Letter 2854

Date 14/26 January 1886
Addressed to Félix Mackar
Where written Maydanovo
Language French
Autograph Location Paris (France): Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de la Musique
Publication Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 51–53
Советская музыка (1970), No. 9, p. 63–64 (Russian translation; abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XIII (1971), p. 241–244

Text and Translation

French text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Kline, Maïdanowo
14/26 Janvier 1886

Cher ami!

Je viens de recevoir Votre bonne lettre et tout ce qu'elle contenait. Merci, grand merci pour tout ce que V[ou]s faites pour moi. Votre énergie, Votre activité sont vraiment prodigieuses et je me félicite tous les jours en pensant que j'ai en V[ou]s un propagateur aussi habile et zèlé. Je ne saurai vraiment assez V[ou]s assurer de ma vive et profonde reconnaissance.

V[ou]s me demandez comment — il faut m'envoyer les journaux ou l'on parle de ma musique. Je V[ou]s dirai franchement que je ne tiens pas extraordinairement à ce que V[ou]s me les fassiez parvenir, chaque fois qu'on joue quelque-chose de moi, — à moins que ce ne soit ecrit par un homme de beaucoup d'autorité comme par exemple Saint-Saëns, Joncière etc. Le fait est que je voudrais qu'on parlât de moi, — mais que je n'attache pas beaucoup d'importance aux louanges comme aux ereintements des journaux. Ce que je désire, s'est qu'on me joue et si V[ou]s m'envoyez les programmes c'est tout ce que je désire. Du reste, cher ami, faites comme V[ou]s voudrez : les journaux ou les articles découpés arriveront dans tous les cas à leur adresse.

Je serai extrêmement content si Lamoureux joue ma 3-me Suite. Quant à Colonne, permettez moi de ne pas lui ecrire. Jamais de la vie, dans aucun cas je ne me suis adressé à qui que ce soit dans le bût de me faire jouer. Je suis toujours prêt et content d'ecrire une lettre de remerciement et si Colonne joue quelque chose de moi je lui ecrirai avec le plus grand plaisir, — mais le prier, — non je ne le pourrai jamais. Colonne etait mieux disposé pour moi il y a de cela quelques années : il a joué deux fois ma 4me simphonie, il a joué ma «Tempête» ; je suis bien peiné à l'idée qu'il est devenu froid à l'egard de ma musique, mais je n'y puis rien, et je V[ou]s prie, cher ami, de ne pas trop m'en vouloir de ce que je ne puis me faire violence et, me conformant à Votre désir, ecrire à Colonne avant qu'il n'ait joué ne fut-ce que quelque bagatelle de moi.

Veuillez transmettre mes compliments les plus chaleureux à M[ademoise]lle Marie Tayau. Maintenant je vais V[ou]s détailler les données de ma biographie, puisque V[ou]s le voulez absolument. Je V[ou]s préviens qu'il faut que quelqu'un maniant le français mieux que moi rédige la notice biographique — je ne Vous donnerez que les faits et les dates.


Né le 25 Avril/7 Mai 1840 à Votkinsk, province de Vyatka. Mon père etait Ingénieur des mines. Par ma mère je suis un peu français, car le nom de son père était André d'Assier et c'etait un descendant d'une famille émigrée à l'epoque de la revocation de l'edit de Nante. Mes dispositions pour la musique se révélèrent à l'âge de 4 ans. Ma mère ayant remarqué que j'eprouvais les plus vives jouissances en entendant de la musique fit venir une maitresse de piano Marie Markowna qui m'enseigna les premiers éléments de la musique. A l'age de 10 ans on me conduisit à S[ain]t Petersbourg et l'on me plaça à l"École Impériale des droits ; ou je restai pendant 9 ans, sans m'occuper sérieusement de musique, quoique vers la fin de cette periode mon père me fit prendre des leçons d'un excellent pianiste résidant à Petersbourg, M[onsieur] Rodolphe Kündinger. C'est à cet artiste éminent que je dois l'obligation d'avoir compris que ma véritable vocation etait la musique ; c'est lui qui me familiarisa avec les classiques et m'ouvrit de nouveaux horizons de mon art. Après avoir terminé mes études de Droit je devins employé au Ministère de la Justice et pendant 3 ans encore, je negligeai forcément la musique. Un théoricien de grand mérite, M[onsieur] Zaremba ayant ouvert des cours de théorie et composition, j'entrai en 1861 dans ces cours et mes progrès furent tels que quand l'année suivante Antoine Rubinstein fonda le Conservatoire Impérial de Musique, je renonçai complètement au service et me vouai décidément à mon art. Mon excellent père en fût bien attristé, — mais il fallut qu'il renonçat à son rève de me voir faire carrière au service, quand il comprit que ma vocation etait sérieuse. En 1865 je terminai mes etudes sous la direction de M[onsieu]r Zaremba et A. Rubinstein (ce dernier m'enseigna l'instrumentation) et ma première composition fût une cantate sur une poésie de Schiller «La joie» que l'on exécuta au palais de feue la Grande Duchesse Hélène, protectrice du Conservatoire. Immédiatement après je fus engagé par Nicolas Rubinstein en qualité de professeur de composition au Conservatoire de Moscou. Pendant 11 ans j'y remplis ces fonctions tant bien que mal ; plutôt mal car j'avais en horreur mes classes qui me prenaient tout mon temps et compromettaient ma santé. J'ecrivais cependant beaucoup. Ma première simphonie fut joué à Moscou en 1867 ; mon premier opera qui n'eût aucun succès, «Le Voyévode» fut joué en 1869. On refusa mon deuxième opera «L'Ondine». Je ne me décourageai pas et en ecrivis bientôt un 3-ème «L'Opritschnik» qui fût donné non sans succès à Petersbourg en 1874. En 1877 ma santé gravement compromise me forçat de quitter le Conservatoire et de passer un an en Italie ; je revins au Conservatoire en 1878 mais fus encore une fois obligé de m'éloigner en Italie et depuis lors je ne repris plus de service. Pendant plusieurs annés je vécus dans la retraite en Italie, revenant tous les ans pour l'été en Russie, ou je passais quelque[s] mois à la campagne chez ma sœur. Depuis un an je suis etabli dans une maison de campagne, où, à l'abris de toute espèce de tracas je travaille et compte travailler autant que mes forces me le permettront. Parmi mes opéras c'est «Eugène Onéguine» qui eut le plus de succès. C'est grâce à l'attention gracieuse de S[on] M[ajesté]. L'Empereur qu'on la représente à Petersbourg ; pendant 7 ans on croyait que, vu le peu d'intérêt dramatique, cet opera ne pouvait pas être monté sur une grande scène.


Voila, mon bien cher ami, tout ce que j'ai cru devoir V[ou]s communiquer sur ma vie artistique. Il vient de paraître dans une grande Revue mensuelle un grand article sur moi. Je ne l'ai pas encore lu. Peut-être le ferai-je traduire et V[ou]s enverrai la traduction.

Au revoir, cher ami.

A Vous de tout cœur.

P. Tschaïkovsky

C'est au mois d"Avril ou de Mai que je viendrai à Paris
Voyez l'Appendice


Appendice

Liste de mes grandes composition[s] et l'epoque de leur premiere exécution

Opéras

Voyévode... Moscou, 1869
L'Opritchnik... { St Petersbourg. 1874
{ Moscou, 1875
Vakoula le forgeron... S. Petersbourg, 1876
Jeanne d'Arc... St Petersbourg 1881
Mazeppa... { Moscou } 1884
{ St Petersbourg } 1884
Eugène Onéguine... { Moscou 1881
{ St. Petersbourg 1884

Simphonies

1-ère : 1867
2-ème : 1872
3-ème : 1875
4-ème : 1878

1-ère Suite : 1879
2-ème Suite : 1884
3-ème Suite : 1885

Ouvertures et Poème simphonique

«Roméo» : 1870
«Tempête» : 1873
«Francesca da Rimini» : 1876
«Manfred» : 1886
Klin, Maydanovo
14/26 January 1886

Dear friend!

I have just received your kind letter and everything that was enclosed in it. Many, many thanks for everything that you are doing for me. Your energy and activeness are truly prodigious, and I congratulate myself every day when I think of how in you I have such a competent and zealous propagandist. I truly could not express to you sufficiently my keen and profound gratitude [1].

You asked me how I would like you to send me the newspapers in which my music is discussed. I shall tell you frankly that I am not that particularly anxious for you to arrange for me to receive them each time that something by me is played — unless it is a review written by someone with great authority, such as, for instance, Saint-Saëns, Joncières [2] etc. The fact is that I would like people to talk about me, but I do not attach a great deal of importance to both the praises and strictures of the press. What I desire is for people to play me, and if you can send me the programmes, that is all I ask for. Anyway, dear friend, you may do as you like: your publications or cuttings from them will in any case always reach their destination.

I should be extremely happy if Lamoureux were to play my 3rd Suite [3]. As for Colonne, permit me not to write to him [4]. Never in my life, under no circumstances have I ever written to anyone in order to get myself played. I am always willing and happy to write a letter of thanks, and if Colonne does play something by me, I shall write to him with the greatest pleasure, but as for asking him — no, that is something I could never do [5]. Colonne was more favourably disposed towards me a few years ago: he played my 4th Symphony twice, he played my "Tempest" [6]. I am much aggrieved by the thought that he has grown cool towards my music, but there is nothing I can do about it, and I ask you, dear friend, not to be too angry with me because I am unable to go against my own nature and, in accordance with your wish, to write to Colonne before he has actually played something — be it just a bagatelle — by me.

Would you please convey my most ardent compliments to Mademoiselle Marie Tayau [7]. Now I shall give you an outline of my biography, since you so insist on it [8]. I must warn you that my biographical notice will have to be revised by someone who has a better command of French than I do — I shall just give you the facts and dates.


Born on 25 April/7 May 1840 in Votkinsk, Vyatka province. My father was a mining engineer. Through my mother I have some French roots, because the name of her father was André d'Assier and he was a descendant of a family which emigrated at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes [9]. My inclination for music manifested itself when I was 4 years old. My mother noticed that I experienced the most vivid pleasure when listening to music, and so she engaged a piano teacher, Mariya Markovna, who taught me the rudiments of music [10]. At the age of 10 I was taken to Saint Petersburg and enrolled in the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, where I would stay for 9 years during which I did not occupy myself with music seriously, although towards the end of that period my father did arrange for me to have lessons with an excellent pianist who was resident in Petersburg, Mr Rudolf Kündinger. It is to this eminent artist that I am indebted for realizing that my true vocation was music; it was he who acquainted me with the classics and opened up new musical horizons for me [11]. After completing my Law studies I became an official at the Ministry of Justice, and during 3 more years I perforce had to neglect music. In 1861, when Mr Zaremba, a theorist of great merit, set up some classes in music theory and composition, I enrolled in these classes, and my progress was such that when Anton Rubinstein founded the Imperial Conservatory of Music the following year, I abandoned the state service altogether and resolutely devoted myself to my art. My splendid father was greatly saddened by this, but he had to give up his dream of seeing me advance in the state service when he understood that my vocation was serious. In 1865, I completed my studies under the supervision of Mr Zaremba and A. Rubinstein (the latter taught me instrumentation), and my first composition was a cantata based on Schiller's poem Joy, which was performed at the palace of the late Grand Duchess Yelena, the patroness of the Conservatory. Immediately after that I was taken on by Nikolay Rubinstein as a professor of composition [12] at the Moscow Conservatory. During 11 years I somehow or other managed to fulfil my duties there — though probably quite badly, because I was horrified by my classes, which took up all my time and undermined my health. Nevertheless I wrote a lot. My First Symphony was played in Moscow in 1867. My first opera, The Voyevoda, which had no success whatsoever, was performed in 1869. My second opera, Undina, was rejected. I did not let myself be disheartened and soon wrote a third one, The Oprichnik, which was staged in Petersburg in 1874, not without success. In 1877, my gravely undermined health forced me to leave the Conservatory and to spend a year in Italy. I returned to the Conservatory in 1878, but was once again forced to leave for Italy, and since then I have not taken up any official employment again. During several years I lived in seclusion in Italy [13], returning every summer to Russia where I would spend several months in the country at the house of my sister. For a year now I have been resident in a country-house where, sheltered from all kinds of disturbance, I work and intend to work for as long as my creative powers allow me to. Among my operas, it is Yevgeny Onegin which has had the most success. It is thanks to the gracious attention of His Majesty the Emperor that it is being performed in Petersburg. For during the previous 7 years it was felt that, in view of its little dramatic interest, this opera could never be shown on a big stage.


So there, my very dear friend, is everything that I felt I ought to tell you about my artistic life [14]. A long article about me has just appeared in a big monthly journal [15]. I haven't read it yet. Perhaps I shall have it translated and will send you the translation.

Until we meet, dear friend.

Yours most cordially,

P. Tchaikovsky

I shall be coming to Paris in April or May [16]
See the Appendix


Appendix

List of my major compositions and the year of their first performance Operas:

The Voyevoda... Moscow, 1869
The Oprichnik... { ( Saint Petersburg. 1874
( Moscow, 1875
Vakula the Smith... Saint Petersburg, 1876
The Maid of Orleans... Saint Petersburg 1881
Mazepa... Moscow } 1884
Saint Petersburg } 1884
Yevgeny Onegin... Moscow 1881 [17]
Saint Petersburg 1884

Symphonies:

1st : 1867
2nd : 1872
3rd : 1875
4th : 1878

1st Suite : 1879
2nd Suite : 1884
3rd Suite : 1885

Overtures and symphonic poems:

"Romeo" : 1870
"The Tempest" : 1873
"Francesca da Rimini" : 1876
"Manfred" : 1886

Notes and References

  1. Together with his letter to Tchaikovsky from Paris on 8/20 January 1886, Mackar had enclosed several programmes of recent concerts and recitals at which works by Tchaikovsky had been performed. Mackar also described how he had organized a concert at the Salle Érard whose programme was drawn exclusively from Tchaikovsky's works: it took place on 2/14 January 1886 and featured the pianist René Chansarel, who played eight of the composer's piano pieces; the violinist Marie Tayau, who played the Valse-Scherzo and Souvenir d'un lieu cher; and the singer Madame Montaigu-Montibert, who performed Why? and None But the Lonely Heart, Nos. 5 and 6 of the Six Romances, Op. 6. "The auditorium was full, there were some 700 people," Mackar reported. "I was told that there were lots of Russians in the audience. I sent invitations to the secretaries of the embassy and the Russian church. On the whole the impression was favourable. People come to my shop every day to buy your compositions". Mackar's letter has been published (in Russian translation only) in Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 151–152.
  2. Victorin de Joncières (real name: Félix-Ludger Rossignol; 1839–1903), French composer and music critic.
  3. In his letter of 8/20 January 1886 Mackar wrote that the conductor Charles Lamoureux (1834–1899) had recently asked him for a copy of the full score of the Suite No. 3. On 17/29 November 1885 Lamoureux had conducted his orchestra at the Éden-Théâtre in a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, with the Polish-born pianiste Cécile Silberberg (b. 1858) as the soloist. Tchaikovsky had sent Lamoureux his photograph (via Mackar) as a token of his gratitude, which then led to an exchange of letters between the two men. However, only Lamoureux's letters to Tchaikovsky have come to light so far.
  4. Mackar was hoping that Édouard Colonne would soon programme one of Tchaikovsky's major orchestral works at the Théâtre du Châtelet, but as he noted in his letter to the composer on 8/20 January 1886: "Colonne is taking an endless amount of time; I am trying to put pressure on him, I write to him every week, but nothing [of yours] is appearing on the playbills. They have just looked through the Andante from your Quartet Op. 11. Why don't you write to him yourself?".
  5. Tchaikovsky seems to have forgotten about the very first letter which he wrote to Colonne almost ten years earlier. For in this letter, dated 25 December 1876/6 January 1877, he had informed Colonne that he wished to organize a concert of his works in Paris and asked the conductor if he would be willing to offer the services of his orchestra for this purpose (see letter 528a). Colonne had agreed, but the planned concert did not go ahead because Tchaikovsky was unable to raise the necessary sum to hire a suitable venue.
  6. At a Châtelet concert on 25 February/9 March 1879 Colonne had conducted the symphonic fantasia The Tempest. Tchaikovsky attended the concert incognito, but he was disappointed by the reception of his work. "Although the performance was good, it didn't have any success," he wrote to Jurgenson that same day (letter 1123). He had nevertheless shown his gratitude to the conductor and his orchestra by sending an open letter to Colonne in his capacity as editor of La gazette musicale (see Letter 1122). The following year, at the initiative of Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 was given its first performance in Paris at a Châtelet concert conducted by Colonne on 13/25 January 1880. Tchaikovsky could not attend the concert since he was in Rome (nor, incidentally, could Nadezhda von Meck, who, despite financing the concert, was in Russia at the time), but Colonne sent Tchaikovsky a letter congratulating him warmly on the success of his symphony — see Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 215. The reviews, however, were quite hostile. See the extracts cited by Vladimir Fédorov in Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 25, note 2.
  7. In his letter of 8/20 January 1886, Mackar had observed how "I found Marie Tayau tremendously keen to perform your music, and this is something to which I must draw your attention in particular. Wherever she performs, she will always consider it her duty to play Tchaikovsky". The violinist had been one of the musicians who took part in the recital of Tchaikovsky's works organized by Mackar at the Salle Érard on 2/14 January 1886 (see note 1 above).
  8. In an earlier letter Mackar had asked Tchaikovsky to provide a biographical notice about himself that he could pass on to the Parisian critics and indeed to anyone in the French capital who could help to propagate Tchaikovsky's music.
  9. Tchaikovsky's statement about his ancestors here contains some inaccuracies (partly also depending on how it is read). His maternal grandfather, Andrey Mikhaylovich Assier (1778–1835), was born in Meissen, Saxony, to a French father (Michel Victor Acier) and a German (or Austrian) mother (Maria Christina Eleonora, née Wittig). The Christian name of Andrey Mikhaylovich Assier at birth, however, was not André, as one might have expected (and as Tchaikovsky wrote above), but Heinrich (his full name at birth being Michael Heinrich Maximilian Acier). Heinrich Acier left Saxony in 1795 to take up a post as a teacher of German and French at the Saint Petersburg Military School. Five years later, in July 1800, shortly after marrying Yekaterina Popova (the composer's maternal grandmother) he officially became a Russian citizen, adopting the name Andrey Mikhaylovich Assier. No member of the Assier (or Acier) family had settled in Russia previously, let alone during the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, which forced some 200,000 French Protestants (Huguenots) to leave France. Even if "emigrated" in Tchaikovsky's statement is not taken to mean "emigrated to Russia", but read simply as "emigrated from France", it is still problematic because: (i) his maternal great-grandfather, Michel Victor Acier, was born in France, specifically at Versailles in 1736, and he did not leave the country until 1764, when he moved to Saxony to work as a modelleur at the famous Meissen porcelain factory; (ii) Michel Victor Acier was not a Huguenot, but a Catholic (as was his future wife), and so his emigration from France had nothing to do with religious persecution, but rather with his search for better employment opportunities. Tchaikovsky's first biographer, his brother Modest, would add to the confusion by writing that their maternal great-grandfather (that is, Michel Victor Acier) had emigrated to Prussia from France in the wake of the 1789 Revolution (see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 9). The archival research of Lucinde Braun in Germany, and Tamara Skvirskaya and Valery Sokolov in Russia in recent years has clarified the genealogy of Tchaikovsky's family on his mother's side. See Lucinde Braun's article for this website on Michel Victor Acier and his career as a sculptor, as well as Материалы к родословной Чайковского по материнской линии (2003), p. 224–235; and Петербургские тайны в родословной и биографии Чайковского (2003), p. 236–245.
  10. Mariya Markovna Loginova (née Palchikova; d. 1888) was a former serf who was engaged as a piano teacher for young Pyotr in Votkinsk by his parents around 1845. By 1848, as Modest informs us in his biography of the composer, the eight-year-old Pyotr could already play the piano as well as she could. In 1883, Tchaikovsky unexpectedly received a letter from her asking for financial assistance. He granted her a pension and also corresponded regularly with her during the last three years of her life (none of these letters, however, has come to light) — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 41.
  11. Rudolf Kündinger (1832–1913) was born in Nuremberg, but in 1850 settled in Russia where he worked as a piano teacher. He gave Tchaikovsky piano lessons every Sunday from 1855 to 1858 (except during the summer months). Kündinger would go on to be appointed a professor of piano at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1879. For Modest's biography he wrote some reminiscences about his former student, in which he confessed that, despite the young man's outstanding abilities, he would never have imagined that he would go on to become a famous composer, and indeed at the time he had replied in the negative to Ilya Tchaikovsky's question as to whether his son should pursue a musical career — partly because he had not then seen any genius in him, and partly because of the difficulty of making a living as a musician in Russia — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 112; also cited in Tchaikovsky remembered (1993), p. 13. In his more detailed Autobiography (1889) Tchaikovsky would also pay tribute to Kündinger, noting how his teacher had been the first to take him to concerts of German classical music.
  12. Strictly speaking, of music theory.
  13. Tchaikovsky here glosses over the circumstances and aftermath of his ill-fated marriage to Antonina Milyukova in July 1877, which led to his flight from Russia in September and also (thanks to the financial support of Nadezhda von Meck) his resignation from the Moscow Conservatory. During these years of self-imposed exile abroad, however, he spent long periods not just in Italy, but also in Switzerland and France.
  14. It is worth comparing this biographical notice for Mackar with the more detailed Autobiography which Tchaikovsky would write for a German journal in 1889 — a fascinating document which for over a century was thought lost until it was rediscovered by Alexander Poznansky and published in a complete English translation for the first time in: Alexander Poznansky and Brett Langston, The Tchaikovsky Handbook ; vol. 1 (2002), p. 523–528.
  15. As pointed out by Vladimir Fédorov in Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 54, note 9, the article in question is П. И. Чайковский. Очерк музыкальной деятельности (P. I. Tchaikovsky. An outline of his musical career), which appeared in the February 1886 issue of the journal Russian Thought (Русская мысль).
  16. After staying with his brother Anatoly in Tiflis Tchaikovsky would arrive in Paris in mid/late May 1886.
  17. Tchaikovsky did not count the first complete staging of Yevgeny Onegin with a student cast at the Moscow Maly Theatre on 17/29 March 1879 as the opera's official premiere, but rather its first 'professional' performance at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre on 11/23 January 1881.