Letter 527

Date 24 December 1876/5 January 1877
Addressed to Lev Tolstoy
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Tolstoy State Museum
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 521–522 (abridged)
Лев Толстой и Чайковский. Их знакомство и взаимоотношения (1924), p. 115–116 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том VI (1961), p. 100–101

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Москва
24 декабря 1876 г[ода]

Граф! Искренно благодарен Вам за присылку песен! Я должен Вам сказать откровенно, что они записаны рукой неумелой и носят на себе разве лишь одни следы своей первобытной красоты. Самый главный недостаток, — это что они втиснуты искусственно и насильственно в правильно размеренный ритм. Только плясовые русские песни имеют ритм с правильным и равномерно акцентированным тактом, а ведь былины с плясовой песнью ничего общего иметь не могут. Кроме того, большинство этих песен, и тоже, по-видимому, насильственно, записано в торжественном D-dur'е, что опять-таки не согласно с строем настоящей русской песни, почти всегда имеющей неопределённую тональность, ближе всего подходящую к древним церковным ладам. Вообще присланные Вами песни не могут подлежать правильной и систематической обработке, т. е. из них нельзя сделать сборника, так как для этого необходимо, чтоб песнь была записана, насколько возможно, согласно с тем, как её исполняют в народе. Это необычайно трудная вещь и требует самого тонкого музыкального чувства и большой музыкально-исторической эрудиции. Кроме Балакирева и отчасти Прокунина, я не знаю ни одного человека, сумевшего быть на высоте своей задачи. Но материалом для симфонической разработки Ваши песни служить могут, и даже очень хорошим материалом, и я непременно так или иначе воспользуюсь им.

Как я рад, что вечер в Консерватории оставил в Вас хорошее воспоминание! Наши квартетисты в этот вечер играли как никогда. Вы можете из этого факта вывести то заключение, что пара ушей такого великого художника, как Вы, способна воодушевить артиста в сто раз больше, чем десятки тысяч ушей публики.

Вы один из тех писателей, которые заставляют любить не только свои сочинения, но и самих себя. Видно было, что, играя так удивительно хорошо, они старались для очень любимого и дорогого человека. Что касается меня, то я не могу сказать Вам, до чего я был счастлив и горд, видя, что моя музыка могла Вас тронуть и увлечь.

Я передам Ваше поручение Рубинштейну, как только он приедет из Петербурга. Кроме Фитценхагена, не читающего по-русски, все участвовавшие в квартете читали Ваши сочинения. Я полагаю, что они будут Вам очень благодарны, если Вы пришлёте им каждому какое-нибудь одно сочинение. Что касается меня, то я попросил бы Вас подарить мне «Казаки», если не теперь, то в другой раз, когда Вы опять побываете в Москве, чего я буду ожидать с величайшим нетерпением.

П. Чайковский

Если Вы будете посылать Рубинштейну свой портрет, то и меня не забудьте!

Moscow
24 December 1876

Count! I am sincerely grateful to you for sending those songs! [1] I must tell you frankly that they have been recorded in a very clumsy manner, and they display no more than a few traces of their primitive beauty. The principal defect is that they have been artificially and violently forced into a regularly measured rhythm. Only Russian dance songs have a rhythm with a regular and uniformly accented beat, whereas byliny of course cannot have anything in common with dance songs. Furthermore, the majority of these songs have been transcribed — and this, again, evidently in a forced manner — in the triumphant key of D major, which is also not in keeping with the structure of true Russian folk-song, whose tonality is almost always indefinite and in fact comes closest of all to the modalities of ancient church music. In general, the songs you have sent cannot be subjected to proper and systematic elaboration — that is, it is impossible to gather them into an anthology, since for that it would be essential to have each song transcribed as closely as possible to the manner in which it is performed among the people. This is an uncommonly difficult task and requires the most exquisite musical feeling and great musical and historical erudition. Apart from Balakirev, as well as Prokunin to some extent, I cannot think of anyone who would be up to it. However, your songs can indeed serve as material for symphonic treatment — and very good material, too — and I definitely intend to make use of them in some way or other [2].

How glad I am that you went away with a pleasant recollection of the soirée at the Conservatory! [3] Our quartet musicians played that evening as they had never played before. From this you may infer that a pair of ears belonging to a great artist like you is capable of inspiring an artist a hundred times more than the tens of thousands of ears of the public.

You are one of those writers who cause us to love not only their works but also themselves. It was evident that in playing so astonishingly well the musicians were giving their all for someone whom they love and cherish very much. As for me, I cannot describe to you how happy and proud I was to see that my music could move and captivate you [4].

I will pass on your request to Rubinstein as soon as he gets back from Petersburg [5]. Apart from Fitzenhagen, who doesn't read Russian, all the other members of the quartet have read your works. I think that they will be very grateful to you if you send them all one work each. As far as I am concerned, I would kindly ask you to present me with a copy of "The Cossacks" — if not now, then on some other occasion, when you again happen to be in Moscow: I shall be looking forward to this with the greatest impatience

P. Tchaikovsky

If you do send Rubinstein your portrait, please do not forget to send one to me, too!

Notes and References

  1. According to Sergey Tolstoy (the writer's eldest son), who included this letter in his article Лев Толстой и Чайковский. Их знакомство и взаимоотношения (1924), p. 114–124, Tchaikovsky had very likely received from Tolstoy a copy of Kirsha Danilov's famous anthology of Russian songs (compiled in the second half of the eighteenth century, but first published in 1804). Although no copy of this anthology has come to light in the composer's library or archive, many of the songs in Kirsha Danilov's collection are transcribed in D major and it contains lots of byliny (epic songs), which would tally with Tchaikovsky's remarks further on in his letter. The letter which Tolstoy sent to Tchaikovsky from Yasnaya Polyana together with these songs has survived, though, and is believed to have been written between 19/31 December 1876 and 21 December 1876/2 January 1877.
  2. Because the songs sent by Tolstoy have not survived in Tchaikovsky's archive, it is impossible to establish whether the composer used them in his later works, and if so, how exactly.
  3. In his letter to Tchaikovsky Tolstoy had written: "I have never received such a cherished reward for my literary endeavours as this wonderful soirée". In mid/late December 1876 Nikolay Rubinstein, at Tchaikovsky's request, had organized a chamber music soirée at the Conservatory specially for Tolstoy, who had come to Moscow to oversee the publication of the next instalments of Anna Karenina, but who had also expressed the wish to meet the city's leading musicians.
  4. At this musical soirée in Tolstoy's honour Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 was played by Jan Hřímalý, Adolph Brodsky, Yuly Gerber (viola), and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen. This work made a strong impression on Tolstoy, especially the famous slow movement (Andante cantabile). Writing in his diary almost ten years later, on 1/13 July 1886, Tchaikovsky would confess: "Perhaps never in my life has my composer's pride been so flattered and moved as when L. N. Tolstoy, sitting beside me and listening to the Andante from my First Quartet, burst into tears" — see Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p.210–211, and also Letter 533 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 2/14-3-15 January 1877.
  5. In his letter Tolstoy had asked Tchaikovsky to clarify which particular photograph of himself Nikolay Rubinstein wanted him to inscribe and send to Moscow so that it could be hung in the room at the Conservatory where the musical soirée had taken place.