César Cui's Opera «Feast in Time of Plague»

Драматические сцены А.С. Пушкина

Музыка Ц. Кюи

Lyle Neff, Translator

 

Prefatory Note[1]

César Antonovich Cui[2] (1835-1918), a Russian of French-Lithuanian descent, was by vocation a professor of fortifications in St. Petersburg's military schools, but also a prolific composer and music critic. Although much of his musical output—except for some standard songs and piano pieces—was largely forgotten after his death until recently, he is remembered in Russian musical life as spokesman in the 1860s-80s for the "mighty handful," or "new Russian school," that group of composers which was headed by Milij Balakirv, mentored by Vladimir Stasov, and included Nikolaj Rimskij-Korsakov, Modest Musorgskij, Aleksandr Borodin, and Cui himself.

While Cui's musical setting of Puškin's Feast in Time of Plague officially dates from 1900,[3] the idea of using the great poet's "little tragedy" had occurred to the composer over forty years earlier. In a letter of June 23, 1858 to Balakirev (some years before Dargomyžskij began composing his setting of the companion play, The Stone Guest) Cui reported that Viktor Krylov, his first librettist and later a successful playwright under the pseudonym Viktor Aleksandrov, brought Puškin's Feast to him as a libretto, which the composer at that time found "quite musical, truly good and effective" (Кюи 1955:48). Over 30 years later Cui set the two songs from the play to music and published them in song collections: "Walsingham's Hymn," Op. 49, no. 5 (composed 1889, published 1895); "Mary's Song," Op. 55, no. 2 (composed 1890?, published 1897).[4] These two songs were performed on stage for the first time as part of a performance of the play on April 3, 1899 during a "Puškin" soirée at the Mariinskij Theater in St. Petersburg (Чешихии 1905:24). This centenary event, along with Cui's lasting admiration for Dargomyžskij's setting of The Stone Guest and the 1899 production of Rimskij-Korsakov's setting of another "little tragedy," Mozart and Salieri,[5] may well have formed the impetus to set the entire play as an opera.

 


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Cui, César. Feast in Time of Plague, trans. Lyle Neff. Pushkin Review 1 (1998): 121-48.


[1] My thanks to Lawrence Richter of Indiana University for taking the time to hear my rendition of the polyglot score at the piano and to John Hartley of Bloomington, Indiana for detailed comments and suggestions on the manuscript. All translations of Russin documents herein are mine.

[2] Given Cui's background, the Western spelling of his name is preferred here of "Cezar´ Antonovič Kjui."

[3] That is, according to the published vocal score (Кюи 1901: 3). Both vocal and full scores were issued. Musical excerpts transcribed here are based on the vocal score.

[4] Before being published in Op. 49, "Walsingham's Hymn" had also been published individually (Кюи 1892: 109-12). Citations of 1895-97 as composition dates for the opera apparently derive that information from the date of publication of the songs in their respective opus numbers (see Кюи 1895 and Кюи 1897) rather than from the dates the songs were composed.

[5]Mozart and Salieri was first produced in Moscow on Dec. 7, 1898 at Mamontov's Private Russian Opera, and later reviewed by Cui on Mar. 12, 1899 in <ем>Новости и бирж. газета. Another of Rimskij-Korsakov's operas, the one-act Noblewoman Vera Sheloga, reviewed by Cui on Mar. 24, 1899 in the same periodical (Кюи 1952: 659), provided for Cui another example of a relatively unchanged blank-verse drama set to music, in this case the first act of Lev Mej's The Maid of Pskov.

[6] Timofeev's unpublished reminiscences quoted in Nazarov are title Заметки о встречии с Ц.А. Кюи.

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Vol. 01 (1998)