Letter 681

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Date 7/19 December 1877
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Venice
Language Russian
Autograph Location Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
Publication Письма П. И. Чайковского и С. И. Танеева (1874-1893) [1916], p. 16–17
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 20–21
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том VI (1961), p. 293–295

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Венеция, 19/7 дек[абря] 1877
Сергей Иванович!

Я только на прошлой неделе от Кашкина узнал, что Вы в Москве. До тех пор мне было совершенно неизвестно, где и что Вы, т. е. я потерял Вас из виду с тех пор, как получил Ваше письмо из Селища в ответ на моё из Москвы. Правда, я виноват, что не отвечал Вам на это последнее письмо, но ведь Вы знаете, что со мной происходила какая-то чертовщина, вследствие которой я временно никаких писем не писал. Засим я не знал где Вы, в деревне, в Москве, за границей. Оказывается, что Вы уже давно в Москве. Как Вы думаете, Серёжа, ведь можно Вам было бы черкнуть посланьице Вашему старому другу, живущему против воли на чужбине, очень скучающему, очень расстроенному нервами и т. д. Ну, Бог с Вами!

Из одного письма я узнал, что Вы играли вместе с Рубинштейном и ещё с кем-то моё первое действие «Онегина», из другого,—что Вы написали симфонию, из третьего,—что Вы должны были участвовать в симфоническом вечере. Очень всё это меня интересует, т. е. 1) что Вы скажете об «Онегине», 2) что Вы написали: всю ли симфонию, или только часть, 3) что и как Вы играли в концерте. Вообще, я крайне любопытен знать, какие Ваши планы, как себя чувствуете и довольны ли собой. Надеюсь, что Ваше недоразумение с Рубинштейном разъяснилось и что странная комедия, разыгранная по случаю Вашего возвращения, давно забыта.

Живу я теперь в Венеции, которую избрал временным местопребыванием потому, что мне по душе её тишина и спокойствие. Не думаю, что останусь здесь долго. Вероятно, докончу симфонию, за которую я принялся с большой энергией, и затем уеду куда-нибудь в Швейцарию. Как ни прекрасна Венеция, как здесь ни тихо, а долго оставаться в ней всё-таки не смогу, и знаете отчего? Я никак не могу привыкнуть к венецианскому зловонию. Дышать чистым воздухом здесь нет никакой возможности; он вечно заражён миазмами, и привыкнуть к этому нельзя. Не понимаю, как люди могут здесь жить целую жизнь!

Как бы мне хотелось знать, что Вы там натворили! Воображаю, каких чудес исполнена симфония! Будет ли она исполнена? Не найдёте ли Вы возможным прислать мне хотя черновой эскиз, если он у Вас имеется. Дорого бы я дал, чтобы познакомиться с Вашим новым сочинением. Очень любопытно знать, далеко ли Вы ушли с прошлого года

В Вене я услышал «Валькирию» Вагнера и имел случай проверить своё первое, байрейтское, впечатление. Если в самом деле музыке суждено иметь в лице Вагнера своего главного и величайшего представителя, то можно прийти в отчаяние. Неужели это последнее слово искусства, неужели этой претенциозной, тяжеловесной и безобразной дребеденью будут наслаждаться грядущие поколения, подобно тому, как мы теперь наслаждаемся Девятой симфонией, в своё время тоже признававшейся чепухой? Если да, то это ужасно.

Зато в той же Вене я слышал балет «Sylvia» Leo Delibes'а; именно слышал, потому что это первый балет, в котором музыка составляет не только главный, но и единственный интерес. Что за прелесть, что за изящество, богатство мелодическое, ритмическое и гармоническое. Мне было стыдно. Если б я знал эту музыку ранее, то, конечно, не написал бы «Озеро лебедей»

Прощайте, Серёжа! Напишите мне, превозмогите свою позорную лень. Очень кланяюсь всем Вашим и Варваре Павловне в особенности. Масловым передайте тысячу дружеских приветствий и, пожалуйста, передайте им каждой отдельно поклон, т. е. и Варваре Ивановне', и 'Анне Ивановне', и 'Софье Ивановне. Фединьку целую

Ваш, П. Чайковский
Venice, 19/7 December 1877

It was only last week that I found out from Kashkin that you are in Moscow. Until then I had had no knowledge whatsoever of where you were and how you were getting on, i.e. I lost sight of you after receiving your letter from Selishche in response to my letter from Moscow [1]. True, it is my fault that I didn't reply to your last letter, but, as you know, something devilish happened to me, as a result of which I did not write any letters at all for a while [2]. Then I didn't know where you were, whether in the country, in Moscow, or abroad. It turns out that you have been in Moscow for a long time. Don't you think, Serezha, that you could at least have dropped a few lines to your old friend who is living in foreign lands against his will, who is very depressed and very upset after a nervous breakdown etc. Well, God be with you!

From one letter I learned that together with Rubinstein and someone else you played through the first act of my "Onegin" [3], from another, that you have written a symphony, and from yet another letter that you were due to take part in a symphonic evening concert. All this interests me greatly, i.e.: 1) what your opinion of "Onegin" is, 2) what you have composed: whether it is a whole symphony or just a movement, 3) what you played at the concert and how it turned out. Indeed, I am extremely curious to know what your plans are, how you are feeling and whether you are satisfied with yourself. I hope that your misunderstanding with Rubinstein has cleared up, and that the strange comedy which was acted out on the occasion of your return [from abroad] has long since been forgotten.

I am now living in Venice, which I have chosen as my temporary abode because its peace and quiet are to my liking. I don't think that I shall stay here long. I will probably finish off the symphony—a task that I have embarked upon with great energy—and then head for somewhere in Switzerland. For all the beauty of Venice, no matter how quiet it is here, still I cannot remain here for long, and do you know why that is? I simply cannot accustom myself to the Venetian stench. It is quite impossible to breathe fresh air here—it is always contaminated with miasmas, and there is no way one can get used to this. I don't understand how people can live here all their lives!

How I would like to know what you have been getting up to over there! I can imagine how your symphony must be replete with wonders![4] Is it going to be performed? Wouldn't it be possible for you to send me at least the rough draft, if you have it to hand? What would I give to acquaint myself with your new composition! I am very interested to know how far you have progressed since last year.

In Vienna I heard Wagner's "Die Walküre" and was able to confirm my first impression from Bayreuth. If music really is fated to have in Wagner its principal and greatest exponent, then that is enough to drive one to despair. Is this really the last word in music?! Will future generations really enjoy this pretentious, cumbersome, and unsightly nonsense, as we now enjoy [Beethoven's] Ninth Symphony, which in its time was also regarded as nonsense? If yes, then that's awful.

On the other hand, in Vienna I also heard the ballet "Sylvia" by Léo Delibes—yes, I say heard because this is the first ballet in which the music constitutes not just the principal, but also the sole interest. What charm, what gracefulness, what melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic richness! I was ashamed of myself. If I had known this music before, I would of course not have written "The Lake of Swans" [5].

Good-bye, Serezha! Write to me, vanquish your disgraceful laziness. Give my very warm regards to all yours, and to Varvara Pavlovna in particular. Please also convey to the Maslovs a thousand cordial greetings, and a separate compliment from me to each of the ladies, that is, to Varvara Ivanovna, to Anna Ivanovna, and to Sofya Ivanovna. I kiss Fedinka.

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. In a letter which he started writing on 4/16 December 1876, before he received the above letter from Tchaikovsky, Taneyev apologized for not having written to his former teacher in such a long time (that is, for not having replied to Tchaikovsky's Letter 576 of 5/17 July 1877 from Moscow). Taneyev wrote that he had been very sorry not to see Tchaikovsky in Moscow earlier in the summer because he had wanted to thank him personally for the dedication of Francesca da Rimini. Moreover, he explained that he had been staying at Selishche, the estate of Fyodor Maslov and his sisters, until mid/late October, and that after his return to Moscow he had not found the time to write because he had been preparing for a concert on 2/14 December at which he was due to play Schumann's Piano Concerto. Taneyev did not post his letter immediately after finishing it, and a few days later (probably on 12/24 December) he actually received Tchaikovsky's letter from Venice. He then added a postscript, apologizing again for having been too lazy to write earlier. Taneyev's letter of 4/16–12/24 December 1876 has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 21–22. The letter which he sent to Tchaikovsky from Selishche, however, has not survived.
  2. Tchaikovsky is referring obliquely to his flight from his wife Antonina on 24 September/6 October 1877 and his subsequent departure abroad, which was ostensibly undertaken on the advice of his doctors.
  3. On 27 October/8 November 1877, Tchaikovsky, who was then in Clarens, had sent the full score of the first act of Yevgeny Onegin to Nikolay Rubinstein in Moscow. After receiving it Rubinstein had invited some of his conservatory colleagues, including Taneyev and Kashkin, to his apartment to acquaint themselves with the music. It was in fact Taneyev who played through the music on the piano, while the others followed the score. See the quotation from Taneyev's letter to Tchaikovsky of 4/16–12/24 December 1876 in the notes accompanying Tchaikovsky's Letter 716 to Taneyev, 2/14 January 1878.
  4. Taneyev's Symphony No. 2 in B-flat minor which he began writing while at Selishche in the summer of 1877. Although he continued working on it in the first half of 1878, he never completed it.
  5. During his brief stay in Vienna in late November/early December 1877 Tchaikovsky attended performances of Die Walküre and the ballet Sylvia. See also Letter 659 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 November/5 December 1877, and Letter 661 to her on 26 November/8 December 1877.