Letter 2216

Date 2/14 February 1883
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Paris
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2 (1901), p. 571–572 (abridged)
Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 93–94 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 91–92
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XII (1970), p. 54

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Париж
2 февраля

Hôtel Richepanse. 14, Rue Richepanse

Милый друг Серёжа!

Спасибо за лестное предложение, но принуждён отклонить его. Что я люблю заказы — это правда; что я с большим удовольствием принялся бы теперь за что-нибудь симфоническое или камерное (без фортепьяно) — это тоже правда. Но справедливо также и то, что я без крайней необходимости никогда не начинаю нового, пока не кончил старое. Теперь у меня на плечах инструментовка оперы «Мазепа», с которой ещё очень не скоро справлюсь, а пока не справлюсь — не могу тем более исполнить Ваше желание, что считаю камерную музыку с фортепьяно самою трудною и наименее соблазнительною отраслью сего искусства. Ещё если б я был совершенно покоен духом, — то, быть может, нашлось бы силы угодить Вам, — но я в Париже живу теперь не ради того, что мне этого хочется, а потому, что это нужно. Я состою при больной племяннице, приехавшей лечиться у Шарко. Она очень больна, и тревог немало.

Инструментовка «Мазепы» идёт черепашьим шагом. В 5 недель я едва успел инструментовать 3/5 одного действия. Дай Бог к лету окончить работу. В Италию я не попаду на сей раз. Если найдётся свободная минуточка, напишите мне сюда о том, что Вы сами делаете, что у Вас дома происходит, а также вообще о музыкальных делах Москвы. Я думаю, что Аренский уступит мне по свойственной ему благодушной любезности полчасика из всей суммы свободного времени, которое Вы жертвуете на алтарь дружбы. Кланяйтесь ему от меня. Будут ли исполнять его балладу? Начал ли он писать? Доволен ли он Кокоревской гостиницей? Что Масловы? Что Вы пишете? А мне всё-таки придётся оторваться от оперы ради превращения «Славься» из роскошного оперного финала в куплеты. Меня просили это сделать, и я обещал, ещё бывши в Москве. Сегодня пытался приняться за эту работу, впрочем, очень незамысловатую.

Ничего здесь не слышал: не был ни в одном концерте. Только «Свадьбу Фигаро» три раза прослушал в «Opéra Comique» и упивался несказанной прелестью Моцарта.

Поклон Варваре Павловне, Елене Сергеевне, Влад[имиру] Ивановичу, Масловым и всем вообще.

Ваш П. Чайковский

Я написал в Рим, чтобы мне прислали оттуда письма, в случае если таковые имеются.

Paris
2 February

Hôtel Richepanse. 14, Rue Richepanse

Serezha, dear friend!

Thank you for the flattering proposition, but I am forced to decline it [1]. It is true that I like commissions. It is also true that I would most gladly embark now on something symphonic or a chamber music piece (without piano). But it is also fair to say that, except in the case of an extreme urgency, I never begin a new project until I have finished the old one. Right now I have on my hands the orchestration of the opera "Mazepa", with which I won't be done before quite a while yet, and until I am done with it, I cannot fulfil your request, especially as I consider chamber music with piano the most difficult and least enticing branch of this art. If I were completely calm in spirit, then I might perhaps be able to find the strength to oblige you, but I am living in Paris now not because I want to myself, but because it is necessary. I am looking after my poorly niece, who has come here to be treated by Charcot. She is very ill, and I have plenty of things to worry about [2].

The orchestration of Mazepa is going at a snail's pace. In five weeks I have barely managed to score three fifths of one act. God grant that I can finish this work by the summer. I won't be able to make it to Italy this time. If you can find a minute to spare, write to me here about what you are doing yourself, what is going on at your house, as well as generally about music matters in Moscow. I think that Arensky, by virtue of his inherent good-natured friendliness, will concede me a little half-hour out of the sum total of spare time which you both sacrifice on the altar of friendship. Give him my regards. Is his ballad going to be performed?[3] Has he started writing? Is he happy with the Kokorev Hotel? How are the Maslovs? What are you writing? I will after all have to tear myself away from my opera for the sake of transforming Glory from a luxurious operatic finale into couplets[4]. I was asked to do this, and I gave my promise — this was when I was still in Moscow. Today I attempted to set about this job, which, by the way, is very straightforward.

I haven't heard anything here: I haven't been to a single concert. I have just heard The Marriage of Figaro three times at the Opéra-Comique, and have been revelling in the ineffable charm of Mozart.

I bow to Varvara Pavlovna, Yelena Sergeyevna [5], Vladimir Ivanovich [6], the Maslovs, and to everyone in general.

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

I have written to Rome with instructions that any letters should be sent to me here, in case any letters for me have arrived in Rome.

Notes and References

  1. In a letter from Moscow on 20 January/1 February 1883 Taneyev had written: "You have said on several occasions that you find urgent work agreeable, and that you compose especially keenly when you know that someone needs your composition and that it is being awaited impatiently. Such a case now presents itself: a composition is needed, and it will be awaited impatiently". He went on to explain that the violinist Jan Hřímalý had had the idea of performing just works by Russian composers at the three forthcoming chamber music concerts of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow. There were enough string quartets to choose from for the three concerts, Taneyev added, but as for chamber music works including the piano, they could not think of three such pieces by Russian composers, and, moreover, they could not fall back on Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio because that was due to be performed at another concert. Taneyev therefore asked: "Would you not be willing, dear Pyotr Ilyich, to write, in your spare time when you are not busy with your opera, some chamber work with piano, for instance, a trio, a sonata for violin and piano, a quartet or something of the sort? This won't cost you any effort, and at the same time you would be doing us a tremendous favour". Taneyev's letter has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 90–91.
  2. Tchaikovsky's niece Tatyana Davydova ("Tanya") had come to Paris not just to receive treatment for her morphine addiction, but also because she was pregnant with an illegitimate child. The only members of her family to whom she confided her predicament were her uncles Modest (who brought her to Paris) and the composer. They both helped to look after Tatyana during her confinement, and, when, on 26 April/8 May 1883, she gave birth to a boy, christened Georges-Léon, Tchaikovsky arranged for the child to be taken care of by a French family for the time being.
  3. Anton Arensky's ballad The Forest King (Лесной царь), a setting for soloist, chorus, and orchestra of Vasily Zhukovsky's translation of Goethe's Erlkönig (famously set to music by Schubert almost seventy years earlier) — note in П. И. Чайковский. Избранные письма (2002), p. 378.
  4. Tchaikovsky had been tasked with arranging Glinka's chorus "Glory" («Славься») from the opera A Life for the Tsar for unison chorus and string orchestra, for the coronation celebrations of Alexander III.
  5. Yelena Sergeyevna Taneyeva (1847–1915), the wife of Taneyev's elder brother Vladimir (see below).
  6. Vladimir Ivanovich Taneyev (1840–1921), a jurist and utopian socialist, who was a student at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in Saint Petersburg at the same time as Tchaikovsky (though two classes below him). For more information on Vladimir Taneyev, his reminiscences of the School of Jurisprudence, and the composer's dislike of him, see Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), chapters 2 and 3, and Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том I, vol. 1 (2009), chapters 2 and 3.