Nikolai Jakovlevich Mjaskovskij and Reinhold Glier

Nikolai Mjaskovskij took lessons in harmony from Reinhold Glier in January 1903. This time of cooperation, in Mjaskovskij’s view, is described in the book of Soya Konstantinova Gulinskaja (publishing house Neue Musik Berlin, 1985).

Nikolai Mjaskovskij

* April 20, 1881 in Novo-Georgijevsk near Warsaw
+ August  08, 1950 in Moscow

The father of young Mjaskovskij, a smart and really tactful man, was far less insistent and categorical then f.e. the mother of young Rimski-Korsakov, who explained flatly:”... I do not wish that this passion is having a negative effect on the (military) service!” He rather showed his son as an example composers like Borodin, Cui and many more who did their work in the arts and did activities foreign to music at the same time. He promised him for the development of his musical inclinations all conceivable support which was bound with the urgent request, not to hurry with a final commitment in the matters of occupation. The son later wrote: ”If it would depend on me alone, I would do everything to quit the military service but unfortunately I’m bound financially as well as to your discontent.” The father simply answered: ”My only wish, my only joy will always be bound to that your life is created through your inclinations, abilities and efforts... If you wish and regard it as necessary, quit the miltary service; such a decision of you won’t cause discontent with me for one second.”

The young Mjaskovskij did finish his training nevertheless and got the diploma of a military-engineer. After a short service with an engineer-unit in Saraisk he got transfered to Moscow. Before his departure Mjaskovskij turned to Rimski-Korsakov, head of the musicans of St. Petersburg with the request to recommend him someone as composition teacher in Moscow. Rimski-Korsakov, who remembered his own difficulties on the way to music, answered the letter of the young engineer immediately and recommended him to turn to the composer Tanejev, of who Rimski-Korsakov had a high opinion of as composer as well as educationist.

On his first contact with Tanejev in Moscow, Mjaskovskij shied away from showing him his compositions and described them as “Fantasies” which triggered a certain embarassment with Tanejev. As the latter had no possibilities now to judge the stage of musical development of the young man, he decided to start lessons from the beginning. Therefore he sent the young Mjaskovskij to R.M. Gličre, who just finished the conservatory but already got the Glinka-price for a string sextet.

The lessons with Gličre lasted from January to May 1903, a time in which Maskovkij worked through the entire subject of the harmonic lessons and this regardless of all other burdens: He could dedicate only a few hours a day for the music while he often worked through the nights to solve official tasks. As an engineer he not only worked conscientious and careful but showed a real talent for this area as well. His outlines for military objects were constantly honored. “Sometimes I’m sitting till 4 o’clock in the morning”, he wrote in a letter to his father. “Last Thursday I started on a project for a fortification installation and was finished with the raw outline on Sunday.”

Already the first lessons with Gličre, a sensitive, benevolent, a master of the composition technics and beyond any doubt a pedagogical talented teacher helped Mjaskovski to get back to his psychic balance which slackened in the last months. At the same time as his really inacurate and by-chance acquired knowledge deepened from lesson to lesson to clearer contours and greater dept, he began to feel solid ground under his feet again. Even so the results of his compositions attemps didn’t please him, his wish to work on it got stronger. The horrible depression overcome, which gripped him in Saraisk and in his first time in Moscow, when he was struggling for a final decision for or against an existence as a composer he was confronted with the question: Wether his capabilities and talent were enough to create something valuable in the area of music, well, do I have a talent in composing? Mjaskovskij did a stringent self-analysis, checking his advantages and faults (“weak, soft and no gift for inventions” he lamented over himself in a letter to his father) and suddenly began to despair and went out of the way of other people and avoided contact.

Highly worried the father turned to his son and implored him to give up his self-chosen solitude now and again (“ could change into an afraidness toward people.”): "Don’t despair, don’t give up, do work further on yourself! You said, you tried everything and it would turn to nothing anyway! Totally wrong, I’m telling you. If nothing turns out the first time and perhaps even not on the second time, it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen on the third or fourth time. You said it’s too difficult, the expenditure to high... And I’m telling you, it’s worth the try, there’s nothing sweeter then the victory over your own self!”

Vsevolod Hofman and Vadim Modsalevski, Mjaskovskij’s friends from school for military technics, who were closer to him through their playing instruments together, were trying as well to support him morally, to help him to end this difficult fight with himself victoriously. “If ever someone of us is getting to the top of the ladder it will be most certainly you.” assured Hofman his friend. If you only show a little more effort to overcome your laziness and apathy, steeling your willpower and putting on some more persistence, you’ll manage it!” “Besides music there’s nothing else, you are faithful to it up to total devotion (I only feel a strong attraction to music sometimes!), such a real and strong love should be able to move mountains!”, Modsalevski tried to influence him in a letter. “Your love toward music is a real strong and true love and therefore your outbreaks of despair in your letter are not justified! Although your love toward music is so strong, you can’t get of the thought you can’t work out something proper in this field? Of course, my dear friend, you have to work hard! Being absolutely immune to painful failures are, last of all, the “Untalented”, who are lacking a true, critical and creative feeling, those shortsighted idiots who find only their own things as good and excellent.”

Mjaskovskij later remembered those difficult months like a nightmare. The lessons with Gličre let him find his faith of his own powers, his psychic crisis overcome. He wrote to his sister: ”Now I’m totally calm.... I found my way, and to this way I remain faithful”.

Out of the little chamber, which Mjaskovskij rented nearby the Rjasan train stration, sometimes the piano sounded the entire day. At night, Mjaskovskij played quitely to not disturb his neighbors. In a letter to his relatives in St. Petersburg he asked them to send him parts of his notes (“but only if it doesn’t cost too much”) He not only required the compositions of the Westeuropean and Russian classic but also the compositions of young composers like Rachmaninov and Skrjabin. Meanwhile he began to invite music-interested friends to his small “appartment” and served them, like the invited W. W. Jakovlev reported, that Mjaskovskij served them tea, buns and... music. Such an evening Mjaskovkij always found especially successful when he had the possibility to play the piano four-handed with somebody else. One of his new habits was to go to the musicstore “Jürgenson” frequently, where he eagerly leafed through the new musical publications and often acquired freshly printed scores with his meager financial means. You could see him frequently at concerts and operas as well as rehearsals or pre-performances. A really overwhelming impression left with him the Rimski-Korsakov opera  “Kashchey, the immortal”, which was performed at the end of 1902 in the Moscow Solodovnikov theater, conducted by M. M. Ippolitov-Iwanov and artistically equipped by S. W. Maljutin. Jakovlev, who had the possibility to watch the reactions of the young Mjaskovskij during the performance on this opera-evening, later reported in his memoirs: ”I believe, in just this hours his final decision ripened to dedicate his entire life fully to musical creations.”

On May 6th, 1903 in his last harmony lesson with Gličre, Mjaskovskij took up his courage and showed the young teacher his composition attemps. “He is very talented and under fair circumstances he will manage to become a composer.” Gličre wrote in a letter to the bride about his impressions of this unusual student, a “shy” and “fine” officer. Meanwhile General Mjaskovkij’s efforts were successful to place his son in an office close to his hometown: In the beginning of 1904 Nikolai was transfered to the 18th Pinoneerbattalion close by St. Petersburg. The young engineer was determined now to push forward his preparation to enter the conservatory (at least as an auditor!) and this decision ruled his entire way of life. He performed his official duties as before with conscientiousness and care, to not arouse annoyance with his superiors and in his free time (now and then at the expense of sleep and relaxation) prepared himself with all his strength for the entrance exam. In this summer he wrote to his friend Jakolev from the field camp in Ishora:

“...Despite everything I still find enough power and will to go to the woods after lunch for one to one and a half hour just to do singing exercises on “tone syllables” to improve the listening abilities. It is getting better daily so that I’m counting on it to finish that part of the musical education in about a month...I already start to develop a firm feeling for the tone “LA”.

Following an advice from Gličre, Mjaskovskij took further teaching in musical theory in St. Petersburg from I. I. Kryshanovski, a student of Rimski-Korsakov. Therefore he could draw from his experience from the Moscovite school as well as from the school in Petersburg in this early stage. In these three years of his education from Kryshanovski, Mjaskovskij studied the subjects “counterpoint”, “fugue composition”, “morphology” and “Basics in Instrumentation”. He composed numerous romances, three fantasies, an “idyll” and a piano sonata to use and to deepen his acquired knowledge. Dissatisfied with the result, he mercilessly destroyed the largest part of these compositions.

last update: 30. December 2002