Letter 4837

Date 29 December 1892/10 January 1893
Addressed to Michel Delines
Where written Brussels
Language French
Autograph Location unknown [1]
Publication Paris (13 January 1893) (abridged)
Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1902), p. 592–593 (slightly abridged French transcription and Russian translation; addressee not named)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XVI-Б (1979), p. 216–217
Notes Typed copy in Klin (Russia): Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve [2]

Text and Translation

French text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Bruxelles
10 Janvier 93

Mon cher ami!

Je viens de lire dans le „Figaro“ de Dimanche 8 courant un article de M[onsieu]r André Maurel, intitulé „Un voyage musical en Russie“. Il s'agit dans cet article de l'excursion que M[onsieu]r Lamoureux vient de faire dans notre pays, ou il [a] remporté de grands succès tant à Petersbourg qu'à Moscou. Je ne puis que me réjouir de ce que les grandes qualités de M[onsieu]r Lamoureux aient été justement appréciées chez nous, mais, tout en y applaudissant, je ne puis m'empêcher de constater que M[onsieu]r Maurel n'a été que fort insufisament renseigné sur l'état des choses musicales en Russie, et il serait désirable de rectifier dans le „Figaromème certaines erreurs qui se sont involontairement glissées dans son article.

1) La musique de Wagner n'est rien moins qu'ignorée en Russie. Non seulement Antoine Rubinstein n'a jamais empèché qu'elle se propageat chez nous, mais c'est justement lui, fondateur de la Société Impériale musicale russe en 1859, qui la fit connaitre à notre public. Wagner lui mème vint en Russie en 1863 et y organisa dans les deux capitales de longues série de concerts qui firent époque. Depuis ce temps la musique du grand maitre allemand prit racine dans notre pays. Ses operas sont depuis bien longtemps sur le repertoire des Thèatres Impériaux et de tous ceux de la province. La Thétralogie y fut représentée dans les deux capitales 4 fois (en 1888) et y produisit une grande sensation. Quant au répertoire simphonique en Russie, Wagner y tenait dèja une bien large part dans un temps ou à Paris on n'en connaissait pas encore le nom.

2) M[onsieu]r Lamoureux n'est pas le premier chef-d'orchestre français qui ait été convié par la Societé Imperiale musicale russe pour diriger un de ses concerts, car M[onsieu]r E. Colonne, lui a déja fait cet honneur il y a 3 ans[.] Le succès eclatant qu'il y obtint nous valut plusieur autres visites de M[onsieu]r Colonne toujours consacrées par le plus grand succès.

Pour conclure laissez moi Vous confesser que j'ai été bien tristement affecté en apprenant par la voie du Figaro que mes compatriotes le chambellan Jacovleff et le directeur du Conservatoire de Moscou Safonoff, aient organisé un banquet ou l'on a „conspué“ Hans de Bülow. Ce chambellan et ce directeur ont donc oublié que M[onsieu]r Hans de Bülow malgré „ses gestes ridicules et ses façons extravagantes“ est un chef d'orchestre de génie et qu'il a été reconnu comme tel chez nous aussi que partout ailleurs. Ils ont oublié que si la musique russe est en ce moment reconnue en Allemagne c'est à Bülow que nous le devons, car il y avait un temps ou il s'était dévoué pour cette cause! Ils n'ont pas songé aussi, ce chambellan et ce directeur, que c'etait une manière bien peu polie de rendre hommage à un représentant de la musique française, que de conspuer en sa présence un musicien allemand qui toujours a manifesté en paroles et en faits un enthousiasme sincère pour la musique française. Et ce qui surtout me navre, c'est que l'on „conspue“ Hans de Bülow juste au moment ou le pauvre grand artiste se meurt.

Voila mon cher ami ce que je voudrais que Vous m'aidiez à dire au lecteurs du „Figaro“.

Bien à Vous, P. Tchaïkovsky

Brussels[3]
10 January 1893

My dear friend!

I have just read in the "Figaro" of Sunday the 8th of this month an article by Mr André Maurel, entitled "A Musical Journey to Russia" [4]. This article deals with the visit which Mr Lamoureux recently paid to our country where he achieved great success both in Petersburg and in Moscow [5]. I cannot but be delighted that the splendid qualities of Mr Lamoureux have received their due appreciation in Russia, but, whilst saluting this fact, it is impossible for me not to note that Mr Maurel was but very poorly informed about the state of musical affairs in Russia, and it would be desirable to correct, in the "Figaro" itself, certain errors which have unwittingly crept into his article.

1) The music of Wagner is anything but unknown in Russia. Not only has Anton Rubinstein never sought to prevent it from spreading in our country, but on the contrary — it was precisely he who, as the founder of the Imperial Russian Musical Society in 1859, acquainted our public with it [6]. Wagner himself came to Russia in 1863 and organized in the two capitals a long series of concerts which proved to be epoch-making [7]. Since then the music of the great German master has taken root in our country. His operas have for a long time now been on the repertoire of the Imperial Theatres and of all the provincial ones. The Tetralogy was performed four times in the two capitals in 1888 and caused a huge sensation [8]. As for the symphonic concert repertoire in Russia, Wagner was already featuring prominently there at a time when in Paris his name meant nothing to anyone.

2) Mr Lamoureux is not the first French conductor to have been invited by the Imperial Russian Music Society to conduct one of its concerts, for this honour in fact already fell to Mr E. Colonne three years ago [9]. The astounding success which he obtained at the time led to several more visits by Monsieur Colonne which have always been crowned by the very greatest success.

By way of conclusion, allow me to confess to you that I was very deeply aggrieved to learn through the Figaro that my countrymen the chamberlain Yakovlev and Safonov, the director of the Moscow Conservatory, organized a banquet where Hans von Bülow was "jeered at" [10]. So this chamberlain and this director have forgotten that Monsieur Hans von Bülow, despite "his ridiculous gestures and his extravagant mannerisms", is a conductor of genius and that he has been acknowledged as such in our country, just as everywhere else. They have forgotten that, if Russian music today enjoys some recognition in Germany, it is Bülow whom we have to thank for this, for there was a time when he devoted himself to this cause![11] Nor did this chamberlain and this director stop to think how awfully impolite it was to pay homage to a representative of French music by jeering, in his presence, at a German musician who has always manifested, in word and deed, a genuine enthusiasm for French music [12]. But what saddens me most of all is that people are "jeering at" Hans von Bülow at the very same time as this poor great artist is dying [13].

This, my dear friend, is what I would like you to help me to tell the readers of the "Figaro" [14].

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. The autograph was auctioned on 13 March 2018 by Stargardt, Berlin[1]. It had also previously been sold on 30 April 1980 by Sotheby's, London — see Continental autograph letters and manuscripts with a section by musicians and composers: including a highly important letter by Simón Bolívar and letters and manuscripts by Andersen, Berlioz, Brahms, Bruckner, Dvorak, Franck, Gaughin, Goethe, Jung, Klopstock, Lannes, Lenin, Liszt, Luther, Matisse, Mendelssohn, Napoleon I, Napoleon II, Neruda, Poniatowski, Proust, Scaliger, Schiller, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams, Verdi, Wagner and Wallenstein; Which will be sold by auction by Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. at their large galleries, 34 & 35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA; days of sale: Tuesday, 29th April 1980 lots 1-296; Wednesday, 30th April 1980 lots 297-570 (London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co, 1980). Tchaikovsky's letter was sold as lot no. 432. This catalogue was identified in November 2011 by Ronald de Vet, who kindly provided us with a scan of the relevant page.
  2. This typed copy was made by the English musicologist Gerald Abraham (1904–1988) who had access to the original autograph. He presented this copy to the Tchaikovsky House-Museum in Klin (see the commentary to this letter in П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XVI-Б (1979), p. 218). At the auction in London in 1980, the catalogue for which is cited above, Tchaikovsky's original letter seems to have been bought by the eminent German paediatrician Hans Rudolf Wiedemann (1915–2006) who eventually published it, together with other autograph letters by composers in his collection, in a lavishly produced album: Briefe und Albumblätter großer Komponisten und Interpreten in Handschriften (Lübeck, 1990), p. 274–289 (facsimile; French transcription and German translation). The transcription above is based on the complete facsimile of the original provided in Wiedemann's album.
  3. Tchaikovsky had come to Brussels (after a brief stay in Paris) in order to conduct a concert of his own works there on 2/14 January 1893.
  4. The French journalist André Maurel (1863–1943) worked for the Parisian daily Le Figaro, but also published a number of essays and novels. The issue of Le Figaro of 8 January 1893 [N.S.] in which Maurel's article "Un voyage musical en Russie" appeared is available on Gallica , the digital repository of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (information provided by Ronald de Vet). Modest Tchaikovsky translated Maurel's article into Russian and included it in Vol. 3 of his biography of his brother, by way of introducing the context of Tchaikovsky's letter to Delines (which, as noted in the bibliography above, he published almost in full but without naming the addressee) — see e.g. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1997), p. 523–524.
  5. The French conductor Charles Lamoureux (1834–1899) went on a concert tour of Saint Petersburg and Moscow in December 1892. Lamoureux had founded in Paris, in 1881, an orchestral society called the Société des Nouveaux-Concerts (known popularly as the "Lamoureux Concerts"), with which he regularly performed at the Théâtre de l'Eden as well as on the Champs-Élysées. On 17/29 November 1885, he conducted a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Cécile Silberberg (b. 1858) as the soloist), about which he wrote to the composer a few days later. Lamoureux's letter of 12 December 1885 [N.S.] has been published in Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 216–217. (See also Letter 2819 to Félix Mackar of 22 November/4 December 1885). No letters from Tchaikovsky to Lamoureux have come to light so far, but the two men met in Paris on 27 May/8 June 1886, as we learn from an entry in the composer's diary that day: "At Mackar's. Made some visits with him. We found Lamoureux (very friendly) and Marmontel at home" — quoted here from The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 80.
  6. In his article "Un voyage musical en Russie" (Le Figaro, 8 January 1893 [N.S.]), Maurel insinuated that it had only become possible to perform Wagner's music in Russia once Anton Rubinstein ceased to play a leading role in the Imperial Russian Musical Society. According to Maurel, the performances of the Tristan Prelude and the Meistersinger overture under Lamoureux's baton during his Russian tour had served to introduce Russian audiences to Wagner's music of which they until then had hardly had any idea, as he put it.
  7. Tchaikovsky, then still in the first year of his studies at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, attended all six concerts which Wagner conducted in the imperial capital during his Russian tour (February–March 1863). Apart from concert performances of excerpts from his operas, Wagner also conducted a number of symphonies by Beethoven.
  8. The troupe assembled by the Austrian tenor and impresario Angelo Neumann (1838–1910) under the name "Richard Wagner-Theater” performed the complete Ring cycle in Russia not four but five times, namely between 28 February/12 March and 22 March/3 April 1889 (rather than in 1888 as Tchaikovsky asserted). Four performances took place in Saint Petersburg, one in Moscow. The conductor was Karl Muck (1859–1940), who had come over specially from Prague, but the orchestra was drawn from the musicians of the Imperial Russian Theatres. Tchaikovsky at the time was away from Russia on his second concert tour of Western Europe. Other leading Russian composers, however, such as Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Aleksandr Glazunov, attended these performances and were indeed bowled over by Wagner's music.
  9. Édouard Colonne had been invited by the Imperial Russian Musical Society to conduct one of its concerts in Moscow in early 1890. The initiative for this invitation came from Tchaikovsky.
  10. In his article, Maurel had quoted from the toast which Vasily Safonov, the director of the Moscow Conservatory, had pronounced in honour of Lamoureux during a banquet in the house of Sergey Yakovlev (1837–1906), a member of the board of directors of the Imperial Russian Musical Society and a titular chamberlain. Safonov had praised the French conductor for, among other things, achieving his success in Moscow without needing to resort to "ridiculous gestures" and "extravagant mannerisms". These ironical remarks sparked some catcalling among the assembled guests as they recalled Hans von Bülow's last appearances as a conductor in Russia, in the winter of 1885/1886. Bülow's idiosyncratic gestures when conducting were a source of amusement for some concert-goers, but they would probably have been more forgiving if they had known about his poor state of health and the great irritability which this brought with it.
  11. Tchaikovsky is referring here not just to Bülow's central role in the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in Boston on 13/25 October 1875, but also to his German friend's enthusiastic review, in the Allgemeine Zeitung, of the first performance of Glinka's A Life for the Tsar in Milan the year before (an article in which Bülow had also drawn his readers' attention to Tchaikovsky's works). From about 1880 onwards, however, Bülow had begun devoting himself increasingly to the propagation of Brahms's music, and this estranged Tchaikovsky from him somewhat. Interestingly, Tchaikovsky does not mention here Franz Liszt's equally pivotal role in helping the works of his 'rivals' from the "Mighty Handful" — notably the symphonic music of Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov — to be heard in Germany.
  12. Thus, for example, from 1887 onwards Bülow arranged for Bizet's Carmen — his "favourite opera" as he once confessed — to be staged several times at the Hamburg Opera Theatre.
  13. At the time of this letter, Bülow was interned in a private clinic at Pankow, near Berlin, where he hoped in vain to obtain some relief for the neuralgic pains which he was suffering frrom and which were caused by an undiagnosed brain tumour. The great pianist and conductor would die little over a year later, in Cairo on 12 February 1894 [N.S.].
  14. As it turned out, Delines, despite having worked for Le Figaro in the past, was unable to persuade the editors of this anti-Germanic newspaper to print Tchaikovsky's letter. It seems that Delines then turned to the daily Le Paris-Journal (generally referred to simply as Paris), to which he was a regular contributor, and there he did manage to get Tchaikovsky's rectification of Maurel's article and glowing vindication of Hans von Bülow published three days later, on 13 January 1893 [N.S.]. The publication of Tchaikovsky's 'open letter' sparked a veritable polemic. Thus, Lamoureux issued a public statement denying that at the banquet given in his honour in Moscow the guests had jeered at Bülow and emphasizing that he had by no means pretended to be the enlightener of the Russian public as far as Wagner's music was concerned. Safonov himself wrote Tchaikovsky a (private) letter explaining that Maurel's article gave a highly distorted account of the events in Moscow. In Safonov's view, what had most likely happened was that Lamoureux had been carried away by his imagination, leading him to boast to his interviewer back in Paris that he had brought Wagner to the Russians, and that Maurel had decided to spice up the article even further by adding some anti-German touches. Safonov concluded by reproaching Tchaikovsky for having jumped to the conclusion that he was capable of such undignified conduct. The German press also got wind of this polemic and several German newspapers published articles thanking Tchaikovsky for having stood up for Bülow — note based partly on Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1997), p. 526–527.