Letter 138

Date 3/15 May 1869
Addressed to Mily Balakirev
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Saint Petersburg (Russia): National Library of Russia (ф. 834, ед. хр. 11, л. 15–16)
Publication Переписка М. А. Балакирева и П. И. Чайковского (1868-1891) [1912], p. 32–33
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 162–163
Милий Алексеевич Балакирев. Воспоминания и письма (1962), p. 132–133

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
3 мая 1869 г.

Добрейший Милий Алексеевич!

Очень виноват перед Вами, что так давно не писал и своим долгим молчаньем, быть может, дал Вам повод думать, что я обиделся Вашим письмом, где Вы критикуете «Фатум». С Вашими замечаниями об этой стряпне я в глубине души согласен совершенно, но, признаюсь, был бы весьма счастлив, если бы Вы хоть что-нибудь и хотя бы слегка в ней похвалили; в Вашем же письме одни только, хотя и справедливые, порицания; пилюля Ваша не позлащена ни на волос. Признаюсь, я не пришёл в восторг от Вашего отзыва, но нимало не обиделся и отдал в душе честь искренней прямоте, которая составляет одну из прелестнейших черт Вашей музыкальной личности. Посвящения я, разумеется, не беру назад, но надеюсь когда-нибудь написать для Вас что-нибудь получше.

Реквием Берлиоза был исполнен перед довольно многочисленной публикой и довольно опрятно, хотя далеко не очень хорошо. Хор был положительно слаб. Как эта вещь хороша! И как она легка в исполнении; не понимаю, почему её так редко исполняют. Она требует больших масс и трудна только в этом смысле; но в Петербурге так много певчих и военных оркестров, что эти трудности ничего не значат, и я убеждён, что Вы её когда-нибудь исполните. Известие о том, что с Вами сделала прекрасная Yelena, возмутило меня и Рубинштейна до последней степени; я даже решился печатно высказаться об этом необыкновенно подлом поступке, и прошу Вас непременно прочесть в завтрашнем № «Современной летописи» мою статейку довольно ругательного свойства. Меня в особенно радует то, что La belle Hélène приезжает в Москву в день выхода газеты с моей статейкой.

Я занимаюсь теперь инструментовкой моей оперы «'Ундина»; одно действие уже готово; два остальных буду инструментовать летом.

Юргенсон поручает мне справиться у Вас: когда будет готов «Садко».

Кланяйтесь, пожалуйста, крепко её автору и остальным членам Вашего якобинского кружка.

Крепко жму Вашу руку и прошу верить в неизменную любовь Вашего,

П. Чайковского

Рубинштейн будет Вам писать завтра.

3 May 1869

I owe you a great apology for not having written for such a long time. My long silence has perhaps given you reason to suppose that I was offended by your letter, in which you criticized "Fatum" [1]. In my heart of hearts I agree completely with your remarks about this concoction, though I must confess that I would have been very happy if you had praised something in it at least, even if only faintly. Your letter, however, contains only criticisms (albeit legitimate ones); you have not sugared the pill one bit. I must confess that I did not go into raptures over your comments, but in no way did I feel offended, and inwardly I saluted the plain-spoken frankness which constitutes one of the most delightful traits of your musical personality. It goes without saying that I shall not retract the dedication, but I do hope to write something a bit better for you some day [2].

Berlioz's "Requiem" was performed in front of a quite numerous audience, and it was done so fairly decently, though by no means was it a very good performance [3]. The chorus was downright poor. How fine this work is! And how easy it is to perform. I don't understand why it is performed so rarely. It requires large [orchestral and choral] masses and is difficult only in that sense. In Petersburg, however, there are so many choristers and military orchestras that these difficulties should amount to nothing, and I am sure that you will conduct the "Requiem" some day. The news about what the fair Helen has done to you roused my indignation, and Rubinstein's, to the utmost degree [4]. I even decided to speak out in print about this extraordinarily mean action, and I would ask you to read without fail my rather invective little article in tomorrow's issue of the "Contemporary Chronicle" [5]. I am particularly glad over the fact that "La belle Hélène" will be arriving in Moscow on the day that the newspaper containing my little article is to come out.

I am now occupied with the instrumentation of my opera "Undina": one act is already ready, and I shall orchestrate the remaining two over the summer.

Jurgenson has asked me to find out from you: when will "Sadko" be ready? [6]

Please send my warm regard to its author and the other members of your Jacobin circle [7]. I shake your hand firmly and ask you to believe in the unchanging love of your

P. Tchaikovsky

Rubinstein will write to you tomorrow.

Notes and References

  1. Balakirev had conducted the first performance in Saint Petersburg of Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia Fatum on 17/29 March 1869. In a letter to Tchaikovsky dated 31 March/12 April 1869, Balakirev explained quite frankly that he didn't like the work, which he considered to lack inner unity and coherence. See Balakirev's letter in Милий Алексеевич Балакирев. Воспоминания и письма (1962), p. 131–132.
  2. Tchaikovsky soon made good this promise, because later that year he would compose his overture-fantasia Romeo and Juliet, which was dedicated to Balakirev.
  3. Berlioz's Requiem was performed at an extraordinary Russian Musical Society concert which was held in Moscow on 22 April/4 May 1869 in memory of the late French master.
  4. Tchaikovsky is referring to the dismissal of Balakirev as conductor of the Russian Musical Society concerts in Saint Petersburg—a dismissal that was engineered partly by Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, who had little sympathy for Balakirev's programming of contemporary Russian and foreign works as opposed to the classical repertoire which she had been brought up on in her youth in Germany. Tchaikovsky calls the Grand Duchess "the fair Helen" in allusion to Offenbach's famous operetta La belle Hélène, which was first staged in Saint Petersburg in 1867.
  5. Tchaikovsky's article A Voice from Moscow's Musical World (TH 258) was published in the 4 May 1869 [O.S.] issue of the Moscow-based journal Contemporary Chronicle.
  6. Jurgenson had undertaken to publish Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic tableau Sadko. In his letter to Tchaikovsky of 31 March/12 April 1869, Balakirev mentioned that a fair copy was being made of the score of Sadko and that it would soon be dispatched to Moscow. See: Милий Алексеевич Балакирев. Воспоминания и письма (1962), p. 132.
  7. Tchaikovsky is ironically comparing the composers of the "Mighty Handful" (also known as "The Five") and their musical radicalism to the French Revolutionary Jacobin Club.