Letter 297

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Date 6/18 April 1873
Addressed to Aleksandr Ostrovsky
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum (Ostrovsky collection)
Publication А. Н. Островский и русские композиторы. Письма (1937), p. 164–165
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 311–312

Text and Translation

Russian text
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Многоуважаемый Александр Николаевич!

Вчера вследствие неосторожности я перерезал себе на левой руке артерию. Хотя рана теперь отлично перевязана, и я в совершенной безопасности, но, так как левая рука должна находиться в совершенно неподвижном состоянии, то писать мне трудно. Вследствие этого убедительно прошу Вас позволить мне несколько сократить мою работу и именно следующим образом: заставить Музиля петь без всякого аккомпанемента ту мелодию, о которой Вы говорили. Всё главное у меня готово; остались только первое и второе действие. Но главное потрудитесь прислать мне все те слова, которых ещё у меня недостаёт:

1) Первую песнь Леля.
2) Остальные куплеты второй песни Леля.
3) Полный текст монолога Весны во время танцев в 4-ом действии
4) Полный текст последнего хора («Бог Ярило»).
5) В хоре на мелодию «А мы просо сеяли» должны ли остаться эти подлинные слова песни или другие. Если другие, то потрудитесь и их прислать.

Умоляю Вас, Александр Николаевич, прислать мне всё это с подателем сего сейчас же.

Искренно преданный Вам
П. Чайковский
Much esteemed Aleksandr Nikolayevich!

Yesterday I inadvertently cut an artery in my left hand. Although the wound is now excellently bandaged, and I am quite out of danger, still, since I have to keep my left hand in a state of complete rest, I am finding it difficult to write. Consequently, I urge you to allow me to reduce my workload somewhat, namely as follows: by having Muzil sing without any accompaniment that melody you spoke of [1]. The greater part is ready; only the first and second acts remain [2]. But the main thing is if you would be so kind as to send me all those words which I am still missing:

1) Lel's first song [3].
2) The remaining couplets in Lel's second song.
3) The whole text of Spring's monologue during the dances in the fourth act
4) The complete text of the final chorus («Бог Ярило») [4].
5) In the chorus set to the tune «А мы просо сеяли», ought we to retain this the original words of the song, or use another text? [5] If the latter, then be so kind as to send it to me.

I beseech you, Aleksandr Nikolayevich, to send me all this at once via the bearer of this letter.

Sincerely devoted to you,
P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. Nikolay Ignatyevich Muzil (1839–1906) was an actor with the troupe of the Moscow Maly Theatre and performed mainly character roles. At the première of The Snow Maiden in Moscow he played the village lad Brusila, who sings the well-known "Song about the beaver" («Купалса бобёр») in Act III of the play. Evidently, Tchaikovsky retracted his initial request about having Brusila sing the melody without any accompaniment, and when the wound in his hand had healed, he wrote an orchestral accompaniment for Brusila's song. That is how the song was performed at the première on 11/23 May 1873 — note by Sergey Popov in А. Н. Островский и П. И. Чайковский (1937), p. 165 .
  2. It is clear that Tchaikovsky here does not mean that he only had the music for Acts I and II left to write, but, rather, that he did not consider these acts to be entirely finished because he didn't yet have the text for several numbers. The text would have to be written into the piano score so that the actors who had been chosen to perform the singing numbers could rehearse them, since Tchaikovsky had already submitted the full orchestral score to the theatre on 26 March/7 April 1873 — note by Sergey Popov in А. Н. Островский и П. И. Чайковский (1937), p. 165 .
  3. It can confidently be asserted that the music for Lel's First Song in Act I («Земляничка, ягодка») had already been written at this point. For this song Tchaikovsky used Undina's arioso from his opera Undina, whose full score he would soon destroy. It is likely that he had come to an agreement with Ostrovsky beforehand regarding the number of lines required for the song and their metre. Thus, it remained only to compose the appropriate words and this musical number would then be complete — note by Sergey Popov in А. Н. Островский и П. И. Чайковский (1937), p. 165 .
  4. Yarilo was the Slavs' sun-god in pagan times (cf. the old Russian word яра [yara] = "spring" or the modern Russian яркий [yarky] = "bright"), but the name of Yarilo later came to refer to the straw dummy which was burnt as part of the rites to exorcise the spirits on Saint John's Night. In this chorus, however, it is the pagan god of sunlight who is being invoked: «Бог Ярило, свет и сила» (God Yarilo, light and strength) .
  5. Ostrovsky did not provide a different text for the general chorus in Act IV which is set to the folk-tune «А мы просо сеяли» ('We were sowing millet'), but retained the original words of this folk-song such as they are printed, for example, in Nikolay Lvov and Ivan Prach (Jan Prač)'s famous collection of Russian folk-songs (1790). Ostrovsky merely reduced slightly the number of couplets, and used other known versions of the song's text for the last two couplets — note by Sergey Popov in А. Н. Островский и П. И. Чайковский (1937), p. 165 .