Letter 1056

Date 4/16 January 1879
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Clarens
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 34–35
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 40–41
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том VIII (1963), p. 22–23

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
4/16 я[нваря] 1879
Clarens

Милый Сергей Иванович!

Мне до сих пор ничего не было известно о представлении «Онегина», но сегодня я получил № «Голоса», в коем есть фельетон Лароша, и из оного я узнал кое-что и между прочим в высшей степени приятное мне известие, что Вы управляли оркестром. Я тотчас же преисполнился в отношении Вас, во-первых, чувствами благодарности, а во-вторых, чувством стыда. В самом деле, с моей стороны было бессовестно не исполнить данного обещания писать Вам, хотя и Вы тоже хороши! Хоть бы раз единую строчку!

Вам, вероятно, в общих чертах известно, чтó я делал с тех пор, как мы расстались. Прожив месяц во Флоренции, я отправился в Париж с намерением там остаться месяца 1½ или два, но оказалось, что не хватило финансов; я убоялся и приехал сюда. Здесь, во-первых, очень дёшево, а во-вторых, очень тихо. Я живу, как в прошлом году, в Pension Richelieu. Наиболее выдающаяся черта здешнего образа жизни состоит в том, что в 1 [час] пополудни раздаётся оглушительный звон к обеду. Я схожу тотчас в table d'hôte, на котором открыт лишь один мой куверт, ибо кроме меня никто здесь не живёт, — и обедаю solo. Мне очень нравится, что всё-таки звонят, как бы утешая себя воображаемыми пансионерами, имеющими принять участие в table d'hôte.

Занимаюсь довольно усердно, хотя занятия мои потерпели сильную помеху вследствие казуса, случившегося с моей черновой сюитой. Я её оставил в Петербурге, и брат должен был мне прислать её во Флоренцию, но получил я её только сегодня, совершенно неожиданно и уже привыкши считать её погибшею. Теперь я начал оперу на сюжет «Орлеанской девы». Кстати, при Вас давали в Париже провалившуюся оперу Mermet «Jeanne d'Arc»? Если да и если Вы её видели, то что Вы о ней скажете?

Я в Париже был очень несчастлив на музыку. При мне не было ни одного интересного концерта. В опере я слышал «Полиевкта» Гуно и скажу Вам, что хуже этой оперы я никогда ничего не слышал. Даже «Гроза» Кашперова интереснее, — она хоть забавна иногда по наивности приёмов автора. В «Полиевкте» пять ужасных действий, из в которых ни одно место не может выделиться из общего убийственно-плоского и бесколоритного фона. Засим решительно ничего интересного сообщить Вам не имею.

Меня страх как интересует, как Вы живёте. Пожалуйста, голубчик, напишите мне про Ваши консерваторские занятия. Надоели ли они Вам и сильно ли утомляют? Пишете ли Вы? Успеваете ли достаточно играть? Не изменилось ли что-нибудь относительно Вашей приватной обстановки? Не переехали ли Вы на отдельную квартиру? Как здоровье Ваших? Что Масловы? Я был бы Вам несказанно благодарен, если б Вы мне ответили на эти вопросы, а также написали бы что-нибудь о представлении «Онегина». Воображаю, как он Вам надоел!

До свидания. Жму крепко руку, продирижировавшую моего «Онегина».

Ваш П. Чайковский

4/16 January 1879
Clarens

Until now I had known nothing about the performance of "Onegin", but today I received an issue of "The Voice", in which there is a feuilleton by Laroche, and from that I did manage to find out one or two things, including some information which is highly agreeable to me, namely that you directed the orchestra [1]. I was at once filled, with regard to you, first of all with a feeling of gratitude, and, secondly, with a feeling of shame. Indeed, it was shameless of me not to keep the promise I gave that I would write to you, although you are a fine one yourself in that respect! You could at least have dropped me one little line!

You are probably aware, in general outline, of what I have been doing since we parted. After spending a month in Florence I headed for Paris with the intention of staying there for 1½ or two months, but, as it turned out, I didn't have enough finances. I took fright and came here instead. Firstly, it is very cheap here, and, secondly, it is very quiet. Like last year, I am staying at the Pension Richelieu. The most salient feature of my way of life here is that at 1 o'clock a deafening gong resounds throughout the house announcing that it is lunch-time. I go downstairs immediately to the table d'hôte, on which only my place has been set (because apart from me no one else is staying here), and have lunch solo. I very much like this practice of sounding the gong: it is as if they [the landlady Madame Mayor and her family] are trying to console themselves with imaginary guests who are supposed to partake of the table d'hôte.

I'm working quite diligently, although my work has met with a serious hindrance as a result of an amazing thing which happened to my draft Suite [2]. I left it behind in Petersburg, and my brother was supposed to send it to me in Florence, but only today have I received it, utterly unexpectedly and after I had already got used to the thought that it had been lost. I have now begun an opera on the subject of "The Maid of Orleans". By the way, was it when you were in Paris that Mermet's failed opera "Jeanne d'Arc" was staged?[3] If so, and if you were able to see it, what is your opinion of it?

In Paris I was very unlucky as far as music was concerned. During my stay there was not a single interesting concert. At the Opéra I heard Gounod's "Polyeucte", and I must tell you that I have never heard anything worse than this opera. Even Kashperov's "The Storm" is more interesting: the naivety of its author's compositional manner at least serves to amuse one [4]. In "Polyeucte" there are five terrible acts, from in which not a single passage manages to stand out from the horrendously flat and colourless general background. Apart from this I really have nothing else of interest to tell you.

I am ever so interested to know how you are getting on. Please, golubchik, do write to me about your work at the Conservatory. Are you fed up with it and is it wearing you out a lot? Are you writing anything? Are you able to find enough time to play? Has anything at all changed in your private circumstances? Perhaps you have moved to a separate flat? How are your people doing? What about the Maslovs? I would be unspeakably grateful to you if you could answer these questions, as well as writing something about the performance of "Onegin". I can imagine how you must be fed up with it!

Until we meet. I shake warmly the hand which conducted my "Onegin".

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. On 16/28 December 1878 the dress rehearsal for the first four scenes of a student performance of Yevgeny Onegin was held at the Moscow Conservatory. The scheduled performance, however, did not take place due to an indisposition of one of the female singers. Taneyev conducted at the dress rehearsal. Laroche dedicated half of his feuilleton in the 31 December 1878 [O.S.] issue of the newspaper The Voice to a positive review of Tchaikovsky's new opera (that is, of what had been performed of it so far) — note based on information provided by Vladimir Zhdanov in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 41, and in П. И. Чайковский. Избранные письма (2002), p. 364.
  2. In mid/late August 1878 Tchaikovsky began writing his Suite No. 1 for large orchestra (Op. 43). When he went abroad later that year he accidentally left behind in his brother Anatoly's flat in Saint Petersburg the notebook containing the sketches for the first three movements to be composed. He wrote to Anatoly asking him to look for the notebook and then to forward it to him in Florence, but the parcel was held up in the post for a long time. Not having the sketches for these three numbers to hand, Tchaikovsky proceeded to orchestrate the remaining two movements and completed this task on 27 November/9 December. Although he finally received Anatoly's parcel at the time of this letter, he did not set about orchestrating the earlier movements until April 1879 because he had become engrossed in the composition of The Maid of Orleans.
  3. The opera Jeanne d'Arc, in 4 acts, 6 scenes, by Auguste Mermet (1810–1889) was premiered in Paris on 5 April 1876 [N.S.], but had no success whatsoever. Taneyev's prolonged stay in Paris was in the winter of 1876–77 and it was his first visit to the French capital, so he could not have attended the premiere of Mermet's opera, and it is unlikely there were any further performances during his stay.
  4. Tchaikovsky was very critical of Vladimir Kashperov's opera The Storm (based on Ostrovsky's drama which had inspired his youthful overture of 1864, and which he himself had hoped to turn into an opera, only to be anticipated by Kashperov). "I think that since people started writing operas there hasn't been such an abomination as this", he wrote to his brother Anatoly sometime between 31 October/12 November and 6/18(?) November 1867 (Letter 108), shortly after attending the opera's premiere at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre.