© 2019 Katie Alberts  

  • Grey Facebook Icon

Part 7 “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle”

A very true to type piece where there is probably no need for lengthy explanations, permeating psychologically into the well of time, stratum of time, stratum of conscience. Something else is interesting here.

The composer’s, the musical work creator’s attitude towards his characters, first and foremost. And the way he creates this or that color that brings us to a certain place, not only in terms of emotions, but also in geographical sense, as well as historical. All this is unusually interesting. So. This piece has had different titles.

There are many layers here, and I would like to briefly clarify this.
So, in the German music edition I have, it’s called «Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle». This is one of the urtext, old titles, but it neither corresponds with nor does it explain the process of creation of this characteristic piece in the mosaic of Mussorgsky’s great canvas.

Mussorgsky had in his possession two small sketches by Gartman, portraits of two Jews, Polish Jews. One of them was a rich Jew in a fur hat – it was titled just like that. And the second one of a poor one, and it was titled «Poor Jid»

To start with, about this word, how did it come to be in the Russian vocabulary?
Well, first of all, it still has use in many European languages. Jud in English is Jew. In German, it’s Jude. And in many different languages, where «j» stands for the sound (zh) And in Russian it transformed into «jid», which is also characteristic. «J» is always pronounced like «zh» in Slavic languages.

This brings us… Same in Polish. this brings us to the oldest biblical sources, to the founders of 12 tribes of the Jewish people, to the name of Judah, or Judas. Etymology of this word is a very interesting one, because it transformed from a simple descriptor of a race into a derogatory term.
Unfortunately, it had to do with big problems in Russian conscience, with the problem of anti-Semitism, which unfortunately was so characteristic of the Russian peoples. And by the time Mussorgsky wrote this musical miniature, this became, in fact, an abusive word.

As it happened, during the 70s in the 18th century this word started to disappear from Russian dictionary becoming exclusively a curse word. In the 70s time frame.

The transformation of titles has to do with this fact.
If, like I said before, Gartman’s sketches were titled “The Rich Jew” and “The Poor Jid”, Mussorgsky, at first in his first draft, denoted them simply as “Two Jids, Rich and Poor”. Then, Stasov replaced it with «Two Jews, Rich and Poor». Then, the name of the rich Jew was added and just the collective name for the poor Jew.

So, as we can see, racial overtones, social racial overtones, unfortunately, got in even here, in the musical creation and it reflected in the title. Reflected in the transformation of this musical piece’s title.

It is very interesting to see Mussorgsky’s approach to this problem through his music. As you know, through music, we can follow the tiniest details of conscience and sub-conscience. Mussorgsky was a Russian nationalist and he did not try to hide this fact. He was linked with the Russian nationalists’ circle.
So, is it possible, theoretically, that a Russian nationalist is not an anti-Semite, because as it happens, unfortunately, it became a part of the physiology of a Russian person.

Even in someone who is of high breeding and intelligence, and high level of education, nevertheless, there still is some kind of rejection and tension at the physiological level, only at the mere mention of the word “Jew”». So deep are the roots of this racial distaste and racial rejection. It’s very interesting to see what level of moral purity the composer’s soul possesses. Whether there are any anti-Semitic roots in this music.

We know how music can create any images: grotesque or satirical. With a single forslag, stroke, with the talent Mussorgsky possessed, he could… Even unconsciously, his attitude regarding this issue would’ve shown.

But, to his honor, I must say, in this musical piece he is absolutely pure, which, in my eyes, lifts him to an unattainable height. And to the honor of Russian conscience, Russian national conscience… therefore, it’s quite possible for a certain Russian nationalism, as a cultural movement to exist without Nazi content, whereas one is often inseparable from the other.

No, Mussorgsky shows that this is possible, that you can be a passionate adherent of national culture and, at the same time, a cosmopolitan as far as racial issues are concerned. This is very interesting. We’ll again, step by step, measure by measure, look and see how pure and delicate Modest Petrovich is in presenting this sketch to us. What does he do?

He wanted to combine these two portraits into one and he did it splendidly. He placed these two Jews next to each other and made them metaphysically antagonistic. But antagonistic in terms of social origin, the eternal conflict of mankind, from the beginning of time to this day, this is a conflict between wealth and self-complacency, and poverty and abjection. That’s why in this piece he rises to the psychological heights of Dostoevsky, when we see an abject downtrodden man and we feel compassionate in every way.

And our souls shrink from depravity and stupidity that unfortunately almost always… those almost always are companions of self-satisfaction and wealth. The only thing he added here is a little bit of national character. Only as much as he had to. Gartman, a Jew, gave him two sketches of two Jews, and it all turned into this Jewish issue that, by the way, had bothered Mussorgsky for a long time.

But it bothered him as an artist because in many works of different composers, Western and Russian alike, in opera works, he observed emergence of the Jewish topic in music and he was always indignant about the fact that they were not exact, in a musical language, not exact at all, in portraying the Jewish national character.

In many of his letters he touched on this issue and was indignant that in some of the works he heard Jews looked like Catholics because they were not portrayed correctly in a musical sense. And here, it’s a creative problem for him which he solves brilliantly. Solves it in a very simple way.

Well, it’s common knowledge, I think, even for non-musicians, how easy it is to add some oriental color to music. They are additions of a minor third, an interval, [10.01] and it could be played in any minor scale and there will be oriental color added.

Let’s say we have the first minor third appearing for Modest Petrovich’s Jews,
[10.20] on the account of rising the forth scale-step. If we play with this interval, we can easily get ourselves into various geographical places and various cultures. For example… [10.49] It’s very easy to get to, [11.11] let’s say, Armenia, altering harmonics… These are typical Caucasian, right, harmonics.

Further on, if somewhere, let’s say, within one particular scale… this story unravels in B flat minor…[11.36] Each one of these harmonies within one scale gives us an indefinite oriental feeling. [11.50]  After all… it already depends on… It’s, you know, like mixing a cocktail. Or, like putting together a chemical mixture, to get the national character just right. To get not to Armenia, not to Georgia, let’s say, not to the Caucasus Mountains not to the Caucasus peoples who all use, one way or another, in their musical harmonies this very minor third, minor scale combinations.

You can be perfectly scientific in depicting this or that nationality using national harmonies but still be imprecise in the creation of character, the nature of national character, national flavor
We know how incredible Mussorgsky was in this sense. Like in the children’s miniature I talked about how surprised he was that Liszt took note of his depiction of little children. In sense of them being not just little children, but also Russian children.

That is to say that for him it was a very important and sensitive issue as an artist, to be exact in the creation of character. Therefore, here he had to find that golden mean between these harmonies, when we definitely see before our eyes precisely Jewish intonations.

Moreover, Jewish intonations originating not from a Polish settlement, not from a Russian settlement… This is not a Russian Jew, not a metaphysical Jew, this is a Jew whose roots go back to the Middle East – thus, a Jew with roots – the very roots of the remarkable Jewish people. This is a very difficult image to portray, because in our conscience… there are a lot of images of parody, anger, wickedness.

All this, naturally, was in Mussorgsky’s conscience also. But he mixes his cocktail splendidly. In front of us, we see exactly the representative of the Jewish people. The very roots, without any admixture The wholesome, remarkable great people of the Middle East. And he concentrates, like I said before, on, well, Dostoevsky’s psychological social aspect of the antagonism of these two figures: rich and poor.

Let’s go through the text and see how he does it.
[14.47] So, at first we see the rich one. This is a very proper and an important arrival. Such a consonance of the interval into the cadence shows the foolishness and downright self-importance.[15.08] Then…
Due to this forslag we can see already a certain oriental element here right away. Even before the arrival of this oriental middle-eastern sadness which always appears through the minor thirds. [15.29]  Here comes the first minor third, which already takes us to the East. But where? We can’t say yet. It can be any Arab country. Even North African. [15.51] Second minor third. But, just by itself it can lead us to Sayat-Nova, into Armenia. To some… duduk song three thousand years old, that we all love, all know, here also the eternity is speaking, but a different kind of eternity, Caucasian.

Then we see a self-important, slow-witted, domineering rich man. [16.27] Here he starts playing games with this interval. It disappears [16.37] and turns into a melodical one and then disappears again. And here it is, this little forslag, it is already not a characteristic of Caucuses, it is already not a characteristic of Armenians which would be always very tenderly supple and soft.
[17.00] But this hardness, it is already characteristic of Middle East and brings us to the national roots of this character, who, well, is materializing in front of us, described by very simple strokes. [17.16]

All these intervals are combined here, creating a very exact national coloring.
[17.34] That is to say we see a rhythmical affirmation of the Jewish character, we see a harmonical affirmation of the Jewish character, we see an artistic… A chemical composition with which the face of the Jew comes to life and we see how the genius of intuition makes no mistakes in the proportions. Just one unnecessary note, one unnecessary minor third, and we would already be flying out into a different nationality, into a different part of the planet and different culture.

So, we just saw The appearance of the rich Jew with all his characteristics and national traits And personality traits.

Then, the second portrait comes into sight. We could’ve expected some… if, again going back to that… if our artist weren’t such a pure spiritual real great artist, then, we would have seen the emergence of this oppressed little man, little man of Dostoevsky’s… If there were any anti-Semitic roots in Mussorgsky he would definitely create some fawning, something obsequious… Well, something… It’s quite easy to add something detestable, repulsively pathetic. But there is nothing like that here.

We only see in this poor Jew the humiliation of a small person that is expressed by very simple means. Because his character is just a little bit fragmented, he just looks a little different…[19.25] By this fragmentation, with one single note Mussorgsky shows the humiliation of a man, the fragility of a humiliated, poor man, that causes only extreme pity, extreme compassion in the face of this repulsive social discrimination, that mankind has lived with for God only knows how long, since the beginning of time, and cannot seem to get rid of it. And, of course, this is the image on which Mussorgsky, being a great artist, concentrates his attention. There is nothing humiliating about this little man, nothing. There is only a picture humiliating all of us, people. Because we are still allowing this ugliness, inequality between people. [20.24]

This southern color is added with incredible talent and genius. And it is added all in all due to the use of the pedal. Here, if we play this without using the pedal… [20.47] It feels dry, does it not? What’s missing here? Air and sun are missing here. We have a southern people here.

By the way, it needs to be said that elevating the image of the Jews to a metaphysical level, we, of course, already are being carried over… These are not Polish Jews from a settlement whom Gartman painted. No, we are being elevated to the sources, roots, like I said before. There, where the sun is very hot, that lives in the hearts of the great Jewish people. And thus, just adding the use of the pedal we have the aroma of the hot land, and the atmosphere, melted by sun, where this metaphysical encounter of two Jewish souls is happening. Now, I’m adding the pedal, and immediately sun and heat appears.
[21.55] Melted. Everything is melted by sun, everything is melted by heat. [22.08]

The intonations are really mournful. [22.17] We can feel the exhaustion of a poor man here. In no way some humble artificial attempts to cause pity. [22:39]
There is none here. Only the portraits.

And further, [22.47] a splendid passage through these harmonic minor thirds that we see puts us into the Jewish character of music right away. [23.03]

These harmonies cannot belong to any other people. In two measures, we are finding ourselves exactly in the geographical point of the narrative. [23.26]
Of course, all this happens on a cosmic scale, metaphysically. But exactly, as far as ethnicity goes, it’s there where the roots are.

And then we… Remarkable polyphony, where Mussorgsky very easily brings two characters into a conflict presenting to us this irreconcilable social tragedy of a small man and a “big” man, (in parenthesis). Since it is the case to this day that in our unfortunate society the amount of money is equal to the level of success, and, so to speak, commercial success.

And so, this is how Mussorgsky shows it. When the poor man is shown in high pitch, and the insolent moneybags is in low pitch. [24:22] And here are the sweltering intonations [25.00] of a dispirited person, [25.09] compared with the spiteful attitude of the opposite character represented with just one note.
Full of pain… And the triumph of the despicable disgusting selfishness.

That’s all there is to this sketch, but how much does it say. It has the psychologism of a true master of drama, from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky and the superb feel of a wonderful musician, who creates for us thanks to the precise additions of harmonic components, a perfectly true cosmic mixture, chemical cosmic mixture, where his characters live. All comes to life, all gains metaphysical proportions, and becomes a great universal work of art

Thank you very much!


Again, after this dramatic sketch, great sketch That took us To the Middle East…
We go back to Modest Petrovich, Who, music critics say, practically repeats it completely, without understanding what is really going on, in the second appearance, almost in the same hypostasis as the Promenade, like it was in the beginning.

This is what is going on. This is not just a repetition. This is our, the same one, Modest Petrovich with the same thoughts he had in the very beginning of this great epic canvas. Only he shows the change, how much stronger he is now emotionally going through the communion with the spirit of this beloved friend of his.

That is, everything that was monophonic in the beginning. [29.49] That which like we discussed, like we already found out, was characteristic of him as a person…
This 11/4, Russianness, his unpredictability, in part, the latitude, the daring of his character. But if there we had a leading man… what imitated the youthful single voice of the leading guy,
Then here, we see the whole… Modest Petrovich doubles this theme, we see the powerful sound of an organ that sings in his soul. That is, Modest Petrovich himself, but mightily strengthened from the inside, thanks to overcoming many phobias. Thanks to his wisdom and talent that allow him to overcome and overpower the death of a human being, to immortalize him, his remarkable dear friend, immortalize him in his immortal music. And so we see the high and powerful tune of a totally different character. [31.14] That is, a powerful basso… and basso always symbolizes… basso means base, basso is reliance, that is to say, he feels much more confident[31.43] Such might! Indestructible might, of which in the beginning, in the first appearance of Modest Petrovich, we didn’t see even a glimmer. And in the developing of his character, there is already oceanic, cosmic power of the double basso[32.13]

Here we have an absolutely different person in front of us, in spite of all the same continuing inner doubts. [32.39] Same exact drunkenness, if you remember. [32.54] But all the doubts, all this staggering become much shorter and take the position of standing firmly on two feet. [33.05] There is no more swaying in the part of the character that ratifies life.

Immediately he gets to the second… [33.19] to the second life-ratifying verse [33.26] and to the final tune, abandoning all doubts. [33.32] The sound of the trumpet symbolizes the transition to the final stage of the story of this great musical and literary canvas, epic Russian canvas. [34.04]

If it were up to me, I would’ve added here the pulsating trumpet or bugle that would symbolize the opening of the next piece.
On the one hand, we have the opening of The Marketplace at Limoges, which is a mass folk scene master of which, at that time already… a great master, a recognized master, unsurpassed master of which Modest Petrovich was already
having created already mass canvases… mass folk scene canvases…

The same is awaiting ahead of us: on the one hand, [34.39] and on the other hand, this bugle symbolizes the transition to a very active part of the finale that Modest Petrovich conducts very brilliantly and very masterfully. Interpreting the whole psychologism of ever changing Pictures into a continuous active virtuoso performance, which will lead to an explosion of faith to the happiness and future of Russia.

Such is the transformation of his physiognomy, his character. Such fortification is happening of his moral strength, his life strength, which he shows in the second presentation of the Promenade. So, this is not at all a mechanical repetition, not a composer’s trick for the sake of form, but the result of thoughtful psychological self-analysis, that shows us a transformation, a development,
The vital forces, the life forces, the potential… potential of the life force of this great man.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Translated by Fira Headrick


  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey LinkedIn Icon
  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Pinterest Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon