Letter 1565

Date 15/27 August–24 August/5 September 1880
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Kamenka
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication Белый камень (1907), No. 1, p. 65–67
Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 59–61 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 61–63 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том IX (1965), p. 238–241

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Каменка, 15 авг[уста] 1880 г.

Оказывается теперь, что когда в первом письме моём Вы прочли мои сетования на невозможность уйти, даже на время, от человеческого общества, то я напомнил Вам Хлестакова, жалующегося в разговоре с Городничихой на отяготительные последствия своей знаменитости. Благодарю, не ожидал. Между тем дело очень просто. Существует государственное учреждение, называемое почтой, очень часто берущее на себя задачу отравлять спокойствие человека, убежавшего от дрязг общественной жизни в уединение на лоне природы. Это-то учреждение и нарушило тогда счастливое течение моей одинокой жизни. А Вы прочли у меня между строками какую-то хлестаковщину!..

Что бы Вы ни говорили, Серёжа, а я лучше Вас умею читать между строками. Правда, что мне помогло воспоминание об одной беседе с Вами в Кокоревской гостинице, когда Вы мне говорили, что собираетесь путём колоссальных контрапунктических работ найти какую-то особенную русскую гармонию, коей доселе ещё не было. Я очень хорошо помню, как Вы доказывали тогда, что у нас не было Баха, что нужно сделать для русской музыки то, что сделал и он и его предшественники, что Вы попытаетесь исполнить всё то, что при нормальном развитии исполнили бы несколько столетий и несколько десятков людей. Я не говорю, что это были Ваши слова, но это была Ваша мысль, или, по крайней мере, в своём неразумии я так понял Вас. Мысль Ваша показалась мне тогда очень смелой, мне нравился Ваш юношеский задор, но я тогда же подумал, что в сущности, это чистейшая славянофильская теория, применённая к музыке, а твёрдое намерение Ваше добиваться осуществления столь неисполнимых, как мне казалось, проектов я в тайне души счёл проявлением донкихотства. Отсюда обидное прозвище: славянофильствующий Дон-Кихот, за которое прошу извинить меня. Из Вашего теперешнего письма я вижу, однако ж, что Вы уже значительно попятились и отступили от предположенной тогда цели. Если так, то тем лучше.

По поводу Вашего сравнения музыки с деревом скажу Вам, что (продолжая заимствовать уподобления из растительного царства) я бы сравнил европейскую музыку не с деревом, а с целым садом, в коем произрастают деревья: французское, немецкое, итальянское, венгерское, испанское, английское, скандинавское, русское, польское и т. д. Почему Вы совершенно произвольно только русским народно-музыкальным элементам дозволяете быть отдельным растительным индивидуумом, а все остальные заставляете соединиться в одно дерево? Я этого совершенно не понимаю. По-моему, европейская музыка есть сокровищница, в которую всякая национальность вносит что-нибудь своё на пользу общую. Каждый западноевропейский композитор—прежде всего или француз, или немец, или итальянец и т. д., а потом уже европеец. В Глинке национальность сказалась ровнёхонько настолько же, насколько и в Бетховене, и в Верди, и в Гуно; если в моих сочинениях Вы слышите русские отголоски, то я в соч[инениях] Massenet и Bizet на каждом шагу обоняю специфический французский запах. Пусть нашему зерну суждено дать роскошное дерево, характеристически отделяющееся от своих соседей,—тем лучше; мне приятно думать, что оно не будет так тщедушно, как английское, так хило и бесцветно, как испанское, а, напротив, сравнится по высоте и красоте с немецким, итальянским, французским. Но, как бы мы ни старались, из европейского сада мы не уйдём, ибо наше зерно волею судеб попало на почву, возделанную прежде нас европейцами: корни оно пустило там уже достаточно давно и глубоко, и теперь уже у нас с Вами не хватит сил его оттуда вырвать. Вообще, желая от души, чтобы наша музыка была сама по себе и чтобы русские песни внесли в музыку новую струю, как это сделали другие народные песни в своё время,—я не люблю, когда преувеличивают их значение и хотят основать на них не только какое-то самостоятельное искусство, но даже музыкальную науку. Не вижу никакой надобности учиться и учить иначе, чем это делается в Лейпциге и Берлине, да и нельзя иначе по причинам, достаточно выясненным выше. Не спорю, что можно усовершенствовать метод преподавания, но только метод, а не принципы.

Вообще и в творчестве и в преподавании музыки мы должны стараться только об одном,—чтоб было хорошо, нимало не думая о том, что мы русские, и поэтому нам нужно делать что-то особенное, отличное от западноевропейского.

Вы пишите, что мне нужно не жалеть, а поощрять Вас. Жалеть мне Вас действительно нельзя, ибо при Вашем таланте и уме Вы во всяком случае не бесполезно тратите время; такие люди, как Вы, даже заблуждаясь или сходя временно с своего прямого пути, всё-таки достигают цели. Если Вам суждено быть творцом, то Вы им и будете, а если нет, то в другой сфере принесёте свет и пользу. Но я просто недоумеваю ввиду настоящего фазиса Вашего развития. Когда Вы нагромождали увеличен[ные] секст[ы] на чрезмерные трезвучия, я твёрдо верил, что в Вас есть самобытное творческое дарование, теперь оно куда-то от меня скрылось, я перестал понимать Вас. Тогда Вы, подобно всем юношам, талант которых не созрел, оригинальничали, но в нагромождениях Ваших я не мог не усматривать сильного, хотя не созревшего таланта. Теперь в Ваших скучных произведениях я вижу превосходного учёного музыканта,—но в этом океане имитаций, канонов и всяких фокусов нет ни искры живого вдохновения. Если квартет Ваш отличается только теми, впрочем замечательными, техническими достоинствами, которые имеются и в трио,—то я не буду обрадован.

Пожалуйста, простите за все эти откровенности, я, может быть, ошибаюсь, и всё, что я говорю, неосновательно и несправедливо, но в конце концов не могу не сказать, что Вы до крайности преувеличиваете Ваше якобы незнание и неумение и что Вам не столько нужны бесконечные упражнения в контрапунктических фокусах, сколько попытки извлекать из недр Вашего таланта живой источник вдохновения, иначе сказать: писать как Бог на душу положит, а не как Вас научает измышлённая Вами теория.

Я рассчитал, что письмо к Вам в Париж не дойдёт, и потому, погодя немного, буду адресовать его в Селище.


17 авг[уста]

Прочитав всё вышенаписанное, я было хотел разорвать это письмо. В самом деле, к чему всё это я Вам пишу и как бы пытаюсь поселить в Вас сомнение в себе и колебание относительно избранного Вами пути? Между тем в глубине души я ни минуты никогда не сомневался, что Вы, наверное, так или иначе будете крупной личностью в сфере русской музыки. Почему я знаю—может быть, для достижения цели своей Вам именно нужно делать то, что Вы теперь делаете. Из того, что в данную минуту я не понимаю Вас, быть может, следует вывести то заключение, что я лишён проницательности, а совсем не то, что Вам следует делать что-то другое.

Тем не менее пыл моего полемического увлечения ещё не совсем улёгся и потому посылаю Вам и предыдущие два листа. Я пробуду здесь до ноября. Нельзя ли Вам прислать мне на время Ваш квартет? Очень бы интересно!


24 августа

Теперь уж не стоит посылать это письмо в Селище. Адресую его прямо в Москву. Мне очень любопытно знать, как Вы окончили Ваше путешествие и как вернулись в Москву. Если напишете об этом хоть несколько слов, буду очень благодарен.

Кланяйтесь всем нашим, т. е. консерваторским, а также Вашим родным начиная с Варвары Павловны. Я написал 6 вокальных дуэтов и 7 романсов. Они через неделю будут у Юргенсона. Если просмотрите их, то напишите, как Вам кажутся они в сравнении с прежними вокальными сочинениями.

Ваш П. Чайковский

Kamenka, 15 August 1880

It now appears that when you read, in my first letter [1], my laments about the impossibility of escaping, even if just briefly, from human society, I reminded you of Khlestakov [2] when, in his conversation with the town governor's wife, he complains about the burdensome consequences of his celebrity. Thank you, that is something I hadn't expected. And yet, it is all very simple. There exists a government institution called the post, which very often sets itself the task of poisoning the tranquillity of a person who has fled from the annoyances of public life into the bosom of Nature, seeking seclusion. It is precisely this institution which back then disturbed the happy flow of my solitary life. You, however, contrived to read some kind of Khlestakovian posing between the lines of my letter!..

You may say whatever you like, Serezha, but the fact is that I am better than you at reading between the lines. True, it did help that I recalled one conversation I had with you at the Kokorev Hotel [3], when you said to me that you intended, by means of colossal contrapuntal labours, to find some special Russian harmony the likes of which had never before existed. I remember very well how you argued then that our country had never had a Bach, that it was necessary to do for Russian music what he and his predecessors had done [for German music], that you would try to carry out everything that in conditions of normal development would be brought about by the passing of several centuries and by several dozens of people. I am not saying that these were your words, but it was the gist of your idea, or rather, in my foolishness that is how I understood you. Your idea seemed to me very bold then and I liked your youthful ardour, but at the same time I could not help thinking that this was an utterly Slavophile [4] theory here being applied to music, and in my heart of hearts I regarded your firm resolve to achieve the realization of so many to my view impossible projects as a manifestation of quixotry. Hence the offensive nickname a Slavophile Don Quixote, for which I beg you to forgive me. From your present letter I can nevertheless see that you have backed off considerably and deviated from the goal which you had set yourself then. If that is so, then all the better.

With regard to your likening of music to a tree [5], I should like to say that (if I may continue to borrow analogies from the vegetable kingdom) I would compare European music not to a tree, but to a whole garden, in which there grow a French, a German, an Italian, a Hungarian, a Spanish, an English, a Scandinavian, a Russian, a Polish tree etc. Why do you, in this utterly arbitrary fashion, allow only Russian folk-musical elements to have the status of an individual plant organism, whilst everything else is lumped together into a single tree? I just cannot understand this. In my view, European music is a treasure-house to which each nationality contributes something of its own for the benefit of all. Every western European composer is first and foremost either a Frenchman, or a German, or an Italian etc., and only then is he a European. In Glinka nationality manifests itself just as much as it does in Beethoven, in Verdi, in Gounod. If in my compositions you hear Russian echoes, I assure you that in the compositions of Massenet and Bizet I can constantly smell a specifically French odour. If our seed is indeed fated to give rise to a luxurious tree which will stand out distinctively from its neighbours, then all the better. For me, it is an agreeable thought that our tree will not be as feeble as the English one, as puny and colourless as the Spanish one, but, on the contrary, will match in height and beauty the German, Italian, and French trees. But, no matter how much we try, we shall never be able to get away from the European garden, because our seed was decreed by fate to fall on soil which had already been tilled by the Europeans before us: it has been putting forth roots in this soil for quite a long time and quite deeply, too, and neither you nor I would be strong enough to tear it out from there. In general, whilst wishing with all my heart that our music should stand on its own feet, and that Russian songs might introduce a new current into music, as other countries' folk-songs did in their own time, I do not like it when people exaggerate the significance of our songs and seek to base on them not just some kind of independent art, but even a musical science. I see no need to learn and teach differently from the way it is done in Leipzig and Berlin [6], and, besides, it would not be possible to do it differently, for reasons which have been sufficiently elucidated above. I do not deny that the teaching method can be improved, but only the method, not the principles.

In general, both in the creation of music and in the teaching of it we must strive after only one thing—that it should be good, without giving any thought to the fact that we are Russians and imagining that we must therefore do something special, different from what western Europeans do.

You write that I should not pity you but encourage you [7]. Indeed, I should not be pitying you, because with your talent and intelligence you are in any case not wasting your time pointlessly. People like you, even when they get lost or come off temporarily from their right path, will reach their goal all the same. If you are fated to be a creator, then you will be one, and if not, then you will benefit and illuminate others in another sphere. But I am simply perplexed by the present phase of your development. When you were stacking augmented sixths onto augmented triads [8] I firmly believed that you were endowed with an original creative gift; now the latter is hiding from me somewhere, I have ceased to understand you. Back then, like all youths whose talent has not yet matured, you sought to be original, but in your stackings I could not help seeing a powerful, albeit as yet immature, talent. Now in your boring [9] works I see a superbly learned musician, but in this ocean of imitations, canons, and diverse tricks there is not a single spark of vital inspiration. If your quartet is distinguished only by the same technical merits which are to be found in your trio (which, by the way, are remarkable), then I shall have no reason to rejoice.

Please forgive me for being so outspoken. I am perhaps mistaken, and everything that I have said is unfounded and unfair, but after all I cannot help pointing out that you exaggerate inordinately your alleged ignorance and inability, and that what you need are not so much endless exercises in contrapuntal tricks as to make attempts to extract from the depths of your talent a vital source of inspiration—in other words, to write as God lays [the notes] on your heart [10], and not as you are instructed by the theory which you yourself have devised.

I have calculated that this letter will not reach you in Paris, and so I shall wait a bit and then address it to Selishche [11].


17 August

After reading through everything that I had written above I was about to tear up this letter. Indeed, what am I writing all this to you for? Doesn't it seem as if I am attempting to instil doubts in you and to make you waver with regard to your chosen path? And yet, in my heart of hearts I have never doubted for one moment that you will almost certainly, in some way or other, become a major figure in the sphere of Russian music. For all I can tell, to attain your goal maybe it is necessary that you should be doing precisely what you are doing now. From the fact that I don't understand you at the present moment one should perhaps draw the conclusion that I lack perspicacity, and not at all that you ought to be doing something else.

Nevertheless, the ardour of my polemic enthusiasm has not quite died down yet, and that is why I am also sending you the two preceding pages. I shall stay here until November. Wouldn't it be possible for you to send me your quartet for a while? It would be very interesting to have it!


24 August

Now there is no longer any point in sending this letter to Selishche. I am addressing it directly to Moscow. I am very curious to know how your trip ended and how you returned to Moscow. If you can write me even just a few words about this, I shall be very grateful.

Give my regards to all our lot, that is, to the Conservatory lot, as well as to your relatives, starting with Varvara Pavlovna. I have written six vocal duets and seven songs. In a week's time they will have arrived at Jurgenson's. If you are able to look through them, then write to me and tell me what you think of them in comparison with my previous vocal compositions. Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. See Letter 1544 to Taneyev from Simaki on 21 July/2 August 1880, and Taneyev's reply to it, which is quoted in the notes to Tchaikovsky's subsequent letter to him from Kamenka on 1/13 August 1880 (letter 1554]]). In that earlier letter to Taneyev from Kamenka (Letter 1554) Tchaikovsky had defended himself against the insinuation that he was being a bit hypocritical when he lamented about the "inconveniences" of belonging to human society. Taneyev, in his reply on 6/18 August 1880 (again sent from the French coastal village of Iport, in the Haute-Normandie, where he was spending part of the summer) apologized for having used the word "hypocritical" and explained that he had misunderstood the nature of Tchaikovsky's laments in that letter from Simaki. However, he added: "As for banquets, solemn receptions etc., I can fully believe that this must inhibit and burden you as a person who is unused to spending time in large and unfamiliar company, though I do continue to think that even there, alongside the unpleasant feeling, there is also a particle of satisfaction, since all this is closely linked to the love and appreciation which people feel for your music". As the above letter shows, Tchaikovsky interpreted this as yet another insinuation that he was being slightly insincere. Taneyev's letter of 6/18 August 1880 has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 58–60.
  2. Khlestakov is the impostor 'hero' of Nikolay Gogol's famous comedy The Government-Inspector (Ревизор; 1836).
  3. Tchaikovsky, who after the end of his marriage in 1877 never again took up permanent residence in Moscow, had last stayed at the city's Kokorev Hotel from 2/14 April to 10/22 April 1880, and it was probably then that he had this conversation with Taneyev.
  4. The Slavophiles were an important group in the Russian intelligentsia whose heyday was in the 1830s–50s, but who nevertheless continued to exert considerable influence on Russian public opinion until the end of the century. They believed that the peasantry was the repository of Russian culture and spirituality, and that the educated classes had to return to those traditions of their ancestors which were still alive among the common folk. Opposed to the Slavophiles were the Westerners, who argued that Russia had to continue along the path marked out by Peter the Great and learn from Western Europe.
  5. In his letter to Tchaikovsky of 6/18 August 1880 Taneyev had written: "At the foundations of the European musical forms we find the folk and sacred melodies out of which these forms grew. To explain my thought I shall use a convenient, even if banal analogy. European melodies are a seed from which there has grown a whole tree; our melodies are a seed which is only beginning to sprout. Europeans have no choice: they can only continue to cultivate their tree. We do have a choice: we can, on the one hand, contribute to the growth of the European tree; or, on the other hand, we can nurture our own shoots. It is in this sense that I say that a fatal attraction draws Europeans onto their present path: they have one road lying ahead of them, we have two. Glinka went down these two roads; you, too, are going along them. When listening to your music one sometimes says to oneself: this is written in a universally European manner, whereas that is written in a Russian one. We can feel this Russian character: it introduces a completely new and original current into your compositions and into those of Glinka. And the gist of my idea is that this Russian nuance in music will with time acquire a more and more definite character, and a style will develop from it which is essentially different from the European one. I am not at all advocating estrangement from Europe; on the contrary, we must learn from the Europeans, and that is what we are doing".
  6. Tchaikovsky is responding here to the following passage in Taneyev's letter of 6/18 August 1880: "It is not at all my intention to provide, in my compositions, examples of a style which no one before me has ever seen, to create new, unheard-of music. But, I repeat, Russian melodies must be used as the basis for musical teaching. I think there will come a time when the teachers at our conservatories will cease to teach blindly what is taught in Leipzig or Berlin, for they will finally understand that there is no point in us writing counterpoint exercises on Gregorian cantus firmi, that we have other tasks to fulfil than the Germans or Frenchmen, that we mustn't forget about the existence of Russian songs, that we have to adapt to the circumstances in which we find ourselves".
  7. Taking up Tchaikovsky's observation in Letter 1554 about how it was with "a feeling of pity and sadness" that he saw his former pupil "falling prey to reflection" and "quarrying for musical subtleties", Taneyev had retorted in his letter of 6/18 August 1880: "In order to learn something thoroughly, be it harmony, counterpoint, or orchestration, one always needs to put in painstaking and dry work, which is supposed to precede artistic creation. I am attracted by the gracefulness and well-roundedness of Mozartian forms, the freedom and purposefulness of Bach's voice-leading, I try to penetrate as far as I can into the secrets of their creativity, I see that they knew a lot of things which I don't know, I try to learn these things—all this cannot possibly leave me dried up. On the contrary. If I possess any musical abilities at all, in this way I shall be developing them rather than killing them off".
  8. i.e. when Taneyev was a student in Tchaikovsky's harmony and orchestration class at the Moscow Conservatory from 1871 to 1875.
  9. Taneyev himself, in his letter to Tchaikovsky of 25 July/6 August 1880, had said that the String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat major which he was working on at the time belonged to the "boring genre", i.e. to the chamber music genre.
  10. Tchaikovsky had used the same Russian expression—«писать как Бог на душу положит» (which might be translated literally as 'to write as God lays [the notes] on one's heart [or soul]', but which can be rendered more simply as 'to write following one's heart')—in Letter 1554 to Taneyev, 1/13 August 1880.
  11. The estate in Oryol Province which belonged to Fyodor Maslov and his three sisters. After returning from his holiday in France, Taneyev was intending to spend a week in Selishche before resuming his teaching duties at the Moscow Conservatory.