Letter 799

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Date 27 March/8 April 1878
Addressed to Sergey Taneyev
Where written Clarens
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. 28–30
П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 33–35 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том VII (1962), p. 200–202

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Clarens 27 марта
8 апреля
Милый Серёжа!

С величайшим интересом и удовольствием прочёл письмо Ваше. В ответ на него мне следовало бы теперь же послать Вам обстоятельную критику Вашей партитуры, но я откладываю это на несколько дней. Я получил её недели две тому назад, как раз в то время, когда начал писать скрипичный концерт, который теперь тороплюсь окончить, чтобы к моему отъезду, который состоится на будущей неделе, он был вполне готов. Я несколько раз уже играл Вашу симфонию, но не решаюсь ещё высказать Вам решительное мнение о ней. Как только сбуду с плеч концерт, то исключительно предамся ей и тогда напишу Вам подробно моё мнение.

Напрасно Вы предполагали, что в Вашем отзыве о моей 4-ой симфонии есть что-нибудь резкое. Это просто откровенное Ваше мнение, и я Вам очень благодарен за сообщение его. Я нуждаюсь именно в мнении, а не в дифирамбе. Тем не менее многое в нём меня очень удивило. Я решительно не понимаю, что Вы называете балетной музыкой и почему Вы не можете с ней примириться? Подразумеваете ли Вы под балетной музыкой всякую весёлую и с плясовым ритмом мелодию? Но в таком случае Вы не должны мириться и с большинством симфоний Бетховена, в которых таковые на каждом шагу встречаются. Хотите ли Вы сказать, что трио в моём Скерцо написано в стиле Минкуса, Гербера и Пуньи? Но этого, мне кажется, оно не заслуживает. Вообще же я решительно не понимаю, каким образом в выражении балетная музыка может заключаться что-либо порицательное! Ведь балетная музыка не всегда же дурна; бывает и хорошая (укажу на «Silvia» Leo Delibes'а). А когда она хорошая, то не всё ли равно, танцует ли под неё Собещанская, или не танцует? Мне остаётся, следовательно, предположить, что не нравящиеся Вам балетные места симфонии не нравятся Вам не потому, что они балетные, а потому, что они плохи. Вы, может быть, совершенно правы,—но я всё-таки не постигаю, почему в симфонии не может эпизодически появиться плясовая мелодия, хотя бы и с преднамеренным оттенком площадного, грубого комизма. Я опять ссылаюсь на Бетховена, который не раз прибегал к этому эффекту. Затем я ещё прибавлю, что напрасно ломаю себе голову, чтобы понять, чтó Вы нашли балетного в средней части andante. Это для меня чистая загадка. Что касается Вашего замечания, что моя симфония программна, то я с этим вполне согласен. Я не вижу только, почему Вы считаете это недостатком. Я боюсь противуположного, т. е. я не хотел бы, что[б] из-под моего пера являлись симфонические произведения, ничего не выражающие и состоящие из пустой игры в аккорды, ритмы и модуляции. Симфония моя, разумеется, программна, но программа эта такова, что формулировать её словами нет никакой возможности. Это возбудило бы насмешки и показалось бы комично. Но не этим ли и должна быть симфония, т. е. самая лирическая из всех музыкальных форм? Не должна ли она выражать всё то, для чего нет слов, но что просится из души и что хочет быть высказано? Впрочем, я признаюсь Вам: я в своей наивности воображал, что мысль этой симфонии очень понятна, что в общих чертах смысл её доступен и без программы. И, пожалуйста, не думайте, что я хочу порисоваться перед Вами глубиной чувств и величием мыслей, недоступных слову. Никакой новой мысли я и не стремился высказать. В сущности, моя симфония есть подражание пятой бетховенской; т. е. я подражал не музыкальным его мыслям, но основной идее. Как Вы думаете, есть программа в 5-ой симфонии? Не только есть, но тут и спору быть не может относительно того, чтó она стремится выразить. Приблизительно то же лежит в основании моей симфонии, и если Вы меня не поняли, то из этого следует только, что я не Бетховен, в чём я никогда и не сомневался. Ещё я прибавлю, что нет ни одной строчки в этой симфонии, т. е. в моей, которая бы не была мной прочувствована и не служила бы отголоском искренних движений души. Исключение составляет разве середина первой части, в которой есть натяжки, швы, подклейки, словом, деланность. Я знаю, что Вы смеётесь, читая эти строки. Ведь Вы скептик и насмешник. Вы, кажется, несмотря на свою любовь к музыке, не верите, что можно сочинять в силу внутренней потребности высказаться. Но подождите. Придёт и Ваш черёд. И Вы когда-нибудь, и, может быть скоро, начнёте писать не потому, что от Вас этого требуют другие, а потому, что Вы сами этого захотите. И только тогда на роскошную почву Вашего таланта (я выражаюсь несколько велеречиво, но верно) падут семена, из которых вырастут великолепные плоды. А покамест Ваша почва ожидает сеятеля. Впрочем, я об этом буду писать Вам в следующем письме. Чудные есть подробности в Вашей партитуре, но недостаёт... впрочем, я опять забегаю вперёд. Хочу в следующем письме говорить исключительно про Вас.

Очень мне было интересно узнать мнения про «Франческу». Кюи не сам выдумал, что первая тема похожа на русскую песнь. Это я ему сказал в прошлом году. Не скажи я этого,—он бы и не заметил. Замечание, что я писал под впечатлением «Нибелунгов», очень верно. Я это сам чувствовал во время работы. Если я не ошибаюсь, это особенно заметно в интродукции. Не странно ли, что я подчинился влиянию художественного произведения, которое мне в общем весьма антипатично?

Многое переменилось во мне с тех пор, как я Вам написал, что не надеюсь больше заниматься сочинительством. Бес авторства неожиданным образом обуял меня сильнее, чем когда-либо.

Пожалуйста, Серёжа, не усматривайте в моём заступничестве за симфонию маленькое неудовольствие. Я, конечно, желал бы, чтоб всё, что я пишу, Вам нравилось, но я вполне доволен тем сочувствием, которое Вы мне всегда выражали. Вы не поверите, как меня радует, что «Онегин» Вам нравится. Я очень, очень дорожу Вашим мнением. И чем Вы откровеннее будете высказывать его, тем оно будет более ценно. Итак, благодарю Вас от всей души, и, пожалуйста, не бойтесь резкости. Мне нужно от Вас именно резко выраженной правды, благоприятной или неблагоприятной—это всё равно.

Ваш П. Чайковский

Вашим и Масловым шлю поклоны.

Clarens 27 March
8 April
Dear Serezha!

It was with the greatest interest and pleasure that I read your letter [1]. In response to it I should now be sending you a comprehensive critique of your score, but I am putting this off for a few days. I received it some two weeks ago, just when I was starting to write a violin concerto, which I am now hurrying to finish, so that it is completely ready by the time of my departure, which will take place next week. I have played your symphony a number of times, but I would not venture to tell you my definitive opinion about it just yet. As soon as I get the concerto off my hands, I shall devote myself exclusively to your symphony, and then I shall write to you with my detailed opinion [2].

You were wrong to suppose that in your comments on my Fourth Symphony there might be anything unduly sharp [3]. This is simply your frank opinion, and I am very grateful to you for sharing it with me. What I need is precisely an opinion, not a dithyramb. Nevertheless, in your comments there is a lot which surprised me very much. I really do not understand what you mean by ballet music and why you cannot reconcile yourself to it [4]. By ballet music do you mean every cheerful melody with a dance rhythm? But in that case you shouldn't be able to reconcile yourself to the majority of Beethoven's symphonies, in which one continually comes across such melodies. Are you trying to say that the trio in my Scherzo is written in the style of Minkus [5], Gerber [6], and Pugni [7]? This, however, I think it does not deserve. Indeed, I simply cannot understand why there should be anything at all reprehensible in the expression ballet music! After all, ballet music is not always bad; there is also good ballet music (here I may cite Léo Delibes's "Sylvia"). And when it is good, what difference does it make whether Sobeshchanskaya [8] is dancing to it or not? Consequently, I cannot but assume that the balletic passages in the symphony which you don't like displease you not because they are balletic, but because they are poor. You are perhaps quite right, but I still don't understand why a dance melody cannot appear episodically in a symphony, if only with a deliberate hue of vulgar and coarse comicality. Again I cite the example of Beethoven, who resorted to this effect on more than one occasion. I should, moreover, like to add that I have been racking my brains to no avail trying to understand what exactly struck you as balletic in the middle section of the andante. This is a sheer mystery for me. As to your remark that my symphony is programmatic, then I am in complete agreement. I just do not understand why you consider this to be a defect. It is the opposite that I fear—i.e. I should not wish symphonic works to flow from my pen that express nothing, and which consist of empty playing with chords, rhythms and modulations. My symphony is, of course, programmatic, but the programme is such that it is impossible to formulate in words [9]. Such a thing would provoke ridicule and laughter. But is this not what a symphony, that is, the most lyrical of all musical forms, ought to be? Ought it not to express everything for which there are no words, but which gushes forth from the soul and cries out to be expressed? However, I must confess to you: in my naivety I imagined that the idea of the symphony was very clear, that in general outline its sense could be understood even without a programme. Please do not think that I am trying to plume myself in front of you with my depth of feelings and grandeur of thoughts that are not susceptible of verbal expression. I was not even seeking to express a new idea. In essence my symphony is an imitation of Beethoven's Fifth, that is, I was imitating not his musical thoughts, but the fundamental idea. What do you think: is there a programme in the Fifth Symphony? Not only is there one, but in that case there is simply no room for argument as to what it is seeking to express. Approximately the same [idea] underlies my symphony, and if you failed to understand me, then from this one can conclude only that I am no Beethoven, which I was never in any doubt about anyway. Furthermore, I’ll add that there is not a note in this symphony (that is, in mine) which I did not feel deeply, and which did not serve as an echo of sincere impulses within my soul. A possible exception is the middle of the first movement, in which there are contrivances, seams, glued-together bits—in a word, artificiality. I know that you will be laughing as you read these lines. After all, you are a sceptic and a scoffer. It seems that in spite of your love for music, you do not believe that one can compose because of an inner necessity to express oneself. But wait a bit. Your turn will come too. And one day—perhaps quite soon—you will start to write not because it is something required of you by others, but because you yourself want to. And only then will there fall upon the luxurious soil of your talent (I am putting this rather bombastically, but it is true) seeds from which magnificent fruits will grow. For the time being, though, your soil is awaiting a sower. However, this is something I shall write to you about in my next letter. There are wondrous details in your score, but it is lacking in... here, though, I am jumping ahead again. In my next letter I want to talk about you exclusively.

It was very interesting for me to find out these opinions about "Francesca" [10]. But it wasn't Cui's own idea when he says that the first theme resembles a Russian song. I told him so myself last year. If I hadn't told him, he wouldn't have noticed. The observation that I wrote this work under the impression of The Nibelungs is very accurate. I felt this myself when I was working on it. If I am not mistaken, this is particularly noticeable in the Introduction. Isn't it strange that I succumbed to the influence of an artistic work which in general I find extremely antipathetic?

A lot has changed within me since I wrote to you that I had no hope of carrying on composing [11]. The demon of authorship has unexpectedly seized me with a grip that is stronger than ever before.

Please, Serezha, do not see in my defence of the symphony a sign of slight displeasure on my part. Of course, I wish that everything I write might please you, but I am quite content with the sympathy which you have always expressed for me. You won't believe how glad I am that you like "Onegin" [12]. I value your opinion very, very much. And the more frankly you express it, the more valuable it is. Thus, I thank you wholeheartedly, and, please, do not be afraid of sharpness. What I need from you is precisely the truth expressed sharply—whether it is favourable or not, that doesn't matter.

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

I send regards for your folk and for the Maslovs.

Notes and References

  1. |Taneyev's letter to Tchaikovsky of 18/30 March–22 March/3 April 1878 has been published in П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 30–33.
  2. Taneyev had sent his former teacher the score of the first movement of his Symphony No. 2 in B-flat minor, which he was working on at the time, but which ultimately remained unfinished. In his next letter to Taneyev, on 4/16 April 1878 (Letter 807), Tchaikovsky would provide the promised detailed critique of the symphony's opening movement.
  3. In his letter of 18/30 March–22 March/3 April 1878 Taneyev had written the following about the Fourth Symphony (whose score he was very familiar with because at Tchaikovsky's request he was arranging it for piano duet, and the first performance of which, in Moscow on 10/22 February 1878, he had attended): "Despite the fact that it contains outstanding passages, I like it less than your other compositions, such as Francesca, for instance. I shall enumerate frankly everything that I don't like in it. 1) The first movement is disproportionately long in comparison with the other movements; it has the appearance of a symphonic poem onto which three movements have been casually grafted in order to make a symphony. The trumpet fanfares which make up the Introduction and then re-appear every now and then, the tempo changes in the second theme — all this causes one to think that this is programme music. However, I love this movement very much. I think one rhythm is repeated in it far too much, which makes it somewhat tiresome. The Andante is very nice (though I don't particularly like the middle theme). The Scherzo is astonishing and sounds excellently. I don't like the trio in it, as it resembles a ballet dance. Nikolay Grigoryevich likes the Finale most of all, but that is something with which I cannot concur. Knowing how you elaborated [the Ukrainian folksong] The Crane [in the finale of the Second Symphony], knowing what you can do with a Russian theme, the variations on In the Field a Birch Tree Stood do not seem very significant or interesting..." For the rest of Taneyev's critique of the Fourth Symphony, see the following note.
  4. In his letter of 18/30 March–22 March/3 April 1878 Taneyev had written further about the Fourth Symphony: "One shortcoming in this symphony to which I shall never be able to reconcile myself is the fact that in each movement there is something which reminds one of ballet music: the middle in the Andante, the trio in the Scherzo, the march-like music in the Finale. When listening to the symphony I cannot help picturing to myself [the ballet dancers] Mme Sobeshchanskaya or Gillert, which puts me into a very bad mood and prevents me from enjoying the numerous beauties of this symphony".
  5. Ludwig Minkus (1826–1917), Austrian composer who settled in Russia and was the official ballet composer of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre from 1864 to 1871 (where, among other works, he wrote the music for Marius Petipa's Don Quixote); and of the Saint Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre from 1872 to 1886 (where he provided the music for Petipa's La bayadère).
  6. Yuly Gustavovich Gerber (1831–1883), violinist and conductor of the ballet orchestra at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre; he also composed the music for additional numbers inserted into various ballets on the theatre's repertoire.
  7. Cesare Pugni (1802–1870), Italian composer who wrote ballets for Paris, London, and Berlin; in 1851 he was appointed ballet composer in Saint Petersburg, where he wrote the music for Le corsaire and for Petipa's La fille du Pharaon.
  8. Anna Osipovna Sobeshchanskaya (1842–1918), Russian ballerina who danced at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre from 1859 to 1879. She was supposed to create the role of Odette / Odile at the premiere of Swan Lake in Moscow on 20 February/4 March 1877, but her insistence that an extra solo choreographed for her by Petipa in Saint Petersburg to music by Minkus be included in Act III led to a quarrel with Tchaikovsky, and though this was eventually patched up (with Tchaikovsky even writing some extra variations for her), the heroine of Swan Lake was danced at the première by her younger rival, Pelageya Mikhaylovna Karpakova (1845–1920). Sobeshchanskaya would in fact not dance Odette / Odile until the fourth performance of the ballet, but the critics did rate her interpretation higher than Karpakova's.
  9. Nevertheless, a month earlier, in Letter 763 to Nadezhda von Meck on 17 February/1 March 1878, Tchaikovsky had provided his famous general outline of the Fourth Symphony's 'programme'.
  10. In his letter of 18/30 March–22 March/3 April 1878 Taneyev informed Tchaikovsky of the first performance in Saint Petersburg of his orchestral fantasia Francesca da Rimini (which took place on 11/23 March 1878, under the baton of Eduard Nápravník, a year after its première in Moscow): "The public was in raptures; Nápravník was called out lots of times; he was presented with a basket containing bouquets which he scattered among the orchestra. The musicians' reactions: Cui likes the Introduction above all, but not the beginning of [Francesca's] tale: it resembles a Russian song, which is inappropriate here. He finds all the subsequent music of the tale splendid, mainly where the syncopes begin. Nápravník likes it very much, only it is too long in his view: twenty five minutes is a lot for a symphonic poem. Before the concert I played Francesca to Laroche from the score. He doesn't like the way it resembles Liszt; he believes that symphonic poems are not your genre. I think that he just says this because he doesn't like any programme music. [...] Korsakov doesn't like the themes, but he does like the work in its entirety very much. Davydov considers Francesca to be not only your own best work, but indeed the best in all contemporary music. Cui and others think that some passages were written under the influence of The Nibelungs [i.e. Wagner's Ring cycle]".
  11. See Letter 716 to Taneyev, 2/14 January 1878, at the end of which Tchaikovsky had written pessimistically: "It is very doubtful whether I shall compose anything more. I am now just finishing off what I had begun—that's all. I simply don't have it in me to produce anything new".
  12. After his critique of the Fourth Symphony in his letter of 18/30 March–22 March/3 April 1878, Taneyev had added: "There you have my frank opinion about this symphony. Perhaps it is expressed in an excessively sharp manner, but you must not be angry with me for this. There is nothing surprising in the fact that I don't 'fully' like this symphony. If it weren't for Onegin, which you sent us at the same time as the latter, it is very likely that I would be fully enthusiastic about the symphony. You are to blame. It is your fault that you have composed an opera after which everything that you care to name will appear far less interesting than in it is in reality. Onegin afforded me so much pleasure, I spent so many agreeable moments looking through the score, that I am quite incapable of finding even just one fault in the music. A wondrous opera! And you can talk about wanting to stop writing. Why, it is now more necessary than ever that you should write. You have never before written so well. Make use of the fact that you have attained such perfection".