Letter 54

Date 10/22 March 1861
Addressed to Aleksandra Davydova
Where written Saint Petersburg
Language Russian
Autograph Location Saint Petersburg (Russia): National Library of Russia (ф. 834, ед. хр. 16, л. 1–2)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 132–136 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 47–49 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955), p. 3–5 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 60–62
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Letters to his family. An autobiography (1981), p. 3–4 (English translation)

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
10 марта 1861 г[ода]
С[анкт]-Петербург,
После обеда.
(За обедом была солянка и корюшка).

Сейчас, Саша, прочитал твои письма к Папаше и к Мале. Сквозь них видны такая грусть, такое тихое, но мрачное безнадёжен, — что мне стало и жалко и досадно. Как тебе не стыдно быть в таком расположении духа? Забудь прошлое, гони от себя милые воспоминания; — смотри смело вперёд; ты увидишь, сколько тебе предстоит тихих радостей, сколько счастия. К августу уж ты мать! — тут кстати являются к тебе тётя Лиза и Маля; — в возне с ребёнком год пройдёт незаметно; — там поездка хоть ненадолго в Петербург; свидание с друзьями, родными, — да, право, я бы хотел быть на твоём месте. А муж, к[ото]рого ты любишь? Нет, ободрись, старайся только быть здоровою и, главное, не заглядывай в прошедшее, приучи себя к этому, и ты увидишь, что перестанешь грустить.

В моём образе жизни с твоего отъезда ничего не переменилось. Только поездка в Медведь вывела меня на несколько времени из обычной колеи. Про Медведь тебе уж, вероятно, всё известно от Мали. Сашенька Карцова много переменилась в свою пользу; куда девалась прежняя сухость, бесцветность? У ней теперь столько жизни, что как посмотришь на неё, так весело сделается. Участвовал там в спектакле и исполнил две роли довольно удачно. Летом — ещё не знаю, где буду, — легко может статься, что прикачу на несколько дней и к Вам, — а может быть, и за границу махну, коли Папаша будет в состоянии удружить деньгами. Теперь — Великий пост с своим вонючим маслом, тощими рыбами, живыми картинами, оттепелью и скверными дорогами, ефимонами, прежде и после освящёнными обеднями и конным цирком. Масленицу провёл очень бурно и глупо. Простился со всеми театрами, маскарадами — и теперь успокоился; а всё-таки дома не сидится. Сейчас отправляюсь к Пиччиоли, у к[ото]рых хочу поговорить по-итальянски и послушать пения. Откладываю письмо до возвращения домой.

12 час[ов] ночи.

Я был у Пиччиоли. Оба они так же милы, как прежде. Она велела тебе передать тысячу поклонов и сказать, что любит тебя по-старому. Домой возвратился рано, так что успел поужинать. Увы! тощая жареная рыба не утолила моего аппетита. От скуки я потормошил Амалию; т. е. насильно заставил её пробежаться раз 10 по зале. За ужином говорили про мой музыкальный талант. Папаша уверяет, что мне ещё не поздно сделаться артистом. Хорошо бы, если так; — но дело в том, что если во мне есть талант, то уж наверно его развивать теперь невозможно. Из меня сделали чиновника, — и то плохого; я стараюсь по возможности исправиться, заняться службою посерьёзнее, — и вдруг в то же время изучать генерал-бас? Что твоё пение? От него, признаюсь, я не ожидаю ничего хорошего. Ты, вероятно, и не дотрагиваешься до фортепьян и не смотришь на ноты, столь усердно собранные и посланные тебе г[раф]ом фон-Дервизом. Сей последний выздоровел, к великой радости тёти Лизы и всего русского народа, а в особенности каретного извозчика Спиридона, на к[ото]ром он всё ещё ездит.

В воскресенье объявлена свобода. Я нарочно ходил в приходскую церковь, чтоб видеть впечатление, к[ото]рое манифест произведёт на мужичков. В этот день в опере оркестр три раза играл «Боже, царя храни», при громких и восторженных криках всего собрания. После Вашего отъезда в опере ничего замечательного не давали: всё одно и то же. «Вильгельм Телль» дали по крайней мере раз десять. Саша! Напиши-ка Амалии (только не говори, что по моему совету), чтоб она не поступала на сцену. Я про это с ней никогда не говорил, — да ты ведь знаешь, что я не очень разговорчив, когда дело идёт серьёзное, потому что вмешиваться не люблю. Во-первых, хотя у ней и есть задатки дарованья, но едва ли она будет в состоянии встать на первый план, а быть такой актрисой, как какая-нибудь Подобедова, не стоит, а во-вторых, даже если допустить, что у ней огромный талант, кто может поручиться за успех? Что, если она не произведёт впечатления? Тогда для неё всё погибло; едва ли в таком случае её возьмут замуж, а остаться старой девой, да притом неудавшейся актрисой — участь незавидная.

Что тебе сказать о наших знакомых? Засецкая пела в одном концерте и имела успех. У Бутовских в последний раз я был ещё при вас. Заханевич уехала навсегда в Вологду, и совершенно неожиданно. Я ездил с Апухтиным к ней прощаться. Апухтин поднёс ей стихи и до того расчувствовался, что разревелся. Уж этих пошлостей не люблю! Я обещал ей сочинить романс и надул. Она премилая личность. Почему она решилась ехать, — покрыто мраком неизвестности. Юферов совершенно забыл прежнее, хотя называет тебя эффектной дамой, а Лёву всё-таки ненавидит. Татьяна Ивановна ему верна и платья носит на манер камелий, без кринолина, с бесконечным шлейфом. Адамов так же мил, как прежде, находится под туфлей Софьи Ивановны, как прежде, и фразёрствует, как прежде. С Апухтиным вижусь каждый день; он продолжает занимать при дворе моём должность 1-го шута, а в сердце первого друга. Мещёрский часто осведомляется, что делает Смоляночка. Вот тоже симпатичная тёплая личность! П. и А. дошли до такого апогея пошлости, что их невозможно видеть, особенно вместе. Сердце моё в том же положении. Святое семейство им завладело до такой степени, что никого не подпускает на расстояние пушечного выстрела. Серёжа уже 3-ий месяц как болен, — но теперь выздоравливает. Софи приезжала ненадолго из Саратова, и я имел счастье видеть её в театре. Похорошела ужасно. Верочка выросла. Сделал несколько новых знакомств; всего чаще бываю у Есиповых; у них играл на домашнем спектакле и танцевал на большом балу. Помирился с Хвостихой и стал у ней бывать. Она гадка, зла, умна, вонюча, весела, — как во времена нашей дружбы. На балу у Козлових она им сделала такую историю, что M[ademoise]lle Козлова во время мазурки сидела на месте и рыдала. Хвостиха говорит, что этим Козловы не отделаются. «Elles pleureront des larmes de sang», — говорит она и сдержит слово. Дочь её прехорошенькая. У Катерины Николаевны Давыдовой не был ни разу, да и не поеду. Ни Коко, ни Васёнька ни разу у нас не были.

Так не скучай же, Саша. Скоро уж лето! То-то у Вас будет хорошо! Лёва, целую тебя тысячу раз во все приличные отверствия. Ради Бога, господа, не стесняйтесь, не пишите мне отдельно. Я понимаю, что невозможно Вам всем писать. Конечно, оно очень приятно было бы, но я этого не требую. Сам же буду Вам писать по возможности часто. Целую тебя, Саша, крепко, крепко, крепко.

П. Чайковский

10 March 1861
Saint Petersburg
After dinner.
(For dinner there was solyanka [1] and smelt).

Sasha, I have just read your letters to Papasha and Malya. One can glimpse through them such sadness, such quiet but bleak hopelessness that I felt both sorry and annoyed. How can you not be ashamed of yourself for being in such a mood? Forget the past, drive away from yourself those dear memories — look boldly ahead and you will see how many quiet joys, how much happiness awaits you. By August you will already be a mother![2] And as it happens, Aunt Liza and Malya will turn up to visit you then. In all the fuss of looking after a child you will see how the year passes by imperceptibly. And then there'll be a trip to Petersburg, even if it is only for a short time, when you'll get to see your friends and relatives. Why, truly, I should like to be in your place! And what about your husband whom you love? No, cheer up, just try to stay healthy, and, most importantly, do not glance back at the past — get used to this, and you will see how you stop feeling sad.

Nothing has changed in my way of life since your departure. Only a trip to Medved [3] drew me out of my habitual rut for a while. Malya has probably already told you everything about Medved'. Sashenka Kartsova has changed greatly for the better. There is no trace left of her earlier dryness and colourlessness. She is now so full of life that just looking at her is enough to make one feel cheerful. I took part in an amateur theatrical there and performed two roles quite successfully. I don't know yet where I shall be in the summer — it may well happen that I turn up at your place for a few days, or I may also dash abroad, provided that Papasha is able to help me out with money. Now it is Lent, with its stinking butter, lean fish, tableaux vivants, thaw-weather and foul roads, Lenten vespers, masses celebrated before and afterwards, and its equestrian circus. I spent Shrove-tide in a very boisterous and silly fashion. I have bidden farewell to all theatres and masquerades, and now I have calmed down. Still, I don't feel like sitting at home. I am now going off to the Picciolis' place where I want to talk in Italian for a bit and hear some singing [4]. I am putting aside this letter until I return home.

12 o'clock at night.

I've been at the Picciolis'. They are both as nice as always. She asked me to give you a thousand regards and to tell you that she loves you as in the old days. I got back home early so I was able to have dinner. Alas! a lean grilled fish was not enough to quench my appetite. Out of boredom I pestered Amaliya a little, that is, I forced her to run around the hall some ten times. At dinner the conversation turned on my musical talent. Papasha insists that it is still not too late for me to become an artist. That would be nice if it is indeed so, but the point is that even if I do have talent, it is almost certainly impossible to develop it now. I have been turned into a civil servant, and a bad one at that — I am trying to improve as far as possible, to devote myself to my work with greater seriousness, and am I now suddenly going to start studying thoroughbass at the same time?! How's your singing going? I confess that I don't expect much good to come out of it. You probably don't even touch your piano any more and aren't looking at any of the music so zealously collected for you and sent to you by Mr fon Derviz [5]. The latter has recovered, much to the delight of Aunt Liza and the entire Russian people, especially the coachman Spiridon in whose carriage he continues to drive.

On Sunday, the freedom was announced [6]. I deliberately went to our parish church to see the impression which the edict would make on the peasants. That evening at the opera-house the orchestra played "God Save the Tsar" three times, to loud and enthusiastic cries from the whole assembled multitude. There hasn't been a single remarkable production at the opera-house since you both left: it's always one and the same. "Wilhelm Tell" has been staged at least some ten times. Sasha! Do write to Amaliya (only don't say that I advised you to) and tell her that she mustn't try to become an actress. I have never talked to her about this — after all, you know how reticent I am when something serious is being discussed: this is because I don't like to interfere. First of all, even though she does have rudimentary gifts, still she would hardly be able to shine in the foreground, and being an actress, say, like Podobedova [7], really isn't worth it. Secondly, even if one were to concede that her talent is huge, who can vouch for her being successful? What if she fails to make an impression? Then everything would be ruined for her, for surely no one would want to marry her in such a case, and being an old maid, and a failed actress to boot, is not an enviable lot.

What can I tell you about our acquaintances? Zasetskaya sang at a concert and was successful. The last time I visited the Butovskys was when you were still here. Zakhanevich has left for Vologda for good, and quite unexpectedly too. I went with Apukhtin to her place to bid her farewell. Apukhtin presented her with some verses and was so overcome by emotion that he started wailing. Oh how I dislike such banalities! Why she decided to leave, is shrouded in a veil of mystery. Yuferov [8] has completely forgotten about the past, though he does refer to you as a stunning lady and hates Leva all the same. Tatyana Ivanovna is faithful to him and wears dresses in the style of a cocotte, without crinolines and with endlessly long trains. Adamov [9] continues to be as nice as before, is still under the slipper of Sofya Ivanovna [10] as before, and is as much of a phrase-monger as he was before. I see Apukhtin every day: at my court he continues to occupy the post of first jester, and in my heart that of best friend. Meshchersky [11] frequently enquires as to how Smolyanochka [12] is getting on. Now there's another likeable, warm person! P. and A. have reached such an apogee of banality that it is unbearable to see them, especially together. My heart is still in the same state. The holy family [13] has so captured it that it doesn't allow anyone else within the distance of a cannon-shot. Serezha [Kireyev] has been ill for three months already, but is now recovering [14]. Sophie came for a short while from Saratov, and I had the good fortune of seeing her at the theatre. She has grown terribly pretty [15]. Verochka has grown up. I have made several new acquaintances. Most frequently of all I visit the Yesipovs: I appeared in an amateur theatrical and danced at a grand ball in their house. I have made it up with Khvostikha, and have started visiting her. She is vile, malicious, clever, smelly, and jolly — as when we were friends. At a ball given by the Kozlovs she put them in such a tight spot that during the mazurka Mlle Kozlov. remained seated in her chair and sobbed all the time. Khvostikha says that she isn't going to let them get off just like that. "They shall shed tears of blood", she says and intends to keep her word. Her daughter is very pretty. I have not once been to Katerina Nikolayevna Davydova's [16], nor do I intend to. Neither Koko, nor Vasenka has visited us once.

So don't be depressed, Sasha. Summer's coming soon! How fine it will then be where you are! Leva, I kiss you a thousand times in all your seemly orifices. For God's sake, my Lordships, don't be shy, don't feel you have to write to me individually. I understand that it is impossible for you to write to everyone. Of course, it would be very pleasant, but I'm not asking for this. I for my part, though, will write to you as frequently as possible. I kiss you, Sasha, hard, hard and hard.

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. A sharp-tasting soup made of vegetables and fish or meat.
  2. In November 1860 Tchaikovsky's sister Aleksandra had married Lev Davydov and gone to live with her husband on the Davydovs' family estate at Kamenka, in Kiev Province. Citing this letter in full in his biography of the composer, Modest Tchaikovsky notes that Aleksandra at the time was missing her family and friends in Saint Petersburg very much — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 121. Aleksandra would give birth to her first child, a daughter christened Tatyana, not in August, but on 6/18 September 1861.
  3. A village in Novgorod Province where the artillery battalion commanded by Pavel Petrovich Kartsov (1821-1892), the husband of Tchaikovsky's cousin Aleksandra Petrovna, was then situated — note by Modest Tchaikovsky in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 122.
  4. Luigi Piccioli (1812-1868) was an Italian singing-teacher who had settled in Saint Petersburg in the 1840s. As his wife was a friend of Yelizaveta Shobert, he made the acquaintance of the Tchaikovsky family and, in particular, became friends with the future composer, despite their great difference in age. For some years Tchaikovsky was strongly influenced in his musical tastes by Piccioli and the latter's exclusive veneration of Italian belcanto opera — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 116-117, and also Tchaikovsky's brief Autobiography (1889).
  5. Ivan Grigoryevich fon Derviz, a former classmate of Tchaikovsky's at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence — note by Modest Tchaikovsky in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 122.
  6. On 5/17 March 1861 the Emancipation Edict which put an end to centuries of serfdom in Russia was published and read out in churches all over the country.
  7. Yekaterina Ivanovna Podobedova (1829 or 1830-1883), an actress with the Imperial Theatres in Saint Petersburg whose gifts were not outstanding, but whose serious approach to her profession allowed her to acquit herself well in some leading roles.
  8. Yuferov had been one of the suitors of the composer's sister Aleksandra. Note by Modest Tchaikovsky in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 123. For more information on Vladimir Nikolayevich Yuferov (b. 1839), who like Tchaikovsky was a graduate of the School of Jurisprudence (though in the year above him) and a friend of Apukhtin's, see Alexander Poznansky, Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том I (2009).
  9. Vladimir Stepanovich Adamov (1838-1877), another fellow graduate of the School of Jurisprudence; as in the case of Tchaikovsky and Apukhtin, his homosexual inclinations already became apparent there. See Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том I (2009), p. 121, 140 (photograph).
  10. Adamov's mother. Note by Modest Tchaikovsky in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 123.
  11. Prince Vladimir Petrovich Meshchersky (1839-1914), a classmate of Tchaikovsky's at the School of Jurisprudence, he would become an influential conservative publicist. For an outline of his career, which was riddled with various scandals due to his unashamed favouritism, see Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 365-368.
  12. The nickname by which the composer's sister Aleksandra had been known before her marriage — note by Modest Tchaikovsky in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 123. This nickname was probably derived from the word 'смола' (smola, 'tar, pitch'), in allusion to Aleksandra Davydova's large dark eyes.
  13. The Kireyevs — note by Modest Tchaikovsky in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 123.
  14. Although Modest Tchaikovsky, when citing this letter in his biography of the composer, added a note (as above) explaining that the "holy family" referred to the Kireyevs, he did not elaborate on why his brother had described the family thus, nor did he say anything about Sergey ("Serezha") Kireyev and his brother's feelings for him. Only in the "Autobiography" which he wrote towards the end of his life did Modest reveal what Tchaikovsky had told him about his unrequited love for Sergey Kireyev (1845-1888), which had begun when he was in the senior course of the School of Jurisprudence and Kireyev in the junior course. Modest compared his brother's love for Kireyev to that of a medieval knight for his fair lady, and added that in a similar way it had inspired Tchaikovsky in his twenties to devote himself to music in earnest and to seek to win glory as a composer in order to touch Kireyev's heart — see Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том I (2009), p. 116-118.
  15. Sofya ("Sophie") Aleksandrovna Kireyeva was Sergey Kireyev's sister. As Alexander Poznansky observes, Tchaikovsky "wanted — consciously or instinctively — Aleksandra to believe that it was in fact with this Sofya Kireyeva that he had fallen in love" — see Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 48.
  16. Yekaterina Nikolayevna Davydova (b. Yermolova; d.1885 [according to another source: 1804-1883]), the widow of Yevdokim Vasilyevich Davydov (1786-1842), who was the brother of the famous soldier-poet Denis Vasilyevich Davydov (1784-1839) — note based on information provided in the index of П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959).