Letter 4522

Date 23 October/4 November 1891
Addressed to Anton Chekhov
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow (Russia): Russian State Library
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1902), p. 326–328 ("24 October 1889")
Слово (1914), No. 2, p. 218–221
Музыка в жизни и творчестве Чехова (1953), p. 27–28 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XVI-А (1976), p. 249–250.

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
23 октября

Дорогой, многоуважаемый
Антон Павлович!

Получивши вчера Ваше письмо, я хотел тотчас же отвечать, но сообразил, что прежде, чем что-либо сказать Вам по поводу Семашко (которого я хотя и знаю, но недостаточно, чтобы иметь правильное о нём суждение)—лучше порасспросить о нём людей сведущих; а так как я собирался в концерт и должен был видеть многих музыкантов,—то к тому представлялся превосходный случай.

Из всего, что мне про него сказали, и что я сам о нём помню, вывожу заключение, что г. Семашко может быть благодаря своей хорошей технике, старательности и любви к делу хорошим оркестровым музыкантом. Но по совершенно мне непонятной причине на предложение поступить в оркестр Императорских театров—он отвечал отказом. Сейчас он будет у меня, и вопрос этот разъяснится. Если по каким-либо семейным или иным особым обстоятельствам он не желает служить в Москве,—то я конечно могу рекомендовать его и в Петербург,—но это придётся, во всяком случае, отложить до будущего сезона. Вообще, если он желает от меня рекомендации кому бы то ни было, то я охотно ему её дам, но сам я совершенно не могу знать, где имеются вакантные места для виолончелистов, и он о таковых должен иметь и имеет возможность разузнавать иными путями. Если же он считает деятельность оркестрового музыканта для себя неподходящей,—то ровно ничего сделать для него не могу. Концертами жить нельзя, да и какой виолончелист, хотя бы и высоко даровитый, может жить иначе, как не оркестровой игрой, да ещё уроками, коих однако не много бывает? Царь всех виолончелистов нашего века К. Ю. Давыдов много лет играл в оркестре Итальянской оперы в Петербурге, и ему и в голову не приходило, что он тем унижает себя. Если Семяшко считает подобную деятельность ниже своего достоинства,—то это и очень странно и очень неблагоразумно. Впрочем, я ведь ничего верного на этот счёт не знаю, ибо пишу Вам, не повидавши ещё его. Во всяком случае, обещаю принять в нём сердечное участие.

Как я рад, дорогой Антон Павлович, что Вы, как вижу из письма, нисколько не сердитесь на меня! Ведь я настоящим образом не благодарил Вас за посвящение «Хмурых людей», коим страшно горжусь! Помню, что во время Вашего путешествия я всё собирался написать Вам большое письмо, покушался даже объяснить, какие именно свойства Вашего дарования так обаятельно и пленительно на меня действуют. Но нехватило досуга, а главное—пороху. Очень трудно музыканту высказывать словами, что и как он чувствует по поводу того или другого художественного явления. И так спасибо, что не сетуете на меня. Жду с нетерпением «Дуэли» и уж, конечно, не последую Вашему совету ждать до декабря, хотя за книжку горячо благодарю заранее. Бог даст, в это пребывание в Москве удастся повидаться и побеседовать с Вами

Крепко жму Вашу руку. Искреннейший почитатель Ваш,

П. Чайковский

23 October

Dear, much respected
Anton Pavlovich!

Upon receiving your letter yesterday I wanted to reply immediately, but then I realised that before saying anything to you regarding Semashko (whom I do know, yet insufficiently well to have a proper opinion of him), it would be better to ask various competent people about him; and since I was going to attend a concert and was due to see lots of musicians, a splendid opportunity for doing that presented itself [1].

From everything that I was told about him, and from what I remember about him myself, I draw the conclusion that Mr Semashko, thanks to his fine technique, diligence, and love for his profession, is capable of being a good orchestra musician. However, for some reason which is completely incomprehensible to me, he turned down an offer to join the orchestra of the Imperial Theatres. He will visit me soon, and then this question will be cleared up. If, due to domestic reasons, or other special circumstances, he does not want to work in Moscow, I can of course give him a recommendation for Petersburg, but that would in any case have to wait until the next season. In general, if he wishes to have a recommendation from me—addressed to whomsoever it may be—I will gladly give him that, but there is just no way I could know where there are vacant posts for cellists, and he must surely be able to find out about these himself by other means. If, however, he considers the job of an orchestra musician to be unsuitable for him, then there is nothing whatsoever I can do for him. It is impossible to make a living by giving concerts, and, besides, could any cellist, even one who is highly gifted, really make a living otherwise than by playing in an orchestra and by giving lessons (of which there are not that many to be had)? The king of all cellists of our century, K. Yu. Davydov, played for many years in the orchestra of the Italian Opera in Petersburg, and it never so much as crossed his mind that he was thereby abasing himself. If Semiashko regards such work as beneath his dignity, then that is very odd and unwise on his part. However, I cannot really say anything for sure in this matter, because I am writing to you without having seen him yet. In any case, I promise you that he can count on my sympathetic support [2].

How glad I am, dear Anton Pavlovich, that, as I can see from your letter, you are not angry with me! I mean, I haven't thanked you properly for dedicating "Gloomy People" to me—a dedication of which I am awfully proud! [3] I remember that during your journey [4] I was constantly intending to write you a large letter—I even wanted to try to explain which qualities of your talent precisely have such an enchanting and captivating effect on me. But I didn't have the time, nor, most importantly, was I ever up to such a task. It is very hard for a musician to state in words what and how he feels with regard to this or that artistic phenomenon. As it is, thank you for not being cross with me. I am impatiently looking forward to "The Duel", and it goes without saying that I shall not heed your advice of waiting until December, although I thank you fervently in advance for the book [5]. God willing, during this stay in Moscow I shall get to see you and have a chat with you

I shake your hand warmly. Your most sincere admirer,

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. In a letter to Tchaikovsky on 18/30 October 1891 Chekhov had written: "Much esteemed Pyotr Ilyich! I have a friend who is a cellist and a former student of the Moscow Conservatory—Marian Semashko—a splendid person. Because he knows that I am acquainted with you, he has asked me more than once to petition to you on his behalf: might there not be, somewhere in the capitals [[[Saint Petersburg]] and Moscow], or in the provinces—in Kharkov, for example—or somewhere abroad, some suitable post for him, and if so, would you be so kind as to pull some strings on his behalf? As I know from experience how tiresome such requests are, I could not make my mind up for a long time whether or not to trouble you with this, but today I have ventured to do so and I ask you to forgive me magnanimously. I find it a pity, and am annoyed, that such a fine worker as Semashko should be hanging about without a serious job, and, moreover, he asks me so piteously that I don't have the strength to resist". For the original text of Chekhov's letter, see: А. П. Чехов. Полное собрание сочинений и писем в 30 тт. Письма, том. 4 (Moscow, 1976), p. 285–286. Marian Romual'dovich Semashko had studied in Wilhelm Fitzenhagen's class at the Moscow Conservatory. He was a good friend of the Chekhov family.
  2. It seems that Tchaikovsky was able to help Semashko, because by 1892 the latter had been taken on by the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre's orchestra. See Iosif Eiges, Музыка в жизни и творчестве Чехова (1953), p. 38.
  3. In a letter of 12/24 October 1889 Chekhov had asked Tchaikovsky for permission to dedicate to him his collection of short stories Gloomy People (Хмурые люди), which was due to be published soon. Tchaikovsky was delighted by this gesture from a young writer whose great talent he had recognized very early on, and two days later visited Chekhov in his flat to thank him personally. See Letter 3958 to Chekhov, 14/26 October 1889. The collection Gloomy People was, however, not published until the end of March 1890, shortly before Chekhov's departure for Sakhalin.
  4. Chekhov left Moscow on 19 April/1 May 1890 to travel to Sakhalin Island, where he wanted to see the notorious penal colony with his own eyes. The outward journey through Siberia was very arduous, as the Trans-Siberian Railway had yet to be built, and took several months. After carrying out a census of the convicts on Sakhalin and a thorough investigation of the conditions in which they were living he embarked on his return journey by sea, via Vladivostok, Ceylon, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea, finally arriving back in Moscow on 5/17 December 1890. In 1895 Chekhov published the result of his travel notes and fieldwork as a separate book: Sakhalin Island.
  5. In his letter to Tchaikovsky of 18/30 October 1891 Chekhov had written: "The New Time will soon be serializing my long story The Duel, but please don't read it in the newspaper. I will send you the book version which will come out in early December".