Letter 2560

Date 28 September/10 October 1884
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Pleshcheyevo
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2 (1901), p. 661–665 (abridged)
Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 120–122 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 115–118
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XII (1970), p. 449–453

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Плещеево, 28 сент[ября]

Может быть, я ошибаюсь, и если по услышании симфонии, исполненной настоящим образом, переменю мнение, то буду очень рад сознаться в своём заблуждении, но вот что мне кажется теперь.

Симфония не задумана для оркестра, а есть только переложение на оркестр музыки, явившейся в Вашей голове, так сказать, абстрактно, или же если было конкретное представление, то, мне кажется, в виде фортепьяно, пожалуй, с одним или двумя струнными. Даже всего скорее в виде фортепьянного трио. Возьмём первую тему. Она есть мелодия в три четверти, порученная альту с кларнетами. Альт при этом делает на каждую четверть три осьмые. Зачем эти триоли? Есть ли эта триоль ритмическая фигура, свойственная теме и неизменно встречающаяся всякий раз, как темя появляется? Нет, ибо вскоре из темы она переходит в аккомпанемент, а засим окончательно исчезает. Мне кажется, что Вы самого себя обманули, сообщив теме триольную ритмическую фигурацию, которая и некрасива (я, по крайней мере, не люблю такого мандолинного способа излагать певучую тему) и насильственно ей навязана. Мне кажется, что тут слышится и что в голове Вашей носилась виолончельная тема с триольною фигурациею фортепьян

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Вторая тема тоже есть мелодия с фортепьянным аккомпанементом. Если бы это было задумано для оркестра, то едва ли она появилась бы разом с двумя столь характеристическими тембрами, как высокий регистр виолончеля и валторна, которые мешают и убивают друг друга. В аккомпанементе опять какая-то нерешительность: то кларнет пожурчит, то скрипка начинает исполнять чисто фортепьянную фигуру; в сущности же, тут звучит фортепьяно и опять с виолончелем, вследствие чего нет контраста между 2-мя темами.

Итак, прежде всего главные темы не оркестровы. Это несоответствие мысли с формой или, лучше сказать, насильственность формы даёт себя чувствовать от начала до конца. Только в редких местах встречаешь настоящую оркестровую звучность. В большинстве же страниц оркестр, претендующий, судя по составу, быть прозрачным и светлым, — в сущности, очень массивен, тяжёл и искусственен. Оркестровые группы недостаточно контрастируют: все разом участвуют и в теме, и в аккомпанементе; нет ни одной полстранички, где бы квартет остался один. Одно такое место я было нашёл и страшно обрадовался, но заметка карандашом тотчас же поспешила известить меня, что тут будут в духовых выдержанные аккорды. Духовые же без струнных в одном месте появляются, — но они так назойливо всё время суются повсюду, что это едва ли может доставить большое удовольствие. Валторны и трубы тоже, кажется, слишком много играют. Зато есть место (превосходное по музыке), где для расширенной темы в басу просто необходимы тромбоны.

Засим не буду придираться к мелочам и поспешу сказать, что, несмотря на этот общий недостаток массивности и бесколоритности, есть места, которые всё-таки будут отлично звучать, и таких весьма много. Подобного рода эффекты мы встречаем в переложениях с ф[орте]п[иано] на оркестр (напр[имер], «Invitation à la valse» Берлиоза), и нет ничего удивительного, что, раскритиковав общее, я должен отдать справедливость искусно выполненным подробностям. Но всё же симфония должна быть симфонией, а не хорошим переложением с фортепьяно на оркестр. Из нравящихся мне в отношении оркестровки мест укажу 1) на унисон струнных с выдержанной октавой в меди

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2) на появление 1-ой темы в трубах перед побочной партией, хотя сомневаюсь, чтобы фигура

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в альтах и виолонч[елях] была слышна;

3) на секвенцию

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и следующее за ней tutti

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4) на заключение, где валторна поёт 1-ую тему, и т. д. до самого конца.

Вообще, Ваш оркестр будет звучать совершенно прилично; работа Ваша тщательна, — но для строгого критика весьма будет заметен коренной недостаток её—тот, что музыка эта по замыслу не принадлежит к оркестровой области.

Когда мне нужно написать что-нибудь серьёзное, я всегда ужасаюсь своей писательской бездарности. Чувствую, что я не так, не в той силе, не с той ясностью высказал то, что чувствую, и не знаю, поймёте ли Вы, что я хотел сказать: т. е., что хотя Вы и мастер своего дела и нет ничего такого, что бы не годилось, — но образцом симфонической музыки первая часть Вашей симфонии всё-таки не будет. Вы впали в ту ошибку, в которую никогда не впадали классики (Бетх[овен], Моц[арт] и Гайдн), но в которую впадал Шуман и впадает масса современных композиторов, не исключая и Вашего покорнейшего слуги.

В заключение скажу, что с музыкальной стороны зато я не только удовлетворён, но восхищён. Мне нравятся до чрезвычайности все фокусы Ваши, особенно суматоха тем перед возвращением главной партии. Это превосходно. Уже самое вступление басов диссонансом с скр[ипками] и валт[орной]

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и т. д. и чем дальше, тем лучше. Потом прелестно вступление главной партии до разрешения задержания:

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Темы страдают недостатком контраста, — но сами по себе чрезвычайно симпатичны. О форме и говорить нечего.

Очень жаль, что Вы дали мне рассматривать партитуру до исполнения. Боюсь, что играю роль стаканчика холодной воды на Ваше авторское увлечение к только что написанной вещи.

Извините, голубчик.

Ваш П. Чайковский

Хотя мы, должно быть, скоро увидимся, но я всё-таки счёл нужным написать.

Pleshcheyevo, 28 September

Perhaps I am mistaken, and if after hearing the symphony [1] performed properly I change my opinion, I shall be very glad to acknowledge my mistake. This, however, is what I think of it now.

This symphony was not conceived for orchestra, but is simply an orchestral arrangement of music which appeared, so to speak, abstractly in your head, or if you did indeed have a concrete notion of it, I think it must have been in the form of piano music, possibly accompanied by one or two string instruments. In fact, it is most likely that it was in the form of a piano trio [2]. Let us take the first theme. It is a melody in 3/4 assigned to the viola and clarinets. Now, on every fourth beat the viola plays three eighth-notes. What are these triplets doing here? Is this triplet a rhythmic figure which is proper to the theme, and which invariably comes up each time that the theme appears? No, because very soon it glides over from the theme into the accompaniment, and after that disappears altogether. It seems to me that you deceived yourself when you endowed this theme with a triplet-based rhythmic figuration, which is both ugly (at least I do not like such a mandolin-like way of presenting a melodious theme) and has been foisted on the theme forcibly. I think that one can hear there (and this is what was probably floating in your head) a cello theme with a triplet figuration on the piano

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The second theme is also a melody with piano accompaniment. If it had been conceived for orchestra, then it would hardly have been announced simultaneously through two such characteristic timbres as the high registers of the cello and French horn, which disturb and indeed kill one another. In the accompaniment there is again a certain hesitancy: now the clarinets murmur a bit, now the violins begin to play a purely pianistic figure. Essentially, the sound we have here is that of a piano, and once again combined with a cello, as a result of which there is no contrast between the two themes.

Thus, the principal themes are above all not orchestral. This disparity between the idea and the form, or rather, the forced nature of the form, makes itself felt from beginning to end. Only in very few passages does one come across real orchestral sonority. For on most of the pages the orchestra, which, judging from its make-up, claims to be transparent and bright, is at bottom very massive, heavy, and artificial. The orchestral groups do not contrast sufficiently: they are all involved at once both in the theme and in the accompaniment. There isn't a single little half-page in which the string section is left to itself. I thought I had found one such passage and was about to rejoice when suddenly a pencilled-in note hastened to inform me that sustained chords are to be played by the wind section there. The wind instruments do appear without the strings in one passage, but, otherwise, the former thrust themselves forward so importunely everywhere that this can hardly give much pleasure. The French horns and trumpets are also made to play far too much in my view. On the other hand, there is a passage (musically a splendid one), in which trombones are simply essential to support the expanded theme in the bass.

After this I shall cease to pick on trifles and hasten to say that, despite this general flaw of massiveness and lack of colour, there are passages which will sound splendidly anyway, and indeed there are very many of these. We find similar effects in arrangements from piano to orchestra (for instance, Berlioz's Invitation à la valse), and it is not at all surprising that, having criticized severely the overall picture, I must do justice to the skilfully executed details. But all the same, a symphony must be a symphony, and not a good arrangement from piano to orchestra.

Of the passages which I like in terms of the orchestration, I should like to single out: 1) the unison strings with a sustained octave in the brass

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2) the first theme's appearance in the trumpets just before the secondary subject, although I doubt that the figure

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played by the violas and cellos will be audible;

3) the sequence

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and the tutti which follow it

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4) the conclusion where the French horn sings the first theme, and so on right up to the very end.

On the whole, your orchestra will have a perfectly decent sound, and you have done a conscientious job, but for a strict critic the symphony's fundamental flaw will be all too noticeable—namely, the fact that this music, in terms of its conception, does not belong to the orchestral realm.

When I have to write something serious I am always horrified at my lack of literary talent. I sense that I haven't quite managed to express, with the same intensity and clarity, what it is that I feel, and so I don't know whether you will understand what I wanted to say: i.e., that although you are a master of your profession, and there is nothing here which is unfit to be used, still the first movement of your symphony will not become a paragon of symphonic music. You have made that mistake which the classics (Beethoven]], Mozart, and Haydn) never made, but which Schumann did make, as do masses of modern composers, not excluding your humble servant.

In conclusion I should like to say, on the other hand, that as far as the music goes, I am not only satisfied, but delighted. All your tricks please me exceedingly, especially the maelstrom of themes before the recapitulation of the principal subject. That is magnificent. This applies already to the double-basses' entry and the dissonance between them and the violins and French horn

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etc., and the further one goes, the better. Another delightful thing is the invocation of the principal subject before the suspension is resolved:

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The themes are undermined by their lack of contrast, but, taken on their own, they are extremely attractive. Needless to say that is is also true of the form.

It is a great pity that you let me look over the score before the symphony's performance [3]. I'm afraid that I may be acting like a little glass of cold water in the sense of quenching your authorial enthusiasm for a work that you have only just finished writing [4].

Sorry, golubchik.

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

Although we shall probably be seeing one another soon, still I felt it was necessary to write.

Notes and References

  1. Taneyev's Third Symphony in D minor. Taneyev had completed his new symphony in sketch form in late March/early April 1884 and played it to Tchaikovsky in Moscow on 26 August/7 September (see Tchaikovsky's Letter 2538 to his brother Modest on 1/13 September 1884; and Taneyev's letter of 28 August/9 September 1884 to Varvara Maslova in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 395). At one of his subsequent meetings with Tchaikovsky in Moscow (on 2/14–3/15 September and mid/late September) Taneyev had given him the score of the first movement which he had recently finished orchestrating and asked him to look over it and provide a detailed appraisal. Tchaikovsky was reluctant to comment in detail on the score until the remaining movements had also been orchestrated and the symphony had been performed in public (see Letter 2557 to Taneyev, 25 September/7 October 1884), but Taneyev insisted that, since he had already completed the orchestration of the whole symphony in rough, he would appreciate having his former teacher's opinion of his work already at that stage.
  2. Tchaikovsky's aversion to the combination of piano with string instruments is well-documented (see, for example, Letter 1617 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 October/5 November–27 October/8 November 1880), although this did not prevent him from writing an outstanding Piano Trio in the winter of 1881–82. In suggesting that the music of this symphony had occurred to Taneyev in the guise of a piano trio Tchaikovsky was therefore making quite a strong criticism, for he always distinguished between those composers for whom the solo piano was their natural medium of expression (principally Schumann, whose orchestration in his symphonies Tchaikovsky found unsatisfactory), and those for whom it was the orchestra (among whom he counted himself).
  3. Taneyev's Third Symphony, which was dedicated to Anton Arensky but was never published, was first performed at a Russian Musical Society concert in Moscow on 26 January/7 February 1885, conducted by Taneyev himself. For more information on the symphony, see 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. 145–14.
  4. Taneyev was nevertheless grateful for these detailed comments, as we may see from his letter to Tchaikovsky on 6/18 October 1884, and he wanted to submit the other movements, which he had just finished orchestrating, to his scrutiny as well. He did make some objections in that letter, pointing out that orchestral works could contain many passages which one could well imagine being performed as a vocal solo with accompaniment, or as a string quartet, or as a piano trio, but that this in no way meant that they had been conceived in that form. He cited as an example the second theme in Beethoven's Corolianus overture, which in his view could easily be transcribed for piano and violin. "However," Taneyev added, "whilst making these objections, I still think in my heart of hearts that you are right, and that, when all is said and done, I have produced a boring, cumbersome, and colourless piece. I shall await, with even greater impatience than you, the symphony's performance in order to verify my impressions. I also think that the other movements will in many places remind people of piano pieces". Taneyev's letter has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 119.