Letter 3557

Date 27 April/9 May 1888
Addressed to Félix Mackar
Where written Frolovskoye
Language French
Autograph Location Paris (France): Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de la Musique
Publication Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 58–69
Советская музыка (1970), No. 9, p. 67–68 (Russian translation)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XIV (1974), p. 420–421

Text and Translation

French text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Russie, Gouvernement de Moscou. Kline, Frolowskoye
27 Avril/9 Mai 1888

Mon cher ami !

Je reçois à l'instant ta lettre adresée à Tiflis, mais je ne reçois pas la carcasse de Détroyat ? Dès que je l'aurai reçu, je la lirai et en dirai franchement mon opinion à M[onsieu]r Détroyat}. Il en a déjà été question il y a deux ans au diner de Marmontel, et je crois que ce poème-la ne peut pas me convenir, vu que M[onsieu]r Détroyat a eu la malencontreuse idée de transplanter un roman de Chateaubriand en Russie, même à Tiflis. Du moment que le sujet se passe en Russie il faut qu'il ne s'y trouve pas des choses complètement impossibles, dans le genre de celles qu'il y a dans Pierre Strogoff ; et je n'ai que trop la complète persuasion que M[onsieu]r Détroyat connaît la Russie comme moi la Chine. Qu'un compositeur français soit capable de mettre un pareil sujet en musique, – je le conçois, – mais moi, étant russe, et en cette qualité très soucieux de la vérité locale et historique, – je ne pourrai jamais me résoudre à me mettre au travail quelque scénique et rempli d'effet soit le poème de Détroyat, si des non sens historiques y abondent. Enfin nous verrons. Je n'ai rien reçu des Photographes si ce n'est une demi douzaine de celles de Reutlinger. C'est trop peu. Cher ami, fais moi faire plusieurs douzaines de mes nouvelles photographies chez Reutlinger (pour cent francs environ), paye-les, et envois les moi. J'en ai bien besoin. Si le photographe d'en face a bien fait mes portraits, je voudrais en avoir aussi de chez lui. Si tu te donnais la peine d'aller le voir et de lui en parler. Qu'il m'envoie du moins quelques-unes !

Je vais demain à Petersbourg pour me présenter à l'Empereur et le remercier pour ce qu'il a fait pour moi. Je resterai environ une semaine. Puis je reviens ici dans ma nouvelle demeure (aussi près de Kline, donc l'adresse est la même excepté Frolowskoye, au lieu de Maïdanowo), qui est tout à fait charmante et j'y prends racine jusqu'à l'automne très avancée. Je veux travailler beaucoup et bien. Je suis bien fatigué de mes voyages. Songe donc quelles distances énormes j'ai parcourues !

Je t'envoie quelques photographies du Caucase.

Milles choses à M[ada]me Mackar ; salue-la bien, je l'aime beaucoup ; salutations à tous les amis. La moitié des photographies du Caucase sont pour Condemine. Malheureusement le choix est mauvais,ce n'est pas ma faute.

Au revoir, cher Félix !
P. Tschaïkovsky

Russia, Moscow province, Klin, Frolovskoye
27 April/9 May 1888

My dear friend!

I have just now received the letter which you addressed to me in Tiflis, but I haven't received Détroyat's skeleton libretto—why is that? [1] As soon as I have received it, I shall read through it and state my opinion frankly to Monsieur Détroyat [2]. This is an idea that was raised two years ago at the supper given by Marmontel [3], and I think that the libretto in question cannot be suitable for me, given that Monsieur Détroyat has had the ill-advised idea of transposing a novel by Chateaubriand to Russia—to Tiflis even [4]. As soon as the plot is set in Russia it is necessary that it should contain no utterly impossible things—of the likes of those one finds in Pierre Strogoff [5]; and I am, alas, quite convinced that Monsieur Détroyat's knowledge of Russia is as good as my knowledge of China. That a French composer might be able to set to music a subject of this kind, that I can conceive, but as for me, being a Russian and accordingly setting great store by local and historical truth, I could never bring myself to start work, no matter how effective on the stage Détroyat's libretto may be, if it is teeming with historical nonsense. Anyway, we shall see [6]. I have received nothing from the photographers, except for half a dozen prints of the ones taken by Reutlinger. That is too little. Dear friend, could you please order for me several dozens of the new photographs I had taken at Reutlinger's (to the value of some 100 francs), pay for them, and send them to me?[7] I really do need them. If the portraits by the photographer in the atelier opposite turned out well, I would like to have some prints of those too. Could you take the trouble to go and see him and discuss it with him? I would like him to send me at least a few prints![8]

Tomorrow I am leaving for Petersburg in order to appear before the Emperor and to thank him for what he has done for me [9]. I shall stay there for about a week. Then I will return here to my new abode (it is also near Klin, so the address is the same except that it is now Frolovskoye instead of Maydanovo}, which is quite delightful, and settle down until very late in the autumn. I want to do a lot of work, and good work too. I am very tired after all my travels. Just think of the tremendous distances I have covered!

I am sending you some photographs from the Caucasus.

A thousand kind regards for Madame Mackar [10]. Do give her my greetings; I am very fond of her. Greetings to all my friends. Half of the photographs from the Caucasus are for Condemine [11]. Unfortunately, the selection isn't very good—it's not my fault, though.

Until we meet, dear Félix! [12]
P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

<references> [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

[12]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Mackar had begun his letter to Tchaikovsky from Paris on 7/19 April 1888 as follows: "Messrs. Détroyat and Gallet (who have great influence both in the press and at the Opéra) have asked me to send you an outline libretto entitled La Géorgienne [or La Circassiene?] together with the request that you read it through and then reply to Monsieur Détroyat in Paris (No. 6, Rue d'Isley) to tell him whether you accept it or not. This libretto might be suitable for the opening of the season at the Opéra-Comique or the future Théâtre Lyrique, which is now being discussed a lot, and you, by virtue of your qualities as a person and artist, have been chosen to write one of the first works which will be staged at this theatre (or theatres). Everything should now be impelling you to create an opera, or a comic opera, for Paris. Everything is in your favour. An artist must know how to make use of such a favourable moment in order to consolidate his standing in a foreign country. If this libretto doesn't suit you, don't be afraid to say so and to explain everything that you would like to have, that would tally best with your individuality. These gentlemen are entirely at your disposal, which is very important, since Monsieur Gallet knows what it means to be successful and is very influential. They want to create a new operatic success together with you at all costs, and this is something that I too wish for with all my heart". Mackar's letter has been published (in an abridged Russian translation) in Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 158–159.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The outline libretto did finally reach Tchaikovsky. See letter 3563b to Détroyat of 10/22 May 1888.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tchaikovsky had met Détroyat, together with various other Parisian men of letters and artists, at a reception on Friday, 5/17 June 1886 in the house of Antoine François Marmontel (1816–1898), the highly influential professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory whom Mackar had managed to interest in Tchaikovsky's music. In his diary at the end of that day Tchaikovsky described the new acquaintances he had made, including "Détroyat, the librettist, a stout jolly fellow offering me a libretto". It seems that he had agreed to meet Détroyat again that Sunday at the Conservatory, where he had been invited by Marmontel to attend a concert of his students, after which Détroyat was to show him his libretto. This may be conjectured from the diary entry for Saturday, 6/18 June, in which Tchaikovsky describes the dinner he had had with Lucien Guitry, Anatoly Brandukov, and a few other friends at a Parisian restaurant: "Guitry (what a smart and wonderful man) advised me not to go tomorrow to Marmontel's class and even drafted a letter for me. After separating, went with Brandukov to the Café de la Paix and copied the letter there with some changes. We sent it off [...] How glad I am that I got rid of Monsieur Détroyat, but at the same time it looks exactly as though I'd done an ugly thing". Diary entries quoted from The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1973), p. 85, 86.
  4. 4.0 4.1 In fact Détroyat had based his outline libretto on a short story entitled Les amours du Cosaque et de la Géorgienne (by an unidentified author) which appeared in the Revue Britannique in 1828, though he did adopt some of the stylized language of Chateaubriand's epic poem Les Natchez (1826) about the North American Indians (believing that it would be just as suitable for the Georgians!), as he would himself explain to Tchaikovsky in a letter from Paris on 22 May/3 June 1888. See Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 115.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Actually Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar, the popular 1876 novel by Jules Verne.
  6. 6.0 6.1 In his letter to Détroyat on 10/22 May 1888 Tchaikovsky would tactfully but firmly reject the proposed libretto of La Géorgienne, significantly repeating the above conviction that as a Russian artist he had to pay great heed to "local and historical truth" (see letter 3563b). This was Tchaikovsky's first letter to the tenacious librettist, opening a correspondence that eventually led to the composer committing himself to collaborate with Détroyat and Gallet on a French-language opera to be entitled La Courtisane (Sadia). This project was never to be realised, but it did cost Tchaikovsky a good deal of trouble because from then on Détroyat would bombard him with letters enquiring about his progress on the music for the opera.
  7. 7.0 7.1 During the last two days of his stay in Paris earlier that year (before going on to London, the final stop of his concert tour) Tchaikovsky had had his picture taken by various photographers, including at the prestigious Reutlinger's atelier. Thus, on 5/17 March 1888 he noted in his diary: "Portraits"; and on 6/18 March: "At Reutlinger's; pictures taken with Tolya"". The photographs showing Tchaikovsky together with the cellist Anatoly Brandukov are listed as Nos. 68 and 69 in our Catalogue of Photographs. Mackar had singled one of them out in his letter to the composer of 7/19 April 1888: "The photographers say they will themselves send you your photographs; the photograph of you and Brandukov which hangs in my shop-window is attracting a lot of attention". The other portraits taken at Reutlinger's on that occasion are listed as Nos. 66 and 67 in the same catalogue.
  8. 8.0 8.1 These photographs have not been traced.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tchaikovsky wanted to thank Tsar Alexander III in person for the lifetime annuity of 3,000 rubles which he had granted to the composer at the start of the year (the tsar had acted upon a suggestion by Ivan Vsevolozhsky). The audience took place at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg on 2/14 May 1888. See letter 3563 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya of 9/21 May 1888.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Mackar's wife, Valérie. During his stay in Paris earlier that year Tchaikovsky had presented her with one of the prints of the portrait photograph taken of him at E. Bieber's atelier in Hamburg. He wrote on it the following inscription: "Madame Valérie Mackar souvenir affectueux" and sketched three bars from the Andante cantabile of his String Quartet No. 1. See Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 94. The portrait in question appears as No. 60 in our Catalogue of Photographs.
  11. 11.0 11.1 The pianist Henri Condemine whom Tchaikovsky had met at Mackar's house in the summer of 1886, and whom he had seen again during his stay in Paris earlier that year.
  12. 12.0 12.1 This is the first letter in which Tchaikovsky addresses his French publisher as "thou" and by his first name. Mackar had begun to do the same, addressing the composer as "dear Pierre" in his letter of 7/19 April 1888. As Vladimir Fédorov notes, Tchaikovsky's long stay in Paris earlier that year, the various concerts and his frequent meetings with Mackar had established a certain camaraderie between the two men. They would henceforth always use "thou" in their letters to one another. See Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 69, n. 4.