being a loser. Throughout the 1920s the elite modernist faction to which Roslavets belonged, that of the internationalist Association for Contemporary Music, was locked in contention with another organization, the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians. The proletarianists were the true Soviet avant-garde, an avowedly countercultural force dedicated to the destruction of bourgeois institutions and the building of Soviet music on the rubble. They favored abandoning all “higher” forms of art and confining professional composition to the creation of marches and propaganda songs. The two associations went at each other like mongooses and cobras, but neither represented official policy. Artistic questions were openly debated from crudely extreme positions. If Roslavets took his lumps in articles with titles like “On the Fundamentally Bourgeois Ideology of Mr. Roslavets” (published by the journal that had printed his manifesto, indeed in the very next issue), he gave as good as he got, with polemics like “On Pseudo-Proletarian Music.” The Association for Contemporary Music composers regarded their advanced techniques as far more suitable than simple rallying songs to the depiction of “contemporary reality in its revolutionary development” (to cite the later definition of Socialist Realism). The main exhibit for the thesis espoused by Mr. Gojowy, the German scholar, which so infuriated Yury Keldïsh, was a concert on 4 December 1927, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. There Shostakovich’s Second Symphony (presented as a cantata called Dedicated to October) received its Moscow première alongside Roslavets’s cantata October. A tone poem by Roslavets, Komsomolia, was performed (under the title The New Man) the next year. These works were composed in Roslavets’s “new system,” without the slightest concession to popular accessibility. The same commitment was evident in Shostakovich’s symphony, which marked the outer limit of its composer’s youthful modernism—indeed, his immature modernism, as Shostakovich later described it when withholding the score from performance after it was no longer officially proscribed.

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The modernist side lost the battle in 1929, when the proletarianists were put in charge of the Soviet arts establishment in connection with the first Five-Year Plan. They overplayed their hand and were themselves liquidated in a “perestroika” of 1932, when the Union of Soviet Composers was founded. The Association for Contemporary Music composers who had been fired from official posts were rehabilitated and returned to active duty at this time, including Roslavets, who returned from Tashkent in 1933. But by now there were to be stylistic restrictions in keeping with the enforcement of Socialist Realist principles, which demanded a high degree of accessibility for the sake of social engineering. Roslavets did not resist them. .

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So what was Roslavets’s new system really like? Was he the Russian Schoenberg? Was he fatally reminiscent of Scriabin? The answer to both questions, unsurprisingly, is yes and no. The earliest actual technical description of his work came in Serial Composition and Atonality, a remarkable textbook by the American composer George Perle published in 1962, at a time when Roslavets, banned in Russia and forgotten in the West, was just a mysterious name. Turning the laser beam of his analytical intelligence on Roslavets’s Trois Compositions for piano of 1914, Mr. Perle instantly grasped the structural principle Roslavets had pioneered: the use of arbitrary “sets,” or pitch groups, that were subjected to “controlled transpositional relationships.” These sets, which Roslavets himself called “synthetic chords” (sintetakkordy), were in fact not quite as arbitrary as they looked to their first analyst. Containing anywhere from six to nine tones, they were so constructed that all the usual building blocks of conventional harmony (major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads and seventh chords) could be extracted from them. That link with traditional practice, and the strictly limited, sequential paths the transpositions took, lent the music the gyrating or spiraling quality that was indeed characteristic of late Scriabin. But like early Schoenberg (and unlike Scriabin), Roslavets allowed extremes of seemingly “emancipated” dissonance and hid the triadic basis of his harmony as often as he displayed it. Having made his clairvoyant deductions, Mr. Perle cast Roslavets as a link in a chain of innovations that led inexorably, in the fashion of the historiography prevalent in the 1960s, to the twelve-tone, or serial, methods then prevalent in the academy. That blinkered sense of history no longer has many adherents. It is clear by now that Roslavets conceived of his innovations not as a breakthrough to atonality but rather as an extended tonality still governed by the sort of harmonic departures and returns that had defined the form of Western classical music since the seventeenth century.

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Taking a much longer historical view than was available to Roslavets in 1924, or to Mr. Perle in 1962, we may now be more inclined to view Roslavets’s new system as a cul de sac (and a rather academic one at that) than as a new mainstream. But as Milton Babbitt, the champion American academic serialist of the 1960s, once put it in answer to a critic who had cast his work in similar terms, “There are those of us who prefer the relative quiet and solace of the dead-end street to the distractions and annoyances of the crowded thoroughfare.” Such musicians and listeners will surely find gratification, and the satisfaction of a long-standing curiosity, at the Miller Theater concert.

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When Serious Music Mattered Story of a Friendship: The Letters of Dmitry Shostakovich to Isaak Glikman, 1941–1975, ed. Isaak Glikman, trans. Anthony Phillips (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001; 340 pp.) Esti Sheinberg, Irony, Satire, Parody and the Grotesque in the Music of Shostakovich: A Theory of Musical Incongruities (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001; 378 pp.) Dmitriy Shostakovich v pis’makh i dokumentakh, ed. I. A. Bobïkina et al. (Moscow: Glinka State Museum of Musical Culture, 2000; 572 pp.)

The signal fact of Dmitry Shostakovich’s career was his eventual status as the one and only Soviet artist to be claimed ardently, and equally, by the official establishment and the rising counterculture alike. The achievement was not his alone. It was the convolute result of the enormous talent that he was dealt, the all too interesting times in which he lived, the nature of the medium in which he worked, and his capacity for maintaining a poker face. His music was at once an irresistible expressive conveyance and a tabula rasa on which all and sundry could inscribe their various messages with a minimum of resistance. Shostakovich, in sum, became the very embodiment of existential doubleness, a distinction that magnified his significance far beyond the frontiers of the society that he served, and far beyond the confines of the esthetic. The enormous burgeoning of worldwide interest in Shostakovich since his death in 1975 has been a token of the twentieth century’s anxious efforts to come to terms with its historical legacy—efforts that will inevitably continue far into the twenty-first. And as they do so, Shostakovich will surely overtake Schoenberg and Stravinsky for recognition as “the most consequential composer of the twentieth century,” which is what Susan McClary, a leader in postmodernist (or “new”) musicology, somewhat surprisingly persisted in calling Schoenberg at a symposium organized in his honor in 2001 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Schoenberg’s and Stravinsky’s impacts were immense, of course. But they were felt mainly within the world of music composition—the world that is treated as the entire subject of music history only by “old” musicologists. Shostakovich was consequential within far more consequential domains: those of music’s meaning and its social reception. These Originally published in the New Republic, 24 December 2001.

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have become the subject matter of a newer, far more consequential, musicology. Stravinsky tried to insulate his art from questions about its meaning. Those famous fighting words from his autobiography—“music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all”—are no longer taken seriously by any serious musician. They now serve only as a memento of their time, when artists—especially uprooted aristocrats such as Stravinsky—were frantic to protect their creative autonomy from totalitarian threat. Schoenberg, believing that art had a history separable from that of the social world, and believing that that history imposed inexorable obligations on serious artists, tried to insulate his art from social reception. He organized the Society for Private Performances in Vienna, where significant works of new music were disseminated among musicians so as to further the stylistic and technical evolution that history mandated in an atmosphere uncontaminated by publicity. It provided the conceptual model and inspiration for the retreat of advanced musical composition into universities and think tanks after World War II. It was a self- deluded, self-defeating mission. “Autonomy” quickly metamorphosed into sheer irrelevance. Like most members of my generation, I was reared, musically and musicologically, in this atmosphere. I was taught to disdain the artistic products of societies in which the creative autonomy of artists was not guaranteed. The only time I recall hearing the music of Shostakovich in the classroom during my undergraduate and graduate-seminar-attending years (roughly the 1960s) was when the “invasion” episode from his Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony was juxtaposed with Bartók’s mockery of it in his Concerto for Orchestra, and we were all invited to mock along. Then, I suppose, we went back to analyzing Schoenberg’s technical innovations. Soon afterward I was forced to revise my opinion, not only about Shostakovich but about my own education in music. I spent the academic year 1971–72 as an exchange student at the Moscow Conservatory, researching a dissertation on Russian opera in the 1860s. The better part of my time, in every sense of the word, was devoted to socializing with my Soviet counterparts and attending concerts and opera performances. Many of those events were devoted, naturally, to works by Shostakovich. At one concert I heard the Seventh Symphony, performed under Kirill Kondrashin in the conservatory’s fabled Great Hall. I knew the work not only as the butt of Bartók’s sarcasm but also as the object of one of Virgil Thomson’s snottiest reviews. Connoisseurs of musical invective knew Thomson’s text practically by heart. It opened with the remark that “whether one is able to listen without mind-wandering to the Seventh Symphony of Dmitry Shostakovich probably depends on the rapidity of one’s musical perceptions; it seems to have been written for the slow-witted, the not very musical and the distracted”; and it ended with an immortal insult: “That he has so deliberately diluted his

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matter, adapted it, by both excessive simplification and excessive repetition, to the comprehension of a child of eight, indicates that he is willing to write down to a real or fictitious psychology of mass consumption in a way that may eventually disqualify him for consideration as a serious composer.” Since deriding this symphony was a badge of musical sophistication where I came from, I glanced at appropriate moments at my Soviet companions, hoping to exchange a wink. But no: my friends, who were at least as learned and as intelligent as I was, and who were normally just as irreverent about everything students are supposed to be irreverent about, were mesmerized. I glanced around the hall and noticed my scholarly adviser, a deeply erudite musicologist, and also some composition students I knew from the dormitory who were studying with Denisov and Schnittke, the touted nonconformists of the day, and even (privately) with Philip Gershkovich, the shadowy ex-Webernite who was keeping the sputtering flame of modernism alive somewhere in darkest Moscow. They, too, were in a trance. These were not eight-year-olds. There was nothing wrong with their musical perceptions. For their quick wits and musicality I could personally vouch. The awful thought seized me that they valued this music, which I had been taught to despise, more highly than I valued any music, and that Shostakovich meant more to his society (and their society) than any composer meant to my society. For the first time there occurred to me, halfformed, the unbearable suspicion that the ways of listening to music and thinking about music that had been instilled in me and all my peers at home were impoverished ways. In the case of the Seventh Symphony, the thought could be somewhat allayed by recalling its special historical circumstances. The audience around me, I told myself, was responding not to the symphony but to memories of (or propaganda about) the war. The war, not Shostakovich, was the artist who was working such an uncanny effect on them. It was a relatively benign example, or so I let myself think, of Soviet brainwashing. But later in my time in Moscow I attended two concerts at which later works of Shostakovich were played that carried no such ready-made associations, and at which the composer appeared on stage to receive applause. At one of them, Mstislav Rostropovich, already under a gathering cloud for sheltering Solzhenitsyn (who was in attendance, and much gawked at), played the Second Cello Concerto, which had been written for and dedicated to him five years earlier. The same electric atmosphere pervaded the hall, but this time it was an atmosphere not of patriotic nostalgia but of risk. It was then that the idea of Shostakovich’s doubleness struck me, and with tremendous force. It was not just Shostakovich’s unique stature among Soviet composers that I sensed. His stature was unique among all the artists whom I could name. It was a backhanded fulfillment of the old Socialist Realist ideal—and the older Tolstoyan ideal—of an art that would speak with equal

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directness and equal consequence to all levels of society, from the least educated to the most educated. Obviously, this fulfillment was not to be credited in this case to Socialist Realism. By the time he wrote the Second Cello Concerto in 1966, Shostakovich had made a reprise de contact with his modernist youth. His new works were regarded as “difficult”—a difficulty that members of the audience acknowledged but that did not faze them the way new music fazed audiences in the West. Still less, of course, was the universality of Shostakovich’s appeal a matter of Christian fellowship à la Tolstoy. So what was its source? The first glimmer of an answer came on the other occasion at which I saw Shostakovich: the première of the Fifteenth Symphony, his last, led by his son Maxim in the Great Hall on 8 January 1972. The work, with its jolly quotation from Rossini in the first movement and its ravaged quotation from Wagner in the last, was puzzling, as everyone with whom I conversed agreed. It was not much liked, actually. But the outpouring of love that greeted the gray, stumbling, begoggled figure of the author, then sixty-five and beset by a multitude of infirmities, was not just an obeisance to the Soviet composer laureate. It was a grateful, emotional salute to a cherished life companion, a fellow citizen and fellow sufferer, who had forged a mutually sustaining relationship with his public that was altogether outside the experience of any musician in my part of the world. I was shaken that night in a way that no concert before or since has shaken me. If the overall effect of a year lived in the Soviet Union during its Brezhnevite “stagnation” was to rattle me out of my complacency regarding the inhumanity of the Soviet regime, the effect of this particular evening was to rattle me out of my complacency regarding the inhumanity of the musical esthetic in which I had been raised—an ideal that nurtured self-regard and social indifference, and that placed the highest value on l’audace, toujours de l’audace. That esthetic reached its farcical epitome with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s enviously admiring response to the destruction of the World Trade Center. But long before Stockhausen turned it into a grim laughingstock, the avant-garde position—in effect, the esthetic of spoiled brats—had become a cultural leftover, emptied of appeal not just for audiences but for artists as well. What it lacked, precisely, is the resonance that comes from doubleness. And the source of doubleness is social engagement. .

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Shostakovich never sought his doubleness. It was thrust upon him on 28 January 1936—the year in which Stravinsky published his autobiography, with its formalist credo—when the twenty-nine-year-old composer was not only attacked but mortally threatened (“It could end very badly . . .”) in the pages of Pravda by what everyone was soon calling The Historic Document— namely the famous and ominously unsigned editorial “Muddle Instead of

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Music” that ended the brilliant two-year career of his opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, during which time it had gone around the world. Until that point Shostakovich had himself been a spoiled brat of sorts. His preeminence among the first generation of Soviet-educated composers was assured by the première of his First Symphony, when he was nineteen. After Bruno Walter played the work in Berlin in February 1928, the composer, then twenty-one years old, became a world celebrity, and he would remain one for the rest of his life. In 1927 Shostakovich received a state commission for a large choral-orchestral composition to mark the tenth anniversary of the revolution. Originally titled “To October,” it entered his catalogue as his Second Symphony. In 1929 Vladimir Mayakovsky asked him to furnish incidental music for the play The Bedbug, after which Shostakovich became the most sought-after composer for the Soviet stage and the fledgling Soviet film industry. Between 1929 and the date of the Pravda denunciation, he composed seven incidental scores (including one for Nikolai Akimov’s sarcastically “revisionist” staging of Hamlet at the Vakhtangov Theater) and three ballets. Lady Macbeth was Shostakovich’s second opera. The first was the wildly surrealistic The Nose (1930), after Gogol, with its all-percussion entr’actes, its snoring and gargling cavatinas, its mock-castrato constables. During the first decade of his creative career, Shostakovich was the musical spokesman and darling of the young Soviet state, thriving in the din of industrialization and social experiment, giving interviews to foreign correspondents and sending his works all over Europe and America for performance. His musical style during this period is often called satirical. It owed a lot to the Weimar Republic’s we-won’t-be-fooled-again esthetic of Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, musically exemplified by the young Hindemith, whom Shostakovich idolized. Its satire arose out of a play of incongruities— a rhetorical doubleness—that undermined eloquence and “seriosity.” The most primitive (and popular) examples were “wrong note” pieces such as the Polka from Shostakovich’s ballet The Age of Gold (1930), in which dissonance, normally an expressive device, is used pervasively within a trivial dance genre in which expressive dissonance is rarely, if ever, employed. The incongruity calls both components into question. If a polka, why dissonant? If dissonant, why a polka? In its original context a third incongruous element was introduced in the form of top-hatted “burzhuis” on stage, canting in Geneva on behalf of disarmament and world peace. The hypocritical rhetoric of the League of Nations (from which the Soviet Union was then excluded) may have been the original target of satire, the polka mocking its pretension, the dissonance its absurdity. In a concert performance the venue itself could become the butt, as Shostakovich implied when he arranged the Polka a year later for string quartet, the quintessentially “burzhui” medium (and one for which he had not yet composed seriously).

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In Shostakovich’s early symphonies and concertos the lyogkiy zhanr (light genre) itself became the incongruous marker, with or without wrong notes. The cabaret waltz that assumes the role of “second theme” in the first movement of the First Symphony, or the madcap galops in the second and fourth movements (in which a solo piano unexpectedly participates, recalling the fledgling composer’s employment in silent-movie theaters), suggested a brash, good-humored skepticism toward canonical genres that was easily correlated with the brashness and the healthy cynicism of the limber, fastmoving young Soviet state in its time of (as yet relatively uncoerced) optimism. That happy iconoclasm acted as a preservative through which a high professional culture that might have seemed outmoded, along with the class system that supported it—and did so seem to the many clamoring proletarianist factions who called for its dismantling—could be adapted to the new order and thus have a Soviet future. The same techniques, adapted to the purposes of characterization, found their most trenchant application in The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, completed in 1932. Nikolai Leskov, the author of the horror story on which the opera was based, had cast the title character, a multiple murderess, as a she-devil pure and simple. Shostakovich took it upon himself, in a move all too characteristic of the high-Stalinist onrush then in progress, to rehabilitate her, even to make her a class heroine, by dehumanizing all her victims and potential judges through admixtures of low genre. In taking his famous umbrage at the graphic sex scenes, Stalin missed the Stalinist message of the work (not that there was any real message in “Muddle Instead of Music,” beyond the warning that no one was safe). Others at home read it loud and clear; but abroad the stylistic incongruities tended to baffle and offend. Elliott Carter, who caught the opera in a very late staging in East Berlin, dismissed it on the high-modernist grounds of stylistic disunity and found “unaccountable” the opera’s capital sociopolitical stroke: the mitigation of the innocent husband’s murder by accompanying it with a typically trivializing galop that deprived him of his humanity. It was the banning of this inhumane opera that humanized its composer and turned him into an emblem of doubleness—a doubleness that ineluctably colored the reception of his works from then on (and was later read back, inevitably, into his early works as well). Shostakovich was now a marked man, in every sense of the word. His victimization by the regime effectively transformed him into a semiotic marker. Every one of his subsequent compositions now had a subtext. That subtext, ironically enough, was first foisted upon the composer by the regime itself, when it commissioned from Shostakovich (or from somebody) a newspaper article published under the composer’s byline that characterized his Fifth Symphony (1937) as “a Soviet artist’s creative response to just criticism,” and described the work as a record of “all that I have thought and felt” since being attacked in Pravda.

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That opened up the floodgates to the Babel—or at least the babble—of conflicting interpretations that has since swirled around every single one of his works. Everything was read as a creative response to the totalitarian state, all the more so after the next bout of victimization: the so-called Zhdanovshchina, a series of musical show trials convened by Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s de facto cultural commissar, at which all the major Soviet composers were forced to make groveling recantations of their “formalist” misdeeds, and which culminated in the promulgation on 10 February 1948 of the Resolution on Music of the Central Committee of the All-Union Soviet Communist Party (bolshevik). For a long time only the official interpretations had access to the Soviet public media; but even the published reviews and analyses were subjected to Aesopian construals, and a counterliterature of private diary entries, word of mouth, émigré publications, and samizdat began to gather around Shostakovich. One of the earliest examples to see print came in 1951 with the publication of Taming of the Arts, a memoir by Juri Jelagin (more commonly transliterated as Yury Yelagin), a postwar émigré who had been a violinist at the Vakhtangov Theater and attended one of the early Leningrad performances of the Fifth. “Later,” he wrote, when I tried to analyze the reason for the devastating impression the Fifth Symphony made on me and on the entire audience I came to the conclusion that its musical qualities, no matter how great, were by themselves not enough to create that effect. . . . The Soviet government had set the stage for the incredible triumph of the gifted composer with long months of persecution and with the senseless attacks on his works. The educated Russians who had gathered in the auditorium that night had staged a demonstration expressing their love for his music, as well as their indignation at the pressure that had been exerted in the field of art and their sympathy and understanding for the victim.

Shostakovich managed to maintain his doubleness, and the consequent social value of his reception, first by maintaining a near-perfect silence, rarely if ever offering any interpretive commentary on his work except the kind that, by appearing under fully controlled government auspices, guaranteed an Aesopian reading; and second, by profoundly altering his stylistic manner after the watershed of 1936. This was indeed a creative response. It could be read as conformism, but it also managed vastly to stimulate the unofficial interpretive pluralism that turned Shostakovich’s music—or, rather, the reception of it—into the secret diary of a nation. .

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In the aftermath of the diatribe in Pravda, Shostakovich renounced his older satirical manner and replaced it with what might best be called heroic classicism. Seemingly in keeping with official demands, he adopted a suitably

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exalted “high style” for the properly reverential positive treatment of Soviet reality. Following the example of Beethoven—particularly in the Ninth Symphony, which shared his own Fifth Symphony’s key of D minor—but also following the Socialist Realist precepts then being worked out for music (by, among others, the musicologist Boris Asafyev, who codified the theoretical categories of “musical imagery” and “intonation”), Shostakovich began loading his work, especially his large instrumental compositions, with what musicologists in the West now call “topics” (from the Greek topoi). These are musical morphemes, basic semantic units that are marked by associations of various kinds—ecclesiastical, martial, pastoral, whatever. They can refer to everyday musical genres, or to specific musical works, or to the phenomenal world through onomatopoeia (or through metonymy, as when a sudden rapid scale in a high “bright” register evokes lightning, or an up-and-down contour suggests water). They can be “iconic,” suggesting modes of human behavior indicative of affect. They can be straightforward or they can be distorted—in rhythm, in harmony, in tempo, in timbre, in contour. The naive or ideal view of musical topics, the view espoused by Asafyev, is that they render the content of music more explicit, hence more accessible (and more susceptible to censorship and control). In actual practice they easily lead to a Bakhtinian “carnivalism,” especially when they are as brusquely contrasted, or as violently exaggerated, as they often are in Shostakovich. Above all they are transferable, through the listener’s own repertoire of associations. A vivid example is the reception of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony (1957), somewhat belatedly commemorating the semicentennial of the “first” Russian revolution of 1905. The movements carry titles that ostensibly specify (that is, limit) the referential significance of the topics and the images, which include old revolutionary songs and lots of violent percussion. The music is perfectly adequate to the program. Anna Akhmatova, no paragon of conformism, straightforwardly praised the imagery of the first movement (“The Palace Square”) for the way it conjured up the vast, quiet expanse of the Winter Palace grounds and the atmosphere of foreboding that she remembered from having lived through the events depicted. Shostakovich was sent on a goodwill tour of Italy and France, the two Western European countries with the strongest Communist parties, in May 1958. The Eleventh Symphony, which had been awarded a Lenin Prize, was given its foreign premières at this time (and was recorded in Paris under Andre Cluytens), and it was effusively praised for its vivid embodiment of the hopes of progressive humanity. The French composer Georges Auric sang it a paean (Dmitri Chostakovitch, j’écoute, nous écoutons! ) precisely for its Socialist Realist virtues of accessibility and clarity of expression: It is “as an open book” that our composer is to be deciphered. From night to full sunlight, he avoids having any “secret,” and does not seek to keep for

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himself and a few chosen ones the keys to his language and his heart. We are here in an authentically “public” domain, and—let it immediately be added—in the highest meaning of such a term. Anyone who wishes may enter into it and share in the special radiance of such music.

Meanwhile, back home, as numerous memoirs now attest, the second movement of the symphony (“January Ninth”), with its big bangs, was being widely read by audiences primed to Shostakovich’s endemic doubleness not as a depiction of “Bloody Sunday,” the massacre of peaceful petitioners by tsarist troops, but as a principled protest against the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolt in 1956. Which was it? Silly question! Guns go bang whether wielded by tsarists or Soviets, and all that Shostakovich had put into his score (that is, into “the music itself”) was the bang. One could argue at any length and any heat that the subtitle favored the one view, but no argument could prevent an audience from assembling in a concert hall and deriving from the other view an elating (and risk-free!) sense of solidarity in protest that was otherwise beyond its reach. One chose the reading that suited one’s needs, and in the Soviet Union there was an enormous need for that choice. Never was the special nature and the special value of music so nobly affirmed as it was by the sheer interpretive opportunism that Shostakovich offered listeners, thanks to the inherent polysemy of the medium in which he worked and the invitation to double reading that his personal circumstances extended. That huge social value is what I witnessed in Moscow when I caught my glimpses of the precious, infirm composer and was so greatly moved. I did not know how to name it at the time. And there are very many who cannot see it even now. For—strange to say—there seems to be less understanding abroad of Shostakovich’s doubleness now, especially in the uncomprehending West, than there was during Soviet power. Most of the late-Soviet and post-Soviet literature has been an attempt to reduce that doubleness to singleness, albeit a singleness opposite to what the party had once tried to enforce. The new party line traces its origin to Testimony, the volume of Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to and Edited by Solomon Volkov that appeared in 1979, when the Cold War was about to enter its final phase (the Reagan presidency, the Afghan adventure). It portrays the composer as an implacable enemy of the Evil Empire who used his music to send explicitly dissident, explicitly anti-Communist messages. This is the model according to which Shostakovich has been marketed for the last two decades, very successfully, in the West. Testimony was easily exposed by scholars as a fraud within a year of its publication, and evidence has been mounting ever since. (The coup de grâce is about to be delivered in a forthcoming essay by Laurel Fay, Testimony’s most

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persistent and effective critic and the author of the only factually reliable biography of Shostakovich in any language.) Testimony has been published by now in some thirty languages, but Volkov, who owns the rights to it, has never allowed publication of the original Russian text, a fact that speaks for itself. Still, the scholarly objections have been dependably shouted down by a host of political and commercial exploiters (and a few timorous or dullwitted academics), and there is no reason to expect them to stop. In a short history of Russian music published in Dutch in 1996 and issued in an English translation by the University of California Press, Francis Maes, the Belgian impresario who directs the Flanders Festival and has himself participated in the commercial exploitation of the dissidence myth, atones by unsparingly setting out the exploiters’ motives and strategies in a section called “Shostakovich and the Modern Music Market.” One of the ugliest tactics has been the systematic vilification of Laurel Fay in a fashion that farcically replays the tragic tactics of the Zhdanovshchina. .

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That is why one extends such a hopeful welcome to Esti Sheinberg’s book. It is a study that not only accepts the doubleness of Shostakovich’s creative persona but sets out to analyze it. The author is a semiotician by training rather than a Shostakovich specialist. She was attracted to Shostakovich precisely by the interpretive conflicts that surround his legacy, which seemed to promise a rich field for the study of music as a sign system and, in particular, as a means of approaching “the overall semantic structure of ambiguity” in a nonverbal medium. “Rather than focusing on ways ‘to get to correct solutions’ and decide which element of a certain ambiguity is to be preferred,” Sheinberg writes, “this study examines the various ways in which musical correlations of semantic ambiguities are created and how they work as artistic expressions.” Instead of replaying the behavior of Shostakovich’s audiences and invoking semiotics opportunistically to support desired interpretations, she purports to take a distanced view, setting Shostakovich’s works within the broad context of structuralist semiotics and the history of its applications, within the history of artistic irony in all media, and in light of its various philosophical and political critiques. Building on the work of linguists and musical semioticians such as Algirdas Greimas, Edwin Battistella, Eero Tarasti, Robert Hatten, and Raymond Monelle, Sheinberg shows how the topics that Shostakovich manipulates are often deployed as “contrarieties,” contradictory pairs that are defined not in absolute terms but within a given cultural context. Normally one member of a contrariety is taken as a norm or default mode, and the other as a “marked” deviation. To boil her central claim down to a single (and oversimplified) sentence, she contends—and succeeds in demonstrating—that musical irony is achieved when a marked element is treated as if it were unmarked.

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This is a useful model. I have been tacitly applying it to my descriptions of such pieces as the Age of Gold Polka and the First Symphony. It works best when the contrarieties are simple binarisms (consonance versus dissonance; high culture versus low culture). This is the level at which satire operates. Sheinberg is well aware that this simple level does not exhaust the possibilities for musical ambiguity or its interpretation. She astutely associates the watershed in Shostakovich’s career in 1936 with a shift in the nature of his ironic practice. Once a (mere) satirist, for whom irony was a means toward a debunking end (irony as stimulus, in Kierkegaard’s terminology), the composer became, in the battered latter half of his career, an existential ironist for whom irony was a detached and melancholy worldview (irony as terminus). “Like a half-smiling, resigned Pierrot,” she writes, “Shostakovich’s music seems to dance on a tightrope, letting its unresolvable incongruities express the infinite provisionality of existential irony.” In a brief historical survey Sheinberg recounts the ethical objections that melioristic or progressive thinkers such as Hegel and Marx have leveled at half-smiling existential irony, regarding it as nihilistic, alienating, degenerate. That already begins to account for the official suspicion that always dogged Shostakovich under the high-Stalinist regime, and the fear of the uncontainable that his powerful music has always inspired in authoritarians (Soviet or anti-Soviet), leading to all the attempts at containment, whether by denunciation or adulation, coercion or cajolery, censorship or co-option, but never to neglect or indifference. Shostakovich was perhaps the most pestered composer who ever lived, and surely the most posthumously pestered. Better than any previous writer, Sheinberg shows why. Unfortunately, her practice falls short of her theory. Even when dealing with the later work she tries “to get to correct solutions,” subjecting works such as the Thirteenth Symphony and especially the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry (everybody’s favorite hobbyhorse) to readings just as opportunistic and limiting as anyone else’s—and often relying for evidence, it pains me to report, on Testimony. In another dubious reading she ventures to isolate as many as four layers of definite, mutually exclusive meaning in the tiny Prelude for Piano, op. 34, no. 2, usually heard as an innocently humorous “wrong note” parody of the “Canto gitano” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol (which was itself a parody). Arbitrary segmentation, the great bane of ordinary musical analysis, becomes even more of an encumbrance here than usual, because the stakes have been raised. Like other semioticians who have tackled music, Sheinberg relies heavily on analogies to literature (or literary criticism) and painting, where the semantics are presumed to be more stable. That presumption having been so damagingly challenged by poststructuralist theory, it would have been much more useful to let music dictate the semantic terms and provide a model for literature. But even if one grants her premises, Sheinberg’s literary analogies

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can be naively literalistic. She seems to imply that Shostakovich learned his rhetorical strategies from the Russian Formalists and Bakhtin, wasting many pages attempting to show that it was not unlikely that Shostakovich was not unaware of this critic or that one, or that he knew someone who knew someone who knew someone else. At one point she even proposes that Shostakovich’s topical allusiveness “might be the result of an attempt to apply Bakhtin’s ideas about literary plurivocality to music.” But it is critics, in this case Sheinberg, who “apply” such things, not composers. The source of all of these difficulties is Sheinberg’s unwillingness to shed the notion that musical meaning, simple or complex, is something that is vested in it by the creator. Shostakovich’s doubleness, in her view, is entirely of his making. Her reluctance to acknowledge that irony is as much a way of reading as a way of writing is a dated prejudice that greatly limits the explanatory reach of her theory. Her treatment of Shostakovich’s doubleness finally remains univocal and misses at least half of the story. It will be surpassed, and soon. But whoever does the surpassing will have to take Sheinberg’s work on board. Despite its limitations, she has made an indispensable contribution to the analysis of Shostakovich’s creative potency, and to the understanding of how his meanings were constructed. .

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The letters in Story of a Friendship, addressed to and now edited by the theater historian Isaak Glikman, were originally published in Moscow in 1993. By now they have been well assimilated into the scholarly literature (and, to a lesser extent, even the popular literature) about the composer. Glikman was not only a confidant of Shostakovich but also a frequent factotum who served as unpaid secretary, occasional ghostwriter, and ever-ready errand runner. His portrayal of Shostakovich, reflexively aping the manner of Soviet biography, is hagiographical, although the canonizing authority is now more anti- than pro-Soviet. His book shares with Soviet publications some other annoying habits, including frequent, very obtuse editorial interventions (some of them consolidated, abridged, or omitted by the capable translator, Anthony Phillips) to control the reader’s response. I have strong suspicions, too, that the texts it transmits—reportedly dictated by Glikman to a stenographer—have been silently “corrected,” like those published in Soviet times. The most noteworthy news item in the collection concerns the poignant Eighth Quartet (1960), dedicated “to the victims of war and fascism,” but almost universally read as a rueful musical autobiography because all of its themes are derived from the composer’s musical monogram—DSCH, which equals D, E-flat, C, B as named in German—and placed in counterpoint with a web of self-quotations, and also with a famous revolutionary prison song. In his letter to Glikman dated 19 July 1960, the composer remarked that the

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work was dedicated to his own memory, and Glikman’s commentary explains that it was composed in a fit of self-loathing after Shostakovich had allowed himself to be recruited for membership in the Communist Party as part of a campaign to validate Khrushchev’s liberalizing moves by mobilizing the support of the intelligentsia. (The clinching argument was the reminder that Khrushchev had authorized the partial rescinding of the Resolution on Music that was promulgated in 1948.) The juxtaposition of the monogram and the prison song was in effect the composer’s apology for his craven behavior, a reminder that he was “tortured by grievous unfreedom,” as the words of the song declare. The story is plausible, and it answers a frequently asked question, namely why Shostakovich joined up as a Communist just as the dissident movement, with which so many now want to associate him, was getting under way. And yet the actual circumstances of the quartet’s composition (assuming that they are these) did not prevent audiences from being deeply moved by it when it was interpreted, and promoted by the cultural bureaucracy, in accordance with its stated dedication. The actual musical content—construed as sonic gestures, topics, “intonations”—supports either reading, or both. There is no reason, apart from political bias, to regard them as contradictory. Those looking for corroboration of Shostakovich’s political dissidence will think that they have found it when they read the many letters to Glikman that express the composer’s resentment at his mistreatment, or that skillfully parody Soviet officialese, or that poke guarded fun at the “cult of the personality.” The one that most moved me was a letter in which Shostakovich quietly but staunchly expressed his wonder at the quality of one of his compositions (Glikman speculates that it was the Eighth Symphony, banned by the Zhdanovshchina), and his joy in being its author. What makes the letter moving is not its content but its date, 21 December 1949—Stalin’s seventieth birthday, manically celebrated throughout the Soviet Union in a manner unforgettably satirized by Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle. Strangely enough, Glikman, elsewhere so keen to point out the most trivial and transparent ironies, failed to notice this one. Shostakovich may have overestimated his friend’s perspicacity. But none of this is dissidence. It is, rather, the old “fig in the pocket,” the selfconsoling recourse of the disaffected. Another example was Shostakovich’s incorporation of a greatly distorted and disguised version of “Suliko,” a Georgian popular tune known to be Stalin’s favorite, in his First Cello Concerto. He asked Rostropovich one day whether he had noticed. Rostropovich had not. Shostakovich’s pocket could be rather deep. A dissident did not use pockets. It is the open fig that marks—no, makes—the dissident. Shostakovich’s human hatred of his oppressors was vehement and profound. It is hilariously expressed in his Antiformalist Peepshow, a cantata that

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ridiculed the Zhdanovshchina, which he wrote “for the drawer” (the composer’s version of the pocket), possibly in 1948, and revised around 1968. Glikman shared his friend’s love of parodies of this sort, and wrote a few himself (included in an appendix to the letters volume). But to jump from such expressions of disaffection to blunt anticommunism (or pro-Westernism), as so many reviewers of the Glikman letters have done, is a gross misstep. It amounts to equating a critic of, say, Joseph McCarthy with an enemy of America (or a friend of Russia)—that is to say, it amounts to adopting the viewpoint and the values of a Zhdanov or a McCarthy. And it casts the composer’s many civic acts and duties—not only as a Party member but also as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet who met regularly with his “constituents,” a Soviet representative to several international peace conferences, and the president of the Russian branch of the Union of Soviet Composers—not to mention his acceptance of as many official honors and medals as any Politburo member—as so much hypocrisy. It was by participating in the life of his society—the only society in which he had a chance to participate—rather than by holding himself above it in holy alienation that he achieved the unique public stature that so distinguished him both from the Party hacks at home and from his sadly marginalized Western counterparts. In a large, comprehensive, fabulously informative, but as yet untranslated publication of documents from its own collection called Dmitri Shostakovich in Letters and Documents, the Glinka Museum of Musical Art in Moscow has provided hair-raising evidence that Shostakovich could play the Soviet political game as well as anybody, and that he used his newly powerful position as Party member and Union president (and, possibly, accepted it) with an eye toward payback. At the first Union meeting at which he presided, in February 1960, Shostakovich delivered a blistering attack on the repertoire of the Pyatnitsky Choir, the Soviet Union’s preeminent “fakelore” ensemble, and in particular on the work of its director, Marian Koval, a hack composer who had published during the Zhdanovshchina a slanderous trio of essays in Sovetskaya muzïka, the official organ of the all-Soviet Composers’ Union, collectively titled “Shostakovich’s Creative Path.” To V. V. Khvatov, one of the choir’s staff arrangers, Shostakovich wrote in his official capacity that Khvatov’s arrangement of the folk dance Kamarinskaya “has nothing in common with the art of music,” repeating practically verbatim the humiliating words uttered by Vladimir Zakharov, Koval’s predecessor as the choir’s director, about Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony from the very rostrum of the Central Committee in 1948. No, sorry, Shostakovich was not a saint. Perhaps the passage in Glikman’s volume that will be the least palatable to those who need to see a heroic resister in Shostakovich will be the letter of 21 March 1955, in which he discusses with Glikman the revisions he wished to make to Lady Macbeth before submitting it for rehabilitation (something not achieved until December 1962). The new version, retitled

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Katerina Izmailova and so extensively revised as to merit a new opus number, was significantly softened along lines consistent with the harsh criticism that the opera had received in “Muddle Instead of Music.” Some of the most blatant “pornophony” (to use the pretty term coined in 1935 by the reviewer for the New York Sun) was removed from the score, and the text was bowdlerized. The letter leaves no doubt that at least the textual softening was voluntary, motivated by civil consideration, altogether at variance with the composer’s younger self, for the sensibilities of the audience. Performing the opera in the form that was banned in 1936 has become the standard practice in the West (often incorporating the revised and expanded version of the final scene, which depicts a convoy en route to Siberia), and it is usually thought of as an act of solidarity with the composer against the prudery of the totalitarian state. But in fact Shostakovich disagreed, and even moved to suppress the opera in its original form once the new version was ready. Today’s producers and audiences have every right to prefer what they prefer, but they cannot claim to be vindicating the composer’s intentions, and still less can they claim a moral justification for indulging a profitable taste for pornophony. The composer of Katerina Izmailova, the subject of Glikman’s book, was evidently a far different composer from the composer of Lady Macbeth. .

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It is the great merit of the Glinka Museum anthology that it finally gives that younger composer a voice. Roughly half of its nearly six hundred pages contain material from the mid- to late 1920s, the period of his first fame. The voice of Shostakovich in those days was that of a young Siegfried, a cocky voice and a happy voice despite periods of real material privation. (In one letter he apologizes for a late reply by explaining that in the past couple of weeks he did not have the price of a postage stamp.) It is the voice of a young man reveling in his strength and, above all, the voice of one who has not yet learned to live in fear. At the same time it is the voice of a pampered mama’s boy (drolly accompanied at times by Mama herself, writing to some of her son’s eminent correspondents to make sure that Mitya was drinking his kefir and wearing his jacket) and of an inveterate joker. It is much assisted in its present reincarnation by the editors’ factual annotations, and it is only occasionally saddled with their interpretive intrusions. While one can never be sure, one is given no reason a priori to suspect bowdlerization of the texts one is reading. In a fashion unapproached by any previous Russian publication concerning Shostakovich, readers are invited to lower their wellexercised strategic defenses and indulge the illusion that they are for once seeing Shelley plain, even if it is a Shelley who loved to pose and prevaricate. To say as much brings all the defenses rushing back, of course, and that is only as it should be. But I take pleasure in quoting some plums.

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“The trrrragic style makes me laugh out loud,” writes Mitya in 1927 in one of the sixty-six letters collected here addressed to Boleslav Yavorsky (1877– 1942), one of the great éminences grises in the history of Russian and Soviet music. Trained as a mathematician, Yavorsky was a minor pianist and composer and a dazzlingly original music theorist who published little but had an enormous influence on his many pupils, as well as on those who, like the young Shostakovich, sought him out as a mentor. I would be failing in my duty to the new musicology not to report as well that Yavorsky lived openly with a male lover, his former pupil Sergey Protopopov (1893–1954), with whom Shostakovich was also close, and that there has been a fair amount of post-Soviet speculation on the nature of Yavorsky’s relationship with his protégé, the golden boy of early Soviet music. Considering Shostakovich’s current reputation as the twentieth century’s prime musical tragedian, the flip remark to Yavorsky is arresting, and it has many echoes. A few months after writing the letter that contains it, Shostakovich submitted to a mammoth interview-cum-questionnaire administered by the music historian Roman Gruber as part of a research project on “the psychology of the creative process.” As to the stated subject, Shostakovich reported that “when composing I always suffer from insomnia; I smoke even more than usual; I take long walks, which helps me mull things over; I pace around the room, write standing, can’t stay put in one place.” But the interview covered much more than that. Asked about his tastes in the other arts, Shostakovich replied that he had no interest or response at all to painting (“I am repelled mainly by its static quality”) or to poetry—but that if he had to name a couple of poets he liked “relatively” he would name Derzhavin and Mayakovsky. This is a great joke. Gavrila Derzhavin (1743–1816), a neoclassical panegyrist and the official “great poet” of the age of Pushkin, was the gold standard of empty orotundity. So, by implication, was the stentorian Mayakovsky, soon to be officially proclaimed the Soviet poet laureate. (Shostakovich’s own collaboration with Mayakovsky on The Bedbug was still more than a year away.) Asked about his taste in composers, Shostakovich went after the foghorns (Bruckner, Scriabin) and the long faces (Medtner, Myaskovsky)—“hedgehog” composers who purveyed univocal messages. His list of favorites is a gallery of foxes: Mahler, Richard Strauss, Berg, Musorgsky, Stravinsky, Prokofieff. Two letters to Yavorsky from December 1926, already summarized and commented on in Fay’s excellent biography, contain priceless descriptions of the conservatory exam in “Marxist methodology” that twenty-year-old Mitya almost failed, with potentially serious consequences for his career. He and another student laughed boisterously when a third was asked to explain the difference between Chopin’s music and Liszt’s in sociological and economic terms. Having thus attracted unfavorable notice from the examiner, Shostakovich was asked which of the required books he had read. After

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arrogantly answering that he had read none of them, he was ejected from the room. (He petitioned for a re-exam and easily passed it.) Fay comments that in retrospect Shostakovich’s behavior “seems an ominous prescription for early martyrdom.” But what is striking is that Shostakovich (naively, in Fay’s judgment) was not at all chastened by the experience and recounted it to Yavorsky with undisguised merriment in a letter sent through the mail. Was this political (or “apolitical”) naivete? Does it give evidence of actual or future political dissidence? Or was it just young Siegfried’s high spirits and irreverence, expressed during the relatively low-pressure years of the New Economic Policy, when he was not just a bright student but an already famous composer counting on the protection of his burgeoning reputation, and all within what he took to be a closed and cosseted circle of friends and teachers? The conservatory students with whom I lived in Moscow during the Brezhnevite stagnation had a similar attitude toward their “historical materialism” courses and the teachers who staffed them. By then, of course, they would have behaved more circumspectly than Shostakovich did, and would not have written letters about it; but their attitude implied no political opinion, and neither did his. It is well summed up by a lovely quip in one of the letters to Yavorsky, where before writing “Marxist methodology” Shostakovich wrote “God’s Law” (Zakon Bozhiy) and crossed it out, recalling the equivalent prerevolutionary course requirement, which students had no doubt treated with comparable respect. In any case, no political qualms prevented Shostakovich from eagerly accepting the honor of a commission from the Musical Sector of the Soviet government’s publishing arm for the Second Symphony (To October), or from working on it with great enthusiasm, as we may now read in a whole sheaf of letters to the functionary who was responsible for the commission, one Lev Shulgin, a respectable pianist who had trained as a composer with some of the same teachers who taught Shostakovich. The work was to be a showpiece of Soviet “industrial” modernism. Shostakovich’s twenty-minute single movement replays in highly compressed form the dramaturgy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, beginning with indistinct rumblings and ending with a choral paean to “October! Herald of the Desired Dawn!” with words by the fittingly monikered Alexander Bezymensky (that is, “No-name”), one of the many sub-Mayakovskys of the period. It was Shulgin, it turns out, who came up with what is now the symphony’s best-remembered idea, a factory whistle whose blast caps a bustling polytonal fugue to usher in the choral apotheosis. Shostakovich, carried away with the task, sent Shulgin ebullient if inveterately leg-pulling reports of his progress. In one, he described early reactions to the piece: I showed it to a few musicians. They approve. But that is unimportant. What is important is that a few days ago I played it over to a few acquaintances, among

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whom were four workers from a metallurgical plant and one peasant who had come in from the far countryside. They got less out of the instrumental part, but went into ecstasies over the chorus and, although they could not read the music, tried to sing along. That filled me with joy.

In later life Shostakovich repudiated both the Second Symphony and the Third Symphony (1929), dedicated to the First of May. The reason was their immature modernism, as he came to judge it, rather than their overt political content (which, after all, was no different from that of the Eleventh or Twelfth Symphonies). But Roman Gruber’s interview notes give startling evidence of what the Second Symphony meant to Shostakovich at the time. He complained that upon finishing his conservatory studies, he felt unable to compose. Only by “squeezing them out of myself” was he able to write such early pieces as the famous First Symphony, the Two Pieces for String Octet, and so on. Later, he reported, he went utterly dry for a while, his “creative imagination being unable to get past the boundaries set by classroom rules.” This situation persisted until the autumn of 1926, when “I turned to the study of contemporary Western European composers (Schoenberg, Béla Bartók, Hindemith, Krenek), which apparently provided the stimulus I needed to ‘emancipate’ my creative imagination; the first works of this new period were written in a great burst: the [first] piano sonata, the Aphorisms for piano, the Symphonic Poem for the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution (Second Symphony) and the first act of The Nose.” These are indeed inspired works, every one. Having heard a magnificent performance of the Second Symphony in 2000 by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Alexander Lazarev, I can attest to its stunning effect. An exSoviet musicologist seated next to me, an embittered refugee from the tyrannical state that her homeland had become, was almost in tears at its conclusion. It reminded her, she said, of the idealism and the unfeigned revolutionary ardor of her parents’ generation, as yet unclouded by the tragedies to come. It gave her (and even me, who knew that idealism and ardor only at a scholarly remove) a poignant case of the might-have-beens. The tragedies that came were what made a tragedian of Shostakovich. They were already looming on the horizon in 1931, when, appalled by the rise of the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians (R APM)—which had lobbied against him (and ended the run of The Nose), taken over the conservatories, and threatened to reduce Soviet music to a rubble of marches and mass songs—he published “Declaration of a Composer’s Obligations” (reprinted in the Glinka Museum anthology), in which he repudiated the lyogkiy zhanr as inartistic and singled out for special excoriation his own theatrical and music hall scores, especially the most recent one, the “bad and shameful” one called “Declared Dead” (Uslovno ubitïy, 1931). Ironically enough, this is the very score that, reconstructed from sketches and

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orchestrated by Gerard McBurney, has been lately performed and recorded (under the title “Hypothetically Murdered”) to wide acclaim. After R APM was dissolved in 1932 in accordance with the decree that created the Union of Soviet Composers, Shostakovich made a characteristic comment: “All I hope is that if R APM couldn’t manage to grind me to a powder, neither will the Union.” He wrote this to his close friend Levon Atovmyan (1901–73), a minor composer and a career bureaucrat who held various administrative posts within the cultural establishment, eventually (after a twoyear stint in the Gulag) rising to the directorship of the Muzfond, the union office that managed commissions and disbursements. The two hundred-odd short letters and telegrams from Shostakovich to Atovmyan in the Glinka Museum collection are an at times surreal chronicle of musical life during the most stringent phase of Soviet history. One of the few correspondents with whom he was on familiar secondperson terms, Atovmyan was also one of the very few whom the post-1936 Shostakovich could trust with irony. In a letter addressed to Atovmyan in his capacity as administrator in charge of commissions, dated 15 January 1940, while Shostakovich was at work on his orchestration of Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov, he wrote: “Unfortunately, I fear that I will not be able to write a Triumphal Overture just now, since I am very busy with Boris. Besides, I do not feel it in my power to create a portrait of Comrade Molotov in music, since such a complex task would require enormous labor, mastery, and, above all, time.” Among the weirder commissions that Atovmyan successfully brokered for Shostakovich was a series of snappy numbers for the NKVD’s own Song and Dance Ensemble, composed between 1942 and 1946. The notion of a hall full of secret police operatives—perhaps including those who interrogated Shostakovich’s imprisoned brother-in-law; or the imprisoned composer Alexander Mosolov (whose ballet suite Steel, including the famous “Foundry” movement, shared the program with the Second Symphony’s Moscow première); or Atovmyan; or even (if a story spread by his friend Venyamin Basner is true) Shostakovich himself—being regaled by a stage full of dancers and prancers all kicking up their heels to the strains of Shostakovich’s “Victorious Spring” . . . well, that is a scene worthy of Bulgakov. How’s that for a creative response to just criticism? I cannot keep from chuckling at the thought, but finally its inevitable doubleness disquiets and shames. By the 1940s there was no innocent humor in the Soviet Union, and one can only shudder at the pressures that Shostakovich must have faced—pressures that we cannot comprehend or truly empathize with now, no matter how many books we read. In the end the relentless opportunistic speculation over Shostakovich’s legacy, the dueling exegeses, the triumphant claims and counterclaims, the charges and countercharges, amount to little more than political prurience. A quarter

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century past the end of his tormented life, we are still tormenting his ghost, appropriating his authority, seeking his support to bolster new party lines. So let us give him the last word. One of the newly published letters, sent on 24 June 1959 to Yury Keldïsh, the editor of Sovetskaya muzïka, protests the airing in that publication of a nasty memoir by Sol Hurok about Alexander Glazunov, one of Shostakovich’s revered early mentors. “We all know that F. Schubert died of syphilis,” he wrote. “But that doesn’t mean we need to print scholarly articles about it. Musorgsky died of drink. About this there is also no need to write articles and studies, just as there is no need to keep reprinting that insulting portrait of Musorgsky by Repin. It seems to me that this principle is clear enough.” I may not exactly agree with this “principle.” (What scholar would?) But perhaps the miseries of people’s lives ought not to be exploited ad libitum in the furtherance of our profits or our careers, or in the vain conviction that we understand everything. By turning Shostakovich into a saint, a hero, or a martyr to gratify our hatred of the evil that surrounded him, we grant him no posthumous victory. All we do is reduce him to the level of our imperfect comprehension and our biases. Better to let the contradictions stand. They are what have made Shostakovich so consequential. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

The fraudulence of Testimony was established by 1980. In that year the Russian Review, a journal for academic Slavists, published Laurel Fay’s devastating review of the book, which unfortunately has never been reprinted in the musicological press (although it did finally reappear in A Shostakovich Casebook, ed. Malcolm H. Brown, published by Indiana University Press in 2004 and reissued in paperback the next year). As a young Shostakovich scholar fresh from her dissertation research, with the Shostakovich literature fresh in her mind (and alerted by a previous review, in The Nation, by Simon Karlinsky of the Berkeley Slavic department, who had made a start on her eventual process of discovery), Ms. Fay was in an unparalleled position among Americans to notice something that had even eluded the attention of Genrikh (Henry) Orlov, a major Soviet Shostakovich scholar who had emigrated to the United States and been asked by Harper and Row, Solomon Volkov’s publisher, to write a prepublication review for house use. As many readers will not have to be reminded, Ms. Fay discovered five sizeable passages in Testimony (in addition to the two identified by Prof. Karlinsky, for a total of seven) that had previously been published in the official Soviet press and that on the face of it contradicted Volkov’s claim that the book consisted entirely of transcribed oral testimony. Not only that, but all seven passages occurred on the opening pages of chapters in the typescript—that is, precisely those pages that had been signed by Shostakovich as evidence

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that he had read and approved the text. Only one of the eight signed pages, in other words, seemed to contain previously unpublished material, a fact that on the face of it seriously compromised the process by which the book’s contents had been authenticated. Defenders of Testimony—some working in collusion with Volkov, who claims neither to have noticed the passages in question nor relied on published sources in preparing the volume for the press—have tried various means of dismissing Ms. Fay’s findings. They have claimed, for example, that Shostakovich was dictating previously published material to Volkov from memory, a memory that many musicians have cited as having been phenomenal. The problem with that claim was the pesky fact that verbatim quotation always went exactly as far as the length of a single typewritten page of the Testimony manuscript, or at most as far as the completion of a sentence on the next, and diverged immediately afterward. Another stumbling block was that not only the words themselves but also the punctuation and paragraphing in Testimony coincided with the original publications. Volkov’s own account of his process of collaboration with Shostakovich would seem, moreover, to preclude the dictation of whole pages of previously published text from memory: his original account, in the introduction to the book, emphasized his own strong role in grouping and organizing the material, which, according to him, came out of Shostakovich’s mouth in short disconnected fragments. The other chief means of refutation and defense has been personal attack, very much on the Soviet model. As already recounted in the introduction to this book, Ms. Fay was accused, primarily by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, of collusion with the KGB and anti-Semitism, among many other things. (She had plenty of company: not only were other Testimony skeptics like me tarred with these brushes; so was the composer’s widow, Irina Antonovna, whom Mr. Feofanov additionally accused of venality.) The charges were leveled in a reckless and disorderly volume called Shostakovich Reconsidered, published in 1998 by the British imprint Toccata Press, single-handedly operated by Martin Anderson, who has also indulged, in print and in cyberspace, in Sovietstyle slander. Personal invective accounts for far more than half of the book’s nearly 800 pages. There was, however, that one reputedly signed and authenticated page that did contain previously unpublished material, and the material it contained was indeed unpublishable under Soviet censorship conditions: These are not memoirs about myself. These are memoirs about other people. Others will write about us. And naturally they’ll lie through their teeth—but that’s their business. One must speak the truth about the past or not at all. It’s very hard to reminisce and it’s worth doing only in the name of truth. Looking back, I see nothing but ruins, only mountains of corpses. And I do not wish to build new Potemkin villages on these ruins.

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These are Testimony’s opening paragraphs. The assurance that Shostakovich’s signature appeared on the page containing these words was powerful evidence in favor of Volkov’s claims, and the authors of Shostakovich Reconsidered bet the farm on it. “The controversial ‘new’ Shostakovich is evident on the first signed page of chapter 1,” they alleged (211, italics original), and asserted further that these inflammatory signed sentences “completely demolish” Fay’s case. They testified, moreover (217, n. 378), that their allegations were based on their own first-hand examination of the typescript. Laurel Fay did not get to examine the typescript at first hand until the year 2000, when a photocopy was passed along to her by Irina Antonovna Shostakovich, who had lately received it from an acquaintance in the United States. Even had it not been the first page of Testimony, the passage quoted above would surely have been the first place Fay checked, because that was the one place that still ostensibly provided firm evidence in support of the memoirs’ authenticity. What she discovered (described in “Volkov’s Testimony Reconsidered,” A Shostakovich Casebook, 28–40) “finally made me angry,” as she, with characteristic reserve, put it to me later. Volkov’s, Ho’s, and Feofanov’s assertions are flagrantly false. They are outright lies. There is a page near the beginning of chapter 1 that bears the legend Chital. D. Shostakovich ([I have] read [it]. D. Shostakovich), but it is the third page of the typescript (now bearing the Cyrillic equivalent of the number 1b), not the first. The first page, containing the passage about Potemkin villages and heaped corpses, bears no signature. And sure enough, the signed page (like all the other signed pages) contains, in Fay’s description, “a verbatim transcription of a previously published memoir, in this case a statement Shostakovich penned in 1927 but published only in the September 1966 issue of Sovetskaya muzïka [the organ of the Union of Soviet Composers] on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday.” After noting that the sinkage at the top of the signed page, but not those of “1” and “1a,” corresponds to the other opening pages of chapters, she concludes (39) that the “inflammatory” pages “were slotted in after Shostakovich’s signature of approval had been obtained.” In other words, as many of us have long suspected, the first victim of Solomon Volkov’s deception was Dmitry Dmitryevich Shostakovich. In a final rueful comment Fay notes that “if Ho and Feofanov actually examined the typescript, as they claim, then they have knowingly and deliberately misrepresented its contents and appearance in an attempt to deceive their readers.” (A similar deception on the part of Volkov and his defenders, this one a cut-and-paste at the beginning of chapter 3, which alludes to the murder of Zinaida Raikh, the wife of Vsevolod Meyerhold, is also exposed by Fay, with a photographic facsimile on pages 32–33.) The only (slightly) less damning conclusion possible is that Ho and Feofanov lied not about the physical state of the typescript but about their access to it. If they relied on Volkov’s word and exaggerated in his defense, they can

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claim to be a pair of true-believing victims, what Lenin liked to call “useful idiots.” They have lots of company among the journalistic profession (although Ho, an academic musicologist entrusted with a faculty position at the University of Southern Illinois, has more to answer for). Although there have been instances of honorable abashment and several reversals of opinion, most notably Alex Ross of the New Yorker (who has compared Volkov with Clifford Irving, the forger of Howard Hughes’s “autobiography”), many more, including Tim Page of the Washington Post, Edward Rothstein of the New York Times, and the composer David Schiff, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, have decided that they prefer to rely on Testimony’s veracity, whatever the doubts about its authenticity. There one has a perfect illustration of the difference between the world of scholarship and the world of spin. “Believe the better story” is the credo of fictioneers, politicians, and children. One can love all three and still distinguish their level of understanding from that of responsible adults.

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Casting a Great Composer as a Fictional Hero

The full houses and rapturous critical response that greeted the Emerson String Quartet’s recent Shostakovich cycle at Alice Tully Hall gave further evidence that Shostakovich, a giant of twentieth-century music, may yet be accorded, in the twenty-first, the recognition long withheld out of irrelevant geopolitical and musico-political concerns. Now the Emerson’s wonderful performances of all fifteen quartets are available in a Deutsche Grammophon recording, and we are invited as we listen—and as we await the imminent return of Shostakovich’s gripping, if morally worrisome, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District to the Metropolitan Opera—to reflect at leisure on his stature as musician and, alas, as the object of a cult. In the “untroubled countries” of the West, where the arts have tended (in the sweetly sneering words of Adam Zagajewski, the exiled Polish poet) to become “food for a bored handful of experts,” Shostakovich’s social commitment was held against him. In later years many musicians revised their opinions about the degree of Shostakovich’s willingness to cater to Soviet norms; but even if his easily accessible style and often garish content were regarded as having been more coerced than willing, they remained unpalatable to modernist opinion. Shostakovich was written off, in the language of the time, as a “middlebrow” or “midcult” composer. A taste for his music continued to mark one as a philistine. Times have changed. Their catastrophic loss of prestige since the 1960s has made it harder for composers of contemporary classical music to indulge the old canard that serious artists live only in history, not in society. There is a new impulse to seek solidarity with listeners, and Shostakovich is suddenly Originally published in the New York Times, 5 March 2000. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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a role model. “The pact Shostakovich forged with a great audience,” as Joseph Horowitz has noted in a New York Times essay, is what now impresses musicians and wins him new admirers. “His music acutely resonated with the needs and aspirations of a public traumatized by autocracy and war,” Mr. Horowitz wrote, and “performed a therapy.” Composers left out in the cold by the collapse of the avant-garde now see that the support system can work both ways. What has happened in Mr. Zagajewski’s Poland since the collapse of Communism makes a perfect counterpoint to what has happened in the “untroubled countries” since the collapse of dogmatic modernism. The rise of the Solidarity movement inspired Witold Lutoslawski to abandon the trappings of avant-gardism (“aleatory” textures, twelve-tone melodies and harmonies) and revert, in a manner that distressed some of his Western admirers, to a style that spoke to his fellow Poles in a language familiar to them (and therefore redolent, to Western ears, of Socialist Realism). Even earlier, partly out of his religious—and thus even more explicitly anti-Communist—commitments, Krzysztof Penderecki abruptly turned from the experimental “sonorist” style (as it is called in Poland) that won him his Western following to a frankly neo-Romantic idiom similar to the retro trends that have caused so much consternation among critics in the West. In the 1990s, after the Communist regime had fallen, Mr. Penderecki changed his style again, to one now touted in Poland as a “dialectical synthesis” of his two earlier manners. The average between the avant-garde and the neoRomantic turns out to be (drumroll, please) . . . neo-Shostakovich, as exemplified by Mr. Penderecki’s Second Violin Concerto, which received such a condescending press in New York when Anne-Sophie Mutter, its dedicatee, played it in February 2000. Critics could not fathom how, in post-Communist Poland, Penderecki could write a kind of music that would have been kosher under Communism. But is it really so hard to understand that a style of music that had to be resisted when it was enforced by censorship (and when, therefore, playing chicken with the censor was the chief engine driving stylistic evolution) could be embraced when it represented a voluntary reconciliation with public taste? What Mr. Zagajewski feared—that “what arose in response to the dangerous challenge of totalitarianism” would “cease to exist on the same day as the challenge”—has not come to pass, at least in music, and the example of Shostakovich has abetted that heartening outcome. Let us now give the devil his due and recognize the contribution of Testimony, that notorious best seller of 1979, toward the posthumous reassessment of Shostakovich’s musical and moral legacy. The book’s subtitle proclaimed it to be “the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov,” a Russian music journalist who had emigrated to the West. Many have disputed its authenticity. In the interests of full disclosure, I had

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better acknowledge that I am one such, and that I have received in consequence much abuse from those whose views I am about to critique. But no matter how one feels about Mr. Volkov’s methods, one must feel a certain gratitude for the role his book has played in the elevation of Shostakovich’s stock. It portrayed the composer as embittered by the mistreatment he had suffered and vengeful toward the Soviet state, and toward the memory of Stalin in particular. Both in Mr. Volkov’s annotations and in the text itself there were hints that Shostakovich’s works contained veiled (or not so veiled) ironies, even outright messages of protest. One of the most poignant revelations concerned the autobiographical Eighth Quartet, which has since become a repertory staple. This was inspiring stuff. It played not only into Cold War stereotypes but also into the prejudices of a post-Freudian age that trades heavily, in the words of the musicologist Douglas Johnson, “on the notion that the more profound truth is the one that is repressed or concealed.” We take special pleasure, Mr. Johnson goes on perceptively to observe, “when the repressed truth can be shown to contradict the apparent truth of the surface.” No wonder, then, that people began listening to Shostakovich with new ears and with a new sort of pleasure. More important, though, more people began listening to more of his works. The Fourth and Eighth Symphonies began appearing on as many concert programs, it seemed, as the Fifth and Seventh. The quartet cycles began. Recordings proliferated. Pretty much all of Shostakovich is now available. No critic would dare debunk him now the way Virgil Thomson, for one (and the critic B. H. Haggin, for another), used to do. Even the academy treats him with a respect befitting his huge achievement and historical importance. No matter how they came about, these were auspicious developments. But something still stands in the way. In a survey text called TwentiethCentury Chamber Music, published as recently as 1996, the musicologist James McCalla held back from giving the Shostakovich fifteen the full treatment. He ended his brief assessment of them, shorter than the space accorded Bartók’s Third Quartet alone, on a note of skepticism: “Whether the current popularity of Shostakovich’s quartets reflects our current situation, or whether they will achieve the seemingly timeless stature of their only modern equivalent, Bartók’s six, remains to be seen.” The Testimony-inspired enthusiasm, Mr. McCalla implies, may prove ephemeral as the Cold War, and the passions it aroused, fade into the past. I share the concern, which has been magnified of late by the emergence of a clamorous cult around the person of the composer. For it is not only students of Soviet music and Soviet politics who ought to view a cult of personality with alarm. Like the one around Stalin, like any such cult, the one around Shostakovich is an instrument of thought control. It fosters orthodoxy, enforces conformism and breeds intolerance of critical

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thinking. In surrounding him, it hides the composer from view and flattens response to his music. Its biggest boost came in 1990, with The New Shostakovich by Ian MacDonald, a forceful British writer, who followed up on Mr. Volkov’s suggestions by fashioning anti-Stalinist readings, of astounding blatancy and jejune specificity, for all of Shostakovich’s works. The kind of explicit symbolism employed in a few pieces like the Seventh Symphony and the Eighth Quartet was asserted to operate in every one, reducing them all to a single, endlessly repeated and paraphrased content—and turning them collectively into a colossal bore. Mr. MacDonald himself exposed the incompatibility of his method with an appreciation of music when he dismissed out of hand the two quartets that followed the Eighth, remarking blandly that “one can be forgiven for thinking that we have been over this ground once too often.” Having ears only for the paraphrase, he was unable to distinguish one piece from another or to distinguish his own monotonous, hectoring voice from Shostakovich’s. As music criticism, his book was altogether worthless. But it was not music criticism. It was romantic myth making, which enabled Mr. MacDonald and the many other cultists who now write album notes and book reviews, and whose outpourings can be sampled at length (very great length) on many a lively Internet site, to cast Shostakovich as the Soviet dissident supreme: an omnipotent anti-Stalin, able at the height of the Stalinist terror to perform heroic acts of public resistance (absolutely transparent to all his fellow dissidents but absolutely opaque to those in power) such as even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did not hazard until he was living abroad. This “new Shostakovich” has become for the cultists an alter ego through which they live a thrilling if childish fantasy life, reminiscent of a classic New Yorker cartoon by William Steig, captioned “Dreams of Glory.” It appeared toward the end of World War II and showed a boy in chaps and a cowboy hat, cap pistol in hand, taking a surprised Hitler prisoner in his office. Put the frail, bespectacled composer in the cowboy suit and Stalin behind the desk, and there is the new Shostakovich in a nutshell. Such fantasies ludicrously travesty Soviet reality, but they have become an article of faith to many, even some American academics who should have known better than to join a cult. One is Allan B. Ho, the coeditor of Shostakovich Reconsidered, a book that defends Mr. Volkov and Mr. MacDonald by mounting a heinous attack on the integrity of their critics, particularly Laurel E. Fay, whose recent biography of the composer, Shostakovich: A Life, is an attempt to counter the torrent of fantasies with a quiet recital of the factual record. Another, Timothy L. Jackson, has tried to squelch debate by invoking the Holocaust, identifying the gentile Shostakovich—and claiming that Shostakovich identified himself— as an honorary Jew.

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To support their fantasies the Shostakovich cultists draw on the writings of post-Soviet historical revisionists who have sought to counter the old monolithic model of Stalinism by showing that, yes, people grumbled all through Stalin’s reign and even told jokes about the dictator, and that consequently, dissidence was an option even in Shostakovich’s day. But private grumbling and joking are not “dissidence,” as the term is normally used. Dissidence is public. The evidence for the grumbling and the joking in books like Sarah Davies’s Popular Opinion in Stalin’s Russia or Sheila Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism comes mainly from the newly opened archives of the KGB. It describes the overheard and reported kitchen conversations of callow folk who had no idea of the danger they were in (but who, many of them, found out). Among the callow was at least one great artist, the poet Osip Mandelstam, who by actually doing what Shostakovich is now fancied to have done managed only to commit state-assisted suicide. It is important to quash the fantasy image of Shostakovich as a dissident, no matter how much it feeds his popularity, because it dishonors actual dissidents like Mr. Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov, who took risks and suffered reprisals. Shostakovich did not take such risks. Four of the five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko that Shostakovich incorporated into his “dissident” Thirteenth Symphony (including “Babi Yar,” the famous protest against antiSemitism) had already appeared in the official Soviet press by the time Shostakovich set them, and the fifth, “Fears,” had also been published there by the time the symphony was first performed. In 1960, by which time his international fame might have offered him a shield, Shostakovich gave in to pressure and joined the Communist Party. The autobiographical Eighth Quartet, which places his musical monogram in conjunction with a famous prison song, was an act of atonement for this display of weakness. When, in 1973, Shostakovich was approached with the demand that he sign a circular letter denouncing Sakharov, he again gave in, with disastrous consequences for his reputation among his peers in the Soviet intelligentsia, including Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who despised him for it. Shostakovich’s likely motive in dictating whatever portion of Testimony proves to be truly his was exculpation for these and similar failures of nerve. Yes, forgive the man, by all means. Who are we to judge his deeds? He faced pressures we cannot imagine, and nobody is required to be a hero. But do not list him among the heroes. Going along to be left alone is the response you or I might make to totalitarian pressure, not the response of a “moral beacon.” That is the title that Mr. Horowitz, in his recent article, conferred on Shostakovich. It is just another fantasy—or more precisely, an opportunistic appropriation. Mr. Horowitz is nostalgic for a time when “the equation of great music with spiritual uplift was a prevailing article of faith.” Having tried

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without much success to convince people that Wagner can serve again as our spiritual uplifter the way he did at the turn of the last century (if we could just forget that pesky Holocaust), Mr. Horowitz has pinned his hopes on the only figure in sight through whom a powerful symphonic rhetoric might yet be reattached to family values. Another opportunistic appropriation, and an altogether honorable one, was the audience reaction to Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony at the time of its première, in 1957. Officially dedicated to the memory of the suppressed Russian Revolution of 1905, it was privately interpreted as a protest against the crushing by the Soviets of the recent Hungarian revolt. Whenever asked, Shostakovich denied it; but that made no difference. His audience never asked. Like self-styled opera queens, who blithely and charmingly reinvent familiar plots to maximize their pleasure in their favorite divas, Soviet audiences were sophisticated ironists. But the legend of the Tenth Symphony’s reception in 1953, by which Mr. Horowitz sets such store—“a communal rite,” he calls it, “an act of purgation, a national catharsis”—is entirely a post-Testimony fable. It is based on the dubious revelation, which no one had previously suspected either in Russia or in the West, that the wild tornado of a second movement was intended as a portrait of the just-deceased Stalin. It is only the believers in the recent cult of Shostakovich’s personality who naively claim the authority of his intentions. It is only they who imagine they possess the means of infallible arbitration between straight speech and irony—which, of course, eliminates the irony. As they like to repeat, for anyone “with ears to hear” (read “who needs to hear”), there are never any doubts. But the heat with which the cultists denounce doubters belies their faith. “Frantic orthodoxy,” the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wisely noted, “is never rooted in faith but in doubt; it is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure.” At some obscure level the cultists are aware of the untenability of their claims. Were the silly claims or rabid denunciations confined to cyberspace, there would be little need to cry them down, but they have had some alarming public repercussions in the wake of Ms. Fay’s biography. Harlow Robinson, a contributor to Shostakovich Reconsidered, writing in the New York Times Book Review, derided it for its failure to support the myths inspired by Testimony, as did the reviewer for the Washington Post. The sentimental Mr. Horowitz faults the author for being “inordinately dry-eyed.” The nadir—it has to be the nadir—was reached in a column by the English music journalist Norman Lebrecht, which compared Ms. Fay’s honorable scholarly skepticism with David Irving’s notorious attempts at Holocaust denial. The atmosphere of hostility and organized slander that Ms. Fay has had to endure is more than a little reminiscent of the atmosphere in which Soviet dissidents—and even Shostakovich, at times—had to carry on. Innocent

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bystanders like the reviewer of Shostakovich Reconsidered who “cannot see the reason for starting all the tumult in the first place” about the authenticity or veracity of what, after all, is just talk about music, might find an explanation for it in this painful replay of a horrible history by those who have not learned from it. Such, then, is our “current situation,” to recall James McCalla’s qualms. If we want Shostakovich’s presence in the concert hall and on records to outlast it, let’s begin by returning our attention from our Cold War bedtime stories to his music and recognizing that our interpretations, and the purposes they serve, are ours, not his. Something there is that does not love a cult, regardless of how we feel about its object. Encasing Shostakovich in a bubble of dramatic fiction is a fool’s game. Bubbles burst. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

In an article, “An Answer to Those Who Still Abuse Shostakovich,” that appeared in the New York Times on 20 August 2000 (after first appearing in the English-language Moscow News), Irina Shostakovich gave the following testimony about the Sakharov letter: Dmitri Shostakovich was accused of signing a letter from the intelligentsia against the academician Andrei Sakharov published in 1973 in Pravda. Yes, Shostakovich’s name is among those signatories, but he never signed the letter. On the morning of the day in question, I answered a multitude of phone calls from Pravda, first saying that Shostakovich was out, then saying he was at the dacha. When they said they were going to send a car to the dacha, we simply went out and did not come back until the evening when the issue of the paper was already in print. Nevertheless, Shostakovich’s name appeared among the signatories. Some time ago we tried to obtain the original letter, but Pravda refused us, while admitting that “there was such a practice at that time.”

Joseph Horowitz’s article, “A Moral Beacon Amid the Darkness of a Tragic Era,” appeared in the New York Times on 6 February 2000. His arguments in favor of Wagner’s moral value can be found in his book Wagner Nights: An American History (University of California Press, 1994). Finally, and fittingly, Shostakovich the dissident was cast literally as a fictional hero in William T. Vollmann’s Europe Central, a novel that won the National Book Award in 2005. He makes a splendid character.

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Shostakovich’s Bach A Pill to Purge Stalinism

And in the fallen twentieth century, man created Bach in his image. In the image of God he created him. And recreated him again and again. The last of the many vicarious twentieth-century Bachs will be on display on 30 October and 3 November at the 92d Street Y, when Tatyana Nikolayeva, the distinguished Russian pianist and composer, performs the Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues (op. 87) by her countryman Dmitry Shostakovich. In the sanguine nineteenth century, every composer’s handpicked progenitor was Beethoven, not Bach. For Wagner, Beethoven was “the human evangel of the art of the future,” that is, Wagner’s. Brahms, Wagner’s supposed antipode, went beyond merely modeling himself on Beethoven as a composer. As the psychiatrist Peter Ostwald has suggested, Brahms tried to become Beethoven in person, cultivating the Master’s slovenliness, rudeness, and disregard of social convention. Indeed, there was hardly a nineteenthcentury composer who could not joyously affirm, with Berlioz, that it was Beethoven who “opened the new world” to them all. But that world came to a frightful end. The twentieth century inherited the heroic future Wagner foretold, and it didn’t work. In the ashes of world war and revolutionary terror, the Beethovenian art of profundity and power began to look more like an art of violence and psychopathology, and composers sought refuge in what seemed the saner, more orderly world of Bach. Bach became the new ecumenical patriarch, and the offspring who called him dad were just as various and incompatible a group as before. For Stravinsky and the other Parisians, Bach represented “an art that wishes to be plain, brisk, nondescriptive and even non-expressive,” in the Originally published in the New York Times, 17 October 1993. Copyright © 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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words of the composer Charles Koechlin. Embracing Bach meant above all renouncing the Romantic nationalism that had brought about the world disaster. From now on, music would have to be written as if in Esperanto: a neutered idiom heavily laced with self-conscious allusions to the fountainhead of “universal” musical values. (Not everyone got on board, not even in Paris: for Prokofieff, Stravinsky’s neoclassicism was just “Bach with smallpox.”) For Schoenberg, on the contrary, Bach was first and foremost a German composer. Although the fact was later repressed, neo-Bachianism accompanied the invention of the twelve-tone system. It was an attempt to recover German supremacy in music and forestall “Latin and Slav hopes of hegemony” in the wake of Germany’s political downfall. For “it was mainly through J. S. Bach,” Schoenberg wrote, “that German music came to decide the way things developed, as it has for 200 years.” That is why there are portentous references to the B-A-C-H cipher in Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra, and why Schoenberg’s pupil Webern used the same four-note motif to generate the tone row for the String Quartet (op. 28), one of his most aggressively hermetic and elitist works. But the younger composers of Weimar Germany felt otherwise about Bach. For them he was the shining archetype of the Gemeinschaftsmusiker, the musician who served his community. That is why the resolutely accessible idiom of Weill’s didactic Threepenny Opera mixes Bach with cabaret genres, and why Hindemith proclaimed the era of Gebrauchsmusik (consumer’s music) by invoking the cantor of Leipzig. “The days of always composing for oneself are perhaps over forever,” Hindemith wrote. (Compare Stravinsky: “The trick is to compose what one wants to compose and to get it commissioned afterward.”) The young Hindemith’s favorite genre was the busy Bachian concerto grosso (renamed “Kammermusik”), for it represented in microcosm an ideal of purposeful cooperative activity. And then came Hitler. Hindemith’s world crashed again. Bach had to be reinvented. In his opera Mathis der Maler, ostensibly based on the life of the painter Matthias Grünewald but in reality an autobiographical testament, Hindemith depicted what the Nazis, in banning the work, correctly recognized as a state of “inner emigration,” as it was then called. Mathis the painter retreats, spiritually wounded, from the turbulent world of fifteenth-century politics—a world replete with class warfare and book burnings—into the timeless world of art. At the time of the opera’s belated 1938 première in neutral Switzerland, the expatriated composer identified himself not only with Mathis, who “decides in his work to develop traditional art to its fullest extent,” but also, inevitably, with “Bach, who two centuries later proves to be a traditionalist in the stream of musical development.” Twelve years later, returning to Germany to participate in Bach bicentennial observances, Hindemith located Bach’s crowning achievement in the complete transcendence of the worldly. Bach’s activity, Hindemith now affirmed, reversing his earlier

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stance, “has become pure thought, freed from all incidents and frailties” of temporal existence. Something of the same view of Bach, brought about by similar circumstances, lies behind the Shostakovich preludes and fugues. They were composed at a time when Shostakovich was forced to live under a virtual ban in the wake of the infamous musical show trials of 1948, at which all the main Soviet composers were savagely excoriated by Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s second in command. At the same time that he was experiencing ignominy at home, Shostakovich was cynically exploited as Soviet cultural ambassador abroad. One such occasion was the Waldorf Peace Conference in New York in 1949. Another was the first International Bach Competition, held the next year in Bach’s own city of Leipzig, then part of the newly created German Democratic Republic. Shostakovich was put on the jury, and a contingent of Soviet instrumentalists was mustered to compete. One of them was Tatyana Nikolayeva. She bowled the jury over with her proposal, in lieu of announcing and performing a prelude and fugue from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, to play from memory whichever one of the fortyeight such pairs the jurors requested. She won the prize. On the final night of the contest, the young laureate, together with Shostakovich and a Soviet runner-up named Pavel Alexeyevich Serebryakov, performed Bach’s D-minor Concerto for Three Keyboards with the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Berlin, conducted by the rising Soviet conductor Kirill Kondrashin. No doubt about it—the Russians had won the war. That performance was recorded, incidentally, and issued in this country on a 10-inch disk by the long defunct Regent label. When it turns up on the collector’s market, it commands ridiculous prices because of the identity of pianist No. 2, but were it not for that, nobody would cross the street these days to hear it. Lacking both the fanatical dynamism of the prewar generation of German musicians (have you ever heard Wilhelm Furtwängler’s unimaginable Fifth Brandenburg Concerto?) and the springy choreography of today’s Bachians (period or otherwise, it matters not), it’s a pretty anodyne affair. Anodyne. That’s just it: relief from pain. That is what so enthralled Shostakovich about Bach that year, when his life was such a hell. And that is what impelled him to prolong the relief when he returned to Stalin’s inferno after the Leipzig exercises. He sat down in October 1950, it seemed, and didn’t get up from the safe place he had discovered till three and a half months later, by which time he had produced the whole set of preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, equivalent (though differently ordered) to one book of Bach’s. It was a foregone conclusion that Tatyana Nikolayeva, through whom the grateful composer had found his respite from affliction, would give the première performance, which she did in Leningrad in 1952. She has been

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the cycle’s main proponent ever since, with two recordings of it to her credit. (The more recent, made in London in 1990, is available on Hyperion CDs.) She is a wonderful player, with a true “Bach pianist’s” knack of clarifying counterpoint through selective accentuation—but no, nothing achieved through such consummate muscular control is just a knack. She wields the pedal liberally, yet artfully as only Russian-trained pianists, with their high consciousness of tone and color, seem to know how. No other pianist but Sviatoslav Richter (also a noted performer of the Shostakovich cycle) has her combination of etched line and graduated hue. It is precisely the combination that Shostakovich’s Opus 87 demands. For it is a work on a monumental scale, as was then expected of Soviet music, and requires a pianist of resource and endurance. But despite a few moments of clangor—especially the D-major culmination of the last (D-minor) fugue, purposely reminiscent, one can’t help thinking, of the controversial commissar-gladdening finale of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony—it is steadfastly unheroic. Ruminative, private, “purely musical” (to the extent of excluding all chromaticism in the C-major Fugue, something Bach never felt he had to do), it externalizes Shostakovich’s version of inner emigration, heartbreaking in its very abstractness and placidity. The opening prelude invokes the Bachian muse, as if seeking its protection: a gentle sarabande, it begins with a chord made up of exactly the same notes that Bach had presented as an arpeggio in his opening prelude. Only occasionally thereafter does the music actually allude to Bach. For Bach—the real Bach, that is—was in truth a rather pungent composer. Shostakovich’s imagined Bach was a consoling pastor who could lead him beside the still waters and restore his soul. Buffeted by the world in its games of power as no mere composer had ever been, Shostakovich was desperately seeking a neutral corner. Alas, that studied neutrality was costly. Shostakovich tried hard to avoid the oratorical vehemence at which he so excelled but that could so easily be turned to the tyrannical state’s advantage. Instead he cultivated an idiom so full of symbolic weakness—by the use of what musicians call weak doublings, weak progressions, and weak articulation of key or meter—that in a large dose the music can pall. Shortly after finishing the work, Shostakovich himself recorded a selection that was an unforgettable listening experience, even though the music occasionally overtaxed his rusty technique and he had to fake (for example, the left-hand octaves in the G-major prelude). He made his choices to emphasize contrasts. The jazzy athletics of the G-sharp-minor fugue are played against the visionary noodling of the one in B-flat minor. The portentous E-flat-minor prelude, a study in tremolos, sets off the madcap one in A minor, which Shostakovich played faster than a pianist careful of his reputation would ever dare.

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Hearing all forty-eight pieces seriatim in a recording, even in a performance as devoted as Ms. Nikolayeva’s, dilutes the contrast and heightens the medicinal aspect of the music. One feels at the end that one has spent the last three hours listening to Prozac. But all other things being equal, a recording is always a blander experience than a live performance. Administered by a rapt physical presence, Shostakovich’s spiritual analgesic might indeed turn out to be a wonder drug. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

The pair of Shostakovich recitals by Tatyana Nikolayeva, advertised in this article, turned out to be her last New York appearance. Its repetition in San Francisco the next week ended her career. She suffered her fatal stroke during the second recital. Those of us who attended will never forget the way she trailed off and stopped, got up and bowed, and left the stage. Half an hour later, a representative of the management of San Francisco’s Herbst Theater announced that the rest of the concert would be postponed due to Mme. Nikolayeva’s indisposition. She lingered, between consciousness and coma, in a San Francisco hospital for a couple of weeks, and died there.

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Five Operas and a Symphony Boris M. Gasparov, Five Operas and a Symphony: Words and Music in Russian Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005; xxii, 268 pp.)

Perhaps I’d better begin straight out with the Full Disclosure. I was present at the creation of most of the essays that have gone into this absorbing book. They were mainly conceived during the halcyon era when the author’s presence in the Berkeley Slavic department, together with Simon Karlinsky and Robert Hughes, made that department virtually a second music department on campus, which I (as the Slavist in the “first” department) happily frequented as a colloquium speaker and discussant, as they did ours. Those discussions were the incubator for a lot of thinking on both sides about the musical and literary arts in nineteenth-century Russia and their mutual relations, with occasional forays into the twentieth. And here are seven chapters, plus an introduction and an epilogue, that testify to the splendid gestation these colloquium-inspired zamïsli have undergone since Boris Mikhailovich’s deeply lamented departure from the Pacific coast. He and I loved to face off. We were a virtual Mutual Resistance Society, acting upon each other the way sandy irritants act on oysters. (“You say MuSORGsky and I say MUsorgsky,” I once blurted in exasperation; “Let’s call the whole thing off.”) And the result, in his case at least, has been a string of pearls—not all perfectly shaped, but precious. My brief evaluation will emphasize points of difference; but all disputation should be placed in the context of my overriding debt to a scholar from whose matchless interdisciplinary scope and dizzy flights of erudite fancy I have drawn inspiration and stimulation for many years. I would guess most readers will agree with me that the third chapter, “Eugene Onegin in the Age of Realism,” is the zenith of the collection. If my First published in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 893–98.

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memory serves, it had its origin in a colloquium I was giving at the Slavic department, in which I attempted a defense of Chaikovsky’s opera against the legions of offended Pushkinists who have inveighed against it since its première, lately under the banner of the militantly tone-deaf Nabokov. My defense focused on Chaikovsky’s parody of the Russian romance idiom of the 1830s—that is, of Pushkin’s time—and the way he made that idiom comment (in part through abstracted “intonations,” to use Boris Asafyev’s word) on the action in the manner of Pushkin’s detached and ironic narrator. Simon Karlinsky was unconvinced. He parried my thrust with the comment that, music or no music, Chaikovsky’s characters were denizens of Turgenev’s world (that is, creatures of Chaikovsky’s coarser, more sentimental time), not Pushkin’s. Semyon Arkadyevich meant it as derogation, but Boris Mikhailovich was listening and realized that the point, well enough taken, could actually be transformed into a compliment, and a pregnant one, the ability to effect a compelling “transposition” being the symptom of a robust creative personality. In backing up this insight, Gasparov brings to bear some of the same biographical details—Chaikovsky’s disastrous marriage in defiance of sexual preference, his quixotic obsession with emotional authenticity—that in the hands of fools have led to so much ghastly trivialization. In his hands, by contrast, they lead to illumination. The finest moment comes in a new reading of the duel scene in novel and opera, where Gasparov clinches Karlinsky’s point, exposing the inability of Chaikovsky, or the composer’s contemporaries, to respect the social codes that motivated Pushkin’s characters in a manner that fully satisfied the poet’s contemporaries. Here is its terrific conclusion (93): To the audience of Chaikovsky’s opera, the scene of Onegin’s and Lensky’s duel looked identical to what they remembered (more or less) from the novel; the familiar characters were on stage, the words they were singing taken almost entirely from Pushkin’s text. Yet this outward similarity obfuscated an underlying difference. Chaikovsky’s music made explicit the emotional prism through which his generation saw the scene in the famous novel: unreserved sympathy for Lensky, an ironic but marginal sketch of Zaretsky—another curious social type—and resolute alienation of Onegin for his inability to do and say what a person of integrity should.

I gratefully accept this refinement to my thesis about the opera. Chaikovsky’s music is stylistically of Pushkin’s time, but it nevertheless manipulates the audience in accordance with the sentimental ideals of a later time. That dual accomplishment, compounding irony, only magnifies the composer’s achievement. As this example shows, Gasparov is one of the very few literary scholars who can really hear music; and he is not only aware, but also equipped to make his readers aware, of the ways in which master composers, like other

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master fictioneers, deploy stylistic codes and registers. His chapters on Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila, Musorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and Chaikovsky’s Queen of Spades are demonstrations of such deployments: in Glinka’s case the play of Italian opera conventions against those of the Russian romance; in Musorgsky’s, of folk and liturgical intonations against those of naturalistic speech song; in Chaikovsky’s, of eighteenth-century pastiche against the unmarked idiom of contemporary (nineteenth-century) opera. As revelations of composerly craft and calculation they are exhilarating, and I hope they will do the job the author evidently intends: namely, to convince other literary scholars that musicians are not so dumb, and that musical adaptation is far from necessarily the sort of impoverishment that defenders of literary values often expect and assume it to be. Withal, these chapters have the vices of their virtues. Their main vice is overkill. Their arguments are often exaggerated, even forced at times, and they suffer from an excess of zeal to find meaning everywhere that occasionally borders on the humorless. In this I cannot help seeing an inheritance from the traditions of nineteenth-century Russian criticism as perpetuated in Soviet discourse. I well remember the Berkeley colloquium in which Gasparov first showed the correspondences, now displayed in his Examples 4.1 and 4.2, between the folk tunes Musorgsky culled from a published anthology for use in the first scene of the fourth act in Khovanshchina (Ivan Khovansky’s chamber) and some of the main leitmotives in the opera. At the time I agreed that the correspondences were real, admired the acuteness with which Gasparov had espied them, and was willing to allow that Musorgsky was indulging in an ironic pun, possibly, as Gasparov suggested, to hint at the sort of thoughts that might have been going on inside the distracted Khovansky’s head while listening to the singing of his servant girls. I am unwilling, however, to grant that these melodic similarities (and some other less obvious ones that Gasparov adduces in the Dances of the Persian Slave Girls) contribute to a great deepening of the opera’s meaning through a pervasive substratum of leitmotives (illusory, I’m afraid) that in Gasparov’s enthusiastic view rivals Wagner’s. This substratum, Gasparov insists, adds a whole layer of latent meaning to the events portrayed (and he makes a similar claim with reference to the pastoral divertissement in the second act of The Queen of Spades). The first requirement of latent content, however, whether one is speaking as a Freudian or as an ordinary human being, is that it add something to the manifest content (or else contradict it evocatively), and the melodic correspondences Gasparov cites do no such thing. That Khovansky is worried about Tsar Peter’s rise despite the blandishments of his singing and dancing girls is only too obvious—what else had he been singing about at the end of act 3? The echoes of his and Peter’s leitmotives in the innocent folk songs might confirm the impression that he is

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preoccupied with doom, but the impression does not originate in them, any more than forebodings about the outcome of Hermann’s courtship of Liza in The Queen of Spades, or revulsion at his unhealthy interest in the old Countess, originates in the act 2 divertissement, even if one can force similar echoes out of its melodic material. This insistence on seeing deep meaning in apparent diversion is an old Russian vice, and it can be taken to far more preposterous lengths than Gasparov takes it. (R. John Wiley has even read deep and tragic portents into the peasant song-and-dance routine that Chaikovsky interpolated into the first act of Yevgeny Onegin.) Its origin, I believe, is the old prejudice against the “decorative,” which is in essence a class prejudice. Critics who in the nineteenth century wished to rescue art from the clutches of the aristocracy (for whom it was just a luxury or a lifestyle enhancer) saw decorativeness as a taint; its equally passionate (and likewise cryptopolitical) reassertion at the fin de siècle is what gave the Silver Age its irresistible momentum. The Soviets, counterreacting, only magnified the class prejudices of the raznochintsy, and to my mind Gasparov’s interpretations of the decorative interpolations in the work of Glinka, Chaikovsky, and Musorgsky are reflections, malgré lui, of his Soviet education. Not that Gasparov is under Sovietish illusions about the political or social views of the composers he treats; he is fully aware that Glinka and Musorgsky were petty aristocrats, and that Chaikovsky was a dedicated social climber and a snob, nor does he hold it particularly against them. And the unwillingness to allow diversion to be diversion may also owe something to the Germanic ideals of organic form that have been the default position of academic criticism for well over a century. But all of these are blinders to be shed, not lenses. Having touched now on four of the five titular operas (the fifth is Puccini’s Turandot, which Gasparov describes very carelessly, but which he links intriguingly to Musorgsky and other Russian influences), I turn now, and with reluctance, to the symphony: Shostakovich’s Fourth, which Gasparov reads, with acknowledgment to Katerina Clark and Boris Groys (the sort of acknowledgment he does not always make to those on whose ideas he draws), as the musical equivalent of a Socialist Realist novel. He makes some interesting comparisons between the implied subject persona of the symphony and the positive heroes of such novels as Valentin Katayev’s Time, Forward! But the chapter is vitiated, for me, not only by the currently fashionable view that Socialist Realist fiction (and, by implication, the heroic classicism of Shostakovich’s middle symphonies) was a spontaneous growth within the world of the esthetic, requiring no assist from without, but also— and mainly—by the equally fashionable, and altogether deplorable, habit of romanticizing Shostakovich as a heroic political resister after the example of Testimony, Solomon Volkov’s volume of faked memoirs, now conclusively discredited by Laurel Fay (see her “Volkov’s Testimony Reconsidered,”

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in Malcolm H. Brown, ed., A Shostakovich Casebook [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004], 22–79). “One can only hope that the whirlwind of conflicting ‘testimonies’ by and about the composer, along with their vehement refutations and reaffirmations, will subside in the future,” Gasparov avers (p. 164), adding that he has “no desire to involve myself in this process.” But involve himself he does, beginning with the very next clause of the same sentence, in which he adds his mite to the collective effort to project a cardboard icon: I nevertheless take the liberty of pointing to one thing that Shostakovich never said, in contradistinction to the many things that he ostensibly did say. Whatever the validity of his public and private utterances, no one, to my knowledge, claims to have heard him use the shrill words of a public denunciation similar to those that were addressed to him by so many critics on so many occasions. . . . When, after a period in which he had been pushed to the brink of extinction, he rose once again in official favor—as happened more than once during his career—he never used his regained stature to get even with those who had been demanding his head.

Alas, Gasparov’s knowledge requires an update. The fairly recent collection Dmitriy Shostakovich v pis’makh i dokumentakh, ed. I. A. Bobïkina et al. (Moscow: Glinka State Museum of Musical Culture, 2000) contains letters he wrote in his official capacity as president of the Moscow branch of the Union of Soviet Composers, the job for which he had to join the Communist Party in 1960, and these letters do show him shrilly getting even with those who had made his life miserable in 1948. But I doubt whether this or any evidence will change Gasparov’s mind either about Shostakovich or about Testimony. A footnote (254, n. 9) about that reprehensible book made me grieve: Even if Testimony is Volkov’s loose compilation—as to all appearance it is—I consider its total banishment from scholarly reference for which many serious musicologists have called to be a polemical excess. If one approaches Testimony as Volkov’s account of his conversations with Shostakovich rather than direct transcription of Shostakovich’s oral narrative, one can treat it as no more and no less reliable than any set of memoirs.

Like James Frey’s, I guess. But even Frey’s fictions were his own. Gasparov seems unaware that the issue with respect to Volkov is one not of veracity but rather of authenticity. And it not only grieves but shames me to witness a fellow scholar’s willingness to tolerate a pack of lies and base deceptions, perpetrated in the first instance on Dmitry Dmitryevich himself, thence on a greedy American publisher and the gullible public. But is he really unaware? In another footnote (223, n. 11) Gasparov comments on a parallel case: Nestor Kukolnik’s diary, the reliability of which as a biographical source about Glinka was much impugned by Soviet scholars.

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“There is some textological evidence to support the argument that the diary was edited and possibly altered by the publisher,” Gasparov admits. And yet, he continues, “the total dismissal of the document seems in its turn suspicious, given the utter venom with which Soviet scholars treated Kukolnik and the ardent desire, amid all the pomp of sesquicentennial celebrations in the late years of Stalin’s regime, to ‘cleanse’ the composer of this association.” There you have it: the evidence is on the one side, my loathing is on the other side, and when push comes to shove I’ll indulge the latter. Another regrettable trace of the author’s Soviet experience sounds here in ironic counterpoint against the one cited earlier that clouded his perception of Glinka, Musorgsky, and Chaikovsky. It is, in a further irony, a testimony to the need (amply acknowledged by Gasparov with regard to his subjects) always to keep an author’s biography in mind as one reads his work. After making such allowances any reader will profit greatly from reading this book. But allowances must be made. POSTSCRIPT, 2008

For those in need of a reminder, James Frey’s two best-selling books of “memoirs,” A Million Little Pieces (New York: Doubleday, 2003) and My Friend Leonard (New York: Riverhead, 2005), were “shopped” as fiction and placed with a publisher only when the author, at an agent’s promptings, fraudulently changed their designation. After their factual claims were discredited, Doubleday demanded from the author a note confessing to his fabrications as the price of continued publication and issued an apology to readers, which read in part: “Recent interpretations of our previous statements notwithstanding, it is not the policy or stance of this company that it doesn’t matter whether a book sold as nonfiction is true. A nonfiction book should adhere to the facts as the author knows them” (downloaded from Amazon.com on 7 January 2008). Some of us would welcome a similar statement, now that Laurel Fay has exposed Volkov’s fakery, from HarperCollins, his publisher, and I, for one, am amazed that, apparently, not all scholars agree.

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“How far is anyone justified,” asked Charles Ives at the outset of his Essays Before a Sonata, “in expressing or trying to express in terms of music (in sounds, if you like) the value of anything, material, moral, intellectual, or spiritual, which is usually expressed in terms other than music?” Ives’s answer, the inevitable answer of anyone who needs to ask the question, was (I paraphrase) “Far enough to serve my interests.” For unless we use music only as something to dance to, or unless we can savor its purely sensuous beauty with the sublime detachment Immanuel Kant called “disinterestedness” (something only Kant seems to have been able to do, and then only on good days), we all—composers, performers, and listeners alike—have strongly vested material, moral, intellectual, and spiritual interests that we make our music serve. We have been doing this for at least 200 years, and music has learned to comply. It won’t stop any time soon. Ives was interested in using music as a medium for interpreting or commenting, in his Second Piano Sonata, on the writings of the New England Transcendentalist philosophers and what he had learned from them. That meant using music as a medium of revelation. Among the ways he found for doing this was to cite prominently in every movement a musical motif that symbolized the essence of Transcendentalism, not only for him but for any listener he could imagine. That motif was the four-note motto that launches Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on its blazing transcendental course. Beethoven, in conversation with his disciple Schindler, had identified the motto as Fate Originally published in the Aldeburgh Festival program book, June 2000, as annotations for a combined Beethoven-Shostakovich cycle by the latter-day (or reconstituted) Borodin Quartet: Ruben Aharonian and Andrey Abramenkov, violins; Igor Naidin, viola; and the indestructible Valentin Berlinsky, cello.

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knocking at the door. In his Essays Ives refined the image, in the light of Transcendentalism, to become Man knocking on the door of Heaven, confident that it will be opened to him. But even to listeners who have read neither Ives nor Schindler, the Beethoven motto summons up the imagery of transcendence as long as we can summon to our mind’s ear the symphony from which it comes and the thrilling, transforming climaxes that Beethoven builds from it, both within the individual movements and over the work’s entire four-movement trajectory. By the time we encounter it in Ives, in short, the motto has long since been embedded in a discourse—a field of interpretation—that draws on music, literature, and their histories (not to mention the histories of Beethoven and Ives, and our own personal histories), and acts as a passageway from each to each. Having heard the Beethoven, we hear Ives differently; and having heard the Ives, we hear Beethoven differently. We carry the discourse around in our heads. We can no more ignore it—can no more listen “innocently”— than we can follow the ancient recipe for turning lead into gold, as related by Friedrich Dürrenmatt in his play The Visit: “melt it down and stir three hours without thinking of the word rhinoceros.” But why should we ever want to ignore the discourse? The force and richness of our response to music (and not only music) depends on it. That is what is meant by participating in a culture. So music derives its power not only from its sounds but from the associations that our experience equips us to draw from them. And these, as we have already noted without saying so, are of two kinds. One kind is the association between musical sounds and ideas or memories external to them, which the sounds can be made to symbolize. That is what scholars who study sign systems call “extroversive semiotic” (all right, “pointing outside”). The other consists of associations set up within the work among its constituent sounds: the development of themes is one of these, the progression and resolution of harmonies is another. As soon as we know (or think) that we are hearing a “development section” or hearing the final cadence of a piece, we have responded to its “introversive semiotic” (pointing inside). Anyone who knows the effects that Wagner was able to achieve by delaying the final cadence in Tristan und Isolde knows the power of this kind of signaling. But of course the introversive semiotic in Tristan has an extroversive referent: the lovers’ unconsummated passion. It is neither possible nor desirable to distinguish the two interacting sign systems in the actual act of composing or listening, the way one can in an abstract discussion like this. So our real-time, real-world listening is never “disinterested.” The music we love to listen to is music that engages our interests, one of our chief interests being the interrelationship of art and life experiences. (Would we

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care about Tristan’s or Isolde’s passions if we had never known passion ourselves? Would we care about the Beethoven quotes in Ives if we had no knowledge in our own lives, at least by hearsay, of transcendent emotional or religious states?) Our interest in the work of great artists is often a human interest. We compare our experiences with theirs; and one of the things that makes artists great is the ability to represent their experience (hence our experience) symbolically. So no matter how often we are told that an artist’s biography is not (or, at least, not necessarily) the subject of his art, and even if we believe what we are told, we persist in taking a special interest (or, at least, an interest of a special kind) in the art of artists whose biographies interest and inspire us. And that, it seems to me, is why we love to consume the Beethoven and Shostakovich quartets as cycles. We are interested in their lives and (with or without permission) we listen to their works, especially to the lengthy series of their works in a single genre, as if they were autobiographies. We do not listen to every composer’s quartets this way. The quartets of Darius Milhaud are not often performed as a cycle; at least I have never seen one announced (although there are a couple of complete editions of them on records). And yet he wrote eighteen of them (two more than Beethoven and three more than Shostakovich), and they cover a thirty-eight-year span within the composer’s life (1912–50), longer than Beethoven’s (twenty-eight years, from 1798 to 1826) and only a year shy of Shostakovich’s (thirty-nine years, from 1935 to 1974). Many of them are interesting and exciting works. His Quartets Nos. 14 and 15, very different in character (one gentle and introspective, the other slashingly extroverted and full of infectious Brazilian rhythms), can be played simultaneously as an octet. It’s an unforgettable experience, but it has not led to Milhaud cycles. Admittedly, Milhaud’s historical stature is not at present on a plane with Shostakovich’s, let alone Beethoven’s. From there it is easy to make the assumption that his work is of lesser intrinsic quality. But might the discrepancy also be partly due to the fact that his life is not thought to be as interesting and that, therefore, we do not read his works in the fraught context that lends Shostakovich’s their compelling urgency? Imagine, for a moment, that Milhaud had not spent the war years, from 1940 to 1945, in placid northern California, but had remained in Nazi-occupied France, in hiding or even (perish the thought) as a Jew martyred at Auschwitz. Might his life not then take on more of the symbolic or mythic status that Shostakovich’s now enjoys? Would it not color our reception of his work? One tends to look back on Milhaud in terms of the title of his autobiography, Ma vie heureuse (My happy life), and on Shostakovich in terms distilled by Sofia Gubaidulina, the post-Soviet composer, who recalls her mentor as “pain personified” and “the epitome of the tragedy and terror of our times.” That epitome is indeed rackingly concentrated in Shostakovich’s last

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quartet, No. 15 in E-flat minor, op. 144 (1974), an unprecedented suite of six Adagios, in which the composer fashioned his personal pain and pessimism into a tour de force. Milhaud could never have imagined such a piece, or seen the need to write one; and there is no work of his, or (thankfully) of most composers that we listen to the way we listen to the late works of Shostakovich. “Happy families are all alike,” a famous compatriot of Shostakovich once wrote; “unhappy ones are each unhappy in its own way.” That is what makes them worth writing novels about. I hope it will not be thought that I am making or endorsing the vulgar complaint that martyrs and sufferers have all the luck. But I do think it worth calling attention to the role of prejudice in our assignment of values. Not that we can help it: that, too, is what it means to participate in a culture. The stories we read in the arduous lives and magnificent works of Beethoven and Shostakovich are archetypal tales, the one epitomizing our ethical heritage, the other the history of the century in which we have all lived most of our lives. Both stories, inevitably, have their political sides as well. Beethoven’s “heroic” style has always been read in light of the emancipatory myth of the French Revolution, later generalized by Hegel into a philosophy of history as embodying “the progressive consciousness of freedom.” In that light Beethoven emerges as the “world-historical” protagonist of music history, a reading that greatly magnified his authority in the second half of the nineteenth century. More recently the later, post-heroic phase of Beethoven’s work has been read, somewhat heretically, in light of the postNapoleonic reaction, which began in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna, for which Beethoven wrote a grandiose (if nowadays belittled) oratorio, Der glorreiche Augenblick. The imperial restorations are symbolized within it by the “restoration” of the fugue and other old ecclesiastical styles or forms. What makes the work a watershed, despite its present squeamish neglect, is the fact that those resurrected styles and forms went on to invade Beethoven’s instrumental music as well (emphatically including the late quartets), to a large extent displacing the dynamic sonata form from its preeminence. Was noticing that just Reaganite or Thatcherite revisionism, or an uncovering of Beethoven’s true political allegiance? Revisionists love to quote a little-known dictum of Beethoven’s, on his deathbed, recorded by his biographer Thayer from a memoir by Ferdinand Hiller: “Vox populi vox Dei [The voice of the people is the voice of God]? I never believed it!” How do we square that with his Bonapartism? Do we need to? More generally, how far are we justified in reading Beethoven’s (or anyone’s) politics from his music, or his music in light of his politics—or in light of our own? Insofar as it serves our interests? Does that answer still suffice? But Beethoven’s heroism is more often described, in less overtly political terms, as a model of superhuman fortitude. The dauntless young composer who in 1792 came down from his native Bonn to Vienna in order “by dint of

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assiduous labor to receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands” (to quote Count Waldstein, his early patron), was stricken ten years later with the most crippling handicap malevolent Fate could ever mete out to a musician. We read his whole life now, and every composition contained therein, in light of his triumph over deafness. “I was not far from ending my own life,” he admitted in a letter he wrote (but never sent) his brothers on 6 October 1802, now called the Heiligenstadt Testament after the town in which he set it down. “Only Art, only art held me back: ah, it seemed impossible to me that I should leave the world before I had produced all that I felt I might, and so I spared this wretched life—truly wretched; a body so susceptible that a somewhat rapid change can take me from the Best Condition to the worst.” Therefore, he concluded, “let any unhappy man console himself by finding another one like himself, one who, despite Nature’s Impediments, yet did what was in his Powers to do to be admitted to the Ranks of worthy Artists and Men.” Thus did Beethoven himself instruct us on the lessons to be drawn from his example. The old Latin proverb Per aspera ad astra (“Through sufferings to the starry heights,” often misattributed to Horace) has become the lens through which we apperceive his music. Some works, especially the C-minor works (like the Fifth Symphony) that end in C major, seem to enact it like a program. (And the exception that proves the rule—the Coriolan Overture, in which the turn to the major is thwarted—only gains thereby in tragic power.) And it is what makes the slow introduction to the finale of the Quartet No. 6 (1800), subtitled ’La Malinconia,” so stand out from the rest of Beethoven’s Opus 18 (the “early” quartets), or any other work dating from the period before his hearing was impaired. It alone seems more attuned to the composer’s future than to his past—an observation that makes sense only when we hear (or think about) the quartets as a life cycle. And though we have been warned and warned against biographical readings, and though we know that the work of Beethoven’s most closely contemporaneous to the wrenching Heiligenstadt Testament was the bouncy finale of the Second Symphony (no problem: let’s read it as “denial”), we inescapably also know something now that Beethoven didn’t know when he wrote either the testament or the symphony, namely his future. We have the option of restoring his works imaginatively to their “open” condition (if we can keep ourselves from thinking of the word “rhinoceros”) and experiencing them “for themselves alone” without benefit of context, or reading them in light of the narrative that moves and inspires us. The choice is ours. The question remains ever the same: what better serves our interests? “In the opinion of the present writer,” Joseph Kerman confidently asserted in his rightly celebrated study of the Beethoven quartets, “and not his alone, certainly, the Quartet [No. 11] in F minor [“Serioso,” op. 95, composed in 1810] stands at the highest summit of Beethoven’s artistic achievement up to

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the end of the second period.” But then he felt compelled to add, “I trust the judgment is not unduly influenced by the seemingly proleptic tendencies of this composition, tendencies which have struck all the commentators with varying degrees of force,” and this because “the quartet seems to look forward over the relatively lean years of the next decade, and to store techniques, attitudes and actual ideas for the composition of the late quartets in 1825–26.” I suppose the word “unduly” is there to act as an amulet, but the influence of the critic’s admiration for the late quartets on his admiration for the “Serioso” is patent, as it is on anybody who knows the whole (life) cycle. We are entirely duly, and not at all unduly, influenced by the signs we read of Beethoven’s approach to what connoisseurs (composers like Shostakovich prominent among them) have long regarded as the summit of all quartet composition: not only because we detect in that approach a refinement of composerly technique (expert fugatos, pervasive motivic integration) and a deepening of expressive power (toward concision and what Kerman calls the “instant confrontation of contrast”) but also because it reinforces our culturally and ethically potent image of Beethoven’s life as a steady and strenuous ascent per aspera ad astra. Indeed, as one of the five Beethoven quartets in a minor key, the “Serioso” was well positioned to embody the through-sufferings-to-the-stars motif all by itself; and by ending with a buoyant coda in F major, it fulfilled that agenda as its minor-mode predecessors (No. 4 in C minor, op. 18, no. 4; No. 8 in E minor, op. 59, no. 2) had not, and as only the Quartet No. 15 in A minor, op. 132 (with its explicit theme of illness and recovery), would do among the late quartets. There is no need to apologize for hearing the “Serioso” in the context of the life cycle; that is what cycles are for. By the time we reach the final phase of the Beethoven cycle, we find Beethoven actively directing our listening interests toward his composing interests in a way he had not done before, a way that provided almost every composer that followed him with a model. Like Ives, who learned to do it from Beethoven, Beethoven has begun using musical forms, genres, and styles “semiotically,” as extroversive signaling devices. Kinds of music unprecedented in the quartet literature, borrowed explicitly and unexpectedly from the vocal domain, abound. The motet-like “choral” fugue that begins the Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, op. 131, is one of these. Haydn and Mozart had occasionally incorporated fugues (or fugal expositions) into their quartets, chiefly as brilliant finales, but in their use of textbook subjects they were jocular parodies of “learned” writing, not sublimely archaic expressions of religious rapture, of serenity achieved. Even more explicitly archaic is the Thanksgiving Hymn (“Heiliger Dankgesang”) in the next quartet (the A minor, op. 132), cast in the Lydian mode (F major without the B-flat), in which Beethoven harks back to the chaste singing, in the ecclesiastical stile antico, that he remembered from

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his Catholic upbringing. What sounds in the first section like a chorale is treated later on like a cantus firmus against “florid” counterpoints, a texture virtually unused since the sixteenth century except in old-fashioned church music or in classroom exercises, and never before in secular chamber music. But not all the new-old vocal genres came from the church. Others came from the theater. The heartrending slow movement of the Quartet No. 13 in B-flat, op. 130, is marked “Cavatina,” a term hitherto used only in opera. German composers used it to denote a short, simple, but intensely expressive aria, the singing of which identifies a character as pure of heart. It is possible that Beethoven was thinking of the maidenly heroine’s Kavatine in the third act of Weber’s Der Freischütz, in which she affirms her joyous trust in God in stark contrast to the wild excesses of the horrific Wolf’s Glen scene that had ended the previous act. Beethoven’s protagonist, the first violin, has a moment of agonized recollection (the famous passage marked beklemmt, “anguished”) in which its voice seems to break, before regaining composure and singing the final stanza in a transfigured whisper, sotto voce. Both the panting and the whispering mark the violin’s voice as human; we cannot help identifying it with the composer, and with ourselves. And that brings us to the last and most crucial of the vocal effects Beethoven incorporated into his late quartets, the recitative. All five quartets have brusque or poignant passages of solo or unison writing—sometimes interrupting movements (like the scherzo of the Quartet No. 12 in E-flat, op. 127), more often introducing them—that seem to carry urgent communications in prose. In the last movement of the last quartet, No. 16 in F, op. 135, Beethoven even supplied a text, not to be sung aloud but thought. “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?) intone the viola and cello in octaves to a cryptic chromatic motif in the introductory Grave; “Es muss sein!” (It must be!) reply the two violins in octaves to a diatonic inversion of the original motif in the ensuing Allegro. Was it a joke at the expense of those who have attempted literal paraphrases of Beethoven’s wordless prose? Most likely; Kerman was no doubt right to complain that “these rubrics have been more effective in starting silly metaphysical speculations than in clarifying just exactly what it was he wanted to communicate.” But communicate it certainly does; only the speculations are silly, and they are only silly because they try to limit the communication to what is sayable, rather than allowing the music to speak in its own unparaphrasable tongue, the wordless language that made it the envy of all the other arts. Nowhere does Beethoven communicate an unsayable content more forcefully than in the impassioned recitative for the first violin, accompanied by tremolos right out of the opera pit, that introduces the finale of the A-minor Quartet, op. 132. This sort of generic reference—here to the theater, elsewhere to the church—is just as potent an extroversive signal to a properly knowledgeable audience as Ives’s specific reference to Beethoven’s Fifth.

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There are no comparably specific “intertextual” allusions in the Beethoven quartets. Two of the quartets quote preexisting melodies, but they are not such as would have evoked an enriching response from Beethoven’s envisaged audience. They are the duly labeled thèmes russes, the Russian folk themes that Beethoven mined from the first and greatest printed anthology of such material (Lvov and Pratsch’s Russian Folk Songs, 1790), in compliment to or possibly (in one case probably) at the behest of Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to the Austrian court, who commissioned the three quartets published in 1808 as Opus 59. To Beethoven and his audience, Russian folklore was exotica, and (whether out of incomprehension or out of condescension toward peasants or Slavs) Beethoven’s treatments come off as parodistic. The tune employed as the main finale theme in the Quartet No. 7 in F, op. 59, no. 1 was what Russians call a protyazhnaya, a melismatic, lyrical folk song. Its words begin, “Ah, is mine to be such a fate, such a bitter lot, such an unlucky star?” and in the anthology from which Beethoven took it is marked (in perfectly clear Italian) “Molto Andante.” Beethoven treats it as a rollicking allegro; near the end he allows the melody’s first phrase one adagio statement, with juicy harmonies that suggest the original affect, but immediately mocks it with a silly fanfare of a coda, Presto. As if Russians could have real feelings! Razumovsky almost certainly prescribed the famous Slava tune Beethoven employed in the trio from the Scherzo of op. 59, no. 2. Originally it was a song that maidens used in yuletide fortune-telling games, but owing to its refrain of “Glory, glory” (also translatable as “Hurrah, hurrah”) it had by the early nineteenth century already acquired patriotic significance for Russian audiences, who were used to hearing it sung in theaters in praise of Russian military prowess. Beethoven gave it a ludicrously academic fugal treatment, emphasizing its learned brainlessness by putting it through a literal repetition after the scherzo reprise. Vienna audiences surely appreciated the irony; Russian audiences, beginning with Count Razumovsky himself, were more likely to take it at face value as flattery to Russian armed might. We today cannot help hearing it through another layer of meaning, since it is the same song that Musorgsky (with Rimsky-Korsakov’s help) made world famous in another ironic context, as the forced hymn of praise that greets the newly crowned tsar-usurper in Boris Godunov. Our reception in this case cannot possibly accord with the composer’s intention, or with his patron’s, but not think of the word “rhinoceros” we can’t. .

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Real praise? Forced praise? Compliment? Mockery? Intention? Reception? To enter the world of ironies and counterironies is to enter the world of Shostakovich. And we are entering it by way of yet another delicious plane of

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irony, since the only Russian folk tunes in evidence in a BeethovenShostakovich quartet festival will be those contributed by Beethoven. By that hackneyed standard, Beethoven emerges as the “more Russian” composer. But maybe we are getting beyond the trite view of Russianness that encourages the use of comparatives and superlatives. And if we are, we ought to thank Shostakovich for helping our attitudes mature. For Shostakovich was heir to the whole world of music, and he deployed allusions of every kind with a virtuosity that no composer has ever surpassed. But therein, paradoxically, lies a truer notion, and a truer evaluation, of his Russianness. “Music reaches its high-water mark,” wrote Nietzsche, “only among men who have not the ability or the right to argue.” The whole history of the arts in Russia (not just the Soviet Union), and the whole story of Shostakovich’s life, are encapsulated in that marvelous sentence. In a society where discussion of social and political issues could not be freely conducted in public, it perforce went underground into historiography, criticism, and the arts. The art of no other country has ever been so pervasively fraught with subtexts or subjected to a more terrible stress, a more terrible contest for interpretative ownership. And in few countries have the arts ever mattered so much. As the preeminent modern master of the post-Beethovenian symbolic rhetoric, Shostakovich was willy-nilly the most important artist in the country where the arts were most important—and the most watchdogged, precisely because his was the medium with the least semantic or imagic specificity, hence the greatest potential for ironic (mis)reading. His music is an unparalleled play of signifiers, whose referents—sometimes stated, more often not—open out into a vast interpretative terrain of which we are just beginning to take the measure. We are just beginning, because we do not yet know the music very well. The Beethoven quartets have other possible contexts besides the cyclical (hence biographical) one. As “canonical” compositions—indeed the very cornerstone of the quartet canon—they are regularly programmed individually, and they are well known to many music lovers as independent entities that can be slotted into whatever personal context our interests may provide for them. Only one Shostakovich quartet, No. 8 in C minor, op. 110 (1960), has as yet achieved unquestionable canonical status, and that is the one quartet in which the signifiers have firmly stated referents. The rest are heard almost exclusively as part of the cycle, hence almost ineluctably as biographical documents. That dimension, as potent as it is in its appeal to our imaginations, will eventually take its place among others as the individual quartets acquire the sort of independent identity that Beethoven’s have long possessed. Among the contexts and backgrounds that impinge on our understanding of Shostakovich’s quartets, the Beethoven quartets inevitably loom large.

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The composer could not evade their presence in writing his quartets, and we cannot evade it in listening. But beyond the inescapable musical precedent Beethoven set in all of the main instrumental genres, the way in which his life has been recounted and related to his music has set the most ineluctable precedent of all. Since Beethoven, practically all great composers, even composers who died in their thirties, have been understood as having three creative periods. With Shostakovich, who died at sixty-nine, the division into three periods actually makes good biographical sense, though not for reasons over which he had any control. Because his life suffered divisions rather than asserting them, the exact relationship between his biographical circumstances and his musical style is far less clear-cut than in the case of Beethoven, although Shostakovich’s “late period” surely owes something to Beethoven’s example, not only in the way it is interpreted, but in the way the composer himself envisioned it. Until the age of twenty-nine, Shostakovich was the brash young genius of a brash young society, thriving in the din of its social upheavals and pampered by its artistic and intellectual elite. His First Symphony (1925), composed at nineteen as his conservatory graduation piece, had gone round the world and made him precociously famous, and his opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934) duplicated the feat, marking him as the white hope not only of the Soviet musical stage but of dramatic music the world over. That was his “early period.” Then, on 28 January 1936, the axe fell. Lady Macbeth was denounced in Pravda, in terms that were unprecedented for