Letter 3690

Date 8/20 October 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. 64–71
Советская музыка (1970), No. 9, p. 68–70 (Russian translation)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XIV (1974), p. 558–560

Text and Translation

French text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
8/20 Oct[obre] 1888. Kline, près Moscou

Mon cher et bon ami !

Tu sais probablement que M[onsieur] Paul Collin m'avait donné au mois de Mars dernier toutes ses traductions (de mes mélodies) pourque je les examine et en donne mon opinion et mon approbation. Souvent j'avais commencé cette rude tâche et tel était chaque fois mon mécontentement, et tellement il me répugnait de dire toute la vérité, que je remettais à plus tard l'obligation immanquable de me prononcer enfin. Mais il y a terme à tout. Je te renvoie tout ce qu'il m'avait donné pour que tu en fasse ce que tu trouveras nécessaire. J'ai mis dans plusieurs endroits des remarques (encre rouge), mais ce ne sont que des gouttes dans l'océan. Le fait est que M[onsieu]r Collin est un poète tout à fait charmant ; je trouve ces poèmes (pour musique) délicieux ; je crois que ces petites pièces de vers dont il m'a donné un recueil sont de vrais petits chef-doeuvres ; – mais il n'est pas musicien et ses traductions sont complètement deffectueuses. On a beaucoup critiqué mon premier traducteur M[onsieu]r Danaouroff, en disant que ce n'était pas assez français. C'est peut-être vrai jusqu'a un certain point, mais peut on comparer ses traductions à lui, toujours rendant très bien le sens de l'original, toujours mettant des rimes ou cela est tout à fait necessaire, ne changeant jamais la mélodie (comme M[onsieu]r Collin le fait) pour faciliter sa tâche, faisant toujours correspondre l'accent musical avec l'accent du vers ; peut on, dis-je[,] comparer ses traductions avec celles de M[onsieu]r Collin qui mets des accents impossibles, qui ne met pas de rimes quand elles sont indispensables et qui, très souvent, se permet d'ajouter des croches et des doubles croches pour plus de facilité, ce qui estropie complètement le rithme de la mélodie ! Pour me donner raison tu n'a qu'à comparer la charmante traduction faite par M[onsieu]r Benardaky pour la sérénade de Don Juan avec celle de Collin ! Mais c'est comme ciel et terre. Donc, selon moi, il est tout à fait impossible de publier mes mélodies avec la traduction de Collin et même je ne puis espérer qu'il pourrait refaire le tout encore une fois mais autrement et bien, – car il n'est ni russe ni musicien. Ce que je te conseillerai, c'est de t'adresser à M[onsieu]r Benardaky qui est assez musicien, qui possède son français comme un français et qui par dessu tout est russe[,] ce qui fait que sa traduction sera une traduction et non une imitation. Ensuite on pourra demander M[onsieu]r Collin de voir ce qu'il y aurait à changer pour rendre encore plus parfaite la version de Benardaky. Les changements que Collin conseille pour les mélodies déjà traduites par Danaouroff, sont excellents et précieux. Ceci, il peut le faire parfaitement, mais non traduire. Il est trop poète, trop grand artiste, trop peu musicien pour ce genre de travail. Ma position vis à vis de lui est vraiment intolérable. Il a été très amical pour moi, il est un poète que j'admire, il est un homme charmant et on ne peut plus simpathique – et il faut que je lui dise la dure verité ! Non ! Je ne le puis. Arrange toi comme tu voudras, mais de grâce ménage som amour propre et fait de manière qu'il ne m'en veuille pas trop.

C'est fini. Maintenant parlons de toi et de moi. J'ai beaucoup travaillé cet été. J'ai une simphonie et un poème simphonique (Hamlet) tous prêts. Je reste encore quelque temps ici. Vers le 5/17 Novembre j'ai mon propre concert à Petersbourg ; de la je vais à Prague ; peut-être aussi à Varsovie et à Vienne. A Prague c'est pour Onéguine qu'on y monte et aussi pour un concert. Au Moi de Janvier et de Février j'ai Dresde, Francfort, Cologne, puis encore un invitation pour Londres, une tournée en Suède etc. Il y a encore d'autres invitations, mais tout cela n'est pas sûr. Pour Paris je n'ai rien, excepté ma propre envie d'y aller ne fût-ce que pour te voir et voir d'autres amis. Quant à l"Exposition je maintiens ce que j'ai dit au Monsieur qui est venu en Mars m'en parler à l'Hôtel Richepanse. C'est à dire que je veux bien venir, mais que mon affaire sera la musique exclusivement. Que l'on arrange tout et je viendrai. Jurgenson et un certain M[onsieu]r Zet ont pris sur eux l'arrangement des concerts russes, mais encore faut-il qu'une proposition quelconque, et faite sérieusement, leur vienne d'où que ce soit. Mais il paraît que personne ne songe à la leur faire. Enfin, nous verrons !

Maintenant dis moi ce qui t'arrive. Je sais par Jurgenson que Condamine t'a lâché ; je sais que tu en as été bien agacé et bien dérangé. Et ensuite ? Je n'en sais rien. Tu ne m'as pas ecrit une ligne depuis au moins 4 mois. Es-tu faché contre moi ? En quoi ai-je pu encourir ton mécontentement ? Que puis-je faire pour t'aider à réparer le mal que Condemine t'a fait ? Je crois, mon ami, que au point de vue pratique, mercantile, tu as commis une faute énorme en m'achetant. La bonne opinion que tu avais de ma musique me touche fort, mais je savais d'avance que je ne suis nullement capable de faire affluer des tas de louis-d'or dans le magasin du Passage de Panoramas. Si en effet tu le repends d'avoir commis cette faute, je te plains de tout mon cœur et me sens un peu malheureux de te voir souffrir pour avoir espéré trop de ma musique. Mais je n'y puis rien !!! J'espère qu'au moins tu n'aura pas changé pour moi personnellement et que je n'ai rien fait qui eut pû porter ombrage sur l'amitié que jusqu'en présent tu m'avais temoignée. Ecris moi quelques lignes !! Mille choses pour la bonne Mme Mackar ! Dis lui qu'il ne faut pas trop m'en vouloir de ce qui arrive. C'est par la faute de ma musique, non par la mienne.

Adresse ta lettre ici. Au revoir cher ami !
P. Tschaïkovsky

8/20 October 1888, Klin, near Moscow

My dear and kind friend!

You probably know that in March, Monsieur Paul Collin gave me all his translations (of my songs) so that I could peruse them and then state my opinion on them and whether they met with my approval. I would often begin this arduous task, and such was my displeasure each time, so reluctant was I to say the whole truth, that I kept putting off until later the unavoidable obligation of finally giving my opinion. However, there is a limit to everything. I am returning to you all the material that he gave me so that you can do with it whatever you feel is necessary [1]. In several places I have made comments (in red ink), but these are just drops in the ocean. The thing is that Monsieur Collin is a quite charming poet—I find these poems delightful (for setting to music), I consider the small samples of verse in the anthology he gave me to be true little masterpieces [2]but he is not a musician, and his translations are completely flawed. My first translator, M[onsieu]r Donaurov [3], came in for a lot of criticism from those who claimed that what he had produced wasn't French enough. That may be true up to a certain point, but can one compare his translations, which always convey very well the sense of the original, which always use rhymes where that is absolutely essential, which never alter the melody in order to make things easier (as Monsieur Collin does), which always have the musical accent corresponding to the accent of the verse—can one, I say, compare his translations with those of Monsieur Collin, who comes up with impossible accents, who does not use rhymes where they are essential, and who very often takes the liberty of adding quavers and semiquavers in order to make things easier for himself—something that completely spoils the rhythm of the melody! To see that I am right all you have to do is compare the delightful translation of Don Juan's Serenade by M[onsieu]r Benardaky with that by Collin![4] Why, they are as far apart as heaven and earth! Consequently, it is quite impossible, in my view, to publish my songs in Collin's translations, nor can I expect him to be able to revise them all and make a good job of it the second time round, since he is neither a Russian, nor a musician. What I would advise you to do is to get in touch with M[onsieu]r Benardaky, who is sufficiently musical, who has a command of French equal to that of a Frenchman, and who, moreover, is Russian, which means that his translations would actually be translations rather than imitations. One could ask M[onsieu]r Collin afterwards to take a look at them and see what might be modified in order to make Benardaky's version even more perfect. The modifications which Collin recommends making to the songs already translated by Donaurov are excellent and valuable. That is something he knows how to do perfectly, but not so translating. He is too much of a poet, too great an artist, and too little of a musician for this kind of work. My situation with regard to him is truly unbearable. He has been very friendly to me, he is a poet whom I admire, he is a charming and exceptionally nice man, and now I am supposed him to tell him the bitter truth! No! I can't do that. Adopt whatever strategy you like, but please show consideration for his self-esteem and sort out this matter in such a way that he doesn't get too angry with me.

Enough of that. Now let us talk about you and me. I have worked a lot this summer. I have completed a symphony and a symphonic poem (Hamlet). I am staying here for a little longer. Around 5/17 November I have to give a concert of my own works in Petersburg [5]; from there I am going to Prague, and possibly also to Warsaw and Vienna. I'm going to Prague because Onegin is being staged there, and also because of a concert [6]. In January and February I have engagements in Dresden, Frankfurt, and Cologne; then I have another invitation to come to London [7], a concert tour in Sweden [8] etc. There are some other invitations too, but all those are as yet undecided. I have no plans for Paris, except for my own desire to go there, if only to see you and other friends [9]. As for the Exposition, I stand by what I told the gentleman who visited me at the Hotel Richepanse in March to discuss it with me—that is, I would like to come, but it must be so that I can occupy myself exclusively with music and nothing else. I shall come when everything has already been arranged. Jurgenson and a certain M[onsieu]r Zet [10] have undertaken to organize some Russian concerts, but it is also necessary that they should receive a proposal from somewhere—a serious proposal, mind you. However, it seems that no one is planning to make them such a proposal. Anyway, we shall see! [11]

Now tell me what is the matter? I know from Jurgenson that Condemine has let you down [12]; I know that this has caused you much irritation and trouble. But is that all? You haven't written a single line to me for at least four months now. Are you angry with me? How can I have incurred your dissatisfaction? What can I do to help you make good the harm which Condemine has caused you? I do think, my friend, that from the practical, commercial point of view you made a huge mistake in buying my music. I find it very touching that you had such a high opinion of my music, but I knew already then that I was quite incapable of causing heaps of louis-d'or to flow into your shop at the Passage des Panoramas. If you do indeed regret having made this mistake, I lament you with all my heart and feel somewhat sad at seeing you suffer because you expected too much of my music. But there's nothing I can do about it!!! I hope that you have at least not changed your feelings towards me personally, and that I have not done anything which might cloud the friendship that you had shown me until now. Write me a few lines!![13] A thousand kind regards for good Mme Mackar![14] Tell her that you mustn't be too angry with me for what is happening. It is my music which is to blame, not me.

Address your letter to me here. Goodbye, dear friend!
P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

<references> [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

[14]

  1. 1.0 1.1 |Mackar had commissioned the poet Paul Collin to translate into French a number of Tchaikovsky's songs, and although the composer was not happy with these translations, as the above letter shows, the Six Romances and Songs, Op. 27, the Six Romances, Op. 28, the Six Duets, Op. 46, the Seven Romances, Op. 47, the Sixteen Songs for Children, Op. 54, and the Twelve Romances, Op. 60, would nevertheless eventually be published by Mackar in Collin's translations. (It is likely, though, that Mackar asked Collin to revise the original versions). Note based on information provided by Vladimir Fédorov in Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 71, n. 3. See also Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 165, n. 28.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Four of the Six French Songs, Op. 65, dedicated to Désirée Artôt, which Tchaikovsky completed just two days after this letter, were in fact settings of original poems by Paul Collin.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sergey Ivanovich Donaurov (1838–1897), amateur poet and composer, translator. His romances were very popular in the aristocratic salons of Saint Petersburg for a short while. Tchaikovsky first met him at the house of Nikolay Kondratyev at some point during the second half of the 1860s, but he did not like him very much because of his dilettantish and vain character. Donaurov belonged to the homosexual demi-monde of Saint Petersburg. See Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том I (2009), p. 314–316.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Nicolas de Benardaky (Nikolay Benardaki; 1838–1909) was a wealthy Russian banker of Greek origins who lived with his singer wife, Marie de Benardaky (née Leibrock) in Paris. The Benardakys had organized a soirée in Tchaikovsky's honour at their house on 16/28 February 1888, during which among other works of his, Don Juan's Serenade, No. 1 of the Six Romances, Op. 38, was performed in French by the Polish bass Edouard de Reszke (1853–1917). Don Juan's Serenade, a setting of a poem by Aleksey Tolstoy, was translated into French by Nicolas de Benardaky for this occasion. Benardaky was also the author of a number of plays, in both French and Russian, and was responsible, in 1857, for the first English translation of Aleksandr Griboedov's famous comedy Горе от ума (usually translated as Woe from Wit, though for the title of his translation Benardaky simply transliterated the Russian: Gore ot ouma).
  5. 5.0 5.1 On 5/17 November 1888 Tchaikovsky would conduct a concert of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society which featured the premiere of the Symphony No. 5, as well as other works of his, including the Piano Concerto No. 2 (soloist Vasily Sapelnikov), and also Herman Laroche's Overture-Fantasia (recently orchestrated by Tchaikovsky on behalf of his old friend).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tchaikovsky stayed in Prague from 15/27 November to 25 November/7 December 1888, conducting a concert of his own works (on 18/30 November) which featured the Symphony No. 5 and the Piano Concerto No. 2 (again with Sapelnikov), and also the first performance outside Russia of his opera Yevgeny Onegin (at the National Theatre on 24 November/6 December). On that occasion he did not visit Warsaw and only passed briefly through Vienna.
  7. 7.0 7.1 During his second conducting tour of Western Europe Tchaikovsky would conduct concerts of his works in Cologne (31 January/12 February 1889), Frankfurt (3/15 February), Dresden (8/20 February), Berlin (14/26 February), Geneva (25 February/9 March), Hamburg (3/15 March), and London (30 March/11 April).
  8. 8.0 8.1 This projected tour failed to materialize, and Tchaikovsky never visited Sweden.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Tchaikovsky would stay in Paris from 8/20 March to 28 March/9 April 1889, and though he did not himself conduct any concerts on that occasion, a number of musical events were held in his honour. It was also on that occasion that he made the acquaintance of Massenet.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Julius Zet (in Russia: Yuly Tset) was for many years secretary to the pianist Sophie Menter, and it was through her that he met Tchaikovsky. In 1888 he became the composer's representative in his negotiations with Western European concert agents. Tchaikovsky thought very highly of Zet's personal qualities, but the latter did not have a good eye for business and many of his ambitious enterprises fell through. He left Russia in 1891 and never went back again. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1997), p. 229, note 1.
  11. 11.0 11.1 The two "Russian Concerts" at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris were ultimately to be organized by Mitrofan Belyayev. They were conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov and featured almost exclusively works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Lyadov and other composers belonging to the Belyayev circle. The only pieces by Tchaikovsky on the programme were the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 and Barcarolle, No. 6 of The Seasons. Note by Vladimir Fédorov in Revue de musicologie, tome 64 (1968), no. 1, p. 72, note 11.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Henri Condemine was a pianist friend of Mackar's whom Tchaikovsky had first met at his Parisian publisher's house in the summer of 1886. On 8/20 August 1888 Jurgenson had written to Tchaikovsky: "I think that Condemine is trying to put the screws on Mackar in some financial matter". Quoted by Vladimir Fédorov fromП. И. Чайковский. Переписка с П. И. Юргенсоном, том 2 (1952).
  13. 13.0 13.1 Mackar sent Tchaikovsky a very friendly letter from Paris on 15/27 October 1888, acknowledging receipt of Collin's translations and asking the composer to keep him posted about his conducting engagements. He also suggested that the National Theatre in Prague should invite the music critics of the leading Parisian newspapers to the first performance of Yevgeny Onegin outside Russia, which, as Mackar put it, was bound to be a "musical landmark". In an earlier letter on 13/25 May 1888 he had informed Tchaikovsky about his efforts to get Onegin staged at the Opéra-Comique. Unfortunately, this did not work out and Onegin was not staged in Paris until 1911 (it was the first production of any opera by Tchaikovsky in the French capital). See these two letters by Mackar (in abridged Russian translations) in Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 159, 160.
  14. 14.0 14.1 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.