Letter 2148

Date 29 October/10 November 1882
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Kamenka
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2 (1901), p. 558–559 (abridged)
Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 90–91
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 89
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XI (1966), p. 266–267

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Каменка
28 окт[ября]

Спасибо Вам, милый Сергей Иванович, за письмо Ваше. Ваше одобрение моему трио доставило мне большое, большое услаждение. Вы в моих глазах очень большой авторитет, и моё авторское самолюбие столь же польщено Вашей похвалой, сколь нечувствительно к газетным отзывам, к коим опыт научил меня относиться с философских равнодушием. Статью Флерова я читал. Не верю, что кто-нибудь ему сообщил (из музыкантов), что вариации трио суть изображение эпизодов из жизни Ник[олая] Григ[орьевича]. Думаю, что эта блестящая мысль принадлежит самому ему. Но как это забавно! Написать музыку без всяких поползновений что-нибудь изобразить, и вдруг узнать, что она изображает то или другое, — это то же чувство, какое испытал Bourgeois-gentilhomme Мольера, когда узнал, что всю жизнь говорил прозой.

«Мазепа» подвигается черепашьими шагами, несмотря на то, что я работаю по нескольку часов каждый день. Уж не умею Вам объяснить, почему я так изменился в этом отношении. Сначала я думал, что это вообще старческий упадок сил, а теперь начинаю утешать себя мыслью, что я стал строже к себе, менее самонадеян, и, может быть, от этого вещь, которую в прежнее время я бы оркестровал в один день, — теперь оркеструю 3 или 4 дня. Мне очень хочется не уехать из Каменки прежде, нежели окончу инструментовку 1-го действия. Я думал, что успею кончить её в этом месяце, но оказывается, что нужно ещё, по крайней мере, дней 15 работы. Но как только кончу, еду в Москву.

Либретто «Воеводы» у меня нет, но у Петра Ивановича оно есть в виде многих сотен экземпляров, где-нибудь гниющих, и ничего нет легче, как один из них достать. Но я должен предупредить Аренского и насчёт того, что в этом либретто сделал сам Островский. Этот добрейший человек (я краснею, когда вспоминаю наглость, с которой я обратился к Островскому, и доброту, с которой он отнёсся ко мне) написал мне сам первое действие и первую картину 2-го. Я приступил к сочинению, но, написав первое действие, разочаровался в сюжете и в написанной музыке и решил бросить сочинение, так что уж не беспокоил больше Островского. Но случилось, что певица Меньшикова, нуждавшаяся в новой опере для бенефиса, упросила меня окончить оперу, и тогда я смастерил кое-как остальное (как либретто, так и музыку). Пишу это ввиду того, чтобы Аренский, читая омерзительно пошло, неумело и глупо мной самим написанную 2-ую половину либретто, не вообразил, что это Островский так написал. Не касаясь сценичности содержания, которое, по-моему, недостаточно интересно, можно сказать, что первое действие и 1-ая половина 2-го написаны превосходно, и я очень советую Аренскому целиком ими воспользоваться. Как я рад, что отныне я окончательно перестаю быть автором «Воеводы». Воспоминание об этой опере и ещё об «Опричнике» — точно воспоминание каких-то уголовных преступлений, мной совершённых.

Спасибо Вам, голубчик, за трио. Надеюсь по приезде в Москву устроить частным образом исполнение его. То-то буду рад Вас послушать.

Ваш П. Чайковский

Напрасно Вы хотите исключить некоторые контрапунктические фокусы в увертюре. В средней части можно было бы только исключить повторения некоторых фокусов.

Кланяйтесь Варваре Павловне, всем Вашим и Масловым.

Kamenka
28 Oct[ober]

Thank you, dear Sergey Ivanovich, for your letter. Your approbation of my trio afforded me a great, great pleasure. In my eyes you are a very great authority, and my authorial self-esteem is just as flattered by your praise as it is insensitive to newspaper reviews, which experience has taught me to treat with philosophical indifference [1]. I have read Flerov's article. I don't believe that someone (from the musicians) told him that the trio's variations are an illustration of episodes from Nikolay Grigoryevich's life [2]. I think that this brilliant idea belongs to him alone. But how amusing this is! To have written music without any pretensions to illustrate anything, and suddenly to find out that it illustrates this or that — it is the same feeling that Molière's Bourgeois gentilhomme experienced when he became aware that all his life he had been talking prose.

Mazepa is progressing at a snail's pace, despite the fact that I work on it for several hours each day. I really cannot explain to you why I have so changed in this respect. At first I thought it was generally the decline in strength that comes of old age, but now I am beginning to console myself with the thought that I have become stricter towards myself, less arrogant, and that it is perhaps because of this that it now takes me three or four days to orchestrate a piece which in the past I would have orchestrated in just one day. I very much do not want to leave Kamenka until I have completed the orchestration of Act I. I thought that I would manage to finish it in this month, but it turns out that it will require at least some fifteen more days of work. However, as soon as I have finished, I shall go to Moscow.

I don't have the libretto for "The Voyevoda" to hand, but it's available at Pyotr Ivanovich's in the form of several hundred copies rotting away somewhere, and there is nothing easier than to get hold of one of them [3]. However, I must also warn Arensky as to what exactly in this libretto was done by Ostrovsky himself. This most kind man (I blush for shame when I remember the boldness with which I addressed Ostrovsky, and the kindness with which he treated me) wrote the first act and the first scene of the second act for me himself. I began to compose, but having written the first act, I became disillusioned with the subject and the music I had written and decided to abandon composition, so after that I did not further trouble Ostrovsky. But it so happened that the singer Menshikova [4] wanted a new opera for her benefit, and she prevailed upon me to finish the opera, so I somehow cobbled together the remainder (both the libretto and the music). I am mentioning this so that Arensky, when he reads the second half of the libretto which I wrote in such a horrendously banal, clumsy, and stupid fashion, doesn't imagine that it was Ostrovsky who wrote it thus. Without going into the effectiveness on the stage of the [libretto's] contents, which in my view are insufficiently interesting, it may certainly be said that the first act and the first half of the second are written splendidly, and I very much recommend Arensky to make use of them in their entirety. I am so glad that henceforth I shall once and for all cease to be the author of The Voyevoda. Remembering this opera, and also "The Oprichnik", is like recalling some criminal offences I committed long ago.

Thank you, golubchik, for the trio. Upon my arrival in Moscow I hope to organize a private performance of it. How glad I shall be to hear you.

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

You are wrong to want to omit some of the contrapuntal tricks in your overture [5]. In the middle section one could omit only the repetitions of certain tricks.

Give my regards to Varvara Pavlovna, all your folk, and the Maslovs.

Notes and References

  1. In his letter to Tchaikovsky of 24 October/5 November 1882 Taneyev reported on the first public performance of the Piano Trio, which had taken place in Moscow on 18/30 October 1882 at a chamber music concert of the Russian Musical Society, with Taneyev himself at the piano, Jan Hřímalý playing the violin part, and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen the cello. Taneyev wrote in his letter: "I studied it during 3½ weeks and played for six hours almost every day. I had long been planning to write you a letter in which I wanted to express my enthusiasm for your wonderful composition. I don't recollect ever having experienced greater pleasure when studying a new piece than during these three weeks. The responses of our 'reviewers', Levenson, Flerov, and Kruglikov (it is reportedly Kruglikov who hides under the pseudonym 'a young musician' in the Contemporary News) have been favourable. Flerov draws a parallel between your trio and [Vasily] Nemirovich-Danchenko's book on Skobelev [a famous general], and thinks that these two works resemble one another greatly. Kruglikov says that the harmony which accompanies the opening theme isn't interesting because it comprises an alternation of a tonic triad with a seventh on the second degree; he also asserts that in the Waltz it is impossible to recognize the theme of the variations. Levenson is unhappy with the disparity of the material, agrees with Flerov that after the variation con sordini one shouldn't have a mazurka, and sees in the contrasts between each successive set of variations a desire to imitate Meyerbeer etc. Enough of our critics. The majority of the musicians are in raptures over the trio. The public also liked it". Taneyev's letter has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 88.
  2. Modest Tchaikovsky, in his biography of the composer, summarized the contents of Sergey Flerov's review of the Piano Trio in the 22 October 1882 [O.S.] issue of the Moscow Register as follows: "He was above all unhappy with how Pyotr Ilyich had failed to spell out Nikolay Grigoryevich's name in the dedication and had instead limited himself to the vague appellation 'grand artiste'. He was unhappy with this because it was quite clear to him that the trio was simply 'the composer's personal memories of the great virtuoso', like Vasily Nemirovich-Danchenko's book on [General] Skobelev. 'Mr Nemirovich-Danchenko's book opens with a sad scene showing Skobelev on his death-bed and with the author's laments about this; Mr Tchaikovsky's trio also opens with a pezzo elegiaco. Mr Nemirovich-Danchenko closes his book with the same sobs with which he began it, and Mr Tchaikovsky concludes his trio with a funeral march. Between the first and final chapters of Mr Nemirovich-Danchenko's book the reader is shown a series of the most diverse scenes from Skobelev's life' — in Tchaikovsky's trio the entire middle movement is taken up by a series of the most diverse variations. The outward analogy is striking!...'. According to Flerov, Tchaikovsky, in his musical recollections, ought to have provided a key to allow one to decipher the various episodes of the trio, but he did not do this and thereby presented the public with an irresolvable riddle. At least he, the reviewer, had had the good fortune to to find out a thing or two from 'people who were close to the late N. G. Rubinstein': for example, that 'variation No. 5 is a reminiscence of some virtuoso cymbalist whom N. G. Rubinstein liked to hear in one of the restaurants in the outskirts of Moscow', that another variation is 'a recollection of gypsies singing' and so on." see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2 (1997), p. 477.
  3. In his letter of 24 October/5 November 1882 Taneyev mentioned that he had become friends with Anton Arensky, who, freshly graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, had recently joined the staff of the Moscow Conservatory. Taneyev informed Tchaikovsky that Arensky was composing an opera based on Aleksandr Ostrovsky's play A Dream on the Volga (which had served as the basis for Tchaikovsky's first opera, The Voyevoda), but that he did not have a libretto and was trying to set the original play to music, which was a very difficult task. Taneyev therefore asked Tchaikovsky whether he would be willing to cede to Arensky the libretto for The Voyevoda, an opera whose score Tchaikovsky had himself destroyed a few years earlier. Anton Arensky's opera A Dream on the Volga was first staged in 1892, at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre.
  4. Aleksandra Grigoryevna Menshikova (1840–1902), Russian soprano; she sang at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre from 1867 to 1869, and subsequently (until 1880) appeared mainly at the Saint Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre.
  5. Taneyev had been commissioned by the Moscow Conservatory's new director, Nikolay Hubert, to write an overture for the Arts and Industrial Exhibition in Moscow that summer. Taneyev himself had conducted the first performance of his Overture on a Russian Theme in C major (based on a song from Rimsky-Korsakov's 1876 anthology 100 Russian Folk-Songs) at the Exhibition's fifth symphonic concert on 13/25 June 1882. At Taneyev's request Tchaikovsky had looked over the score of the overture.