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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Inspiration in Moscow

Wednesday, August 28th., R.M.S.P. Arcadian, Hamburg.

I went to the opera whilst in Moscow with Max, and saw an act of a most tedious ballet, alleged to be modern, but in which I could perceive nothing but a futile spirit of reaction. 

My new novel, which I have been on the edge of commencing for a year past, without having commenced it, was worrying me into a fever of apprehension. My whole future seemed, and seems, to depend on the quality of that novel. I had the idea for it years ago. I saw the thing vague, but magnificent, tremendous, the greatest novel that ever was or could be written by anybody. Then I lost it. I mean I lost the creative mood for it and couldn't regain that mood. Then, later, I began to see the thing afresh. I pieced two plots together and made one. I saw the chief characters and the chief incidents, and the climax. The trouble was, I still could not regain the creative mood for that particular book. I saw, but didn't feel. Everything was there except the breath of emotional life. The spectacle of the ballet extinguished in my inefficient noddle the last glimmer of hope.

The next item on the programme was an Act of Rimsky-Korsakoff's opera "Sadko". I'd never seen "Sadko", and I doubt if I had met anyone who had seen it. Anyhow, I knew Rimsky-Korsakoff was not a really first rate composer, only an agreeable melodist and a terrific swell at orchestration. I expected little from "Sadko". But I had a surprise. The music was so close to being first rate that I was unable to tell the difference, and the performance was marvellously fine. Something of the old autocracy had survived into the Soviet autocracy. before the Act was half over, my novel was coming back to me in quite the grand manner. I could listen to the opera and think about the novel simultaneously. I felt the creative permeating me and enveloping me. At the end I applauded with the enthusiasm of a youth. "Sadko" was my salvation. I said to myself joyously: "Well, I haven't come to Moscow for nothing."

Sadko is an opera in seven scenes by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by the composer, with assistance from Vladimir Belsky, Vladimir Stasov, and others. Rimsky-Korsakov was first inspired by the bylina of Sadko in 1867, when he completed a tone poem on the subject, his Op. 5. After finishing his second revision of this work in 1892, he decided to turn it into a dramatic work. The musically unrelated opera was completed in 1896. The music is highly evocative, and Rimsky-Korsakov's famed powers of orchestration are abundantly in evidence throughout the score. According to the Soviet critic Boris Asafyev, writing in 1922, Sadko constitutes the summit of Rimsky-Korsakov's craft.

And as soon as I was outside the theatre I knew I had got hold of the affair, because everything that caught my attention related itself to the novel, gave me fresh notions for the novel. Which is a sure sign to the artist that god's in his heaven. I have often been through a similar experience, but perhaps never quite so dramatically and suddenly. A novel in process of creation has to be lifted up. It may have to be lifted up again and again. The large mood for it has to be recaptured again and again. To work this miracle there is nothing as efficacious as the sight or hearing of a great work of art - any art. Many times have I gone into the National Gallery, or to a fine concert, not primarily to see pictures or hear music, but to recover the right mood. An artist engaged on a work ought never to read or see or hear second class stuff. If he does he realises the resemblances between his work and the second class; and is discouraged. Whereas if he sticks to first class stuff, he realises the resemblances between his work and it, and is enheartened thereby. I've felt this a thousand times, and said it a hundred times, and perhaps I've written it ten times. But it can't be repeated too much.

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