Pavel Pereletsky

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Russian teacher from Rybinsk, born Pavel Alekseyevich Pereletsky (Павел Алексеевич Перелецкий).

When Pereletsky found out from newspaper reports that Tchaikovsky was working on an opera The Enchantress (based on a play by Ippolit Shpazhinsky) and that his next projected opera was The Captain's Daughter (based on Pushkin's historical novel), he wrote to the composer on 12/24 April 1885, warning him that such subjects were in his view unsuitable for musical treatment. Pereletsky exhorted him to write something in the vein of Yevgeny Onegin and suggested that he should use a subject from Turgenev's works: "On the Eve [Накануне], for example [...] You, who have created Pushkin's Tatyana, will surely also be able to create Turgenev's Yelena. And think also of Insarov (with a Slavic element in the music), or the sculptor Shubin — he would make a splendid tenore di grazia! And then the mutual love between Insarov and Yelena! And the secondary characters: Bersenev, Zoia (who could be a contralto — besides, in the novel she does sing a couple of romances) and so on..." [1].

Turgenev's novel On the Eve (1860) has as its heroine a high-minded young girl Yelena, who is yearning to find a worthy cause in which she might be of use to people rather than continue to enjoy the privileges of her class. She is courted by Shubin, a talented but flighty sculptor, but feels herself more drawn to an earnest philosophy student, Bersenev, who believes in the need to lead a life of duty and self-sacrifice. However, it is only when she meets Insarov, a Bulgarian who has come to Moscow in order to prepare himself for the imminent uprising of his fatherland against the Turkish oppressors, that she finds someone who she can both love and help in his life's mission. Although Insarov at first tries not to admit his feelings for her, since he fears that it would be a selfish betrayal of his country at the time of its direst need and knows that Yelena's aristocratic father would never consent to their marriage anyway, it is she who, like Tatyana in Pushkin's Yevgeny Onegin, takes the first step. She seeks out Insarov and confesses her love for him, saying that she is ready to follow him to the end of the world and share all his hardships. They are secretly married and finally leave Russia for Bulgaria, but their happiness is short-lived.

Quite apart from its poetic qualities, this novel made a strong impression on the new generation which emerged in Russia in the 1860s because of the heroine Yelena, whose sense of duty and self-sacrifice inspired many young people. It has been argued that Tchaikovsky's decision to propose to Antonina Milyukova after receiving her declaration of love sprung precisely from this ethos of duty which he shared with many of his generation [2].

As an opera subject, however, Tchaikovsky was not convinced by Pereletsky's enthusiastic suggestion and he explained why in his reply to him: "The Turgenev subject is unsuitable. That period is far too close to ours [...] Besides, the principal merit of the novel On the Eve lies in the fact that it provides a vivid reflection of a specific historical moment [in Russia] with all its political and social ferment, its struggles, tendencies etc. Music does not have the qualities necessary to illustrate literary works of this kind" [3].

The composer also explained in this letter why he did not in fact intend to attempt an operatic setting of The Captain's Daughter after all: "I have had discussions with people from the theatrical world — but they were not welcome discussions, because although there are many things in Pushkin which please me, the Pugachev incident frightens me, and after careful consideration I have decided to abandon the idea of writing an opera on this subject" [4].

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

One letter from Tchaikovsky to Pavel Pereletsky has survived, dating from 1885:

2 letters from Pavel Pereletsky to the composer, dating from 1885, are preserved in the Klin House-Museum archive.

Notes and References

  1. Quoted in: Музыкальное наследие Чайковского. Из историй его произведений (1958), p. 139. Translated by Luis Sundkvist.
  2. See also Eugene Onegin in the Age of Realism (2005).
  3. Letter 2690 to Pavel Pereletsky, 21 April/3 May 1885. Quoted (but unfortunately with ellipses) in: Музыкальное наследие Чайковского. Из историй его произведений (1958), p. 139. Passage translated by Luis Sundkvist.
  4. Letter 2690 to Pavel Pereletsky, 21 April/3 May 1885. Passage translated by Brett Langston.