Letter 3955

Tchaikovsky Research
Date between 7/19 and 9/21 October 1889 (?) [1]
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 200 (undated)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XV-А (1976), p. 196

Text and Translation

Russian text
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist

В тебе ко власти нет стремленья,
И честолюбья огнь погас!
Ушед от нас в уединенье,
Ты в дебрях мудрости погряз...

Купайся же в волнах целебных
Контрапунктических пучин,
Но знай... таких нет чар волшебных,
Чтоб получить без бед служебных
Звезду и генеральский чин...

In you there is no striving for power,
And the fire of ambition has gone out!
You've fled from us into seclusion,
And become bogged down in wisdom...

Bathe, then, in the salutary waves
Of contrapuntal streams [2]
But mind... there are no magic spells
To obtain, without the woes of service,
A star and a general's rank... [3]

Notes and References

  1. Vladimir Zhdanov was the first to suggest that this humorous poem was probably inspired by Taneyev's decision to stand down as director of the Moscow Conservatory in the spring of 1889, and was probably presented to him by Tchaikovsky at Taneyev's official dinner to mark his departure on 7/19, 8/20 or 9/21 October 1889. See П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 200.
  2. An ironic allusion to Taneyev's assiduous study of counterpoint technique, for which Tchaikovsky had already teased him mildly in some letters over the years (see, for example, Letters 1554, 1839, and 2465.
  3. The Russian Table of Ranks observed equivalences between civilian and military ranks, and the civilian equivalent of a general's rank was the second highest of the fourteen classes in the civil service. It is unlikely that even a Conservatory director could ever have attained such a title, but Tchaikovsky is here poking fun generally at Russian officials' notorious obsession with ranks and decorations—among the latter, for example, was the Order of St Anna, which had three classes: officials awarded the first class wore a star on the right breast, as well as a angry at the bow of a broad ribbon (the hero of Anton Chekhov's story Anna on the Neck (Анна на шее) is awarded just class two, which had no star!).