Life Chronicles

The opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was staged simultaneously in two theatres: on 22 January 1934, the premiere was held at the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre, and on 24 January, the Moscow premiere (called Katerina Izmailova) took place at the Nemirovich-Danchenko State Music Theatre.
The Moscow performance was conducted by Grigory Arnoldovich Stolyarov.

January 22nd - the premiere of the opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” in the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre (oр.29).
January 24th - the premiere of the opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” in the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, Moscow (oр.29).
April 1st - premiere of the play “The Human Comedy” (oр.37).
December 25th - first performance of the Sonata for cello and piano (oр.40).

“I want to write a Soviet ‘Nibelung’s Ring’. This will be an operatic tetralogy about a woman... This theme is a leitmotif of my thoughts each day and for my whole life over the next ten years...”

“By the way about the West. We... rejected in principle the tendencies, which held sway during the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers era, to take out of concert programmes almost everything which could be termed ‘Modern Music of the West’.
Yet even now this music only plays a minute part in our concert repertoire. Meanwhile there is a good deal we can learn from such, let’s say, masters from the West of today like Schoenberg, Krenek, Hindemith and Alban Berg. At least as far as their technique as composers is concerned, which has not yet reached a very high level here...”

“We set off to the meeting in a close column and the band was playing old marches. We should be able to set off to the next elections to the Leningrad City Council to the tunes of marches we ourselves have composed.”

January 3, 1934

“My life is going very well so far. The flat is nice, warm and dry.<...>
I am very worried that the premiere of ‘Lady Macbeth’ in the Musical Theatre is going to be on January 24th. Because of that I won’t be able to come several days before the premiere, because the premiere in Leningrad is going to be on the 20th. This means I shall not be able to see the second or third performance, which can play such a key part in the destiny of an opera. They are planning to dedicate the production to the regional party conference. There’s no need for me to tell you that I am very anxious and trembling like a leaf in my apprehension. It’s very inconvenient that the premieres are going to be almost at one and the same time. I can’t be in two cities at once, after all. Yet that’s what the situation requires.”

January 27, 1934

“I find it really painful to think that you took such offence at my outburst against the theatre, but if you were a sensitive psychologist, you would probably have understood and forgiven me. Do you remember, when during my last but one visit to Moscow I went to a dress rehearsal and almost wept from excitement before the production began? Do you really not think that that was sincere and from the bottom of my heart? Can’t you understand that what I said in the theatre after Act II at the second performance was nothing other than a ridiculous outburst from an author, who thinks that his opera, his cherished child, has turned out to be a failure. There is probably no-one, whom I value and respect as much as my wife. Yet I often quarrel with her and use the most hurtful of words with her. If she were to take everything I said at face value, she would have ceased to be my wife long ago. So I beg you with all my heart to forget. It never happened and won’t happen again. I am waiting most anxiously for your next letter. I am afraid that you’ll be reproaching me and I’ll be frightened of those reproaches because they will be unjust ones. <...> I possess a whole number of most revolting traits, which complicate life for me. The first of these is my hyper-sensitivity, my over-anxiousness with regard to my compositions. I am firmly convinced that I need to be above all that, but I can’t manage it. I don’t have the strength. When the audience starts coughing in the theatre, to me it is as bad as having someone take a knife to an open wound. I survived two performances in the Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre and one in the Mikhailovsky Theatre. I could never have imagined that it would have been so hard to bear.”

February 1934

“Yesterday the 10th performance of ‘Lady Macbeth’ took place. The production is going well. The audience listens very attentively. They only start running for their galoshes after the curtain has come down. They hardly cough at all. All in all, a number of pleasant things are happening, which bring happiness to my composer’s heart.”

March 25, 1934

“Because of the heat and dust it is impossible to start working. My relations with the Music Theatre are still wonderful. They may sour because of the ballet. If the theatre is not going to take into consideration my attitude to ballet and will try to force me one way or another to work on a ballet, then I shall start hating the theatre with all my heart, just as I nowadays hate talking pictures and the Vakhtangov Theatre, which have been forcing me, one way or another, to work on compositions that do not interest me at all. At the moment work on a ballet does not interest me in the slightest.
Help me cancel the contract and thus maintain my good relations with the theatre. I believe in the theatre and love it.”

March 28, 1934, Leningrad

“Things are going very badly for me. Yesterday in the tram my wallet was stolen. It had all my papers in it (internal passport, my army ID, my trade-union card etc.). Now there is going to be a long rigmarole to have new ones issued. On April 1st I shall be in Moscow.”

June 22, 1934

“This time I enjoyed my visit to Baku. Instead of twice, I performed three times - on the 17th, 18th and 21st. I had some success, but in the open air my music doesn’t sound so good. On the 18th because of rain, the concert was transferred to an indoor venue. It sounded better there.
Now I am on my way by train <...> to Batum.”

July 9, 1934, Polenovo

“It keeps on raining and the streets are dirty. I have to stay inside or on the balcony. The former owner of Polenovo used, I presume, to drink heavily in weather like this. The countryside is exquisitely beautiful, but my head is empty. If anyone were to knock me on the forehead, all they would hear would be a little wooden rattle. There are no newspapers here. I do not know what’s going on in the outside world. By chance, in the lavatory I read an article by Comrade S. Dinamov entitled ‘Advocate of Formalism’, in which he is castigating the author of ‘Komarinskii Peasant’ on account of his formalism. In the fifth issue of ‘Sovietskaya Muzyka’ there was a thunderous article by Gorodinskii and Iokhelson about the ‘historic discussion’ in the Leningrad Union of Soviet Composers concerning ‘Lady Macbeth’. He is castigating your ‘formalistic statements’. In fact there are many well-deserved rebukes. Isn’t that good. I like all this. It helps get rid of fat...”

September 13, 1934, Leningrad

“My life is rather unsettled at the moment. My sad thoughts give me headaches all the time. The trouble is that I have signed many contracts and have many commissions, but I’m not working on any of them. So far I have only written the third part of a cello sonata. Now the fourth will follow and that’s the end of it. I’m making no headway with my commissions. Time is moving on and the money’s getting spent. I worry about it all the time and this means that my head is splitting. Horrible.”

June 15, 1934

“I should have talked you into coming with me to Baku and if you had refused I should have taken you off by force. After all we live in a time of strong passions and impetuous deeds...”

July 26, 1934

“There is something unsavoury about the life I am leading at the moment. I can’t compose anything and since I don’t know how to do anything else, I have started to compose a fugue a day. I have already written three. They came out very badly. That has made me feel even more miserable. It’s much more pleasant to be completely absorbed in work, carried away and without a break, than to be doing nothing and have a so-called ‘rest’.”

August 9, 1934, Polenovo

“I must confess that I have been trying all this time to fall out of love with you and to forget you, but all in vain. I am dreaming of you falling in love with me and becoming my wife. You see, how far these dreams have carried me, inspite of me being more or less married. What will come out of all this, I don’t know. I have a very weak character and have no idea how capable I am of achieving happiness.”

December 31, 1934

“Dearest Lyalya! I wish you a lot of joy in 1935...
My Nina is very ill. I am completely devastated from exhaustion. My duties include those of nurse, keeping watch at the bedside and so on. That is why I have not been writing to you or calling you.”