Letter 61

Date 4/16 December 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. 7–8)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 147 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 57–58 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955), p. 11–12 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 71-72
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Letters to his family. An autobiography (1981), p. 10–11 (English translation; abridged)

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
4 декабря 1861
Петербург

Милая Саша! Если я довольно долго тебе не отвечал, то это оттого, что не знал, как приняться за письмо. Не знаю, какими словами благодарить и за самую посылку, к[ото]рая пришла ко мне в одну из тех минут, когда из затруднительного положения выводит неожиданный случай, и за ту деликатность, с к[ото]рою ты всё это сделала; я нисколько не мучаюсь в отношении к тебе тем безотчётным, тягостным чувством, к[ото]рое испытывают самолюбивые люди в отношении к людям, оказавшим им услугу; ты так мило пишешь, что по прочтении твоего послания я чувствовал себя глубоко тронутым (да не покажется это тебе пошло) и ни минуты не сомневался, что никогда и никто не принимал во мне такого искреннего участья, как ты. Желаю, чтоб и мне пришлось когда-нибудь оказать тебе услугу...

Дела мои идут по-старому. На службе надеюсь получить в скором времени место чиновника особых поручений при М[инистерств]е; жалованья 20-ю р[ублями] больше и немного дела. Дай Бог, чтобы это устроилось. Что касается до провинции, то едва ли я из Петербурга могу теперь выбраться; я писал тебе, кажется, что начал заниматься теорией музыки и очень успешно; согласись, что с моим изрядным талантом (надеюсь, ты это не примешь за хвастовство) было бы неблагоразумно не попробовать счастья на этом поприще. Я боюсь только за бесхарактерность; пожалуй, лень возьмёт своё, и я не выдержу; если же напротив, то обещаюсь тебе сделаться чем-нибудь. Ты знаешь, что во мне есть силы и способности, — но я болен тою болезнью, к[ото]рая называется обломовщиною, и если не восторжествую над нею, то, конечно, легко могу погибнуть. К счастию, время ещё не совсем ушло.

Светская жизнь в Петербурге в полном разгаре; я приобрёл несколько новых знакомств, именно: Сабуровым, M[ada]me Савельева, M[ada]me Гернгросс, другая M[ada]me Гернгросс, M[ada]me Козлова (не та, ко[то]рая бывала у Бутовских) и вообще довольно часто бываю в обществе. В театрах бываю не так часто, как прежде; два вечера в неделю у меня заняты уроками; по пятницам поочерёдно у Пиччиоли и у Бонне; по воскресеньям дома; по понедельникам почти всегда играю в восемь рук у одного господина, так что театральное время совершенно теряю.

Замечательно, какое ты оставила по себе воспоминанье; если б я помнил все поклоны, поцелуи и т. д., к[ото]рые мне поручают передавать тебе, то недоставало бы в письмах места на другое. Известие, что ты приедешь весной, я принял, конечно, с радостью, но без всякого удивленья, как другие. Я всегда был уверен, что этим кончится. Не век же, в самом деле, жить в деревне. Я готов верить, что тишина деревенской жизни приятна, но тем не менее необходимо изредка окунуться в суету суетствий. Приезжай пораньше и оставайся подольше. Только что сейчас у нас были Л. Генке, Лида Ольховская, Софи, Андрюша, Илёнька. Ты слышала, что Софи сходила с ума? Теперь она совершенно здорова. Илёнька по-прежнему для меня несимпатичен. Поцелуй от меня во все места мою любезную племянницу и её многоуважаемого отца. Ещё раз крепко, крепко благодарю тебя и целую.

П. Чайковский

Никаких домашних известий тебе не пишу; они тебе подробно излагаются Амальей. Толя, Модя были дома 3 дня; они учатся хорошо.

Вот вкратце описание моих долгов, — я не имею никакой причины скрывать их от тебя: портному 200, известному тебе господину около 300, 100 р[ублей] Бурнашеву и около 50 Апухтину и другим приятелям. Писаревский долг из этих самый неприятный; остальные более или менее сносны. Не ужасайся, душа моя, я надеюсь не попасть в долговое отделение; когда-нибудь да выпутаюсь.

4 December 1861
Petersburg

Dear Sasha! If I haven't written to you in quite a while, it is because I didn't know how to set about writing a letter. I can't find the words to thank you both for the parcel itself, which reached me in one of those moments when an unexpected event comes to the rescue in a difficult situation, and for the delicacy with which you did all this [1]. With respect to you I am not at all tormented by that unaccountable agonising feeling which touchy people experience with respect to those who have done them a favour. You write so sweetly that after reading your letter I felt deeply moved (I hope this doesn't seem banal to you) and did not doubt for an instant that no one has ever shown such sincere concern for me as you have. I wish that I too may have occasion some day to render you a service...

Things with me are going as before. At work I am hoping to receive soon the post of an official for special assignments at the Ministry: it means 20 rubles' more salary and not much work to do. God grant that this may work out. As for the provinces, I can hardly leave Petersburg now. I think I already wrote to you that I have started to study music theory, and very successfully too: I am sure you will agree that given my considerable talent (I hope you won't interpret this as bragging), it would be unwise not to try my luck in this field [2]. The only thing that worries me is my lack of character: my laziness may well make itself felt and I may not manage to hold out. But if it turns out to be the contrary, then I promise you that I will go somewhere. As you know, I have strength and abilities, but I suffer from that illness which goes by the name of Oblomovism [3], and if I fail to vanquish that, then of course I can very easily go under. Fortunately, there is still some time left.

Society life in Petersburg is in full swing. I have acquired some new acquaintances, namely: the Saburovs, Madame Savelyeva, Madame Gerngross, another Madame Gerngross, Madame Kozlova (not the one who visited the Butovskys), and on the whole I am frequenting society quite a lot. I'm not going to the theatres as often as before. I have lessons two evenings a week. On Fridays I visit by turns Piccioli [4] and Bonne [5]. On Sundays I stay at home. On Mondays I am almost always playing piano quartets at one gentleman's house, which means that I just don't have any time left for the theatre.

It is remarkable how everyone remembers you: if I were to mention all the regards, kisses etc. which I keep being asked to convey to you, then there wouldn't be room for anything else in my letters. I was of course delighted by the news that you are coming in the spring, though I wasn't surprised at all, like the others. I was always certain that that would happen in the end. I mean, you just can't stay in the country all your life. I can readily believe that the tranquillity of country life is agreeable, but all the same it is essential every now and then to plunge into the vanities of society. So come as soon as you can and stay for as long as you can. We have just been visited by L. Genke, Lida Olkhovskaya [6], Sophie [7], Andryusha, and Ilyonka [8]. Did you hear that Sophie was going out of her senses? Now she is quite well. I continue to find Ilyonka disagreeable as always. Kiss my lovely niece everywhere on my behalf, and also her much-esteemed father. Once again I thank and kiss you very, very warmly.

P. Tchaikovsky

I haven't written to you about any domestic news: you will receive a detailed report on these from Amaliya. Tolya and Modya were home [from school] for three days. They are studying well.

Here in brief is a description of my debts (there is no reason whatsoever why I should conceal them from you): 200 for the tailor, around 300 for that gentleman you know of, 100 rubles for Burnashev [9], and around 50 for Apukhtin and other friends. Of these the Pisarev [10] debt is the most unpleasant one; the rest are more or less bearable. Don't be terrified, my dear: I hope not to end up in the debtors' prison. Someday I will manage to extricate myself from this mess.

Notes and References

  1. No letters from Aleksandra Davydova to her brother before 1866 have survived in the archives of the Tchaikovsky House-Museum at Klin — note by Vladimir Zhdanov in П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 663.
  2. In the autumn of 1861 Tchaikovsky had signed up as one of the first students for the music theory classes taught by Nikolay Zaremba at the Mikhaylovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg as part of an initiative launched by Anton Rubinstein to offer professional music teaching in Russia. These classes were the foundation for the Saint Petersburg Conservatory which was inaugurated the following year. Modest Tchaikovsky, who quoted part of this letter in his biography of the composer, emphasized his brother's reluctance to take up a post in the provinces (the surest way to advancement in the civil service) because it would mean giving up his lessons with Zaremba testified to his increasing sense of musical vocation — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 134-135.
  3. A word coined by the young radical critic Nikolay Aleksandrovich Dobrolyubov (1836-1861) in his review of Ivan Goncharov's famous 1859 novel Oblomov. Extrapolating from the slothfulness of the novels eponymous hero, Dobrolyubov argued that such "Oblomovism" was a malaise which affected the whole Russian gentry.
  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. This probably refers to Mariya Bonne, who would enrol as a singing student in the Saint Petersburg Conservatory the following year and who engaged Tchaikovsky to give her private lessons in music theory.
  6. Lidiya Vladimirovna Olkhovskaya (née Tchaikovskaya; 1836-1892), a cousin and childhood playmate of the composer's. She was the daughter of Ilya Tchaikovsky's elder brother, Vladimir. Lidiya had lost her mother when she was quite little, in 1842, and had been effectively adopted by Tchaikovsky's parents.
  7. Sofya Petrovna Tchaikovskaya (1833-1888), a cousin of the composer's, the daughter of Ilya Tchaikovsky's elder brother, Pyotr.
  8. Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky (1837-1891), a cousin of the composer's, the son of Ilya Tchaikovsky's elder brother, Pyotr; he worked as an engineer.
  9. Nikolay Nikolayevich Burnashev (1837-after 1916) was, like Tchaikovsky, a graduate of the School of Jurisprudence. He later seems to have befriended the composer's brother Modest and may have belonged to the homosexual demi-monde of Moscow — see Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 140-141, 148.
  10. Vasily Vasilyevich Pisarev was an engineer and acquaintance of his father's whom Tchaikovsky had accompanied abroad that summer in the capacity of an interpreter and travelling companion. It had been his first trip outside Russia, and Pisarev had agreed to pay all his travel expenses. The two had, however, quarrelled during their stay in Paris, and Tchaikovsky had returned to Russia in September on his own.