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Realism as Preached and Practiced: The Russian Opera Dialogue Author(s): Richard Taruskin Source: The Musical Quarterly,

Vol. 56, No. 3 (Jul., 1970), pp. 431-454 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/741247 . Accessed: 01/02/2011 09:40
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By RICHARD TARUSKIN N 1878 there appeared in the Parisian publication Revue et Gazette Musicale an article, soon to become a book entitled La Musique en Russie, by Cesar Cui, the least talented and characteristic member but one of the most vocal and dogmatic mouthpieces of that group of Russian composers known as the moguchaya kuchka, the "Mighty Five." 1 The work consisted in part of an extended apologia for the ideals and methods of the "New Russian School," one of the earliest such to be written for foreign consumption. One of the major tenets, set forth in italics, states that "Vocal music must be in perfect agreement with the sense of the words." 2 Needless to say, no more hackneyed a truism could be unearthed from the utterances of composers and their public defenders through the centuries: Monteverdi, Gluck, Wagner come immediately to mind. Yet elsewhere we may read of the Russian school's antipathy toward Wagner, their patronizing attitude toward Gluck, and, we assume, since we do not find any mention of him, their ignorance of Monteverdi. Clearly we have a case of independent formulation of the well-worn slogan. If we examine the trend of thought that led up to it, we become aware of an aesthetic outlook that is peculiarly Russian, and which casts light on various extreme and, on the face of it, aberrative manifestations of Russian musical art in the latter part of the 19th century.
1 The English appellation is a hybrid, combining the Russian moguchaya kuchka, or "mighty little bunch" (which term was originally coined by V. V. Stasov in an article of 1867, but was mainly used sardonically by the group's enemies, whose appropriation of it caused Stasov no end of regret), referring actually to the whole New Russian School - whose adherents and fellow-travelers numbered far more than five - and the equally popular Russian pyatero, which means simply The Five, and meant specifically Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Musorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. 2 Cesar Cui, La Musique en Russie (Paris, 1880), p. 74. All translations from French and Russian sources are mine.



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Let us hear from Cui again. He follows the assertion quoted above with these precepts: if The text servesnot exclusively facilitatevocal gymnastics; such were its object, to a text could be chosenat randomand joined to no matterwhat music.Since texts that the musinecessary meaning,it is absolutely vary,since each has its particular cal part be intelligentlyadapted to it. Each phrase of the text must have its with more depth and power the word.Psychological feeling can often be expressed of in music than ever by words.One of the chief properties music is that of deof colorsthe movements the spirit,of the emotions, pictingin vital and expressive of communicating directly and fully with the most profoundsensibilitiesof the human heart; language,on the other hand, createsfor it a definitemeaning,definesin somefashionall its aspirations.3 Here we have something more concrete. Music, in this view, is a representational art. It must not only be appropriate to the words, but must express them directly, must "depict the movements of the emotions." What music lacks in precision, compared with language, it more than makes up for in directness and force. The ideal representation of a soul-state requires an alliance of words and music, the one providing the context and focus, the other the impact. The mechanics of this representational process, taken for granted by Cui, is the peculiarly Russian contribution, and of the greatest interest here. Cui's assertions are a reflection of one of the dominant aesthetic trends of 19th-century Russia, namely, Realism. Russian Realism was a philosophy of art hatched in the minds of a group of journalists and litterateurs in Russia who are often referred to as "Westernizers" (zapadniki), including such figures as Alexander Herzen, Vissarion Belinsky, and Dmitri Pisarev. Notwithstanding their collective appellation, Realism was a direct reaction against a dominant Western aesthetic theory of the time. The Hegelian philosophy of art, whose greatest exponent in the field of music was Hanslick, was an idealist, neo-Platonist aesthetic which held that art was an abstraction of the general from the particular, of the idea from its manifestations in nature. The beautiful is the "complete correspondence, complete identity of the idea and the image," or, put another way, beauty, attainable only by art, is the "perfect manifestation of the idea in a single object," that is, the artwork. Thus, true beauty does not exist in objective reality,
3 Ibid., pp. 74-75. equivalent in a correct musical declamation. It is from the sense of the text that the musical phrase must emerge, the tones being intended to complete the effect of

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only in the imagination which transcends it. It is an absolute, an abstract principle, the instrument of whose realization is the artist. The Realists, intellectually nourished on Positivism and scientific empiricism, totally rejected these concepts. Accepting the objectively verifiable as the only true reality, they asserted that "Reality is not only more animated, but is also more perfect than imagination. The images of the imagination are only pale and nearly always unsuccessful imitations of reality." 4 If the imagination is delimited by sensory impressions, it follows that beauty is not an absolute, since we cannot experience the absolute in objective reality. Furthermore, standards of beauty change. Beauty is transient, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of music: "Works of music perish with the instruments for which they were composed. The entire music of antiquity is dead to us because of the change in the system of musical notation.... The beauty of old works of music wanes with the improvement of orchestration." 5 What then is beauty? "Beauty is life .... Beautiful is that being in which we see life as it should be according to our conceptions; beautiful is the object which expresses 6 life, or reminds us of life." This maxim contains two major seeds for the development of Russian Realist aesthetics. First, that art is mimetic in function - it strives to reproduce that which we find beautiful in objective reality. Corollary to this is the all-important dogma that "Nature and life stand higher than art," that
The phenomena of reality are gold ingots without a hallmark: for this reason alone many refuse to take them, being unable to distinguish them from pieces of copper. A work of art is a bank note which has little intrinsic value, but the nominal value of which is guaranteed by the whole of society, and it is therefore prized by everybody, although only a few are aware that its value is due to the fact that it represents a piece of gold.7

Second, in the words "life as it should be according to our conceptions" is contained the idea that art differs from nature in that it is premeditated and selective. It not only reproduces life but comments on it, explains it. "In such a case, the artist becomes a thinker, and works of art, while remaining in the sphere of art, acquire a scientific significance....
"The Aesthetic Relations of Art to Reality" 4 Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, ("Esteticheskiye otnosheniya iskusstva k deistvitel'nosti") in Selected Philosophical Essays (Moscow, 1953), p. 381. 5 Ibid., p. 333. I Ibid., p. 287. 7 Ibid., p. 362.


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Let art not be ashamed to admit that its aim is to compensate man in case of absence of opportunity to enjoy the full aesthetic pleasure afforded by reality by, as far as possible, reproducing this precious reality, and by explaining it for the benefit of man." 8 Thus, and this is characteristic of the Realists, art shares its aims with the natural sciences if it is to be of value, and one of art's major attributes is social significance. (While this point is somewhat beyond the scope of this study, it is worthwhile to ponder it for its implications in light of Russian aesthetic developments in our own century.) The Realist aestheticians arrived at a position completely and diametrically opposed to the Idealist view of art: "A reproduction must as far as possible preserve the essence of the thing reproduced; therefore, a work of art must contain as little of the abstract as possible; everything in it must be, as far as possible, expressed concretely in living scenes and in individual images." ' It will be seen that the Realist conception of beauty, taken to mean the subject matter of art, is far more inclusive than in the Romantic-Idealist view: "Usually it is said that the content of art is beauty; but this restricts the sphere of art too much . . . The simplest way to solve this riddle would be to say that the sphere of art is not limited only to beauty and its so-called elements, but embraces everything in reality (in nature and in life) that is of interest to man, not as a scholar, but as an ordinary man." 1 The seminal work from which the foregoing quotations are taken, Nicholai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky's Aesthetic Relations of Art to Reality, was written as a master's essay at the University of St. Petersburg and published in 1855. It remains the most extensive and uncompromising application of Realist principles to the nonliterary arts and exerted an enormous influence in its time on many Russian writers on art, most notably on Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov. Either directly or through Stasov, its ideas penetrated the consciousness of many of the composers of the St. Petersburg school. But how can these ideas be fully applied to music, which we believe to be the art of abstraction par excellence? To what extent can music be considered a representation of objective reality on a
8 Ibid., p. 379. 9 Ibid., p. 371. Ibid., pp. 369-70. Musorgsky put it more colorfully in a letter he wrote to Ol V. V. Stasov in 1872: "The artificial representation of beauty alone, in the material sense of the word, is coarse childishness, the babyhood of art. The subtlest aspects of human nature,.., .the intensive exploration of these uncharted regions and their conquest - there you have the true calling of the artist." Quoted in Tamara Livanova, Stasov i russkaya klassicheskaya opera (Moscow, 1956), p. 222.


Nicholai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky in the early 1860s.


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par with painting or literature? One of the most original and characteristic passages in Chernyshevsky's work deals with precisely this problem. Music, in its origins, he argues, is not an art at all, but is itself a natural phenomenon. "It is strange.., .that nobody has drawn attention to the fact that singing, being, in essence, an expression of joy or sorrow, does not by any means spring from our striving for beauty. Is it to be expected that a person under the overwhelming influence of emotion will think about attaining charm and grace, will concern himself with form? Emotion and form are opposites." n This explains why music is such a powerful emotional stimulus, even in its artistic manifestations. Music springs spontaneously from the emotions, and therefore constantly recalls them. It is almost superfluous to point out the significance of the last sentence with regard to the New Russian School's notoriously disdainful attitude toward compositional training and technique which they all professed early in their careers, and which remained unchanged throughout the life of Musorgsky, at least. Realism was a singularly attractive doctrine to the autodidact. Clearly, technique and form are the instruments of idealization and abstraction. The freer we can keep our music from rational formal procedures, the closer we shall get to the emotional wellsprings of the original article which, as composers, we are copying. For art music, or "artificial singing" in Chernyshevsky's terminology, bears the same relationship to folk music, or "natural singing," as a copy bears to the original.
Natural singing as the expression of emotion, although a product of nature and not of art, which consciously concerns itself with beauty, nonetheless possesses great beauty; that is why a person is prompted by the desire to sing deliberately, to imitate natural singing. In what relation does this artificial singing stand to natural singing? It is more deliberate, calculated, embellished with everything with which human genius can embellish it. What comparison can there be between an aria of an Italian opera and the simple, pale, monotonous melody of a folk song!

all But all the trainingin harmony,all the artistryof development, the wealth of richnessof of a brilliantaria, all the flexibilityand incomparable embellishment the voice of the one who sings it cannot make up for the absenceof the sincere untrained the emotionthat permeates pale melodyof a folk song and the ordinary, to pose and displayhis voice and voice of the one who sings it not from a desire art, but fromthe need to expresshis feelings.12 Chernyshevsky even goes so far as to say that "in essence,... the music of [a] composer who wrote... under the overwhelming influence

Chernyshevsky, op. cit., p. 346. 12Ibid, p. 347.

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of involuntaryemotion will be a work of nature (of life) in general, and not of art," except from the "technical aspect." 3 Nor is inspiration,in its usual sense, to be confusedwith such "involuntaryemotion." Inspiration bearsthe same relationto emotion that imaginationbears to reality: a "pale and nearly always unsuccessfulimitation." To sum up: "Instrumentalmusic is," to Chernyshevsky, "imitation of singing, its accompanimentor substitute;and singing as a work of art is only an imitation of and substitute for singing as a work of nature. After this, we have a right to say that in music, art is only a feeble reproduction of the phenomena of life, which are independent of our 14 strivingsfor art." The New RussianSchool took its cue, at its outset, from these words, seekingto modify their strivings: not for art, but directlyfor emotion and the "truth" which transcends artistry.Vocal music written to such a prescription must be formally uncomplicated and flexible, achieving coherence not through any rationallyimposed logic or developmentbut by an immediate, spontaneously empathic emotional reaction by the composerto dramatic texts and situations.As Musorgsky,while he was working on Marriage, wrote in a letter to Rimsky-Korsakov(July 30, 1868): "Whateverspeech I hear, no matter who is speaking (nor what he says), my mind is alreadyworking to find the musical statementfor such speech." 5 The harmonic eccentricities (some call them crudities) of much of Musorgsky's work and the late work of Dargomyzhsky simiarise from the empirical, intuitive approach to compositionwhich larly is crucial to the thoroughgoingRealist outlook. In purelymusical-historical terms, RussianRealist opera is a reaction against Italian opera, then dominant in Russia. The latter seemed the height of Idealism (or to call it by a more contemporaryRussian term, formalism) to the musicians of the Kuchka. If we return now to Cui's manifesto, which was our starting point, we shall perceive a great deal of added significance in its pronouncements,in light of the Russian Realist aesthetic. The newRussian schoolis striving to the and musically project character type of the dramatis in of personae the boldest relief,to modeleachphrase a role possible to an individual not a general and and lastly,to portray the pattern, truthfully historical and as epochof the drama, to depictthe localcolor,the descriptive well
15Jay Leyda and Sergei Bertensson,The MusorgskyReader (New York, 1947), 113. p.

is Ibid. 14 Ibid., p. 348.


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as the picturesque aspectsof the action, in its poetic as well as exact sense.6x This passage, while being on one level of interpretation a protest against the stylization and conventionality of structure and setting in Italian opera, also bears comparison, on a more philosophical plane, with Chernyshevsky's critique of Hegel: "The expression: 'beauty is the perfect manifestation of the idea in a single object' is not a definition of beauty at all. But it has a truthful side, viz., that 'beauty' lies in an individual living object and not in an abstract idea." 17 To let Cui summarize his views: "The Russian school understands all the falsity of these immutable, stereotyped forms. It is convinced that the musical development of an opera demands a complete independence 18 of forms, and is governed only by the text and the dramatic situation." In other words, full-blown lyric or symphonic forms are to be avoided in opera, where they impede the action and the ever-changing and variegated play of dialogue. An important desideratum of the New Russian School theater is that the criteria of the lyric stage approach as far as possible those of the spoken theater. This, of course, is a revolutionary suggestion, affecting every aspect of operatic composition. Needless to say, Cui has argued himself into a rather extreme position, an idealistic one, if the term be permitted, that has little relationship to the actual stage works forming the major repertoire of the Russian opera, and even less resemblance to his own operas, which, by and large, are pale reflections of French and Italian models. But the Russian school, in common with so many musical reformers, was far more inclined to preach its doctrines than to practice them. Cui seemed to sense the extremity of his position, for he was at pains to add the comically contradictory pronunciamento that "Dramatic music must always have an intrinsic worth, as absolute music, independent of the text." '19 Granted the intimate alliance of text and music Cui advocates, this can only represent his desire to have the cake he just finished eating. However, the extreme Realist doctrine did spawn a handful of curious works for the stage, which did indeed strive to achieve the goals laid down in the foregoing discussion. These works were by no means typical of Russian operatic production, nor even of their own composers' total output. But in them we may see the radical principles of reform applied

Cui, op cit., p. 77. op. p.

17 Chernyshevsky, op. cit., p. 285. 18 Cui, 76. cit.,

Ibid., p. 73. o19

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to actual music in a very austere and uncompromising fashion; thus these pieces may serve as a touchstone by which to measure the total oeuvre of the St. Petersburg circle against their original high ideals. The critical opera upon which we shall focus is The Stone Guest by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813-1869), which was left uncompleted at the author's death, and following the old Russian custom, was revised and orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Its immediate successors were The Marriage by Modeste Musorgsky, composed in 1868 to a prose text by Gogol and similarly unfinished, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, a much later work, written in 1897. In these pieces, especially the first two, we can observe the attempt to create a music drama along Realist lines, where the music would not lead the artistic criteria of the work away from the dramatic and towards the lyric, but would function as an intensifier of spoken drama, as an instrument of "dramatic truth." "Truth" was the great watchword of the Realists, who, in ascribing to music, as to its sister arts, a predominantly mimetic role, saw as its highest goal the "truthful" reproduction of nature and life, from the model to the imitation, or in their terms, from content to manner. In the case of vocal music, the models are, first and foremost, the emotions embodied in the text, which as objective psychological phenomena were to be rendered objectively and accurately. There was no question, contrary to the popular supposition, that the composer was to express himself. He was to portray with the greatest possible fidelity those soul-states called for by his text, or in the case of instrumental music, by his program, and his success or failure in this regard could be objectively measured by a critic. This incipient Affektenlehre was the basis for a great deal of Realist criticism and constitutes its most dated aspect. With what amazement we read today the treatment of even instrumental works along these lines. An excellent case in point is Balakirev's critique of Chaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, a work which Balakirev himself had suggested to the composer, and to which he evidently felt a certain proprietary right.
But one thing I will say against this theme: there is little inner spiritual love, but only physical, passionate torment with even a hint of the Italian. Romeo and Juliet are certainly not Persian lovers, but European. I do not know whether you understand what I mean. I always feel I lack the gift of words when I enter into musical criticism and so try to some degree to clarify by example. I cite the first theme I come across in which, in my opinion, the love is more deeply felt: the second theme in Schumann's overture, The Bride of Messina. The theme has its


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defects- sicklytowardsthe end and a bit sentimental but the basic feeling of which it is full is true.[Letterto Chaikovsky, December13, 1869.] 20 The second natural model for vocal music, and the one which we today are more inclined to recognize as such, is the rhythm, inflection, and contour of the spoken language. Musorgsky was most sensitive to this requirement. In a letter he wrote while at work on Marriage (to Ludmila Shestakova, July 30, 1868), he said:
This is what I would like: my stage people should speak like living people; but besides this, their character and power of intonation, supported by the orchestra, which forms the musical pattern of their speech, must achieve their aim directly, that is, my music must be art artistic reproduction of human speech in all its finest shades. That is, the sounds of human speech, as the external manifestations of thought and feeling must, without exaggeration or violence, become true, accurate music, but (read: which means) artistic, highly artistic.... In Marriage I am crossing the Rubicon. This is living prose in music. The scorn of musician-poets for common human speech, stripped of all heroic robes, will not be found here; instead there is reverence toward the language of mankind; this is a reproduction

of simplehumanspeech.21 A new function of the composer in the context of music drama suggests itself here. The man who furnishes the music bears more resemblance to an actor in spoken drama than he does to the composer of lyric drama. His role is to perform the lines in the spirit of the play rather than to use them as a pretext for spinning a tune. Musorgsky was aware of his role in Marriage. "The success of Gogol's speech depends on the actor, on his true intonation. I want to give Gogol his place and the actor his also; in other words, I want to speak musically as the characters of Gogol would wish to speak, and in such a way that no one could ' say it in any other way." That the composer was doing an actor's job is acknowledged also by Cui, in his discussion of Dargomyzhsky's The Stone Guest: "The power of declamation is so real that even the singer least gifted with intelligence and musical expression can seem to be an artist of great talent by merely rendering with the Aecessary care and accuracy the vocal line traced by Dargomyzhsky, observing faithfully the meter, tempo and rhythm." 23 If there is to be no distinction made between the criteria of lyric and spoken drama, if the composer has deliberately abdicated the time-honSam Morgenstern, ed., Composers on Music (New York, 1955), p 236. Leyda and Bertensson, op. cit., pp. 111-112. 22 Ibid. 2 Cui, op. cit., p. 103.
20 21

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ored supremacy of music over words, of musical timing, that is, psychological time, over dramatic timing, that is, chronometric time, and has assumed a role more like that of a performer of drama than a creator of it, what kind of texts will now be suitable for opera? Surely, the traditional operatic libretto with its stylization of action and dialogue, its artificial soliloquies (read: arias) and allowances for such egregiously un"Realistic" devices as choruses and ballets, must go by the board, and the composer must seek elsewhere. The solution is an obvious one. All three operas under consideration here are verbatim settings of pre-existing stage plays which were written without the slightest premonition of, or allowance for, musical usages. Of course, granted the premises of Realist opera, such a text is the most suitable, for the criteria of a good opera will now be the same as those of a good play, and hence a good play provides the best text to a good opera, without the slightest modification being either necessary or desirable. A libretto which in any way attempted deliberately to provide a dramma per musica would have flown in the face of the requirements of Realist opera. As Cui puts it: Was Dargomyzhsky right to accept his text from Pushkinin its full extent without
changing one passage or leaving out a single word; would it not have been better if the work were revised from a musical point of view? If, in choosing a subject, the composer's aim had been to write an opera cast more or less in the ordinary mold, the type long familiar to the public, surely then Dargomyzhsky would have had to begin by revising Pushkin's text from top to bottom, so as to fashion arias and duos and add choruses (of monks, of villagers, nobles, etc.), compose some kind of divertissement, and many other things. But from the moment that he set himself the task of realizing in full sincerity that ideal of which we dream, unattempted until now, of a true music drama, a terrain on which music and poetry claim equal rights, with such a lofty ambition, to touch Pushkin's work would be reprehensible, because amongst the masterpieces of Russian literature, one won't find any more able to exalt the inspiration of a musician sensitive to poetry.u

The Stone Guest and Mozart and Salieri are both set to malen'kiye tragedii, or "little tragedies" by Pushkin, a set of four miniature plays written in 1830. No more extreme or tendentious choice could have been made, for Pushkin's plays are deliberate essays in dramatic compression and economy, almost as far from the expansive romantic theater in conception as the new Russian music drama wanted to be from conventional opera. The Stone Guest, which happens to be the longest of them, has only 550 lines, and Mozart and Salieri, the shortest, a mere 240. Written in Shakespearean blank verse, and dealing with themes of
24Ibid., pp. 102-103.


Dargomyzhsky in his last years. A portrait by K. Makovsky.

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high drama, they contrast sharply with Marriage, a prose play written in 1833 by Gogol, a comedy of manners in the laconic and comically naturalistic idiom typical of the author. The Stone Guest was the first of the operas to be conceived. Dargomyzhsky began work on it in 1866, after a moderately long and not-toodistinguished career as a composer of operas and songs. His early stage works, Esmerelda (1839) and The Triumph of Bacchus (1847), were, as their very titles suggest, pallid and conventional Romantic fare, "slight and often trivial - in the style of Halhvy and Meyerbeer," as the composer himself later testified. His long friendship with Glinka eventually fired him with enthusiasm for national music, and his one completed operatic endeavor in this direction, Rusalka (1855), gained him a certain succes d'estime. In the words of Stravinsky, "Dargomyzhsky, a talent less forceful, less original [than Glinka], but of the finest sort, shows similar tastes. His charming opera Rusalka, his delightful romanzas and songs mingle the Russian popular melos and the prevailing Italianism with the most carefree and charming ease." 25 But life was not all carefree and charming for the composer. Discouraged at his lack of public success, he became rather embittered. In a letter to L. I. Karmalina (July 17, 1866) we read: "You ask about future operas of mine: actually, I did think of writing some opera or another a long time ago, when music was still an art. But today it has become a craft. One must pose, accept subjects from the tsar, seek a brilliant production, write about oneself in the papers. I feel I could never accustom myself to this -- and so I gave it up..." 28 Sour grapes have a way of fermenting, though, and before long Dargomyzhsky was writing "mediocrity seeks out melodies which flatter the ear. I do not chase such. I want music strictly to express the word. I want truth." 27 And so, after a lifetime of mediocre chasing, Dargomyzhsky turned to Pushkin's Stone Guest. "By the way, I have not entirely yet parted with the muse. I am amusing myself with Pushkin's Don Juan. I am trying something unprecedented: I am writing music to the scenes of "The Stone Guest" - just as they are, not changing a single word. Of course, nobody will ever listen to it. But for me it's not turning out badly...." "8 Dargomyzhsky, then, was aware that he was doing
Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music (New York, 1947), p. 97. A. S. Ogolevetz, ed., Materialy i dokumenty po istorii russkoy realisticheskoy muzykal'noy estetiki (Moscow, 1956), I, 535. 27 Morgenstern, op. cit., p. 173. 28 Ogolevetz, loc. cit.
25 26


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something extremely esoteric, and regarded his work simply as a private experiment, a sort of protest against the operatic conventions he could never master. Not only was his own circle of young admirers pleased, but his work on The Stone Guest attracted to Dargomyzhsky the interest and enthusiasm of marty progressive Russian musicians who had previously regarded him rather patronizingly. His opera-in-progress seemed to answer to the demands of the Realist aestheticians, although there is little evidence that Dargomyzhsky himself was directly influenced by them in his plan. At any rate, his work was seized upon by the New Russian School and especially by Stasov, who hailed it as a masterpiece and "prophetic," and attached to it far greater importance than the composer himself seemed to feel it had, at least at the outset. The story of the opera is familiar to anyone who knows Mozart's Don Giovanni. In fact, Da Ponte's libretto was one of Pushkin's sources in composing his dramatic poem. But the plot is stripped to its essentials, and several changes are made. The most conspicuous is that the Commendatore (Don Carlos in Pushkin's version) is not Donna Anna's father, but her husband. And Don Juan's graveyard seduction is more morally repulsive than anything Da Ponte was to offer. Instead of asking the Commendatore to share his repast, as Da Ponte had it, Pushkin's Don Juan merely invites the statue to stand sentry at the door of the bedchamber while the Don makes love to the statue's widow. Incidentally, the duel in which Don Juan kills Don Carlos has nothing to do with Donna Anna's honor. It takes place before Don Juan had ever seen the Commendatore's wife. Don Carlos challenges Don Juan to a duel to avenge the death of his brother, whom the busy cavalier had slain sometime previously. For the rest, Pushkin dispenses almost entirely with the anecdotal richness and local color digressions which give charm to Da Ponte's libretto. The action proceeds along a direct path, with no dispensible scenes. Soliloquy, too, is kept to a minimum. All the action is carried by dialogue. The music which Dargomyzhsky furnished for this highly economical set of dramatic scenes is appropriately austere. It takes the form of a continuous, one might almost say unrelieved, quasi recitative, constantly hovering on the brink of arioso. Monotony is to some extent allayed by a very fluid tonal scheme and a rather constantly high degree of chromaticism in the vocal lines which seems to increase with emotional intensity as does the size of intervals. Passionate utterances are set to frequent sevenths, cool ones are mainly conjunct. Tonal centers

Russian Realism as Preached and Practiced


shift and succeed one another with a speed and arbitrariness that makes talk of modulation, in the usual sense of the word, useless. The tonality is, with only short respites, continually ambiguous even at the long range. While it is too much to say, as Russian critics often have (rather boastfully), that the harmonic vocabulary of The Stone Guest "defies analysis," it is true that conventional harmonic analysis can shed little light on Dargomyzhsky's procedures. The object of analysis should be to uncover a ground plan, a rationale by which a composer's procedures can be seen as logical. Such a view would be a Procrustean bed for The Stone Guest, since Dargomyzhsky's procedures are plainly intuitive and empirical, and not "rational" in any way. They result from the composer's constant empathic reaction to his text, and without the text the music would assuredly lose its coherence, for Dargomyzhsky, in keeping with Realist aesthetics, is endeavoring to avoid all formal gestures which can be described as purely musical in character. Remember that Chernyshevsky asserted emotion and form to be opposites. We may no longer believe this -the 20th century no longer looks upon reason as emotion's dire enemy, certainly not in the area of opera. But Dargomyzhsky did, and it is in that spirit that his work must be approached. In fact, no other approach was considered admissible by the New Russian School. Cui went so far as to assert that "If Mozart had lived in our time, it is probable that his opera would have resembled The Stone Guest more than Don Giovanni of 1789" 2 - a line of reasoning that has often been used to cover all manner of artistic license and transgression. And Stasov went even further. Comparing Mozart's opera to Dargomyzhsky's, in a letter to his brother Nikolai (September 4, 1873) he wrote: "Don Giovanni is simply an amusing and entertaining child's babble (added to the fact that most of the time it is boring beyond belief) in comparison to Dargomyzhsky's creation of genius. This antiquated Italianism, insipid and faded (like Granny's chintzy old dressing gown) - how insufferable it is today!" 30 Dargomyzhsky was highly conscious of taking a giant step in the direction he fancied was forward when he wrote this opera. The difficulty of the task, in the light of his past experience as a composer was expressed by him thus: "For every single phrase I had to devise a new musical idea, whereas the usual method consisted in the working out of a few themes." But with unaccustomed zeal he labored mightily on it, despite the fact that his health was failing, and the last pages of his

G Cui, op. cit., p. 109. Yuri Kremlev, Russkaya mysel' o muzyke, II (Moscow, 1958), p. 141.


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sketch were completed literally on the composer's deathbed. Stasov, writing in 1872, the year of The Stone Guest's belated premiere, has given us a very moving account of the circumstances under which The Stone Guest was composed. In the autograph ?coreof The Stone Guestthere are a few pages upon which, in the midstof all the greatthingsthe operacontains,one cannotlook withoutspecial reverence. These are the four pages, writtenin pencil, which comprisethe end of the scene betweenDon Juan, the monk,and Leporello:this music was writtenby sick Dargomyzhsky in bed, when he alreadyfelt the nearnessof the end. He was aware that he would never again get up; in his last days he often enduredunspeakablesufferingfrom the illness that finally carriedhim off, and nevertheless, he despite everything, continuedto create,and with enfeebledhands finishedhis its opera, the best, most perfect of his creations,clearly comprehending great significanceand hurryinglest death preventhim. This victoryof the spirit over the this flesh, this triumphof the creativespirit over the most unendurable suffering, limitlessdevotionto work,with which alone his whole soul was filled - is this not And truly,such colossalcreations The Stone Guestmay proceedfrom as greatness? the heads of those only for whom the productsof their creativespirit is all, all of life, all of love, all of theirexistence.31 In view of this flaming paean, it seems almost criminal not to agree with Stasov's evaluation of The Stone Guest. Doubtless, Dargomyzhsky was possessed of a great vision, but his realization of it, from the musical standpoint, and even from the point of view of Realist aesthetics, falls short of the mark. Often, in listening to the work, one wonders what all the shouting is about. One is inescapably aware of the tentativeness of much of the music. Now and again great flashes of inspiration shine forth, especially in the last scene, at the appearance of the statue. And the opera does get off to a very good start. The vocal lines are at times exceedingly apt and pregnant, and Dargomyzhsky, in his groping, experimental way, occasionally hit on some striking harmonies based on the whole-tone scale, which was known in Russia long before Debussy, and whose various uses from Glinka on ought to be further investigated. For long stretches, however, the music is grey and unalluring, and surprisingly conventional. Naturally, such criticism can be wide of the mark in dealing with an art which seeks the complete union of text and music, neither one of which is to be able to withstand the other's absence. But, of course, the text of The Stone Guest can stand the absence of music, and was intended to be performed without it. Music will have to justify

V. V. Stasov, "Avtograf A. S. Dargomyzhskovo pozhertvovanniy v publichnuyu

biblioteku," in his Izbranniye sochineniya v trekh tomakh (Moscow, 1952), I,


Russian Realism Preached Practiced as and


same Spanish dance tune popularizedearlierby Glinka in his Jota Aragonesa. They give the scene a more conventional cast than the others, approachingthe traditionalalterationof recitativeand aria. This externalizationof form gives a shape to the scene, albeit decidedlyoff-balance from a traditional point of view, which in turn gives the musical contributiona life of its own, which it usually does not possess,and which, in all fairness,we must note that it usually does not aspire to. It comes as welcome relief, which was Pushkin'sintent, if not Dargomyzhsky's. But there is other evidence that Dargomyzhskydid to some extent seek out opportunitiesto hang a purely musical structureon Pushkin's lines, flying in the face of the intentions Stasov and the other Realists ascribedto him. For example in Act III, scene 3, Pushkin gives these seductive lines to Don Juan (who, in Dargomyzhsky's setting, is a lyric : tenor)
Is it, thena signof madness desireone'send,DonnaAnna? to If I werea madman, wouldwishto remainamongthe living, I I wouldnurture hope of touching yourheartwith tenderlove. If I werea madman, wouldspendmynightsat yourbalcony, I I yoursleepwith serenades; wouldnot hide myself; troubling on the contrary, wouldtryto be noticedbyyoueverywhere. I If I werea madman, wouldnot suffer silence. I in "Youcall thissilence?"] [To whichDonnaAnnaretorts, Dargomyzhsky gives these lines, with their repeated phrase, a conventional ballad structure, with refrain. Don Juan is not supposed to be singing, but speaking rather urgently. Having him utter these lines in a form standardized by "artificial singing," in the Chernyshevskian sense, is a highly un-Realistic touch. In their tendentious praise of The Stone Guest Stasov and his confreres overlook this point, even going so far as to praise this quasi aria for its musical-emotional "truth."

its presence beingmorethan an eternalbackdrop. will have to, in It by the Cui'swords"complete effectof the word."If, as Cui said, "Psychowith more depth and powerin logicalfeelingcan often be expressed musicthan everby words," then the musicmustbe given a chanceto breathe existto someextentin its own expressive milieu.In Act II, .and scene 2, Pushkin one of his own characters, has Laura,sing two songs, herself a guitar.Pushkin thesepoints,merelyindion at accompanying cated "shesings,"withoutfurnishing text. Dargomyzhsky these a took to insert conventional romanceswith a vaguely exotic, opportunities Spanishflavor,achievedin the secondof them by a quotationof the


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The orchestra, too, often functionsas a "formalizing" agent.The same orchestralmusic is often used to begin and end a scene, thus giving it, to some extent, an external musical form. The scene at Laura'sapartment opens with a snatch from one of her Spanish romances. Also, themes have a way of recurringsignificantlyin Dargomyzhsky's orchestra, almost like leitmotifs. This last word inevitably conjuresup Wagner, and what Dargomyzhsky attempted in The Stone Guest sounds on the surface very much like Wagner's operatic "reforms,"so much so that Hugo Riemann, in his Musik-Lexiconof 1882 could refer to Dargomyzhskyas an "unsuccessful imitator of Richard Wagner, who, unfortunately, went even furtherthan he." This judgment, which infuriatedStasov, is, in point of and Wagner's fact, erroneous.The similaritiesbetween Dargomyzhsky's intentions, while real, are more coincidental than Riemann thought. Dargomyzhsky'sacquaintance with Wagner was very limited, and his reaction to him decidedly negative. Russia's leading Wagnerite, Alexander Nikolaevich Serov, had lent Dargomyzhskythe score of Tannhiiuser in 1856. Dargomyzhskywrote to him, "he indicates a new and clever path; but in his unnatural singing and his spicy, although in places very interesting,harmonizations,a certain painfulnesscan be observed. Will und kann nicht! Truth is truth,but you need taste as well !" 3" Of course, the foregoingwas written a good many years before The Stone Guest. But Dargomyzhskynever indicated, either in letters or in print, any change of mind about Wagner, and it must be remembered, death, Wagner's most advanced by 1869, the year of Dargomyzhsky's were still unperformedin Russia. Even to Serov, Wagner reoperas mained always the Wagner of Lohengrin and Tannhiiuser, and the is imitator"Dargomyzhsky adjudged to be Wagner whose "unsuccessful was certainly the Wagner of the Ring. Then again, Dargomyzhskyalways remained true to the idea of opera as the singers' province, as did the whole Russian school. Their conviction that the essentialfocus should be on the charactersis in contradiction to Wagner's emphasis on the orchestra.The kind of symphonism presentin Wagner'smature operasis alien to their ideal, which is more simple - a continuous accompaniedrecitative. In Cui's 1878 article in the Paris press,the charge of Wagnerianismis anticipatedand counteredon these grounds.The use of the leitmotif is also criticizedas inflexible and naive. No, logic comes, and can only come, from the
words. Any attempt to introduce logic of the Wagnerian symphonic32Stasov, "Dvadtzatpyat' let russkovoiskusstva"in edition cited above, II, 534.

RussianRealismas Preachedand Practiced


leitmotif type into the music runs counter to the Realist view of music as the purely intuitive, empathic, emotional stream-of-consciousness which is its highest calling, and is most faithful to the natural model. Dargomyzhsky's objection that Wagner's vocal line is "unnatural"is a Realist observation,relatedobviouslyto Chernyshevhighly characteristic is doctrines. Wagner's "unnaturalness" an unnaturalnessborn of sky's in his article Twenty-fiveYears of Russian Art of reason. When Stasov, 1881-1882, finally came to grips with the Wagnerian view of Dargomyzhsky,he sought to lay it to rest preciselyon this point. Wagner, to Stasov, is less an artist than an inventor, a thinker, an imaginer.Dargomyzhsky,on the other hand, was "an artistfrom head to toe.., .creating with his inspirationand his nerves."Wagner, in spite of his reforms,still adheresto superannuatedoperatic conventionsand forms. In his operas we still find ballets, processionsand other varieties of "spectacle" (remember, we are still dealing with Lohengrin and Tannhiiuser). Dargomyzhsky,on the contrary,thinks only of dramatic truth and rejects all "theatricalrubbish." Then comes an objection which seems fashioned out of whole cloth, for the specific purpose of sacrificingthe straw-man Wagner at Dargomyzhsky'saltar. Wagner is "little gifted, extremely artificial,and completelydevoid of aptitude for recitativeand declamation," while Dargomyzhsky possesses"the most flaming and burninggift, immediate, charmed, and charming; an artist full of dramatism and pathos, but also humor and comedy, alwaysfull of truth and naturalness, and, along with that, gifted more than anybody else specificallyfor recitative and declamation." 33 For all these reasons, Wagner is still an "idealist," not a realist, whereasDargomyzhsky the very archetypeof realismin music. In anis other important synoptic work, his Art in the Nineteenth Century of of 1901, Stasov strengthenshis characterization Wagner as Idealist by citing his choices of subject, now including the mature music dramas as well, which in their preoccupation with gods and heroes are far from the Realist conception of human drama. Wagner'ssymbolismand mystique are unnaturaland decadent, his plots ridiculous.
To any person who has not lost simple and healthy ideas, who is unspoiled by pseudopatriotism and metaphysics... the Wagnerian aversion to nature, living reality, simplicity and truth of thought, [his] mindless service to all manner of high-

flownidealism,unrealities, improbabilities, boundless and devotionto all kinds [his]

of delirium, hallucination, any and all affectation and monstrous exaggeration, can inspire only astonishment and antipathy. What sort of feelings, what thoughts 33Ibid.


Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov. A portrait by Ilya Yefimovich Repin.

Russian Realism as Preached and Practiced


whom fauns could arise from Wagner's... endless absurdities? [His] fish-women, renouncingtheir beloved women drag from the water in nets, [his] Lohengrins, foreverbecausethey dare to ask: What is your lineage,hero, and what is it like; to ... [his]Tannhiusers,makingpilgrimages the Pope in Rome, to ask forgiveness for overly long visits with Venus in the mountains;[his] Wotans, putting their daughtersinto enchantedsleep foreverunder an oak tree, amid an enclosureof of fire, [his]regiments gods, crossingbridgesin mid-airfrom one castle to another; the senselesssecretsof the absurdmedievalGrail and a hundredmore such stupidities - what can all this inspire, if not indignationand scorn? And for the such monstrosities thoughton the stage, are we to installation such nonsense, of of of unheardtake Wagneras a great reformer opera, the creatorof unprecedented, of truthand profundity? s' We could hardly hope to find a better illustration of a Positivist view of Wagner. Wagner's greatest deficiency lies in the fact that his creations do not answer to common sense, to the objectively verifiable evidence of our senses. That is what makes Wagner an idealist. Stasov is willing to grant Wagner a high place as a German symphonist, but of course that has nothing to do with opera: "Wagner's nature did not contain even one of the elements which comprise the operatic composer. He hadn't the slightest feeling for life and reality, he did not possess any understanding of character, human nature, or types of human personalities or features; he hadn't any comprehension of the human soul, its vicissitudes, movements and impulses...."35 In short, Wagner does not portray individuals, but only what Stasov calls "algebraic symbols." In its demands for life, for individuality and for a faithful representation of reality, both physical and spiritual, this evaluation of Wagner might have been penned by Chernyshevsky himself. Significantly, the one Wagner opera which Stasov is willing to recognize as one of the "greatest operas on earth" is, of course, Die Meistersinger, a simple bourgeois comedy, where for once Wagner is dealing with human beings and human situations. Stasov's conclusion, as far as Wagner's relation to Dargomyzhsky is concerned, was that "the operas of Wagner contain few fertile seeds for the future, they are too limited and untalented. The Stone Guest, on the other hand, is a work of genius, the cornerstone of the coming era of musical drama. All its forms are set forth there in profound perfection." 36 History, of course, has mnadea mockery of that prediction, but Stasov was all his life convinced that, as he put it in a letter to his brother
34 Stasov, Izbranniye sochineniya, III, 699. 35 Ibid., p. 703. 36 "Dvadtzat pyat' let...," edition cited, II, 534-535.


The Musical Quarterly

Dmitri (July 29, 1870), "Zukunftsmusik is not Wagner, but Dargomyzhsky and Musorgsky." 37 Needless to say, the features of Dargomyzhsky's work which allied him with Wagner were not those that endeared The Stone Guest to the New Russian School. Stasov, a master of polemical writing, takes the offensive against the opera's critics: "One mustn't go to hear The Stone Guest with previous operatic criteria, with previous routine operatic ideas in mind: one mustn't address oneself with them to such a work, which... opens up a new era in music - an era of realistic opera, approaching life and literature, rid of conventions of expression to an extent that approaches any contemporary drama or comedy." 38 In fact, to criticize The Stone Guest on any grounds is merely a confession of incompetence to comprehend the new art. But if we accept Stasov's last words, so full of Realist dogma, at face value, we may still ask, if an opera must conform to the standards of a "contemporary drama or comedy," and if our text is already a fully viable contemporary drama, wherein lies the music's indispensible contribution? Of course, dissident voices were raised in Russia at the time of The Stone Guest's posthumous premiere. The conservative critic Herman Laroche (1845-1904), the great apostle of artistic chastity and dire enemy of practically the whole of 19th-century music, did not rate Wagner above The Stone Guest as many did - he did not think enough of Wagner to rate him above anybody. But he did make it plain that Dargomyzhsky and Wagner were traveling the same misguided path: "Dargomyzhsky has addressed himself to his task more responsibly and conscientiously than Wagner, he is far purer than the latter as an artist, he has not the Wagnerian sensuality which masquerades as lofty romanticism, he is far freer in his music from the commonplace and in his declamation more careful and more successful. But for all that, The Stone Guest is infinitely less musical than any opera of Wagner... ." 3 And by 1878, when Cui wrote his Musique en Russie, the ideals of the Russian school itself had somewhat mellowed. The Stone Guest was still an untouchable masterpiece, but its veneration was no longer as tendentious as before, and it was no longer held up as a model of the only possible path open to future operatic composition. This is in keeping
37Vladimir Karenin (pseydonym for Varvara Komarova-Stasova), Vladimir Stasov (Leningrad, 1927), p. 395. 38 Stasov, "Avtograf A. S. Dargomyzhskovo.. . ," edition cited, I, 218. 39 Quoted by Scasov, "Tormozy novovo russkovo iskusstva" (1885), edition cited, II, 680.

RussianRealismas Preachedand Practiced


with the general trend of thought among the Mighty Five. As they gained experienceas composers,their views became more practical and at the same time more traditional. Their dilettante idealism and pugnacious theorizing were sublimated into a more "professional" attitude that began to make a rapprochement with age-old Western concepts of musical aesthetics.Only Stasov, who was not a composerat all, was able to remain true all his life to the ideals of the sixties, when the Balakirev circle was a unified "mighty bunch." He believed that The Stone Guest was in fact the parent work of all succeeding Russian opera, and managed to delude himself into seeing all the subsequent development of Russian music in its light, complacentlyblind to the changing attitudes of those around him. Cui, on the other hand, wrote in 1878:
It should not be supposedthat the new Russianschool claims to hold up the workof Dargomyzhsky, whatevertheir admiration it, as the only possibletype, for as an ideal, from which it wouldbe unwiseto depart. As a general rule, it is better to avoid such texts by great poets, seductive though their intrinsicbeauty rendersthem in the eyes of the musician,because they are not made for music. Moreover,one must take care to avoid as much as possible philosophicalexcursionsas well as the familiar language of vernacular speech. A truly lyric text, lending itself favorablyto the developmentof vocal melodyis, in sum, that whichshouldbe soughtaboveall in a libretto.40 This, it will be seen, is a complete volte-face from the Stasovian extreme Realist position. It is doubtful that Cui himself recognized it as such, as the passage sits incongruously among paragraphs expressing the orthodox dogma of the Russian school. The relative poverty of The Stone Guest's music qua music is similarly obliquely recognized by Cui in another passage: The music of The Stone Guest is so intimatelybound to the words, it follows them so closely, that, consideredalone, without words,it loses half its merit and occasionallybecomes incomprehensible. Therefore,in order justly to appreciate this admirablework,knowledgeof the Russianlanguageis indispensible, and this
constitutes a serious obstacle to the spread of The Stone Guest in Europe.4'

And, perhaps unknowingly, Cui pulls the rug out from under The Stone Guest by suggesting that Dargomyzhsky's very fidelity to Realist procedures is in part responsible for The Stone Guest's weaknesses.
40 Cui, op. cit., p. 108. 41 Ibid., p. 109.


The MusicalQuarterly

If, musically speaking,the grand scene in the third act betweenDon Juan and DonnaAnna is inferiorin some respectsto the episodesdescribedabove,one must look for explanation only in the accidentsof the text, which, in its truth of language, containsnumerouspassageswhere the listenermight find a deficiencyof since Pushkinhad not writtenhis poem with poetry: this is no cause for surprise, the lyricstagein mind."

But is not "truth of language" rather than "poetry"preciselywhat we ought to be after? Thus, The Stone Guest's purported primary asset has become a could exclaimwith irritation liability,to the extent that Rimsky-Korsakov in 1898, "Enough of The Stone Guest! Music, too is needed!"" So it would seem that, Stasov notwithstanding,the seeds of he future did not or reside in plays-set-to-music, opera dialogul, as the genre came to be known. The experimentwas not entirelywithout fruit, however,for The Stone Guest did directly inspire Marriage, which in turn prepared Musorgskyto cope with the problemsof his chef d'oeuvre,Boris Godunov. And Boris did exert a modicum of influence upon succeedinggenerations.Were it not for Boris, there might have been no Pelle'as,which, it will be remembered, also an opera dialogu6.And a curious,if probis ably coincidentalsimilarityof expressiveambience can be noted between Marriage and yet another 20th-centuryopera dialogue, Wozzeck. But Russian Realist opera was, in the final analysis, a flash in the pan. Let us give the last word to Chaikovsky,the composerof Russia's largestbody of enduringworksfor the stage. His diary for July 23, 1888, contains this entry:
wrote The Stone Guestnear the end of his life, fully believingthat Dargomyzhsky was demolishingold foundationsand was building on their ruins something he new, colossal.A pitiabledelusion!I saw him in this last period of his life and in view of his sufferings(he had heart disease) it was not, of course,the time for attemptto arguing.But if anythingis morehatefuland false than this unsuccessful is truthinto a branchof art whereeverything basedon pseudoand where introduce truthin the usualsenseof the word is not demandedat all - I do not know it."
42 Ibid., p. 107.

43Andrei N. Rimsky-Korsakov,N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov,zhizn' i tvorchestvo (Moscow, 1933). 4 Leyda and Bertensson,op. cit., p. 105, note.