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- Life, wherever it reveals itself; truth, no matter how bitter; bold, sincere speech with people–these are my leaven, these are what I want, this is where I am afraid of missing the mark.
- Art is a means of communicating with people, and not an aim in itself. This guiding principle has defined the whole of his [i.e., my] creative activity. Proceeding from the conviction that human speech is strictly controlled by musical laws (Virchow, Gervinus), he considers the function of art to be the reproduction in musical sounds not merely of feelings, but first and foremost of human speech.
- Sounds and ideas are hanging in the air;I am devouring them and stuffing myself.
I have no use whatever for Mussorgsky. All in him is flabby and dull. He is, I think, a perfect idiot. Were he left to his own devices and no longer under your strict supervision, he would soon run to seed as all the others have done. There is nothing in him. Stasov in an 1863 letter to Balakirev Yes, Mussorgsky is little short of an idiot. Balakirev's reply to the above
- They were very defective, teeming with clumsy, disconnected harmonies, shocking part-writing, amazingly illogical modulations or intolerably long stretches without ever a modulation, and bad scoring. ...what is needed is an edition for practical and artistic purposes, suitable for performances and for those who wish to admire Mussorgsky's genius, not to study his idiosyncrasies and sins against art.
- Rimsky-Korsakov on Mussorgsky's manuscripts
Mussorgsky you very rightly call a hopeless case. In talent he is perhaps superior to all the [other members of The Five], but his nature is narrow-minded, devoid of any urge towards self-perfection, blindly believing in the ridiculous theories of his circle and in his own genius. In addition, he has a certain base side to his nature which likes coarseness, uncouthness, roughness.... He flaunts ... his illiteracy, takes pride in his ignorance, mucks along anyhow, blindly believing in the infallibility of his genius. Yet he has flashes of talent which are, moreover, not devoid of originality. Tchaikovsky in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck
- Today I was invited to have dinner in old Petrov's house: I gave him a copy of your song, which pleased him greatly [...] Petrov still admires you as enthusiastically as in the past. In his drawing-room there's a bust of you, crowned with laurels, which still bears a strong resemblance to you. I also met his wife (the contralto) [Avdotya Vorobyova-Petrova, who created the role of Vanya in Glinka's A Life for the Tsar]. She is sixty years old... After dinner she sang two quite original and touching romances by Musorgsky (the author of Boris Godunov, who was also present), in a voice that is still young and charming and has a very expressive timbre. She sang them wonderfully! I was moved to tears, I assure you. Then Musorgsky played for us and sang, with a rather hoarse voice, some excerpts from his opera and the other one that he is composing now – and the music seemed to me very characteristic and interesting, upon my honour! Old Petrov sang the role of the old profligate and vagabond monk [Varlaam's song about Ivan the Terrible] – it was splendid! I am starting to believe that there really is a future in all of this. Outwardly, Musorgsky reminds one of Glinka – it is just that his nose is all red (unfortunately, he is an alcoholic), he has pale but beautiful eyes, and fine lips which are squeezed into a fat face with flabby cheeks. I liked him: he is very natural and unaffected, and does not put on any airs. He played us the introduction to his second opera [Khovanshchina]. It is a bit Wagnerian, but full of feeling and beautiful. Forward, forward! Russian artists!!
- Ivan Turgenev in a letter to Pauline Viardot
- It is easy enough to correct Mussorgsky's irregularities. The only trouble is that when this is done, the character and originality of the music are done away with, and the composer's individuality vanishes.
- Anatoly Lyadov
- As a musical translator of words and all that can be expressed in words, of psychological states, and even physical movement, he is unsurpassed; as an absolute musician he was hopelessly limited, with remarkably little ability to construct pure music or even a purely musical texture.
- Gerald Abraham