Letter 2465

Date 14/26 April 1884
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. 636–637 (abridged)
Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 108–110
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 104–105
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XII (1970), p. 348–350

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Каменка. 14 апреля

Милый Сергей Иванович!

Вы с такой горячностью стараетесь доказать мне, что я побеждён, как будто предполагаете во мне ехидное желание оспаривать Ваше торжество. Тем лучше, что я побеждён. Да, впрочем, я никогда не старался разубедить Вас в Вашей вере в силу сухой материи; я лишь сомневался и боялся за Вас, но уж, конечно, никто более меня не будет радоваться, если эти мои страхи окажутся вздорными. Во всяком случае, мне в глубине души всегда нравилось, что Вы не идёте по утоптанной тропинке современной пошлости, а ищете новых путей. Только я сомневался, чтобы в контрапунктах на русские песни, которым Вы посвятили чуть не несколько лет, и в чрезмерной приверженности к фокусам во вкусе нидерландской музыки Вы нашли искомое. Теперь для меня одно несомненно, это то, что Вы написали превосходную кантату. Оттого ли она хороша, что контрапункт и фокусы Вас согрели и вдохновили, или что, наоборот, Вы вложили тёплое чувство в сухие и мертвенные формы, — этого я ещё не знаю. Мне, однако, кажется, что если с неумолимой последовательностью Вы будете держаться тех же приёмов сочинительства в применении к симфонии, квартету и опере, то едва ли результат будет столь же успешен. А впрочем, ей-Богу, не знаю. Знаю только, что у Вас большой талант, много ума, океан ненависти ко всему условному, пошлому, дёшево дающемуся, — и что в результате этого рано или поздно должны получиться богатые плоды.

Откровенно говоря, я мало сочувствую Вам, когда Вы выражаете сокрушение, что не Вы дирижировали «Флейтой». Я предполагал в Вас больше великодушия и меньше, как бы сказать... эгоизма, что ли! Верю, что Вам хотелось; уверен, что Вы бы сделали это отлично. Но ведь и бедному Альбрехту хотелось и, вероятно, ещё более страстно и болезненно-сильно, чем Вам. Вообще, я нахожу, что к Альбрехту относятся всё слишком свысока. Подумайте, Сергей Иванович, что Вы в сравнении с ним мальчик, что для Ваших стремлений есть много случаев проявиться, так как Вы и превосходный пианист, и отличный композитор, и великолепный теоретик, и что даже дирижировать Вам случается часто, а если захотите, то и гораздо чаще. Бедному же Альбрехту, директорствующему в консерватории точно из милости (тогда как и по своей замечательной талантливости, усердию, преданности делу и по своим заслугам он бы заслуживал более почтительного отношеня), было бы крайне обидно и горько даже и в этом единственном случае уступить своё по праву ему принадлежащее место другому, хотя этот другой и Танеев. К тому же я должен Вам сказать, что Альбрехт дирижировал отлично, и меня глубоко возмутил презрительный тон, с которым отнёсся к нему этот идиот Флеров. Ваш черёд придёт, и поверьте, что Альбрехт первый склонится перед Вами, как «перед новою царицей порфироносная вдова». А покамест, дайте этому бедному немцу, которого всегда и все держали в чёрном теле (и весьма несправедливо), хоть иногда доказывать, что он на что-нибудь годится. Судьба Альбрехта всегда возбуждала во мне глубокое участие. Можно смело сказать, что это чрезвычайно талантливый человек, — а между тем, никогда и ни в чём ему не было удачи, и когда люди, очень немузыкальные и случайно попавшие в музикусы, живут не только безбедно, но роскошно и привольно, — он вечно в крайней нужде и вечно в загоне.

Я только третьего дня приехал в Каменку. Какое счастье быть властелином своего времени, принадлежать самому себе, жить, как хочется, и иметь возможность делать, что хочешь!

Адресую письмо в Москву. Очень рад буду с Вами переписываться. Не сердитесь, голубчик, что заступился за Альбрехта.

Кланяйтесь Варваре Павловне и Масловым. Искренно любящий Вас

П. Чайковский

Kamenka. 14 April

You are trying to prove to me with such passion that I have been defeated, as though you were presupposing in me a malicious desire to contest your victory [1]. All the better that I have been defeated. But I must say that I never tried to argue you out of your faith in the power of dry subject-matter; I was just doubtful and afraid for you, but of course no one will be gladder than I if these misgivings of mine turn out to be silly. In any case, in my heart of hearts I have always liked the way that you do not follow the beaten track of contemporary banality, but search for new paths. I was just doubtful as to whether you had found what you were looking for in the contrapuntal pieces based on Russian songs to which you have devoted some, if not several, years, and in your excessive predilection for tricks in the manner of Dutch music. Now one thing is beyond question for me: that you have written a magnificent cantata [2]. As to whether the latter is good because all that counterpoint and those tricks warmed and inspired you, or whether, on the contrary, you invested the dry and deathlike forms with warm feeling, that I cannot yet say. It does seem to me, though, that if you insist, with relentless consistency, in sticking to the same compositional techniques when writing symphonies, string quartets, and operas, the results will hardly be as successful. However, I truly do not know. All I know is that you have a great talent, a lot of intelligence, and a whole sea of hatred for everything that is conventional, banal, and to be had cheaply, and that as a result of this we must sooner or later expect to see rich fruits.

To be honest, I feel but little sympathy for you when you say that you are distressed because it was not you who conducted The Flute [3]. I thought you possessed greater generosity and less, how shall I put it... egoism, indeed! I believe you when you say you wanted to conduct; I am certain that you would have done so splendidly. But, you see, poor Albrecht also wanted to, and probably with a more passionate and painfully intense desire than you had. In general, I think that people tend to treat Albrecht far too condescendingly. Do bear in mind, Sergey Ivanovich, that in comparison to him you are a mere boy, that there are many opportunities for your aspirations to manifest themselves, since you are an outstanding pianist, a splendid composer, a magnificent theoretician, and you even get to conduct frequently (if you so wished, it could be far more frequently). For poor Albrecht, who is acting as director in the Conservatory almost as if he were being allowed to do so out of charity (whereas on the strength of his remarkable talent, diligence, devotion to the cause, and his merits, he deserves to be treated with greater respect), it would be extremely insulting and bitter even on this sole occasion to have to cede to another the place which rightfully belongs to him, even though that other person is Taneyev. Moreover, I must tell you that Albrecht conducted splendidly, and I am profoundly indignant at the contemptuous tone with which that idiot Flerov wrote of him [4]. Your turn will come, and, believe me, Albrecht will be the first to bow down before you, like "the purple-robed dowager before the new empress" [5]. For the time being, though, do give this poor German, whom everyone has always been ill-treating (and most unjustly, too), the chance to show, even if just occasionally, that he is useful for something. Albrecht's fate has always awakened my profound sympathy. It can confidently be asserted that he is an extraordinarily talented man, and yet he has never had any good luck in anything. Thus, while people who are very unmusical, and who have stumbled on musical careers purely by chance, are not only well-off, but even lead free and easy lives in luxury, he is constantly suffering extreme hardship and is constantly being browbeaten.

I only arrived in Kamenka the day before yesterday. What good fortune it is to be the master of one's time, to belong only to oneself, to live as one wishes, and to have the opportunity to do what one wants!

I am addressing this letter to Moscow. I shall be very happy to correspond with you. Don't be angry with me, golubchik, for my having stood up for Albrecht.

Give my regards to Varvara Pavlovna and the Maslovs. With my sincere love,

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. In his letter to Tchaikovsky from Selishche on 6/18 April 1884 Taneyev had summarized his compositional efforts over the last year, as well as recalling his polemic with Tchaikovsky a few years earlier regarding the potential role of counterpoint in the development of Russian music (see Letters 1554, 1565, and 1839, and the accompanying notes): "Most importantly, I am glad that I have written a cantata [John of Damascus]. I am glad about this for the folllowing reasons: 1) In this cantata I applied all kinds of contrapuntal niceties, which I have been studying with great zeal, and for which I have been getting lots of reproaches from you; 2) This cantata went down well with the public. Many listeners told me that the music of this cantata had made an impression on them, and that they had liked it. From this it follows clearly that contrapuntal 'subtleties do not prevent music from being attractive for audiences and making an impression on them. And yet, if I had not occupied myself with counterpoint after my graduation from the Conservatory I would never have been able to compose the aforesaid cantata. Consequently, your reproaches that I am occupying myself with a futile task are not well-founded, as I wished to prove to you long ago, but was unable to because words alone were insufficient, and my compositions thus far were, unfortunately, not such as could serve as proof of the abovementioned idea. Now, though, I can return to what I said a few years ago, and which I can now reiterate not only in words, but also partly with my cantata, namely: that the contrapuntal method of writing does not make music boring and dry; that contrapuntal 'subtleties', just like harmonic ones, cease to be such as soon as one has mastered them completely, so that they can be used for fully artistic purposes; that in harmony, unless one plunges into the sphere of dissonances which are unbearable to the ear, it is difficult to pick out anything new and original, whereas contrapuntal combinations can yield a lot that is new and interesting, outside of the sphere of fanciful music. Having set forth the aforesaid arguments, I consider myself to be the victor in the question of counterpoint, and that you are defeated. Do you acknowledge yourself as such?" Taneyev's letter has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 102–103  [back]
  2. The cantata John of Damascus (Иоанн Дамаскин), a setting for chorus and orchestra of Aleksey Tolstoy's eponymous narrative poem, was Taneyev's first major work to achieve general recognition. It also became his official Opus 1 when its piano-vocal score was published by Jurgenson in 1886 (although the full score would not be published until 1904)—see the introduction to Sergey Popov, «Неизданные сочинения и работы С. И. Танеева—Археографический очерк» (Unpublished compositions and works by S. I. Taneyev. An archaeographical outline) in Сергей Иванович Танеев. Личность, творчество и документы его жизни (Moscow]] / Leningrad, 1925), p. 135–136  [back]
  3. A performance of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute by students from the Moscow Conservatory had taken place at the city's Bolshoi Theatre on 29 March/10 April 1884. The conductor was Karl Albrecht, who had recently been appointed director of the Conservatory. In his letter of 6/18 April 1884 to Tchaikovsky, who had told him about the performance (see letter 2459), Taneyev wrote: "I am very glad that The Magic Flute went well, and I am very upset that Konstantin Karlovich [Albrecht]], who was christened Konstantin after converting to the Orthodox faith] pushed me aside in order to conduct it himself. In general I am not very keen on appearing before the public in the capacity of a conductor, but if there was ever a time in my life when I wanted to conduct, it was this opportunity to conduct the divine music of The Magic Flute"  [back]
  4. In the 5 April 1884 [N.S.] issue of the Moscow Register the critic Sergey Flerov published under his pseudonym "Ignotus" a note on the student performance of The Magic Flute. In his view, the performance went well, but "what was lacking was joyfulness, that imperceptible artistic spark which, originating with the conductor, is carried over to all the singers, which jumps from the stage and the orchestra over into the auditorium [...] Our conductor lacked this artistic spark, but he is not to be blamed for this [...] Try to imagine what it is like for a modest and efficient inspector who is suddenly forced to exert artistic influence, to occupy the place of a conductor such as N. G. Rubinstein. It was an act of self-sacrifice" — note by Vladimir Zhdanov in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 105  [back]
  5. Two verses from the introduction to Pushkin's poem The Bronze Horseman (Медный всадник; 1833), in which the creation of Saint Petersburg by decree of Peter the Great is evoked, and we are told how "Old Moscow faded / Before the younger capital, / Like the purple-robed dowager / Before the new empress" (И перед младшею столицей / Помёркла старая Москва, / Как перед новою царицей / Порфироносная вдова)  [back]