Diaries (April 1884)

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Tchaikovsky's Diary No. 3 covers his stay at his sister Aleksandra's residence at Kamenka in the Ukraine, with the first entry being made on the day of his arrival, 12/24 April 1884, accompanied by his valet Aleksey Sofronov ("Alyosha").

At this time Aleksandra, known to the composer as "Sasha", was away in Saint Petersburg, to bring home her 12-year-old son Vladimir ("Bob") and 15-year-old daughter Natalya ("Tasya") home from their respective schools; they were expected to return home later that month.

Aleksandra and her husband Lev Davydov (1837-1896), had three more daughters: Tatyana ("Tanya", aged 22), Vera (aged 21), Anna (aged 19), and two sons: Dmity ("Mitya", aged 13) and Yury ("Uka", aged 7).

Also living at Kamenka were Lev's mother, Aleksandra Ivanovna Davydova (née Potapova; 1802-1895) and her unmarried daughters, Aleksandra Vasilyevna (1825-1917) and Yelizaveta Vasilyevna ("Lizaveta", 1823-1904)—collectively known by Tchaikovsky as the "old ladies", as well as numerous relatives and friends.

Text and Translation

The following diary entries were first published in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), p. 11-17, edited and with notes by the composer's brother Ippolit. They were also translated into English by Wladimir Lakond in The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 23-30, and into German by Ernst Kuhn and Hans-Joachim Grimm in P. I. Tschaikowsky. Die Tagebücher (1992), p. 11-17.

The new English translation and detailed commentary published here for the first time was prepared by Philip Taylor, Alexander Poznansky and Brett Langston, with reference to the original texts preserved in the Tchaikovsky House-Museum at Klin, and corrects some errors in previous editions.


Thursday 12/24 April 1884

12 апр[еля]. Еще спал до самой Фундуклеевки. Резкий, холодный ветер. Никто не встречал, но, приехавши, я застал Лёвушку вставшим. Беседа, чай. (Я в периоде бешеной страсти к чаю.) Письма. Посещение старушек. В большом доме самая сердечная встреча. Милые они!!! Сидел там долго. Письма Таси. Пришел Лёва, и вместе с ним я был у Ник[олай] Вас[ильевич]. Видел там похудевшую, милую Варю с Акселем. Обед втроем: Лёва, Сестрица и я. Сестрицыны россказни и жалобы на Пелагею Осип[овну] за и после обеда. Прогулка в Дубков-яр. Фиалки. Холод. Дома чай, письма к Моде, Толе, Над[ежде] Фил[аретовне], Юрг[енсону], Кондр[атеве]. Ужин вдвоем с Лёвой. Флегонт пришел, и мы сыграли 4 робера в винт с покупкой. На дворе воет холодный северный ветер. 12 April. Slept right up to Fundukleyevka [1]. A biting, cold wind. No one met me [at the station], but on arriving, I found Levushka already up [2]. Conversation, tea. (I'm going through a period of intense fondness for tea). Letters. Visit to the old ladies. The most cordial welcome in the big house [3]. The ladies are charming!!![4] Sat there for a long time. Tasya's letters. Lev came, and together we called on Nikolay Vasilyevich [5]. Here I saw dear Varvara, who has grown thin, and Axel[6]. Dinner for three: Lev, Sestritsa [7], and me. Sestritsa's cock-and-bull stories and complaints against Pelageya [8] during and after dinner. Stroll to Dubkov-Yar [9]. Violets. Cold weather. Tea at home, letters to Modest, Anatoly, Nadezhda Filaretovna, Jurgenson, Kondratyev [10]. Supper alone with Lev. Flegont [11] came and we played four rubbers of vint for stakes [12]. A cold, northerly wind is howling outside.

Friday 13/25 April 1884

13 апреля. Встал поздно. Холод продолжается. Напившись чаю, пошел к Лёве, который вскоре уехал, а я остался бренчать и кое-что новое выдумывать. Наткнулся на идею концерта для ф[орте]п[иано], но вышло уж слишком жалко и не ново. Погулял по саду. Обедал вдвоем—сестрица нездорова. Играл Иродиаду Massenet. Гулял недолго по дороге к Покр[овской] Экономии. Пил чай дома. Очень долго сидел в большом доме сначала в столовой за обедом, потом у Ал[ександрой] Ив[ановной], которой снес свой портрет. С Лёвой домой вернулся. Читал Отто Яна. После ужина настоящий винт с Ром[аном] Ефим[ович] и Бистерфельдом. 13 April. I rose late. The cold weather continues. After tea I went to see Lev, who soon went off, and I remained to strum, and to think up something new [13]. Stumbled across the idea for a piano concerto, but it proved too pathetic and unoriginal. Strolled around the garden. Dinner for two—Sestritsa is unwell. Played Massenet's Hérodiade. Short walk along the road towards the Pokrovsky Farm. Drank tea at home. Sat for a very long time in the big house, at first in the dining room during dinner, then with Aleksandra Ivanovna, for whom I brought my photograph. Returned home with Lev. Read Otto Jahn [14]. After supper played a proper game of vint with Roman Yefimovich [15] and Biesterfeldt.

Saturday 14/26 April 1884

14 апр[еля]. Поздно встал опять. Визиты к о[тцу] Александру, у коего видел выросшую как каланча Любу и милого его больного сынишку, и у Плесских, где не застал Влад[имир] Андр[еевич], но видел Бориса, Мишу, Долю, Юл[ию] Ив[ановне], Англичанина с Григи, Гришу и Лёву. Первые трое играли. За обедом была сестрица и Сабанеев. Сестрица получила письмо от своего должника-полковника и очень забавно отзывалась о его честности, а потом мне пришлось писать для нее ответ ему. Ужасный, невероятный северо-восточный ветер продолжает дуть, но я геройски отбыл прогульную повинность по Николаевскому полю. Дома писал письма (брату Коле, Левицкому, Тане, Taнееву), читал записки Лопухина. Винт после ужина втроем с Лёвой и Флегонтом. Ужасно не везло. Продолжаю бездействовать и не иметь ни малейшего вдохновения. 14 April. Rose late again. Made visits to Father Alexander [16], where I saw Lyuba [17] who has grown as tall as a bean-pole, and his dear sick little son, then to the Plesskys [18], where Vladimir Andreyevich was out, but where I saw Boris, Misha, Dolya, Yuliya Ivanovna, the Englishman [19] with Grigi [20], Grigory and Lev [21]. The first three were playing a game. Sestritsa and Sabaneyev [22] were present at dinner. Sestritsa has received a letter from the colonel [23] who is in debt to her, and in the most amusing way spoke about his honesty, and then I had to write her a reply to him. The horrible, unimaginable north-east wind continues to blow, but heroically I did my walking duty over the Nikolayev field. Back home I wrote letters (to brother Nikolay, Levitsky, Tanya, Taneyev) [24], and read Lopukhin's memoirs [25]. After supper played vint for three with Lev and Flegont. Terribly unlucky. I continue to be idle and lacking the slightest inspiration.

Sunday 15/27 April 1884

15 апр[еля]. Воскр[есенье]. Погода немножко поправляется, однако ж утром я все же с трудом совершил свою прогулку в Дубков-яр. Завтрак дома с ветеринаром и гостем из Смелы. Сидел дома, читал по-английски грелся у камина. Приходил Никол[ай] Вас[ильевич] с Лёвой. Обед в больш[ом] доме. Было как-то скучно и тяжело. Причиною тому, вероятно, Вера Вас[ильевна]. Все были усталые и унылые. Англичанин напугал меня предложением уроков. Винт дома с Флегонтом и Сабанеевым. Я выиграл. К обедне сегодня не попал, но Даньку встретил после прогулки и дал ему привезенную библию и книги. 15 April. Sunday. The weather is improving slightly, although this morning it was an effort to take my walk to Dubkov-Yar. Breakfast at home with the veterinarian and a guest from Smela. Sat at home, reading English, and warming myself by the hearth. Nikolay Vasilyevich came with Lev. Dinner in the big house. It was somehow tedious and oppressive. The reason was probably Vera Vasilyevna [26]. Everyone was tired and in low spirits. The Englishman frightened me by proposing lessons. Vint at home with Flegont and Sabaneyev. I won. Did not make it to mass today, but met Danka [27] after my walk and gave him books and the Bible I'd brought.

Monday 16/28 April 1884

16 апреля. Встал в 9 час[ов]. Погода светлая и хотя все-таки ветер,—но все же весна. Был у меня Вл[адимир] Андр[еевич], коего увидел в первый раз после его болезни. Все время до обеда провел в Тростянке, собирая фиалки и глубоко наслаждаясь. Даня увидел и принес мне цветов. За обедом сестрица потешала своей изумительной странностью. И в Тростянке, и дома после обеда пытался положить основы новой симфонии,—но все недоволен. Приходили ко мне Лиз[авета], Алекс[андрей] и Вера Вас[ильевна]. Гулял по саду и изобрел семя будущей не симфонии, а сюиты. За ужином ветеринар и Ник[олай]. Винт втроем с Флег[онтом]. Колоссальное мое несчастье. 16 April. Rose at 9 o'clock. The weather is bright, and although it is still windy, it's spring all the same. Vladimir Andreyevich came to see me; it's the first time I've seen him since his illness. I spent all the time until lunch in Trostyanka [28], gathering violets and having a thoroughly enjoyable time. Danya saw me and brought me some flowers. At lunch Sestritsa entertained us by her amazing eccentricity. While in Trostyanka, and at home after lunch, I tried to lay the foundation of a new symphony, but I am still dissatisfied [29]. Yelizaveta, Aleksandra, and Vera Vasilyevna came to see me. Walked around the garden and came up with the seed not of a future symphony, but of a suite [30]. The veterinarian and Nikolay were at supper. Vint for three with Flegont. Colossal misfortune for me.

Tuesday 17/29 April 1884

17 апр[еля]. Утром, несмотря на лютый холодный ветер, ходил в Тростянку, где нашел относительное затишье. Кое-какие мыслёнки записал. Обедали вдвоем. Музицировал. Английский язык. Винт вчетвером с Романом Ефимовичем и Флегонтом. Мне очень не везло. 17 April. This morning, despite the bitterly cold wind, I walked to Trostyanka, where I found relative calm. Noted down some ideas [31]. Lunch for three. Played music. English language. Vint for four with Roman Yefimovich and Flegont. Very unlucky for me.

Wednesday 18/30 April 1884

18 апр[еля]. Опять Тростянка и записыванье жалких мыслёнок. За обедом Вл[адимир] Андр[еевич] был. Визит в большой дом и к M-me Круаза (во время урока Флегонта).—Английский язык после чая. Прогулка к мельницам. Погода сегодня гораздо лучше, даже хороша. У меня сидел Флегонт. За ужином Ник[олай] Вас[ильевич], Ром[ан] Еф[имович] и Флегонт. Винт. Отъезд Лёвы в Елисаветград. 18 April. Went to Trostyanka again and noted down some pitiful ideas. Vladimir Andreyevich was at lunch. Visit to the big house and to Mrs Croazot [32] (during Flegont's lesson). English language after tea [33]. Stroll to the mills. The weather is much better today, even fine. Flegont sat with me. Nikolay Vasilyevich, Roman Yefimovich and Flegont were at supper. Vint. Lev left for Yelisavetgrad [34].

Thursday 19 April/1 May 1884

19 апр[еля]. Не совсем здоровым проснулся—с насморком и лихорадочным состоянием. Совершил прогулку через скалы к станции и домой. Завтракал один у себя. Гулял опять (погода наконец великолепная), пил чай, долго играл (без толку), обедал в большом доме, полубольной вернулся домой, ходил в сад смотреть на даль при чудном закате, читал, пил чай и играл в винт вдвоем с Флегонтом в кабинете Лёвы. Злился на неудачи. Очень недоволен собой по причине казенности всего, что в голову лезет. Выдохся я, что ли? С трудом писал Над[ежде] Филар[етовне]. 19 April. Awoke feeling not quite well—with a cold and in a feverish condition. Accomplished my walk across the cliffs towards the station and back home. Took breakfast alone in my room. Walked again (the weather is magnificent at last), drank tea, played for a long time (to no purpose), took lunch in the big house, returned home feeling semi-ill, went into the garden to gaze into the distance at the marvellous sunset, drank tea, and played vint for two with Flegont in Lev's study. Was angered by my lack of luck. Was very dissatisfied with myself on account of the banality of everything which creeps into my head. Am I played out? Wrote to Nadezhda Filaretovna with difficulty [35].

Friday 20 April/2 May 1884

20 апр[еля]. Погода чудная. Все утро в Тростянке. Сердился, возвратившись домой, что завтрак не готов. После завтрака читал по-английски, устал и дремал. В доме играл и кое-что отметил в записной книжечке. Обед в большом доме. После обеда разговоры о Шопенгауэре, Толстом и т. д. Я делаюсь все глупее и глупее. Как только серьезный разговор—голова пуста совершенно. Дома писал Толе. Получена депеша о выезде Саши из Москвы. Известил Лёву. Винт вдвоем с Флегонтом. Везло,—но какая скука. 20 April. The weather is superb. Spent all morning at Trostyanka. Was annoyed on returning home that breakfast was not ready. After breakfast read English, grew tired and dozed off. At the house I played the piano and jotted something down in my notebook. Lunch in the big house. After lunch there was a discussion about Schopenhauer and Tolstoy, etc. I am becoming more and more stupid. Whenever the conversation turns to serious things my head is completely empty. At home I wrote to Anatoly [36]. A telegram came about Sasha's departure from Moscow. Informed Lev. Vint for two with Flegont. I was fortunate—but what a bore.

Saturday 21 April/3 May 1884

21 апр[еля]. Великолепный, слегка серенький денек. Ходил вдоль линии к Косаре. Лёва, возвратившийся из Елисаветграда в 7 час[ов] утра, спал до 12. Возвратившись, ходил поздравлять с именинами Алекс[андру] Ив[ановну]. Обедал с Лёвой, Сабанеевым и г. Обручевым. Занимался английским языком, и не успел оглянуться, как пришлось 2-й раз идти обедать в большой дом. Были кроме нас Стали. Вечером винт вчетвером с Флег[онтом] и Сабанеевым. Приходил Ник[олай] Вас[ильевич] и раздражил мне болтовней нервы до крайности. 21 April. Superb, slightly grey day. Walked along the railway line towards Kosara [37]. Lev returned from Yelisavetgrad at 7 o'clock in the morning and slept until 12. On my return, I went to congratulate Aleksandra Ivanovna on her name-day. Had lunch with Lev, Sabaneyev and Mr Obruchev [38]. Studied English, and before I had time to think, I had to go for a second time for a meal in the big house. Besides ourselves, the Stahls [39] were there. In the evening there was vint for four with Flegont and Sabaneyev. Nikolay Vasilyevich came and upset my nerves dreadfully with his prattling.

Sunday 22 April/4 May 1884

22 апр[еля]. Воскр[есеиье]. Мимо ярмарки по Смелянской дороге и полем за Тростянкой пошел на станцию встречать наших. Сидели в садике в компании в ожидании поезда. Радостное свидание. Боб. Шел с Натой пешком домой. Боб у меня. Обед. Очень долго читал прелестную вещь (Shefferd-pacha). Немножко скучал потом и не знал, как убить время. Ходил на Николаевское поле; сидел на обрыве у канавы; собирал, т. е. уничтожал, бурачных жуков, которые по насыпи совершают теперь какое-то переселение. Собирал дома автографы для поднесения Моде к дню рождения. Григи и Боб заставили смотреть на свое стреляные. Броун. За ужином Саша рассказывала про священника о[тца] Ивана, совершающего теперь чудеса в Петербурге. Винт впятером: мне не везло, и я злился ужасно. Читал сейчас 1-ю книгу Царств. 22 April. Sunday. Walked to the station to meet our folk, passing the fair along the Smelyansky road and across the field beyond Trostyanka. We sat in the garden in a group awaiting the arrival of the train. Joyful encounter. Bob. Went home with Nata [40] on foot. Bob with me. Lunch. I spent a very long time reading something delightful (Shepherd-pacha) [41]. Felt a little bored, and couldn't think how to kill the time. Walked to the Nikolayev field; sat on the bank by the ditch; gathered up, i.e. killed the beetroot beetles which are now making a sort of migration along the embankment. At home I gathered together the autographs so I can present them to Modya on his birthday [42]. Grigi and Bob made me watch their shooting. Brown. At supper Sasha told us about the priest, Father Ivan [43], who is performing miracles in Petersburg. Vint for five: I was out of luck, and was dreadfully angry. Have just been reading the 1st book of Kings.

Monday 23 April/5 May 1884

23 апр[еля]. Узнал утром, что у Лёвы ночью сильно голова болела, так что за доктором посылали. Далекая прогулка на поля за Тростянкой. Засуха, пыль. Обед с гостями—лысым и доктором. Сестрица Наст[асья] Васильевна. Ходил в большой дом поздравлять Алекс[андру] Вас[ильевну]. Сидели в гостиной. Саша рассказывала про придворные новости, а Вера Вас[ильевна] попала в обычный свой тон. Чай дома. Прогулка без приятности и сидение у Кирпичного завода. Письмо к Эмме в ответ на ее признания. Ужин. Вера Вас[ильевна] и Стали. Бутаковское гонение на винте. Винт в два приема. Было много Z. Ах, какой я урод человек! 23 April. Learned this morning that last night Lev had such a severe headache the doctor was sent for. A long stroll to the fields beyond Trostyanka. Drought, dust [44]. Lunch with some guests: the bald man and the doctor. Sestritsa Nastasya Vasilyevna. Went over to the big house to congratulate Aleksandr Vasilyevich. We sat in the drawing-room. Sasha told us the court news, and Vera Vasilyevna adopted her usual tone. Tea at home. Strolled without enjoyment and sat near the Brick Works. Letter to Emma in reply to her confession [45]. Supper. Vera Vasilyevna and the Stahls. Butakova's persecution during vint [46]. Vint in two sittings. There was much Z. Ah, what a monster of a person I am! [47].

Tuesday 24 April/6 May 1884

24 апр[еля]. 11 часов. Сейчас стукнет 44 года. Как много прожито и, по правде, без ложной скромности, как мало сделано! Даже в моем настоящем деле: ведь, положа руку на сердце, ничего совершенного, образцового нет. Все еще ищу, колеблюсь, шатаюсь. А в другом? Ничего не читаю, ничего не знаю. Только на винт трачу бездну золотого времени. Но думаю, что и здоровью не поздоровится от него. Сегодня я так злился, так раздражался, что кажется, еще миг—и безобразную сцену ненависти и злобы готов сделать. Вообще сегодня я много злился, и период спокойной, ничем не смущаемой, тихой жизни миновал. Много суеты, много коробящего, много такого, чего маньяк моих лет равнодушно переносить не может. Нет, пора жить у себя и по-своему.

Все утро прошло в приятной прогулке. В канаве у Ребедайловского поля нашел целые гнезда каких-то особенно душистых фиалок, таких, что комната моя от маленького букетика весь день переполнена ароматом. После обеда сидел в гостиной и смеялся выходкам сестрицы. Ее удивленье, что у Кат[ерины] Андр[еевны] Алексеевой большой сын,—великолепно. Едва успел вечернюю прогулку (к мельницам) совершить, как позвали ужинать,—это новый распорядок. Я страдал от голода и от невнимания ко мне. Оно мелочно,—но к чему скрывать, что и такой пустяк может злить меня. Потом винт и злость без конца. Приходила Бутакова. Елисаветградский пьянино оказался пуфом; я сижу без ф[орте]п[иано]. Посылал Алёшу с Василием искать,—как будто есть надежда. Боб весь день восхищал мои взоры; как он несравненно мил в своем беленьком костюмчике. Юрий свалился с лошади и ушибся сегодня утром. Получил расчет из кассы музыкант[ов] в Петерб[урге] и сейчас же написал просьбу о ссуде 300 р[ублей].

24 April. 11 o'clock. My 44th birthday is almost upon me. How much I have lived through, and in truth, without false modesty, how little has been done! Even in my proper sphere of work—if I put my hand on my heart—there is nothing perfect, nothing outstanding. I am still searching, still wavering, still faltering [48]. And in other matters? I do not read anything, I do not know anything. I waste so much precious time on vint alone, which I think is troublesome for my health. Today I was so furious, so irritated, that I seemed to be just a moment away from creating an ugly scene of hatred and spite. In generally I've been really angry all day, and that the chance of a peaceful, calm life, undisturbed by anything, has passed. There is much fussing about, much that jars on me, much of that sort of thing a maniac of my age cannot tolerate indifferently [49]. No, it is time to have my own place and live in my own way.

I spent the entire morning taking a pleasant stroll. In the ditch near the Rebedaylov field I found whole clumps of some sort of especially fragrant violets, so fragrant that for the entire day my room has been filled with the perfume from just one small bouquet of them. After lunch I sat in the drawing-room and laughed at the antics of Sestritsa. Her astonishment that Yekaterina Andreyevna Alekseyeva [50] has a grown up son is quite marvellous. I scarcely managed to take an evening stroll (towards the mills) before the call for supper came—this is a new routine. I suffered from hunger and from a disregard for me. It is petty—but why conceal that such a trifle can anger me. Then came vint and annoyance in the extreme. Butakova arrived. The piano from Yelisavetgrad turned out to be a phantom; I am left without a piano. Sent Alyosha and Vasily to seek one out—as if there were any hope. All day Bob was a sight to behold; how incomparably sweet he looks in his little white suit. This morning Yury fell from his horse and injured himself. I received an account from the musicians' fund in Petersburg and have just written asking for a loan of 300 roubles.

Wednesday 25 April/7 May 1884

25 апр[еля]. Алёша поздравил с большою нежностью. После чаю совершил большущую прогулку на Николаевское поле. Я думал, судя по вчерашнему, что все забыли о дне моего рождения,—но ошибся. Поздравляли и пили шампанское. Приходили поочередно из большого дома и Ром[ан] Еф[имович]. Приехала П. Чай в доме. Письмок Моде и Английский язык. Был в большом доме и сидел во время обеда. (Ал[ександры] Ив[ановны] не было,—она в Пруссах.) Испугавшись слов Веры Вас[ильевны] о том, что хорошо было бы прогуляться, удрал. Сидел против мельниц. Истреблял жуков на насыпи. Фортепьяно от г. Дружины. Какое-то недоразумение, грозящее мне лишением его, т. е. ф[орте]п[иано]. Ужин, во время коего беседа с П. Винт. Раздражительность, но меньшая в сравнении с вчерашним днем. Появление Веры Вас[ильевны], Вари и Ник[олая] Вас[ильевича]. Телеграммы из Петерб[урга] и Москвы. 25 April. Alyosha congratulated me with great affection. After tea I completed a huge walk to the Nikolayev field. I thought, judging by yesterday, that everyone had forgotten about my birthday—but I was wrong. I received congratulations and we drank champagne. People came by turns from the big house, and Roman Yefimovich too. P arrived [51]. Tea at home. Letter to Modya [52] and English language. Was in the big house and sat whilst lunch was in progress. (Aleksandra Ivanovna wasn't there—she is in Prussy [53].) Took fright when Vera Vasilyevna said that it would be good to take a stroll, and took to my heels. Sat opposite the mills. Killed the beetles on the embankment. A piano from Mr Druzhina. Some sort of mix-up which threatened to deprive me of it, i.e. the piano. Supper, during which I chatted with P. Vint. Irritation, but less than yesterday. Vera Vasilyevna, Varya and Nikolay Vasilyevna appeared. Telegrams from Petersburg and Moscow.

Thursday 26 April/8 May 1884

26 апр[еля]. Я какая-то амбулирующая злоба. Из-за того что Саша с наслаждением обремизила меня в пяти червах без трех, я до бешенства разозлился, тем более что из великодушия, ввиду ее сегодняшнего несчастия в игре, уступил было ей (мы играли втроем) только что перед тем игру в трефах. Каково? Это чувства пользующегося известностью художника? Эх! Петр Ильич, стыдно, батюшка! Впрочем, я сутра не по себе. Отвратительное состояние желудка начинает серьезно отравлять жизнь. Утром с величайшим усилием работал (скерцо). За обедом опять-таки немножко злился. Ходил в Никол[аевское] поле. Было сыро, ветрено, хмуро,—но дождя не дождались. Чай пил у себя. Потом еще пописал. Боб со мной ходил по саду и ко мне заходил. Ах, что за прелесть этот Боб! После ужина (злился) винт втроем. Эх, жизнь! 26 April. I'm some sort of ambulatory malice. It's all because Sasha took pleasure in beating me in hearts that I flew into a rage, all the more so since, out of magnanimity for her back luck in playing today (we were playing a three-handed game) I had almost just allowed her a game in clubs. How about that? Are these the feelings of a renowned artist? Ah! Pyotr Ilych, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! But then since this morning I have been out of sorts. The hideous condition of my stomach is beginning seriously to poison my existence. Worked with the greatest effort this morning (the scherzo). At lunch I was rather irritable again. Walked to the Nikolayev field. It was damp, windy and gloomy—but the expected rain did not come. I drank tea in my room. Then still more writing. Bob walked around the garden with me and then he dropped in to see me. Ah, what a delight this Bob is! After supper (I was irritable) there was a game of three-handed vint. Such is life!

Friday 27 April/9 May 1884

27 апр[еля]. Холодно опять. После небольшой прогулки все утро занимался: пошло лучше теперь. Сердился за обедом за крайнюю безалаберность, царствующую в порядках дома. Между началом обеда и вторым кушаньем прошло более получаса. Являлись все поочередно... Очень хорошо и много ходил и благодаря умеренности чувствовал себя хорошо. Дома пили чай вместе (Вера Вас[ильевна]); сидел у себя у окна и беседовал с Натой и Бобом (верхом; ах, что за совершенство этот Боб!). Писал письма. После чая пошли все в большой дом. Я с Бобом смотрел иллюстрации. Рассказы Лиз[аветы] Вас[ильевны]. 27 April. Cold again. After a short stroll I worked all morning: things are going better now. I was angry at lunch because of the extreme disorderliness which reigns over all the arrangements in the house. More than half an hour elapsed between the start of lunch and the second course. Everyone appeared by turns... I had a very good long walk, and thanks to moderation, felt well in myself. At home we drank tea together (Vera Vasilyevna); sat in my room near the window and chatted with Nata and Bob (on horseback; ah, how perfect this Bob is!). Wrote letters [54]. After tea everyone went to the big house. I looked at some illustrations with Bob. Lizaveta Vasilyevna's stories.

Saturday 28 April/10 May 1884

28 апр[еля]. Этот винт втроем до того меня раздражает, что я начинаю бояться, как бы это на здоровье не повлияло. Опять злился до остервенения и ненависти. А отказаться от игры нет силы. День сегодня между тем был чрезвычайно удачный, во-1-х, потому, что работа отлично шла, во-2-х, потому, что желудок в порядке. Зато погода подгуляла: чисто Каменская, т. е. отчаянно бешеный ветер с тучами (буквально) пыли. Утром гулял по саду с Бобом (какая он душечка!). После обеда ходил среди океана пыл и в Пляковские лесики. За чаем Саша обедала; были Броун, Буталенок и т. д. Мне очень приятно, когда за обедом по-английски говорят; начинаю понимать, но сестрица всегда на самом интересном месте помешает. После чая занимался. Был в церкви у всенощной с Сашей (пасхальный канон). После ужина был столь разозливший меня винт. Лёва не приехал. Написал в Дирекцию насчет Опричника. 28 April. This three-handed vint is annoying me so much that I'm beginning to worry that it's having an affect on my health. I was in a fury to the point of frenzy and hatred. But I haven’t the strength to resist playing cards. That aside, today has proved an extremely good day, in the first place because my work went excellently, and secondly because my stomach was in order. On the other hand the weather was poor: pure Kamenka weather, i.e. a dreadful, raging wind with clouds (quite literally) of dust. This morning I took a stroll around the garden with Bob (he is such a darling!). After lunch I set out amid a sea of dust for the Plyakov woods. Sasha had lunch at tea-time; Brown, Butalyonok [55], etc, were there. I find it very pleasant to hear English spoken at lunch; I'm beginning to understand, but Sestritsa always interrupts at the most interesting moments. After tea I worked. Was in church with Sasha for the All-Night Vigil (the Easter Canon). After supper came the game of vint which gets me so irritated. Lev didn't arrive. Wrote to the Directorate about The Oprichnik [56].

Sunday 29 April/11 May 1884

29 апр[еля]. Воскр[есенье]. Увлекся утренним чтением газет и попал к обедне уже к задостойнику. Стоял слева. Причащался Сашик Бутаков. Заходил к Алекс[андре] Ивановне. Работал. Кончил скерцо. После обеда (Пелагея Осип[овна]) ходил к Ребедайловке. Пил чай у себя с лаской. Вместе с Сашей, Натой и Пелагеей Осип[овной] ходил к Плесским. Была M-me Ласковская. За ужином Боб и Григи удивляли рассказами о своих прыжках на pas de géants. Игры не было. Сидел все время у Саши в гостиной. Bêtes parlantes, иллюстрации, Броун. Дождь шел. Ждали Лёву. Он приехал уже в 1-м часу. Купил имение для Мекков. 29 April. Sunday. Was engrossed in reading the newspaper during the morning, and only made it to liturgy in time for the It is Meet. Stood to the left. Little Sasha Butakov took communion. Called in on Aleksandra Ivanovna. Worked. Finished the scherzo [57]. After lunch (Pelageya Osipovna) took a stroll to Rebedaylovka. Drank tea in my room with endearments. Strolled over to the Plesskys with Sasha, Nata and Pelageya Osipovna. Mrs Laskovskaya was there. At supper, Bob and Grigi astonished me with stories about their jumping on the pas de géants. There was no card-playing. Sat with Sasha all the time in the drawing-room. Bêtes parlantes, illustrations, Brown. The rain came. We waited for Lev. When he arrived it was after midnight. He has bought an estate for the Mecks [58].

Monday 30 April/12 May 1884

30 апр[еля]. И к чему я это играю в винт? Кроме расстройства и злости, ничего не выходит. Опять проиграл и все время едва сдерживал бешенство. День в отношении погоды отвратительный. Писал весь день вальс к сюите, но далеко не с уверенностью, что это вполне хорошо. После обеда (без Саши, но с Влад[имиром] Андр[еевичем]) с величайшим усилием совершил прогулку по Смелянской дор[оге] в Тростянку. Ветер был ужасный. После чая бегал на Pas de géants с Бобом, Григой и Броуном. Английским усердно занимался до самого ужина. Приходила Вера Вас[ильевна]. Говорили про Фейгину, Надину, Damaln и т. д. 30 April. Why is it I play vint? Besides irritability and malice nothing comes from it. I lost again, and all the time I scarcely held back my fury. As regards the weather, the day was horrible. Spent the entire day writing the waltz for the suite, but far from being certain that this is entirely good. After lunch (without Sasha, but with Vladimir Andreyevich) took a walk with the greatest effort along the Smelyansky road to Trostyanka. The wind was awful. After tea ran on the Pas de géants with Bob, Grigi and Brown. Assiduously studied English right up to supper time. Vera Vasilyevna arrived. Discussion about Feygina, Nadina, Damaln, etc.

Notes and References

  1. Fundukleyevka was a railway station south of Kamenka. On this occasion Tchaikovsky travelled to Kamenka via Kharkov, rather than Kiev as usual, travelling the Fastov line, constructed in 1876 through Belaya Tserkov, Korsun, Smela, Kamenka and Znamenka, where it connected with the Kiev to Odessa and Kharkov to Nikolayev railways.
  2. Tchaikovsky later wrote about his arrival in Letter 2463 to his brother Anatoly: "Lev was very glad to see me, and was also greatly pleased to meet him. I was also very pleased to enter my shoddy old room, which I only love because it is mine, in the way that I would love my own little house.
  3. The composer's nephew Yury Davydov later recalled that: "The house in which Aleksandra Ivanovna Davydova lived with her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren [...] was called the 'big house', although it was not particularly large in size. Lev Davydov's house was called 'the little homestead' (малый двор), or often 'the homestead', sounding a note of disdain". See Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 12.
  4. Yury Davydov recalled of his grandmother Aleksandra that "until her last days her daughters Yelizaveta and Aleksandra were almost constant companions. Both remained unmarried, devoting all their lives to their mother" — see Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 8-15). Tchaikovsky loved all three of them, according to his brother Modest, calling them "our three angels" — see Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 189).
  5. Nikolay Vasilyevich Davydov (1826-1916), Lev's elder brother. He and his family lived in a separate house, called the "green one". See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 16-17; also Aleksandr Davydov, Воспоминания: 1881-1955 [Recollections: 1881-1955] (Paris, 1982), p. 22-26.
  6. Varvara Nikolayevna Davydova (1864-1942), Nikolay Davydov's daughter, and her husband Axel Samberg.
  7. Tchaikovsky's cousin on his father's side, Anastasia Vasilyevna Popova (1807-1894), known to the composer and his family as 'Sestritsa' = 'Little Sister'.
  8. Pelageya Osipovna Kostetsky, governess to the Davydov children.
  9. A grove of oak trees at Kamenka.
  10. See Letter 2461 to Nadezhda von Meck, Letter 2463 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, and Letter 2464 to Modest Tchaikovsky. The composer's letters of this date to Pyotr Jurgenson and Nikolay Kondratyev appear not to have survived.
  11. Flegont Biesterfeldt, tutor to Lev Davydov's children.
  12. Vint, a card game based on whist and preference, a Russian forerunner of bridge. More about vint, see Vadim Bakhirev, Русский карточный игрок [The Russian card player] (Saint Petersburg, 1880), p. 114-120.
  13. A few months previously Tchaikovsky described his plans to write something new at Kamenka. In Letter 2444 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 23 February/6 March 1884, he wrote: "I think that I will start composing a symphony in Kamenka". After meeting with Alexander III at his residence in Gatchina, Tchaikovsky confessed in Letter 2454 to Nadezhda von Meck on 13/25 March 1884: "I feel an excess of vigour and I am burning with impatience to come to grips with some new, big task. Of course, it is only at Kamenka that I will be able to carry out my intentions".
  14. Otto Jahn (1813-1869), German scholar best known for his three-volume biography of Mozart (Leipzig, 1856-59).
  15. Roman Yefimovich Derichenko, the physician at Kamenka. See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 37-38.
  16. Aleksandr Tarnavich (1834-1910), priest at Kamenka; he also played the violin. Tchaikovsky helped him and his family financially and consulted with him during the composition of sacred choral works. See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 39-41.
  17. The elder daughter of Aleksandr Tarnavich.
  18. Vladimir Andreyevich Plessky—nicknamed "Baldy" (Лысый) or "the bald man" by Tchaikovsky—was the manager of Nikolay Davydov's estate, and landowner of the neighbouring estate at Yanovka. The composer had friendly relations with Vladimir and his Swiss-born wife Yuliya (who was also governess to Lev Davydov's daughters), and their children Boris, Mikhail and Dolya. See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 36.
  19. Brown, an Englishmen who taught the children of Lev's younger brother Aleksey (1846-1909).
  20. Grigory Ivanovich Butakov ("Grigi"), the older son of Lev Davydov's sister Vera Butakova.
  21. Grigory (1870-1919) and Lev (1868-1935), sons of Lev's younger brother Aleksey.
  22. Yury Sabaneyev, manager of the neighbouring estate at Yurchan. See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 41.
  23. A certain Colonel Lodi, also mentioned later in this diary.
  24. See Letter 2465 to Sergey Taneyev and Letter 2466 to Nikolay Tchaikovsky. The composer's letters of this date to his niece Tatyana Davydova and to Sergey Levitsky (a fashionable Saint Petersburg photographer who on 17/29 March 1884 had taken Photo 40 of the composer and his friends Aleksey Apukhtin, Aleksandr Zhedrinsky and Georgy Kartsov) appear not to have survived.
  25. Tchaikovsky read the memoirs of the Russian freemason, Prince Ivan Lopukhin, «Записки некоторых обстоятельства жизни» [Notes on some of life's circumstances], which were published in the historical journal Русский архив (1884), No. 1, and were mostly concerned with events at the end of the eighteenth century in Russia.
  26. Vera Vasilyevna Butakova (b. Davydov, 1848-1923), Lev Davydov's sister. In the late 1860s she was in love with Tchaikovsky, but her feelings were not reciprocated (see Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 102-105). Widowed two years earlier, she now lived at the 'big house' in Kamenka, and seemed still to harbour some of her youthful infatuation with Tchaikovsky, appearing constantly to be luring Tchaikovsky into embarrassing encounters.
  27. Daniil Drobatenko, son of the local forester, known to Tchaikovsky as "Danka" or "Danya". See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 35.
  28. The Trostyanka woods, near Kamenka.
  29. In Letter 2467 to Nadezhda von Meck, written on the same day Tchaikovsky explained his doubts about his future symphony: "I have not started work yet. I am just collecting material for my next orchestral composition, but I have not yet decided what form it will take. Perhaps it will be a symphony, perhaps it will be a suite again. I have been particularly fond of the latter form for some time because of the freedom which it affords a composer not to be inhibited by any traditions, by conventional methods and established rules. My only regret is that there is no Russian word which could replace suite; we use the French word, which sounds bad in Russian. I've put my mind to this but have not been able to think of anything".
  30. The future Suite No. 3 for orchestra, Op. 55.
  31. The next day in Letter 2468 to his brother Modest, Tchaikovsky explained his ideas with more detail: "I have still not started work and there is no real inspiration, but on my walks I put down one or two passing ideas in my sketchbook. They are somehow thin and insignificant and I am altogether going through a period of losing confidence in my own creative powers. But even if I am losing my powers, it no longer has such a dispiriting effect on me. I have worked enough and it would not be surprising if I had finally dried up a little".
  32. Mrs Croazot was the governess of Nikolay Davydov's daughters: Mariya and Varvara.
  33. In Letter 2468 to Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer wrote: "I am studying English assiduously... I am very pleased with the English periodical which Miss Eastwood has made me subscribe to". Martha Elizabeth Eastwood (1839-1909) was the English-born tutor to the youngest of Lev Davydov's children.
  34. Lev Davydov travelled to Yelisavetgrad (now the Ukrainian city of Kirovohrad) for a local fair.
  35. Letter 2467 to Nadezhda von Meck, in which Tchaikovsky observed that "the form of my next symphonic composition has become clear these last few days: it shall be a suite".
  36. No letter to Anatoly Tchaikovsky of this date is known, but on this day the composer did write Letter 2469 to Anatoly's wife, Praskovya.
  37. Kosara was a village north of Kamenka.
  38. An acquaintance of Lev Davydov.
  39. Sofya de Stahl (1832-1903), Lev Davydov's older sister, and her husband.
  40. Natalya Andreyevna Plesskaya ("Nata") was Vladimir Plessky's sister , and a very close friend and confidant of Tchaikovsky's own sister Sasha. See Yury Davydov, Записки о П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 36-37.
  41. Possibly "The Shepherd Pacha, a Turkish Story" by Edouard Laboulaye, in the book More old wives' fables (London, 1884).
  42. Tchaikovsky was planning to present his brother Modest with a collection of autographs of famous musicians, composers and writers from his own correspondence, among them Balakirev, Godard, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tolstoy and Ostrovsky; see the list in Letter 2471 to Modest written on this day.
  43. Father John of Kronstadt (1829-1909), a famous priest, canonized in 1964 by the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia and more recently by the Moscow Patriarchate.
  44. Usually, in this area of Ukraine, the dry season starts in late April.
  45. Emma Genton, French governess to Nikolay Kondratyev's children, was in love with Tchaikovsky and often made it clear to him it in her letters. Tchaikovsky was irritated by her confessions, but usually responded to her politely.
  46. Tchaikovsky is referring here to Vera Butakova's indignation at the daily games of vint.
  47. Here and later on Tchaikovsky makes reference to certain feelings he coded as "X" and "Z". A superficial reading of these entries has led some biographers to insist that this code relates directly to the composer's homosexuality and, moreover, that they testify to his secret suffering from his sexual orientation (e.g. Wladimir Lakond, The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 27; David Brown, Tchaikovsky. A biographical and critical study, vol. 3 (1986), p. 257; Anthony Holden, Tchaikovsky (1995), p. 234-236). However, a careful reading of the diary entries with "X" and "Z", however, makes it quite clear that they had no connection to sexuality of any sort. In fact, "Z", the principal symbol used in the diary, occurs solely in the context of cards and gambling (first noted by Boris Asafyev in Eugene Onegin and Tchaikovsky's marriage (1924), p. 37), and as a result of his earlier daily disappointments and distress in regard to his routine in the Davydov's household. It seems that the main source of those shifts of his mood had to do with his reaction to the behaviour of his own sister Aleksandra, who was a morphine addict and behaved unpredictably. Tchaikovsky felt happy with his life at Kamenka before his sister returned from Saint Petersburg. In Letter 2468 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 April 1884, he confessed that he was "up till now, extremely pleased" with his stay in Kamenka and had "such peace of mind and physical well being that could not be improved on". With Aleksandra's arrival, new arrangements concerning dining, menu and leisure time were imposed on the household, and this change upset him considerably. A year earlier, 14/26 April 1883, writing to Modest in Letter 2262, Tchaikovsky remarked on this peculiarity of his psyche: "My conscience continually reproaches me for poisoning the life of everyone around me, even those whom I love more than anything in the world, with my irritability and habit of forever becoming angry at something indefinite". But when his sister became his card-playing partner, his passion for cards, bordering on addiction, gave rise to a spectrum of negative emotions, ranging from simple irritation and anger, to spite and even hatred. A conflict distinctly emerged between the resentment directed at others and the consequent resentment directed at himself, indicated in the diary’s entries, respectively, by "Z" and "X". See also Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 436-440.
  48. Three days later, responding to a letter from Anna Merkling, in Letter 2477 Tchaikovsky reflected again on the passage of time in connection with his birthday, but from a different perspective: "I do not in the least wish to die, and I even want to attain a ripe old age, but, assuming I were asked, I would not consent to become young again and live through a whole life afresh. Once is enough. Of course, it is a shame about the past [...] and no one likes to immerse himself into recollections more than I do; no one feels more keenly than me the vanity and transience of life, and yet, all the same, I do not want youth. Every age has its charms and good sides, and it is not a question of being eternally young, but of suffering as little as possible, both physically and morally. I don't know what I will be like as an old man, but for now I cannot help recognizing that the sum total of the blessings which I am enjoying now is far greater than what I was endowed with in my youth, and that is why I am not in the least aggrieved that I am now 44. I would gladly be 70 or 80, as long as I was healthy in body and mind. What I would also need, though, is not to have any fear of death. For I cannot boast in that respect. I am not sufficiently steeped in religion as to be able confidently to see in death the beginning of a new life, nor am I a philosopher capable of reconciling himself to the abyss of non-existence into which he will have to plunge. No one do I envy so much as people who are fully religious".
  49. In Letter 2475 to his brother Modest, written the following day, Tchaikovsky again made it clear that the return of his sister two days earlier, which he associated with bustle and fuss at the house where he was staying, had to account for this surge of anguish: "The satisfaction that my life at Kamenka brought me did not last long. Now, in the first place, a drought has occurred that has led me to despair; in the second place, despite all the joy of seeing them all, and especially Bob, ever since Sasha arrived there has begun the same unending fuss, and the world that had had such a peaceful effect on me as soon as I arrived turned into a life filled with annoying details. I'm beginning to understand that I am already too old to be a hanger-on. I have reached the point that I spent all last evening in an uncharitable sulk due to the fact that chicken was served for supper, while some other dish was cancelled and replaced by yoghurt. And there were a thousand other trifles that brought on in me the mood of a hanger-on, which might become unbearable if I do not take up my own quarters [...] Oh, how I would like to get away to Moscow, to Petersburg, abroad, anywhere!!!".
  50. Yekaterina Alekseeva (1805-1882) was the older sister of Tchaikovsky's mother.
  51. The name of "P" is written out in full in the original diary, but only the first initial can be deciphered.
  52. Letter 2475 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 25 April/7 May 1884.
  53. Prussy was a village not far from Kamenka.
  54. In Letter 2474 to Nadezhda von Meck, written on this day, Tchaikovsky explained why he began a new composition in the form of a suite: "I find this form very congenial because there are no constraints and no requirements to observe any tradition or rules. This suite will be in five movements, of which the last will be a theme and variations".
  55. "Butalyonok" was the nickname for the youngest son of Vera Butakova, Aleksandr (also known as "Sasha").
  56. Letter 2472 to Karl Davydov, 24 April/6 May 1884. The proposal put to the Imperial Theatres to revive The Oprichnik was firmly resisted by the composer, who was disappointed in his early opera almost from the moment of its première. He was able to thwart the plans by pleading that he would need first to revise the opera, while privately admitting that he had no intention whatsoever of undertaking this revision (see Letter 2473 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 24 April/6 May 1884).
  57. The third movement of the Suite No. 3.
  58. Nikolay von Meck (1863-1929) was married to Anna Davydova (1864-1942). He asked his father-in-law Lev Davydov to act as an intermediary in purchasing an estate nearby.