Letter 80

Date 15/27 January 1866
Addressed to Aleksandra Davydova and Lev Davydov
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Saint Petersburg (Russia): National Library of Russia (ф. 834, ед. хр. 16, л. 28–29)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 228 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 75–76
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955), p. 23–24
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 93–94
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Letters to his family. An autobiography (1981), p. 22–23 (English translation)

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Москва
15 января 1866 г[одв]

Милые мои и дорогие сердцу Саша и Лёва! Зная меня хорошо, Вы на меня, конечно, не сердитесь за долгое молчание; поэтому без извинений перехожу к краткому обзору всего мною прожитого с тех пор, как я Вам не писал. Жил я в Петербурге у тёти Лизы и жил прескверно, чему не мало способствовала необходимость постоянно видеть и чувствовать даже на себе горестность её материального положения; это меня подчас очень расстраивало. У Ваших бывал чаще, чем у кого-либо. Писал свою кантату, которую те, кому надлежало произвести над нею приговор, остались очень довольны. Вообще же я страдал до невероятия хандрою и ненавистью к человеческому роду. Эта болезнь духа в настоящее время, благодаря перемене места и новым впечатлениям, несколько ослабла, но далеко не прекратилась. Чему приписать это, я не знаю, но только никак не плохому положению финансов, как некоторые полагали. Во-первых, я никогда не был так равнодушен к золотому тельцу, как теперь; во-вторых, это дело поправное и в отчаяние никогда меня не приводящее. С наслаждением мечтаю о лете, которое надеюсь провести у Вас; недавно я с поразительною ясностью видел всех Вас во сне, и особенно живо мне слышался голос моей милой Танюрки, о которой не могу думать без какой-то болезненной нежности; меня иногда неотступно преследует воспоминание о её падении в моей комнате и о том, как она прерывающимся голосом говорила Лёве: «Я убилась, папочка!» Надеюсь услышать летом её французскую болтовню. Кстати о лете, я его всё представляю себе уже не в Каменке, а в Вашем собственном имении. Я страстно, страстно желаю этого для Вас и для себя. О моём московском житье-бытье сказать особенно нечего; я буду читать здесь курс теории музыки, и вчера я делал экзамен желающим поступить в этот курс. Девиц множество, и есть очень хорошенькие. Живу у московского Рубинштейна; это один из самых симпатичных людей, каких я только знаю. Москва мне нравится, но я сомневаюсь, чтоб мне когда-нибудь привыкнуть к ней; я слишком прирос корнями к Петербургу, и как он в последнее время ни был мне противен, а всё-таки он мой родной город. Я всё сижу дома и занимаюсь; бывают очень грустные минуты, но где их не бывает? От братьев получил уж два письма; они грустят обо мне, но надеюсь, что придётся увидеться с ними на Масленице и на Святой, да и до лета не слишком далеко. Напиши мне, Саня, милая, и расскажи о Ваших планах на покупку имения.

Адрес мой: В Москву, на Моховой, дом Воейковой, кв[артирой] Н. Г. Рубинштейна. Целую Вас обоих очень крепко и всех племянниц тоже. Николаю Васильевичу очень кланяюсь. Всем няням и Вассе Петровне, и Федору Петровичу и Соне, и Ване и Андрею и всей Каменке.

Moscow
15 January 1866

My dear and darling Sasha and Leva! Knowing me well as you do, you are of course not angry with me because of my long silence. I shall therefore move on, without any apologies, to a brief synopsis of everything that I have experienced since I last wrote to you. In Petersburg I was living at Aunt Liza's, and a most unpleasant life it was too: one big factor contributing to this was my having constantly to see and even experience for myself the wretchedness of her financial situation. This would at times upset me very much. I visited your lot [1] more frequently than I did anyone else. I wrote my cantata, and those who were supposed to pass judgement upon it were very happy with it [2]. In general, though, I suffered incredibly from depression and hatred for the human race. This disease of the spirit has at present, thanks to the change of place and my new impressions, abated somewhat, but it is still far from over. I don't know what to put it down to, though it is in any case certainly not the poor state of my finances, as some people supposed [3]. In the first place, I have never been so indifferent to the golden calf as now; secondly, that is something which can be put right and it has never driven me to despair. It is with pleasure that I dream of the summer, which I hope to spend with you. I recently saw all of you with astonishing clarity in a dream, and, in particular, I could very distinctly hear the voice of my dear Tanyurka, about whom I cannot ever think without a surge of poignant affection. I am sometimes relentlessly pursued by the recollection of how she fell over in my room, and how she said to Leva, her voice faltering: "I've killed myself, Papochka!" In the summer I hope to hear her prattling in French. By the way, speaking of the summer, I keep picturing to myself that this one will be spent not at Kamenka, but on your own estate. I fervently, fervently wish this for your sake, as well as for mine. I don't have anything particular to tell you about my life in Moscow. I am going to teach a course in music theory here, and yesterday I examined those wishing to join this course. There are lots of young ladies, and some very pretty ones too. I am living at the Moscow Rubinstein's place: he is one of the nicest persons I have ever met. I like Moscow, but I doubt that I shall ever get used to it: I have taken root in Petersburg far too much for that to happen, and no matter how loathsome I have the found the latter of late, still it is my native city. I'm sitting at home all the time and working. There are sometimes very sad moments, but where is one free of them anyway? I have already received two letters from the twins. They pine for me, but I hope that I shall get to see them at Shrove-tide and during Holy Week, and, besides, the summer isn't that far off. Write to me, Sanya, my dear, and tell me about your plans for buying an estate.

My address is: Moscow, Mokhovaya [Street], Mrs. Voyeikovaya's house, N. G. Rubinstein's apartment. I kiss you both very warmly and also all my nieces. Give my warm regards to Nikolay Vasilyevich [4]. Likewise to all the nannies, to Vassa Petrovna [5] to Fyodora Petrovna [6], to Sonya [7], to Vanya [8], to Andrey [9], and to all of Kamenka.

Notes and References

  1. i.e. Aleksandra's in-laws, the Davydovs. Among those members of the Davydov family who were now living in Saint Petersburg (though they still spent the summer months at Kamenka) were Aleksandra Ivanova Davydova (née Potapova; 1802-1895), her daughters Yelizaveta (1823-1904), Aleksandra (1827-1917), Sofya (1832-1903), and Vera (1843-1923), and her son Aleksey (1846-1909). Tchaikovsky got on very well with the whole family.
  2. Tchaikovsky was either under a naive delusion or he deliberately sought to conceal from his sister the way that his cantata Ode to Joy—performed at a public examination at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory on 29 December 1865/10 January 1866—had been received. For the cantata failed to earn the praise both of his friends (except for Herman Laroche) and of leading musical authorities. Thus, the composer's friend Ivan Klimenko observed: "No, the cantata isn't any good: I'd expected far more from Tchaikovsky". Three months later, the critic César Cui, in a survey of recent musical events, recalled the cantata's performance and pronounced a harsh verdict: "The Conservatory composer Mr Tchaikovsky is quite feeble. Granted, his composition (a cantata) was written under the most unfavourable circumstances: as an assignment which had to be ready by a fixed deadline, using a set theme (Schiller's ode An die Freude, which was set to music in the finale of [Beethoven's] Ninth Symphony), and having to comply with the established forms. But all the same, if he did possess any talent, then it would surely have broken through the fetters of the Conservatory at some point" (Saint Petersburg Gazette, 24 March 1866; also quoted in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 188). "When I read this terrible verdict," Tchaikovsky recalled several years later, "I don't know what came over me. My eyes clouded over, my head started spinning, and like a madman I rushed out of the café (where I was reading that newspaper). I was not conscious of what I did or where I ended up. All day long I wandered aimlessly through the city, repeating to myself: I'm useless, I'm a nonentity, nothing good will ever come of me, I have no talent" (from the memoirs of Alina Bryullova, the manuscript of which is kept at the Klin House-Museum Archive) — note based on that by Vladimir Zhdanov in П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 667.
  3. |In her reply on 29 January/10 February 1866 Aleksandra wrote to her brother: "Why, Petrusha, is your letter so sad? How can you suffer from hatred when you are the embodiment of affection and kindness? Petrusha, tell me, for the sake of Christ, what is saddening you? I love you limitlessly, and every one of your worries is mine too. Perhaps I could take upon myself even just a small portion of your sadness: I would be so happy if I could help you. Why must you be depressed, you who are the darling of everyone who knows you? Your musical self-esteem must surely be satisfied, I should think. Over the last three years two works of genius have appeared in the world of music: Serov's Judith and Tchaikovsky's cantata: that's what people are saying about you. You are still so young. If, as you say, it isn't money that is tormenting you, then what else can it be, what else? Is it perhaps love, Petya?" — note by Vladimir Zhdanov in П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 667.
  4. Nikolay Vasilyevich Davydov (1826-1916), the elder brother of Lev Davydov. A retired army officer, he was the owner of Kamenka but he had handed over the management of the estate to his more practically minded younger brother in 1860. Nikolay had stayed on in Kamenka, devoting himself to his various hobbies (principally the reading of books on politics, history, and philosophy). See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 178.
  5. Vassa Petrovna Stovbirina was the nanny of Nikolay Vasilyevich Davydov's children.
  6. Fyodora Petrovna Stovbirina was the governess of the Davydovs' children.
  7. Sofya Fyodorovna Gorovaya was Aleksandra Davydova's maid.
  8. Ivan Savchenko, a barman at Kamenka.
  9. Andrey Petrovich Zubritsky, the valet of Nikolay Vasilyevich Davydov.