Cui on Modernism

(Excerpt from a letter of Cesar Cui to Mar'ia Kerzina, Jan. 21, 1907)

"...Now about modernism. It has penetrated everywhere and is created by people who have either little talent or no gift, who desire to become geniuses. For this they have decided to do everything differently from the way it was done up to this time; they have begun to walk on their hands and eat with their feet. In painting there appear green clouds and blue grass, white Negroes and black Europeans; in poetry there is wild mere verbiage deprived of any meaning; in music there is the absence of music and the replacement of its _sound_ with a search for _sonority_. The result: absolute vapidity, wild and stupid cacophony, lack of personality,, monotony and boredom! Thank God for the time being we have [only] a few decadents: Steinberg (former student of Korsakov that he is), Stravinsky, and Scriabin. The first two are ungifted, but I pity Scriabin. He is more talented than Rachmaninoff, warmer, richer in melodic invention, but he is on a false road, and his latest compositions are nonsense, while Rachmaninov has been writing real, healthy music to this day.

"So, for the present there are a few decadents in music, but their number undoubtedly will increase quickly, for with the same prescriptions it is so easy to become or at least to pass for a genius. And this is possible, you know; they are so insolent, and the public is so stupid. But their kingdom is short-lived -- one soon gets tired of their haughty emptiness and monotony, and then perhaps a real talent will appear. Here in this matter I don't lose heart and am ready to support you to any extent, even in spite of the fact that the influence of Strauss is felt in even Glazunov's latest compositions. He, too, follows suit: 'away with music, long may sonority reign; away with thoughts, we need only colors'. So be it! But we won't begin to lose heart."

English Translation Copyright (c) 1995 by Lyle Neff