César Cui (1835-1918). What Asiatic part-writing have we here?” scribbled Mily Balakirev into a manuscript by his student César Cui. Indeed, despite Cui’s obvious musical genius, his contemporaries felt free to criticize his deficiencies – most notably his lack of skill at orchestration. (Upon hearing Cui’s opera William Ratcliff, Rimsky-Korsakov groaned, “You can’t orchestrate an opera like that!“) Cui got his own back, though; during his many years as a music critic, he became known for the caustic wit with which he would skewer other composers and their works. Today, Cui is remembered for his delightful short pieces, as well as for the operas Ratcliff and The Stone Guest.
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