Alexandre Alyabiev passed away 160 years ago. The composer died being outcast, nobody even wrote an obituary for the occasion. Only some unknown admirer made on the grave tomb an engraving - a sharp-nosed little bird with an open beak - a singing nightingale...
"I cannot help crying hearing "Nightingale" by Alyabiev!!!",- the great Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsy exclaimed. And until present this charming romance, being a true embodiment of Russian lyricism, remains as a precious "music pearl", often crowning the repertoires of celebrated coloratura sopranos, national and foreign.
"Nightingale" was born in the Moscow city...prison. That was "a message of love", the composer's gift to his beloved, a darling lady Yekaterina Rimsky-Korsakov.
... By the end of winter of 1826 Moscow public watched with curiosity how robust young fellows pushed through the coated with iron gates of the city prison close to Kremlin the old style piano with bronze candlesticks. The piano cover opened itself repeatedly, demonstrating yellow teeth like keys, the carriers groaned, joking: "This is not a prison, but a conservatoire!"
Quite a few people knew, that in the most remote and wet cell of this dungeon the unusual prisoner was languishing - already widely known - the composer Alexandre Alyabiev. The offspring of an age-old noble family, son of the distinguished nobleman, brave officer, who demonstrated his valor in the war against Napoleon and decorated for that with tzar's awards. Being at the same time a reckless soul, reveller, gambler!
The premiere of his opera "Moon Night" in St. Petersburg had just had a tremendous success, and here you are - he finds himself behind bars! The ill fate brought Alyabiev into the prison - the most ridiculous incident, which in fact ruined all his life. During the card's game, arranged at the banquet in his home, he slapped the retired colonel Vremev in the face for his refusal to pay the lost sum (the Vremev's deed, according to officer's code, was considered as a disgrace). However thc colonel died suddenly in a day from heart attack and Alyabiev was accused of murder.
He went into the prison light-heartedly, since he was confident, that investigators would sort it out and his innocence would be proved. But the evil will ruled the composer's destiny. His case got to the negligent court officials, who committed monstrous violations, unthinkable even according to the autocracy's standards. The investigation procrastination lasted for three years. The relatives, friends, persons, close to the imperial court, pleaded for Alyabiev's case tirelessly. But it was all futile. Czar Nikolai the First kept silent as well. His indifference to Alyabiev's destiny was regarded as the reaction to the composer's being close to the Decembrists.
In the underground's dampness the composer caught rheumatism and began to lose his sight. The state of despair oppressed him. But suddenly came the salvation, which helped to restore the meaning of life and bring back his reason. The elder sister got after long efforts the permission to place in the cell the piano, a beloved friend from childhood years.
All the free time left from interrogation the prisoner spent at the keyboard having created exceptionally heartwarming music: the third string quartet G major, overture, music for vaudeville as well as several romances, among which - the celebrated "Nightingale". This precious musical jewel Alyabiev created thinking about his beloved Yekaterina Rimsky-Korsakov. Alyabiev was already 32 years old, when he met her at the New Year ball, on the eve of 1825. Having fallen in love, Alyabiev felt, that the girl's heart was responding to his feeling. Happiness seemed to be smiling upon him, but here an ill fate interfered...
So, missing in imprisonment his beloved, recalling her sweet voice (Katia was singing at the ball), the composer created the love song "Nightingale" to the lyric of Delvig. That was " a prison gift" to Katia for the new 1826.
In the Russian folk lyric poetry a nightingale is a free bird, a friend, a true winged messenger, a symbol of sweetness and tenderness. Creating this romance Alyabiev melted a few melodic versions of this theme, reflected in folk songs. The composer's generous lyrical talent was reflected in this composition with unusual brilliance.
Having fluttered out from the prison the Alybiev's "Nightingale" became immediately popular. Already on 7 January 1827 in Moscow Bolshoy Theatre this romance was performed by tenor Pavel Bulakhov. "Nightingale" was becoming popular and performed in concerts in nobility parlours.
In a private home this romance was heard by the glorious German singer Henriette Sontag, who came for a stay in Russia. She performed it with brilliance, adding her coloratura variations. Thus the "Nightingale" fame abroad began. The romance was performed with brilliance by the celebrated French singer Pauline Viardo-Garcia, renowned Spaniard Adelina Patti, and it was sung invariably in Russian at that.
In the days of traditional Mozart concerts in Salzburg "Nightingale" was always performed with compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert. Alyabiev melody attracted attention, was many times rearranged, reedited. Such famous composers as Mikhail Glinka and Ferentz List created magnificent piano transcriptions of this composition, and the repertories of violinists often include fantasy of outstanding Belgium musician Henry Vjetan on the theme of Alyabiev's "Nightingale".
Alexandre Alyabiev was convicted and condemned to exile for life in Siberia. The elder sister accompanied him at her own will in this exile. This sacrificial feat of a close relative eased and lit up, of course, the composer's hard life in captivity. It is known, that he devoted many his compositions to the sister.
On the eve of his departure to the drudgery land Alyabiev had to go through another emotional torture - the deprivation of nobility status, public civil punishment at the scaffold. The sword was broken over his head, the epaulettes and orders were torn away from the military uniform - and thrown into the fire...
Music saved humiliated, crushed Alyabiev. In the Siberian exile he literally never left the piano, creating new compositions- altogether 500 of them ! Many are still not read and wait for their time in the archives of Moscow conservatoire. He was especially fond of overtures and symphonies. The compositions of Alyabiev reached Moscow and St. Petersburg by different ways, were performed in the salons of best homes.
In 1829 the famous German traveller and naturalist Alexandre Humboldt passed through Tobolsk, where Alexandre Alyabiev lived in exile. The composer created in his honor the overture for choir with orchestra. Humboldt liked the composition very much, he took it with him to Berlin, where it was played for the first time. Alyabiev's fame was ever growing, he was nicknamed "Siberian Orpheus" and "Siberian Rossini". He waited for the relief of his fate.
As a result of incessant efforts by relatives on his behalf Alyabiev was allowed at last to travel to Caucasian medicinal springs to get treatment for his rheumatism. Here by a stroke of luck he met Yekaterina Rimsky-Korsakov, but his beloved was already a married lady.
Alyabiev became lucky only when he was 53. He married Yekaterina, when she became a widow. After incredible trials the authorities allowed the composer to settle near Moscow. He hoped for a quiet life in conciliation, but the troubles persisted to accompany him. His 37 years old wife lost the fortune because of relatives' intrigues and the family found itself in the snares of poverty - the composer's earnings were not enough for living. Alyabiev was suffering as well from the fact, that authorities did not return to him his noble's title. Yekaterina was tirelessly pleading for her husband, but the tzar remained inexorable.
The composer passed away "outcast". On the day of his death (3 March 1851) nobody even wrote an obituary. Only some unknown admirer made on the grave tomb an engraving - a sharp-nosed little bird with an open break - a singing nightingale.