M. Kuss and D. Shostakovich
Postface to letters of D.Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich wrote in 1965, that it was worth to tell about the people who played a certain role in his life, in his musical destiny. “It is important to remember what happened with you yesterday”*. Unfortunately he did not implement his idea. It is high time we told you a fascinating and unknown story from the life of outstanding composer of our epoch. This story is of his meetings and correspondence with the composer Margarita Ivanovna Kuss.
Dmitri Dmitriyevich wrote letters to her knowing where and when she could be: to her old Moscow house (where I also lived), her parents’ country house ("dacha"), where she worked in a separate house, the composers’ residence for creative work in Ruza and then to her new Moscow flat (where in 1956 she finally acquired a telephone, making it possible to arrange meetings by telephone). Of course besides the correspondence there were many meetings between them.
Being too busy, nevertheless Dmitri Dmitriyevich strove to have constant communication with Margarita both through the correspondence and what is more important, thanks to their meetings. He wrote letters to her from different places. He let her know beforehand when he came to Moscow and for how long he would stay, asking her to try to be in Moscow at the same time. If this was not possible, Margarita replied informing him where she would be. D. Shostakovich also informed her about all his trips both in our country and abroad.
The above is evidence of a relationship built not simply on friendly terms but of much deeper long - term mutual feelings. And of course they had a great interest in each other's works. Margarita liked the music of D.Shostakovich. And he was interested in Margarita’s works and highly rated them. They attended premieres and concerts of each other’s compositions. In the difficult Soviet years they were unified by common spiritual values and music. Music was an integral part of their meetings. They played their new works to each other, and discussed them.
Who was this person, composer, to whom Dmitri Dmitriyevich strove so much and had communication during many years? Whom he was thinking of and with whom he associated his feelings, creative aspirations during the crucial period of his life?
It is useful here to quote a taped interview recorded in 2010 from R.S. Ledenyov, composer, and pupil of V.Y. Shebalin, professor of the Moscow Conservatory, People’s Artist of the Russian Federation:
"I am very fond of Margarita Kuss’s music for its authenticity, naturalness and for her respect for the traditions of Russian music. She never tried either to fit in with something or someone, nor did she attempt to be carried along with the tide of a certain composer and his school. She absorbed all music - both Russian, and Western and expressed herself in her own musical language. As S.V. Rachmaninoff said: "The highest quality of art is to be natural". And she was of that mind. She always has been open-minded in music, and she made many noteworthy comments regarding the music of other composers. She was in general very intelligent, strict but fair. And I am proud that I heard her personal opinion on some of my own works, as one could always trust her. She was a person with a particular ability to understand music and discuss it. She was a remarkable composer and I think that her contribution in the history of Russian music is significant and it will be acknowledged some day."
In one of his reviews A.Y. Eshpai, composer, Lenin and State Prizes winner, People's Artist of the USSR wrote:
“Margarita Kuss is an amazingly gifted composer. The highest levels of her professionalism, of great erudition and of irreproachable taste help her to tackle the most challenging creative problems…”
The composer Metek Weinberg, People’s artist of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), characterized Margarita Ivanovna as a dear friend, a charming, kind, gifted, courageous, intelligent person and a wonderful composer. (See the site Archive).
The Union of Composers’ Library Director M.P. Savelyeva, who knew many composers, says such words about her: “She was an amazing person and she had a splendid sense of humor. She was very positive. A kind of tremendously positive aura came from her. She had a wide range of interests”.
She also had a particular trait. She never asked anybody for anything. She was a modest person.
Margarita Kuss began to compose when she studied at a children’s music school. And she already performed her works as a composer at the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. (See the site Archive).
Communication of Margarita Kuss with Dmitri Dmitriyevich began in the period of her studies in the Moscow Conservatory where she was his student from 1943 to 1948. When the anti-formalist campaign was launched in 1948 Margarita remained loyal to her lecturers Professors V.Y. Shebalin and D.D. Shostakovich. In those years she became friends with the future well-known composers and musicians such as Eugeniy Svetlanov, Tatiana Nikolaeva, Mstislav Rostropovich (Margarita’s fellow-student, they performed together her examination composition: the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello), Georgy Sviridov, Revol’ Bunin(assistant of D.Shostakovich), Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Boris Tchaikovsky. She was also on friendly terms with Leningrad composer Galina Ustvolskaya and when Galina arrived in Moscow she sometimes stayed in Margarita’s flat. All of them were pupils or performers of D.D. Shostakovich. She was on friendly terms with Levon Atovmyan, a friend of D. Shostakovich and S. Prokofiev. (See images of Photo album, Archive and Recollections).
In 1949 Margarita Ivanovna Kuss became a member of the Union of Composers. At the end of the 40-s and beginning of the 50-s premieres of Margarita’s first symphony compositions were successfully performed by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, conductor Natan Rakhlin, in the Conservatory’s Grand Hall. Her vocal works sounded in the Small Hall of the Conservatory, performers Alexander Vedernikov (bass), Eugeniy Svetlanov (piano), the future People’s artists of the USSR. Thus her creative work began.
After the graduation from the Conservatory the communication of Dmitri Dmitriyevich with Margarita continued and they began to write letters to each other at the beginning of the 1950s. We refer here only to some of the letters. Dmitri Dmitriyevich constantly met with Margarita in 1953, during the period of composing of one of his most significant symphonic works - the 10-th Symphony, as well as during 1954, the year of discussions and debates related to this work. They took place in the Union of Composers and also in the Soviet press. Reviews were both positive and sharply critical. Margarita had her own forceful personality, with her own persuasions, not only regarding musical themes but also with her own position regarding many issues of Soviet life. And above all it was possible to discuss such matters with her. Their meetings also continued in the following years.
She was one of the people who could understand, and support Dmitri Dmitriyevich and also empathize with him. Being a composer she knew, - that one should not on any account to distract the author from his work. Their meetings mainly were on Dmitri Dmitriyevich’s initiative.
He wrote letters to different people and it is very likely that each letter took the composer some time to write it down, but in case with Margarita he strove to have a personal meeting. The journey to and from Margarita’s home could take about 2 hours. And of course some of their discussions could take hours. At this time Margarita lived on Novaya Bashilovka Street in Moscow. There was no underground at the Mozhaysky Highway, where D.D. Shostakovich lived at that period. It was therefore necessary to reach the nearest underground station “Kievskaya” by public transport, then to ride to Dynamo metro station and afterwards walk another 15 minutes. You can see a telegram to Margarita in her web site:-”Try to be at home, I come today after 6 p.m. Shostakovich”. Dmitri Dmitriyevich was not even sure that she would be at home. And nevertheless he went to see her. He wanted to go and to see this faithful person of whom he needed an advice, support and an exchange of opinions.
Dmitri Dmitriyevich wrote many letters to Margarita throughout 1953. It is interesting to note that attaching great importance to their meetings, Dmitri Dmitriyevich repeatedly sent letters to her on the same day to different addresses: to her Moscow flat and to her “dacha”, just to be on the safe side and not to miss the meetings on the days when he planned to be in Moscow. Working on the 10-th Symphony, Dmitri Dmitriyevich was thinking about Margarita. In the letters from Komarovo of 19.07.1953, he wrote similar letters to two addresses: “I want to see you very much. I hope that you are all right. You will tell me everything when we meet”…
In another letter of 19.06.1953 he wrote that he returned to Moscow and if Margarita was in the city Dmitri Dmitriyevich requested her to call. He let her knew in detail that he could go for 2 or 3 days for his dacha, he informed her about his telephone number there (È 1-20-46 extension 99): “If I am not at home, when you call, please, call me to the country house”. In summer Margarita was involved in her composing process at parents' dacha, where she worked in a small separate house. There was no telephone in her parents’ dacha. Dmitri Dmitriyevich tried delicately to find out whether she would be in Moscow, if so he asked her to call him to his country house. He did not want to distract her from the work, but would like to talk with her. They needed to have a constant contact, they were afraid of losing it.
In his letter of 18.08.1953 Dmitri Dmitriyevich tells Margarita that he came to Moscow and would not be going on elsewhere. He writes that he needs to meet with her. A similar request is in his letter of 22.10.1953, where D.D. Shostakovich informs Margarita that he returned to Moscow. Then he continues: “I cannot finish the symphony up to now. I am waiting for your telephone call”... At this rather stressful moment of writing the 10-th Symphony he needs to have some emotional support, advice and he dreams about a meeting with Margarita. All such meetings were events for both. On one of those days, when the work on the 10-th Symphony came to its completion, 29.10.1953, coming to her, D. Shostakovich makes a present to Margarita. He brings a very rare American publication of Symphony No.5 with a dedicatory inscription as his acknowledgment of her moral support and inspiration which she was giving to him in this crucial period of his life. This score was impossible to find in our country. He brought the most precious, what he had, it was his music.
He could openly share his innermost thoughts and ideas with Margarita to overcome difficulties in writing the Symphony. Among the composers it is something of a tradition to play new ready pieces of the work and discuss them. Dmitri Dmitriyevich felt that in Margarita he was able to find understanding. It is possible to say that the 10-th Symphony emerged and that they discussed its emergence before Margarita’s eyes during their meetings. Naturally he invited her to the premiere of the 10-th Symphony in Moscow, sending tickets with a letter dated 27.12.1953. Being incredibly tired, exhausted after his work on the 10-th Symphony, the subsequent rehearsals and premier in Leningrad, he felt bad but in the same letter he tried to find an opportunity to meet with Margarita at the beginning of January of 1954, to discuss the performance and to find peace of mind.
D.D. Shostakovich sincerely worries about Margarita in the letter of 26.09.1954. “Dear Rita. I am sitting and waiting for your telephone call, but you do not call for some reasons. I worry about you. And yesterday I did not see you at the concert. Please call me by all means. I need to see you”…He is constantly thinking about Margarita, it is difficult to him without contacts with her even if they neither saw nor talked with each other only a couple of days. Here, his thoughts and feelings.
The published score of the 10-th Symphony was issued in 1954. We would like to mention one interesting fact. Margarita Ivanovna was born on October 13. Dmitri Dmitriyevich came to her on the eve of her birthday on October 12 and brought his photo as a gift, along with his dedicatory inscription. And he came again on the day after her birthday with presents and the score of the 10-th Symphony, also with his dedicatory inscription. D. Shostakovich gives her his music, as the most precious, what joined them. It is possible to say that his thoughts and feelings in many respects were associated with Margarita during the work on the Symphony. He highly rated Margarita as a composer and dear friend. (See the images in the site).
In one of the letters of 1954 dated October 28 Dmitri Dmitriyevich writes that he is leaving for his“dacha” as he has extremely urgent work to do, and that it is not possible to do this work in the city. He continues: “I shall be glad if you call me there at any time”. Although he was leaving the city to avoid telephone calls even from his friends and needed to do his “extremely urgent work”, nevertheless he would be glad if Margarita was able to call him “at any time”.
Margarita also wrote letters to him. In letter of 18.04.1955 Dmitri Dmitriyevich wrote: “Yesterday I returned to Moscow and was happy to receive news from you. I am also glad that you are in Ruza. Maybe this week I could get away (from Moscow) and come to Ruza”, i.e. he means to come there to see and to speak with her. They always desired to see each other.
The meetings and discussions with D.D. Shostakovich were an almost closed theme for all of Margarita’s friends. She did not invite them into her private life. Even her former fellow-students knew only a very little. D.D. Shostakovich also knew that their talks would not be repeated to anyone else. Proof of this is the fact that the existence of his letters to her became known only after her death. Although of course in the family we knew about the correspondence and their meetings.
During the Soviet years it was only possible to share frank and innermost thoughts regarding real life situations and one’s creative work with a person whom you could fully trust and with whom you had common views. It was vitally important that such conversations should go no further. Such kind of relationship was their “CRYPTIC AREA”. It is the name of the last Symphony work of Margarita Ivanovna Kuss.
This web site does not set out to present detailed study of the relationship between M. Kuss and D. Shostakovich. The article’s authors have created it on the basis of documentary material, offering to readers an incomplete description only of a certain and important long term period of their relationship.
The letters written by Dmitri Dmitriyevich to Margarita, their meetings, testify that she has played an important role in his life. The other letters not mentioned here only outline the above. Those were serious relationships among two serious persons.
Margarita Ivanovna recalled Dmitri Dmitriyevich during the last period of her life. It was clear that this theme had been and remained in her heart. Once we found a photo of young Dmitri Dmitriyevich and showed it to her, she smiled and gently said: “Miten’ka”. This photo is in her site.
We know that Dmitri Dmitrievich made proposals to Margarita Ivanovna to marry him. They loved each other. But she did not want to change her life drastically. She was fully involved and dedicated to the process of composing. And composing called for solitude. MUSIC BOTH JOINED AND SEPARATED THEM.
Vladimir Kuus (the composer’s nephew) and Tatiana Kozlova.
* Moscow. All Union Publishers “Sovietsky Kompozitor”, 1980. “D.Shostakovich about the Time and Himself” 1926-1975, p.3.