, ,



In his 1952 memoir My Life, Russian émigré composer Alexander Gretchaninoff tells how simple carelessness nearly resulted in disaster.

In 1925 the composer and his wife were living in Paris. He went to Rome to conduct two concerts, the second of which was to include his Third Symphony and excerpts from his opera Dobrinya Nikititch. During the night before the first rehearsal, Gretchaninoff began to feel nervous. He slipped away from a reception to go back to his hotel for a last-minute look at the wind instrument parts. He was shocked to find that he had brought the wrong music.

He came up with the idea of sending a telegram to a neighbor, who could give the missing wind parts to a friend leaving for Rome the next day. In the meantime, the nervous composer devoted two full Monday rehearsals to the finale of the second act of his opera.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

On Tuesday morning neither the friend nor the missing parts showed up at the train station in Rome. What was he supposed to do now, Gretchaninoff wondered, devote another two rehearsals to the same section of the opera? Before Wednesday’s rehearsals the friend arrived at last–but empty-handed. Gretchaninoff’s neighbor had been unable to find her before she left for Rome.

Gretchaninoff tried to think of an excuse–illness, a sudden need to skip town? “What other alternative is open to me?” he asked himself. “Put a bullet through my brain?”

For the Wednesday morning rehearsal he worked on just the string parts of the symphony and gave some inaudible excuse for dismissing the wind players. By the time of the evening rehearsal he was beginning to feel ill in earnest.

Finally his wife arrived with a telegram from the neighbor. He had persuaded a Rome-bound passenger to take the wind parts. The next morning a joyful Alexander Gretchaninoff had the missing parts in hand, and the two concerts proved profitable enough to support him for the year to come.

Related Stories