Autograph Letter - Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky

MUSSORGSKY, Modest Petrovich (1839-1881). Autograph letter signed (‘M. Musorgsky‘) to [Maria Fedorova, Pavel and Sergei Naumov: ‘Dear Auntie of mine, Papchen and Sergushok’], ‘Near the Dnieper Estuary (Bul-Ingul)' [Nikolayev and Kherson], 3-15 August 1879. 

In Russian. 16 pages (210 x 135mm), (some fading to first and last page, small tear to the horizontal fold of first leaf). Provenance: acquired with income from the Bispham Fund. 

An extraordinarily long and detailed letter, full of Mussorgsky's impressions, gossip and anecdotes from his tour with Daria Mikhailovna Leonova along the Dnieper: the only Mussorgsky letter recorded at auction (ABPC/RBH). [3 August] Mussorgsky and Daria Mikhailovna [Leonova] have just arrived triumphant from Yelizavetgrad, where her performance at The Nobles' Club was a great success: 'It's impossible to convey the vital interest which overtook the audience as the concert began, growing into … that kind of rapture which is the affirmation of genuine artistic delight'; she sang as well as she had done 18 or 20 years ago, and Mussorgsky describes in some detail the original composition that she had debuted, Letter after the Ball. Now in Nikolayev, where they received a cordial welcome from the commander [of the Black Sea Fleet], Mussorgsky describes at length the architecture of the town 'built on a grand scale' – one hall is 'like Naina's castle in Ruslan [and Ludmila]' – before going on to his impressions of the horsemen of the Ukrainian steppe and questions for his aunt about domestic life. Back to the Ukrainian steppe – 'if you could only see the starry sky all spangled with points of light … if you could only inhale this south Russian air which calls out the lungs and heart from your very chest' – before launching into a couple of long and amusing anecdotes, one about an acquaintance he encountered in Nikolayev masquerading as a princess. [7 August] Discussing their first concert in the city: 'What harm touring artists have done to art, Daria Mikhailovna has had to repair this harm, and not for the first time on our tour – Honour and glory to her, who proudly lifts the banner of Russian musical art!'. Hosted by the family of Captain Yurkovsky, Mussorgsky was cajoled into a performance of 'my scenes from child life' [his song cycle, The Nursery] for the children. The following day brings a guided tour of the Popovka [an armoured ship] - 'O wonder of wonders!' - and a reception hosted by Admiral Bazhenov. [10 August] Mentioning their second concert. [15 August] Today is their first concert at Kherson, then 'Along the road I'll capture more musical pieces of importance, and Daria Mikhailovna will deliver these novelties to the audience. So far – we've had a firm, unbroken artistic success. Without any doubt, our artistic tour must have and already has significance as a good art service for the good Russian people'. The approach to Kherson along the Dnieper has charmed Mussorgsky, and he rhapsodises on these 'most luxurious stretches of water' before ending affectionately.

An invitation from an old acquaintance, the contralto Daria Mikhailovna Leonova (1829-1896), to join her as an accompanist on a provincial tour of south-central Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea in 1879 came as something of a blessing to Mussorgsky: the alcoholism that blighted his final years had necessitated a hasty change of job at the end of 1878 – aided by his friends, Stasov and Balakirev – and his new employer proved remarkably lenient in facilitating this change of scene. Mussorgsky was released for a three-month tour with performances in 12 cities: not only did he accompany Leonova, who included some of his songs in her programmes, he played as soloist several of his own pieces. She would go on to support him through to 1881, the final year of his life, when he lived in her summer dacha at Oranienbaum and worked as an accompanist, theory teacher and assistant at her singing school in St Petersburg. Two years before this, he writes a charming letter in effervescent form to three of his friends, two of whom, his sister-in-law, Maria Fedorova, and the retired naval officer, Pavel Naumov, with whom he had sought shelter with during the difficult periods of the 1870s. 


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