Lev Tolstoy

Tchaikovsky Research
Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910)
in an 1884 portrait by Nikolay Ge (1831-1894)

Russian writer (b. 28 August/9 September 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula; d. 7/20 November 1910 in Astapovo), born Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Лев Николаевич Толстой); also known outside Russia as Leo Tolstoy.


One of the towering figures of Russian literature, Tolstoy was born into a noble Russian family, and on his mother's side was a distant cousin of Aleksandr Pushkin. In 1844, he began to study Oriental languages and then law at Kazan University, but abandoned his studies and in 1849 attempted to find a new purpose in life by devoting himself to improving the lot of the peasants on Yasnaya Polyana. In April 1851, however, he set off for the Caucasus together with his elder brother Nikolay (1823–1860), eventually enlisting in the Russian army as a non-commissioned officer the following year. Tolstoy would subsequently fight in the Crimean War (1854–55), commanding a battery of guns on the Fourth Bastion at Sevastopol, the most dangerous point in the city's fortifications.

In 1852, he had completed his first novel (Childhood), which eventually became part of an autobiographical trilogy (Childhood — Boyhood — Youth), but his experience of active service in Crimea also fed into the Sevastopol Sketches, which made a strong impression on the Russian public by their bold truthfulness. In November 1855, a few months after the fall of Sevastopol and the Russian defeat, Tolstoy resigned from the army with the rank of lieutenant. His first step was to head for Saint Petersburg, where he came into contact with literary circles and became friends with Ivan Turgenev, in particular, despite their frequent quarrels. Tolstoy travelled to western Europe twice, in 1857 and 1860–61 — the second time mainly to study the pedagogical systems of England, France, and Germany. After his return to Russia in May 1861, he settled down on his ancestral estate at Yasnaya Polyana and founded the first of several schools for peasant children.

In 1862 he married Sonia Andreyevna Behrs (1844–1919), by whom he had thirteen children. Family life, educational and agricultural work, however, could never satisfy him fully, and over the next fifteen years Tolstoy laboured on his greatest novels: War and Peace (1865–69) and Anna Karenina (1873–77). A spiritual crisis around 1879 led him to abandon creative writing for a while as he devoted himself to religious and philosophical studies and introspection, culminating in A Confession (1882), What I Believe (1884), and later The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894). In 1881, Tolstoy had moved with his family to Moscow, for the sake of his children's education, but awareness of the hardships suffered by the city's poor and the factory workers pricked his conscience increasingly, leading to a number of pamphlets on social issues. From 1884 onwards he also started writing stories for the people, with a clear Christian message, but also such profound novellas as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1884) and The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), as well as a sombre tragedy of village life, The Power of Darkness (1886), and his final major novel Resurrection (1899).

Many years of pondering on questions of aesthetics and the place of art in life resulted in the pamphlet What is Art? (1898), in which Tolstoy attacked most of the recognized authorities of the past, including Shakespeare, Goethe, and Beethoven, for having produced works that were unintelligible to ordinary people, ultimately leading to the decadent 'artists' of the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly Wagner, all of whom, as Tolstoy argued, merely catered to the depraved tastes of an idle social élite. As counter-examples of true Christian art he singled out for praise works by Schiller, Victor Hugo, Dickens, George Eliot, and Dostoyevsky. The folksongs of all countries were also "true art" in his view since they were inspired by real emotions and could communicate these to others, in contrast to the "artificial" music of Beethoven's late period. As for his own literary works, Tolstoy condemned these, too, as the products of youthful vanity and ambition, but in the years that followed he still continued writing fiction, notably the short novel Hadji Murat, which was not published until after his death.

During the 1890s Tolstoy's ideas about religion and morality, as well as his rejection of private property and such State institutions as the army, found an increasing number of followers, who became known as the 'Tolstoyans'. Some of them tried to set up their own communities both in Russia and abroad. In 1901, the Holy Synod, headed by Konstantin Pobedonostsev, announced Tolstoy's excommunication from the Orthodox Church, leading to a public outcry in his support. However, Tolstoy's new beliefs were not shared by his long-suffering wife, upon whom there now devolved all responsibility for negotiating with publishers about sales of her husband's works to ensure that their children would be well provided for. Tolstoy suffered some bouts of ill health, which caused him to spend long periods during 1901–02 convalescing in Gaspra, in the Crimea, where he was visited by Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekhov, one of the younger writers of whom Tolstoy was most fond, even though he considered him to be lacking in ethical commitment. Yasnaya Polyana in these years became a centre of pilgrimage for visitors from all over the world who hoped to meet Tolstoy and obtain spiritual guidance. He was generous with his time and received many of them, as well as corresponding with those who were not able to come to Russia.

Although he rejected the revolutionaries' use of violence, in the last decade of his life Tolstoy continued giving moral and sometimes financial support to various anarchist groups. Likewise, he wrote further pamphlets against the existing order, condemning military service and capital punishment. Increasing disgust with himself for failing to practice what he preached and forsake the privileges of his class altogether led him to secretly leave his house at Yasnaya Polyana on 28 October/10 November 1910, with the intention of henceforth leading the life of a pilgrim. However, on a train which he boarded he fell ill with pneumonia and died at the small railway station in Astapovo on 7/20 November. In accordance with his last wishes, Tolstoy was buried at a glade in the forest near Yasnaya Polyana.

Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy

All of the reminiscences of Tchaikovsky which refer to his literary interests concur in singling out Tolstoy as one of his favourite writers, if not the absolute favourite. Thus, Herman Laroche said that of all the authors who emerged in the 1840s and 50s — that is, the remarkable vintage which also included such classics of Russian literature as Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Goncharov — "the ones who were dearest to Tchaikovsky were Ostrovsky and Lev Tolstoy" [1]. Nikolay Kashkin added to these two Pushkin and Gogol as the writers whom Tchaikovsky would re-read the most often [2], although the order of preference is slightly different in Vladimir Nápravník's memoir on the composer:

Amongst Russian writers his favourite was Gogol. Pyotr Ilyich also admired L. Tolstoy and liked Childhood and Boyhood especially. As he himself said, he must have re-read this book some ten times" [3].

The fact that Tchaikovsky re-read this work of Tolstoy's so many times says a lot in itself. This is not something which he did with any of, say, Dostoyevsky's or Turgenev's works, as far as we can tell. Tchaikovsky's letters and diaries (relevant extracts from which are presented below) are even more revealing, for in these he unequivocally and repeatedly describes Tolstoy as "the greatest of all writers and artists ever to have existed anywhere" (in this case in a diary entry for 12/24 July 1886, made shortly after reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich).

Tchaikovsky's meetings with Tolstoy in December 1876 (they never met again subsequently) had a great impact on him — certainly much more than his encounters with any other writer, Ostrovsky and Chekhov included — and Modest Tchaikovsky's biography of the composer sheds a great deal of light on why this was so. We read there that: "While still a student at the School of Jurisprudence, from the very first appearance of L. N. Tolstoy's works in print, Pyotr Ilyich came to love this writer to a much greater extent than all the others. This love grew in proportion to the increasing number of major works coming from the pen of the great novelist and turned into a veritable cult of Tolstoy's name" [4]. Moreover, Modest adds, because so little was then known about Tolstoy's life, and even photographs of the author of War and Peace were hard to come by, Tchaikovsky had imagined him to be "almost like a demigod".

That is partly why suddenly finding himself face to face with this idol of his youth would come as quite a shock to him! It is not entirely clear how Tolstoy had become aware of Tchaikovsky's rising fame as a composer — perhaps through his publisher Mikhail Katkov (1818–1887), for whose journal Contemporary Chronicle Tchaikovsky had written a few articles between 1868 and 1871 — but the point is that during his brief visit to Moscow in December 1876, in order to deliver to Katkov the latest chapters of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy also dropped by at the Conservatory and told Nikolay Rubinstein that he wanted to speak to his younger colleague. From an account of what happened on that day which he gave in a letter of 1879 to Nadezhda von Meck (see letter 1115 below), it seems that Tchaikovsky had initially tried to get out of this meeting by refusing to come downstairs from the lecture room where he was teaching. Tolstoy, however, had insisted and threatened that he would not leave the building until he had spoken to Tchaikovsky! The latter had to give in and follow Rubinstein downstairs to be introduced to the great writer.

Apart from the almost legendary stature which Tolstoy had acquired in his eyes, and which made the prospect of a meeting with him seem rather daunting, another reason why Tchaikovsky seems to have been so afraid of such an encounter is that he feared Tolstoy's all-knowingness — that is, precisely the quality for which he most admired him as a writer. As he later reflected in a diary entry on 1/13 July 1886 (quoted in more detail below), "it seemed to me that this supreme student of human nature [сердцевед] would, with one glance, be able to penetrate into all the recesses of my soul", and Tchaikovsky was reluctant to become the object of any such investigations. As it turned out, though, Tolstoy "simply wanted to chat with me about music" (again a quote from that diary entry of 1886), and Tchaikovsky immediately took a liking to his frank and plain-spoken character.

Now there was nothing surprising about Tolstoy wanting to have a conversation about music with someone who was quickly making a name for himself as the leading Russian composer of his generation. For Tolstoy loved music passionately, even though his attitude to it was tortuous, to say the least, especially in later years, when his predilection for all classical music up to Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin clashed with his growing conviction that only what was directly intelligible to the peasants who earned their living by the sweat of their brow could count as true art. In these later years he would in fact often lament that he was "corrupted" by his privileged upbringing and liked so many things which the people could never appreciate — chief amongst these privileges of the aristocracy, which he felt would have to be swept away in order to make room for a more just social order, was his cherished music: "I love music more than all the other arts, and to have to part with it would be the hardest thing of all for me, to part with all the feelings which it awakens in me," Tolstoy confessed in 1910 [5].

It is worth saying something here about Tolstoy's views on music as they developed in the course of his life, since the love-hate attitude to Beethoven, in particular, which would later manifest itself so starkly in such writings of his as The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) or What is Art? (1898), already impinged on his conversations with Tchaikovsky in December 1876. Tolstoy's favourite composers were Mozart, Haydn, Chopin, Bach, Weber, Schubert, and the early Beethoven: as part of the music lessons he received in his early youth he had studied some of their easier piano works and in later years he was not only fond of picking out their main themes again and again, but also of hearing performances of these classics by the many professional musicians who visited his house in Moscow or who came to stay at Yasnaya Polyana. Although he did not like opera in general because of the 'artificiality' of how the characters' emotions were expressed on the stage, he made an exception for such favourite works as Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, Der Freischütz, and some of Rossini's operas. As for Russian composers, Tolstoy was remarkably indifferent to them: he once praised the final chorus in Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, but otherwise showed very little interest in acquainting himself with the efforts of the younger composers who were seeking to build on Glinka's achievements. That is, he clearly did take some interest in Tchaikovsky, since otherwise he would not have been so determined to speak to him in 1876, but still this was not enough to persuade him to attend any performances of Yevgeny Onegin, and in later years, as we shall see, he expressed himself quite critically of the younger man's music. With the "Mighty Handful" he would have no truck whatsoever, much to the chagrin of Vladimir Stasov, who revered Tolstoy as the greatest of all writers! In this respect, Tolstoy remained entirely faithful to his musical tastes as they had taken shape in the 1840s and was much more conservative than, say, Turgenev, who, for all his misgivings about contemporary music, was very keen on getting to know the latest works not just of Tchaikovsky, but also of Rimsky-Korsakov and Musorgsky [6].

However, music as such clearly did play an important role in Tolstoy's life. Between 1848 and 1850, for example, he had thought of writing a handbook about the fundamental principles of music (on the model of Rousseau's Dictionnaire de musique) and in 1858 he had hoped to set up, together with the literary and music critic Vasily Botkin (1810–1869), a Chamber Music Society in Moscow. Although nothing came of this project, which was superseded anyway by the establishment of the Russian Musical Society on Anton Rubinstein's initiative the following year, the fact that Tolstoy included music in the curriculum of the school he set up for peasant children at Yasnaya Polyana in 1861 shows that it was something he definitely wanted to share with others. He devoted quite a lot of thought in fact to the best way of teaching sight-reading and rhythm to those children who showed musical aptitude. In the articles which he wrote in the 1860s reporting on the progress of his pedagogical efforts, Tolstoy stressed that he had reached the conclusion that it was wrong to try to instil in these children a love of the music and literature which he himself had been brought up on, for in their folksongs and popular tales the peasantry could draw on a heritage of true art that was more universal and enduring than all the 'high culture' of the educated classes: "Pushkin and Beethoven pander equally to our abnormal susceptibility and our weakness" [7]. In his campaign against any kind of artificiality, Tolstoy argued, moreover, that it was harmful to force children to sing in choirs, be it in church or on any other formal occasions. All this did not bode well for his encounter with Tchaikovsky, who believed that for musical life in Russia to develop further it was essential to introduce obligatory choir singing in all the country's primary schools — see the 1892 interview A Conversation with P. I. Tchaikovsky (TH 324)!

Perhaps one of the reasons why Tolstoy sought Tchaikovsky out in December 1876 was that he wanted to test his ideas on music teaching on someone who was closely associated with the Conservatory system, both as a recent graduate and now as a member of its staff. Tchaikovsky for his part was clearly touched by the interest which Tolstoy showed in him, even if he would have preferred to avoid such a meeting, and he duly asked Nikolay Rubinstein to organize a special chamber music concert for the famous writer at the Moscow Conservatory. This took place at some point between 12/24 and 15/27 December 1876 and included a performance of the String Quartet No. 1 whose Andante cantabile moved Tolstoy to tears — something which the composer would proudly report in a letter to his brother Modest a few weeks later (letter 533), and which in that diary entry of 1/13 July 1886 he described as the most flattering response any of his works had ever received! From the letter of 1879 to Nadezhda von Meck in which Tchaikovsky also looked back on this meeting (letter 1115), we find out that Tolstoy had visited his flat several times afterwards in order to continue their conversations about music. Despite their common ground — they both shared a love for Mozart and Weber — it seems that Tolstoy instead tried to provoke an argument with the young Conservatory professor by playing the devil's advocate and denying that Beethoven had any talent whatsoever! Tchaikovsky was dismayed by this 'nihilism' [8], as several of his letters and diary entries indicate, but he avoided being drawn into a quarrel and just made a few faint protests at this dismissal of a composer whom he had always revered.

Now Tolstoy's son Sergey (1863–1947), who studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Nikolay Kashkin and subsequently became a distinguished musicologist, insisted that if during this conversation with Tchaikovsky his father had indeed referred to Beethoven as "untalented", then this can only have been by way of throwing up a paradox and protesting against the exclusive cult of Beethoven which was then rife amongst the educated classes [9]. Certainly, Tolstoy never failed to be moved by Beethoven's music whenever it was played by the musicians who visited his house, such as Anton Rubinstein, Jan Hřímalý, Sergey Taneyev, Anatoly Brandukov, or the pianist Aleksandr Goldenveyzer (1875–1961), but in conversation he was liable to attack the German composer for having introduced external effects into music, as well as a dramatic tension which Tolstoy felt was quite alien to it. Tchaikovsky himself, in an article of 1871, had protested against those who made Beethoven out to be "infallible" in all his works (see TH 259), but he understandably felt more qualified to do so than a layman, and this iconoclasm by Tolstoy struck him as a sign of "ignorance" and "narrow-mindedness" (see the diary entry for 1/13 July 1886 below).

Indeed, Modest Tchaikovsky, in his biography of the composer, noted that hearing Tolstoy's opinions about music was such a disillusionment for his brother that for a while the great writer's aureole had faded considerably in his eyes: "He [Tchaikovsky] himself told me that in spite of all the pride and joy which he felt on making this acquaintance, the beloved works of Tolstoy temporarily lost their charm for him" [10]. Furthermore, Tchaikovsky had not felt quite at ease during their conversations because of what he saw as the need to put on a cheerful mood all the time. According to Modest, all these factors combined meant that subsequently Tchaikovsky avoided at all costs ever coming face to face with Tolstoy again, even though in the 1880s there were plenty of occasions when they were both in Moscow at the same time. Tolstoy of course almost never went to concerts or the opera by that time, since he considered these to be entertainments for the idle rich, but, still, as Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's memoirs of the composer indicate, there was always the risk of a chance meeting on the street. However, just as with Turgenev, it seems that Tchaikovsky was always able to get away at the right time:

Tchaikovsky, who venerated L. N. Tolstoy as a writer of genius, had a very low opinion of his conversations on art in general and music in particular, since he thought his ideas on the latter superficial and amateurish. Tolstoy's opinion that Beethoven was untalented roused Pyotr Ilyich's profound indignation, but, in view of Tolstoy's stubbornness and obstinacy, he considered it pointless to argue with him and prove the contrary. That is why he avoided, by all possible means, talking to him on this subject, whereby on a couple of occasions, when he saw Tolstoy approaching at the other end of the street he availed himself of the inter-communicating courtyards between buildings, so as to avoid any meeting and the conversations which that would have entailed" [11].

It is not quite true, though, that Tchaikovsky rejected all of Tolstoy's views on art, since in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck in September 1877, written at the time he was working on Yevgeny Onegin, he invoked Tolstoy's words about how an artist always had to be sincere, and said that this had given him the courage to continue writing his "lyrical scenes" (as Onegin was entitled) without worrying as to whether his new work would fall through on the stage (see letter 597 below).

But going back to the meetings in Moscow in December 1876, it is worth emphasizing that, for all Tchaikovsky's reservations, they both parted on the friendliest of terms. The composer presented Tolstoy with piano duet arrangements of his First Symphony and The Tempest, as well as a copy of the Six Pieces, Op. 19, for piano solo. After returning to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy sent Tchaikovsky the following letter on 19–21(?) December 1876 [O.S.], enclosing some samples of transcribed folksongs which he evidently hoped the composer would make use of: [12]

I am sending you, dear Pyotr Ilyich, these songs. I have just looked through them myself. This amazing treasure is now in your hands. But for God's sake elaborate and use them in the manner of Mozart and Haydn, and not in that of Beethoven, Schumann, and Berlioz, with all their artificiality and craving for the unexpected. How much there is that I didn't finish telling you about! In fact I didn't say anything of what I had intended to. There just wasn't any time. I was so enjoying myself. This last stay of mine in Moscow will forever remain one of my most cherished memories.

Never have I received so valuable a reward for my literary efforts as that wonderful soirée. And how nice Rubinstein is! Please thank him again on my behalf. I liked him very much. Indeed, all these priests of the highest in the world of art who were sitting there around the pie [at the banquet after the concert] left me with such a pure and serious impression. And as for what took place for my benefit in the round hall [of the Conservatory, where the concert was held], I cannot remember that without a shudder of emotion. Tell me whom I should send my works to, i.e. who doesn't have copies and who will actually read them?

I still haven't looked at your things [the Symphony No. 1, The Tempest, and Six Pieces, Op. 19], but when I do get round to this I shall — whether it's of any use to you or not — write to you with my observations and, moreover, do so quite boldly, since I have come to like your talent. Farewell, here's a friendly handshake from me.

Your L. Tolstoy [13].

In his reply of 24 December 1876 [O.S.], Tchaikovsky thanked Tolstoy for his kind words and for having sent those folksongs, but he explained that the way in which they had been transcribed was quite unsatisfactory. The opening paragraphs of this letter in which Tchaikovsky discusses this issue tie in with what he had emphasized in many of his music review articles in the first half of the 1870s (see e.g. TH 278) — namely that one had to approach Russian folksong with great respect:

Count Lev Nikolayevich! I am sincerely grateful to you for sending these songs. I must tell you frankly that they have been recorded in a very clumsy manner, and they display no more than a few traces of their primitive beauty. The principal defect is that they have been artificially and violently forced into a regular and measured rhythm. Only Russian dance songs have a rhythm with a regular and uniformly accented beat, but byliny [Russian epic songs] after all cannot have anything in common with dance songs. Furthermore, the majority of these songs — and, again, in a forced manner, so it seems — have been written down in the triumphant key of D major, which is also not in keeping with the structure of Russian folksong, whose tonality is almost always indefinite — the latter is in fact closest of all to the modalities of our ancient church music.

On the whole, the songs which you have sent cannot be subjected to a proper and systematic treatment, i.e. it is impossible to use them as the basis for an anthology, since for that it would be essential to have each song transcribed as closely as possible to the manner in which it is performed by the people. This is an exceedingly difficult task and requires the most exquisite musical feeling and great erudition in the field of music history. Apart from Balakirev, as well as Prokunin to some extent, I cannot think of anyone who would be up to this task. However, your songs can serve as material for symphonic treatment — and very good material, too — and I definitely intend to make use of them in some way or other.

How I am glad that the soirée at the Conservatory left you with a pleasant recollection! Our quartet musicians played that evening as they had never done before. From this you can easily draw the conclusion that a pair of ears of such a great artist as you are is capable of inspiring an artist a hundred times more than the tens of thousands of ears in an audience.

You are one of those writers who make one love not only their works but themselves, too. It was evident that in playing so amazingly well the musicians were giving their all for someone who was very dear to them. As for me, I cannot describe to you how happy and proud I was to see that my music could move and captivate you.

I will pass on your thanks to Rubinstein as soon as he gets back from Saint Petersburg. Apart from Fitzenhagen, who doesn't read Russian, all the other members of the quartet have read your works. I think that they will be very obliged to you if you send each one of them some or other of your works.

As far as I am concerned, I would kindly ask you to present me with a copy of The Cossacks — if not now, then on some other occasion, when you again happen to be in Moscow — an occasion which I shall await with the greatest impatience.

If you intend to send Rubinstein your portrait [photograph], please do not forget to send one to me, too [14].

Tchaikovsky seems to have told Yakov Polonsky, his librettist for the opera Vakula the Smith, about the songs which he had received from Tolstoy because in a letter which Turgenev wrote from Paris to his good friend Polonsky just a few days later he seems to be referring to this incident: "I think that Tchaikovsky is exaggerating with regard to L. Tolstoy; but how can one not lament that this man, who is so extraordinarily gifted, is doing precisely what he isn't supposed to do, just as if he had entered into a wager!" [15]. This was by no means the first occasion that Turgenev was worried by Tolstoy's reluctance to devote himself fully to creative writing — having seen the younger man take up so many other occupations (agriculture, pedagogical work, theological studies after the spiritual crisis of 1879, and in this case the collection of Russian folksongs), Turgenev would write him a famous letter from his death-bed in 1883, exhorting him to return to his true vocation: literature!

Tchaikovsky does not seem to have made use of the songs which Tolstoy sent him, and, in spite of what he professed in his letter to him, he did not subsequently make any effort to renew his acquaintance with the great writer. We do know, however, that Tolstoy liked the First Symphony, and it has been suggested that the copy of The Tempest which Tchaikovsky also presented him with may have given him the idea for the Shakespearean orchestral fantasia King Lear on the Heath which Levin in Anna Karenina goes to hear at a concert in Moscow, and which leaves Tolstoy's hero so perplexed! [16].

In this respect it is worth mentioning that music played an important role not just in Tolstoy's life but also in his works. Very often, hearing some musical piece causes his characters to forget all their troubles and selfish concerns as they are transported into a higher world. This is what happens, for example, to the aristocratic audience who listen to the violinist Albert in the eponymous short story of 1858. Similarly, in War and Peace there are many episodes in which music has this spiritually uplifting effect: after Nikolay Rostov has lost all his money in cards to Dolokhov (a scene which greatly moved Tchaikovsky, as letters 3210 and 3966 below indicate) and is tormented by shame and the thought of the pain it will cause to his parents, it is enough for him to hear his sister Natasha sing and he forgets all the miseries of his existence. The world-weary Prince Andrey is affected even more powerfully by Natasha's singing later on in the novel:

He looked at Natasha as she sang, and something new and blissful stirred in his soul. He felt happy and at the same time sad. He had absolutely nothing to weep about, yet he was ready to weep. For what? For his past love? For the little princess? For his lost illusions? … For his hopes for the future? … Yes and no. The chief reason for his wanting to weep was a sudden acute sense of the terrible contrast between something infinitely great and illimitable existing within him and the narrow material something which he, and even she, was. The contrast made his heart ache, and rejoiced him while she sang [17].

Tchaikovsky professed a similar Platonic view of music in a letter of 1877 to Nadezhda von Meck in which he rejected his benefactress's likening of the effect of music to the intoxication brought on by wine, and stressed that: "Music is not a delusion but a revelation. And its triumphant force lies precisely in the fact that it opens up to us elements of beauty which would be inaccessible to us in any other sphere, and the contemplation of which reconciles us with life not temporarily but forever" [18].

Now Tolstoy also thought a lot about music in the course of his life and attributed its uncannily powerful effect to the fact that music was a "stenography of feelings", as he put it in a letter to his wife in 1905. However, his opinion as to whether this effect was salutary or not could be quite contradictory. More often than not he tended to the view that "music is good because it unites people in one feeling" [19], but in his most well-known story about music — The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) — the central figure's murderous passions and jealousy find themselves amplified in Beethoven's famous violin sonata! This story caused a sensation when it was first published and was soon banned by the censors, although this did not prevent it from being circulated widely in manuscript copies: Anton Chekhov was one of many readers troubled by the questions it raised. Tchaikovsky, however, does not seem to have read this story at all, which is a pity because it would have been interesting to see what he would have made of this new indictment of Beethoven's music by Tolstoy. (Significantly, when a violinist asked Tolstoy in 1895 how he could possibly have read such evil passions into the tempestuous, but always noble music of Beethoven's sonata, the writer admitted that it was because he had heard it in a poor performance by his son Sergey and another music student!)

In fact, it was not the frequent evocation of music in Tolstoy's works which so endeared them to Tchaikovsky, but rather this writer's unique ability to read the human heart without ever condemning his characters for their weaknesses and faults. In this almost Christ-like view of human nature lay the greatness of Tolstoy, whom Tchaikovsky did not hesitate to call the profoundest genius of all times (see, in particular, letters 3210 and 3966 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya and Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich respectively). This does not mean that he accepted uncritically everything that Tolstoy wrote: when he started reading the first chapters of Anna Karenina in Kamenka at the end of the summer of 1877, Tchaikovsky, like many readers (including Turgenev and Dostoyevsky), was dismayed at how Tolstoy could spend so many pages describing the world of high society with its petty interests (see letter 599 to his brother Modest below). But when he eventually read through the whole novel he was overpowered by the greatness of its conception, just as these other early critics were, too. Similarly, after reading the rather unpleasant play The Power of Darkness in March 1887, Tchaikovsky attacked Tolstoy's portrayal of what he saw as exaggeratedly negative characters and squalid conditions. It is perhaps significant that at around the same time he was completing his opera The Enchantress, which also has a rural setting but where the tragedy is of a much more conventional kind!

In spite of these occasional criticisms, however, Tolstoy was one of the few writers whom Tchaikovsky would enjoy re-reading in later years. For example, while staying in Simaki for the first time in the summer of 1879 he asked Nadezhda von Meck if she could send him the complete works of Tolstoy (as well as Dostoyevsky's and any novel by Dickens which she might have to hand) [20]. And in the summer of 1886, which the composer spent at Maydanovo, he was able to borrow several volumes of Tolstoy's works from his neighbour Nikolay Kondratyev: many diary entries from those months reflect his intense reading of Tolstoy, and it seems that of the new works he read then the one which made the strongest impression on him was The Death of Ivan Ilyich. This is not surprising, since this story is illuminated by that profound, but unsentimental compassion with man in his helplessness which Tchaikovsky so admired in Tolstoy. Moreover, unlike those who preferred to steer clear of Tolstoy's writings on religion and morality, Tchaikovsky, whilst lamenting the great writer's sudden "mania for preaching and enlightening" others in a diary entry for 29 June/11 July 1886, nevertheless still studied these works carefully and with great sympathy: in March 1884, for instance, his reading of A Confession resulted in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck in which he again reflected on his faith (letter 2454), and during one of his trips abroad he acquired a copy of the French edition of What I Believe (which had been banned in Russia) and began studying it at Frolovskoye in January 1889 [21].

Overall, there is no doubt that Tchaikovsky's veneration and affection for Tolstoy lasted throughout all his life, even if he took great care to avoid meeting the great writer again after December 1876. Unfortunately, it seems that, apart from the tears of emotion which he shed while hearing the String Quartet No. 1, Tolstoy did not in his turn fully appreciate his younger contemporary's music.

True, on 27 October/8 November 1878 he did write to Turgenev in Paris, asking if he could tell him anything about Yevgeny Onegin, which, as he said, he was "very interested in", but despite Turgenev's enthusiastic endorsement of the opera (whose piano score Pauline Viardot had been playing through) and of Tchaikovsky's talent in general, Tolstoy did not actually trouble himself to attend the premiere of Onegin in Moscow the following year. In fact, Tolstoy only got to know a few fragments of the opera in piano transcription, although at his birthday party in Yasnaya Polyana on 28 August/9 September 1892 he was treated to a performance of Lensky's aria by the tenor Nikolay Figner, who was one of the guests [22].

When he found out about Tchaikovsky's death, Tolstoy wrote a letter to his wife which shows that this sad news had affected him considerably: "I feel very sorry for Tchaikovsky — it really is a pity, since there seems to have been some [misunderstanding] between us. I visited him once and invited him here [to Yasnaya Polyana], but he seems to have been offended because I did not attend Yevgeny Onegin. I feel even sorrier for him as a person with whom everything somehow wasn't quite clear, rather than just as a composer. How quickly it all happened, how simply and naturally, yet unnaturally at the same time, and how it does grieve me" [23]. Tolstoy also recalled his meetings with Tchaikovsky in conversations with Taneyev when the latter came to stay in Yasnaya Polyana in the summer of 1895. The gist of one of these conversations is recorded in Taneyev's diary: "[Tolstoy] told me how Nikolay Grigoryevich had invited him round to hear Pyotr Ilyich's works: the First Quartet (Fitzenhagen, Hřímalý). N. G. played the D minor prelude by Chopin, which strongly impressed L[ev] N[ikolayevich]. L. N. also paid frequent visits to Pyotr Ilyich, who played him his works: the Humoresque [No. 2 of the Two Pieces, Op. 10] etc." [24]. Taneyev also showed Tolstoy some of Tchaikovsky's manuscripts which he was in the process of reviewing and preparing for publication. All this confirms that Tolstoy had by no means forgotten the favourable impression which the composer had made on him back in December 1876.

Nevertheless, this did not prevent Tolstoy from pronouncing some rather harsh criticisms of Tchaikovsky's music over the following years. For example, in a letter to two of his children in March 1894, he reported on how he had heard a performance of a string quartet by Tchaikovsky and commented: "What an obvious artistic falsehood Tchaikovsky is!" [25]. According to an entry in the diary of the literary historian Vladimir Lazursky, who was staying at Yasnaya Polyana in the summer of 1894, when someone asked Tolstoy what his opinion of Tchaikovsky was, the writer had replied: "Nothing special — he's just one of the average lot" and then added the following: "Look, you take a novel by Walter Scott, or even Dickens, and read it to a peasant — he'll understand it. But take him to listen to a symphony by Tchaikovsky or by Brahms and company, and all he'll be able to hear is noise" [26]. These disparaging remarks clearly show the extent to which Tolstoy in these years was judging all works of art according to the criterion that they had to be readily understandable to the toiling peasantry. His misgivings about the Conservatory system and professional orchestras were such that he very rarely attended concerts while in Moscow and preferred instead to listen to balalaika players and folk singers in the countryside. When he did for once attend a musical soirée in Moscow in February 1899, it so happened that the vocal section included Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Meadow? (No. 7 of the Seven Romances, Op. 47). Tolstoy, however, said that he didn't like the piece and spoke dismissively of "these counterfeit folksongs" [27].

This hostile attitude to Tchaikovsky's music can to some extent be explained by the reservations which Tolstoy had with regard to all professional artists, composers included, since the latter, as he saw it, catered merely for the over-refined palates of a small minority. However, just as Beethoven's music continued to move him deeply, in spite of everything he had written against the German composer in The Kreutzer Sonata and What is Art?, so certain works by Tchaikovsky were exempted from Tolstoy's veto. Thus, in 1910 he heard a violinist play arrangements of various piano pieces, and, as a memoirist noted, "although L[ev] N[ikolayevich] did not like Tchaikovsky, the Berceuse [No. 2 of the Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72] and the Autumn Song [No. 10 of The Seasons] appealed to him greatly" [28]. We also know that in September of this last year of his life, Tolstoy read with great interest Ivan Klimenko's book Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. A Short Biographical Essay (Пётр Ильич Чайковский. Краткий биографический очерк]]) (Moscow]], 1908). The pianist Aleksandr Goldenveyzer observed the effect which this book had on Tolstoy: "Tchaikovsky's personality elicited Tolstoy's 'full sympathy', but this man's life, so devoid of spiritual content, whose only preoccupations turned on concerts, composing, and the performance of his works, was simply dreadful" [29].

In this so manifestly unfair pigeon-holing of Tchaikovsky as a blinkered professional musician one can sense the same principle at work which led Tolstoy to reproach Chekhov on many occasions for not seeming to care about the ethical questions which were then troubling him so intensely. A closer acquaintance with the circumstances of Tchaikovsky's life and, in particular, his generous efforts on behalf of others would have shown Tolstoy how wrong he was to arrive at such a conclusion.

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

One letter from Tchaikovsky to Lev Tolstoy has survived, dating from 1876, and has been translated into English on this website:

One letter from Tolstoy to Tchaikovsky, also dating from 1876, is preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin.

General Reflections on Tolstoy

In Tchaikovsky's Letters

A few days ago Count L. N. Tolstoy spent some days here [in Moscow]. He went to see me at my flat several times and in fact even spent two whole evenings at my place. I am terribly flattered and proud about the interest which I awaken in him, and I for my part am completely enchanted by his ideal personality.

Lately I have been seeing the writer Count L. N. Tolstoy a lot and have got to know him quite well. He is a delightful person who loves music very much.

  • Letter 533 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 2/14–3/15 January 1877, in which Tchaikovsky addresses his brother in a jesting tone, adding stage directions to his own words:

Before the holidays, old chap, I became great friends with the writer Count Tolstoy and I liked him very much, and I have just received from him a very nice letter which is ever so valuable to me. And yes sir, he heard my First Quartet and during the Andante he really started crying. And, my dear fellow, I am very proud of this, and I advise you, old boy (he suddenly changes to a tone of arrogant contempt), not to forget yourself, since, you know, I am quite a top dog now!

  • Letter 597 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 August/11 September 1877, in which Tchaikovsky says that he had written Yevgeny Onegin following his inclination and with total sincerity, and resigns himself to the fact that its lack of effects might condemn it to failure on the stage:

If I made a mistake in choosing this subject, i.e. if my opera does not enter the repertoire, then that will cause me very little sorrow. This winter I had several interesting conversations with the writer Count L. N. Tolstoy, which have revealed and clarified a lot of things for me. He convinced me that an artist who does not work following his inner impulse, but calculating on effect, who does violence to his talent in order to please the public and forces himself to pander to the latter, is not really an artist. His works will be tenuous, their success ephemeral. I have come to believe in this truth entirely.

After your departure [from Kamenka] I read a bit more of Anna Karenina. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for being so enthusiastic about this disgracefully banal nonsense, camouflaged with pretensions to depth of psychic [i.e. psychological] analysis! I mean, to hell with this psychic analysis when the upshot is that one is left with an impression of emptiness and insignificance, just as if one had overheard a conversation between Alexandrine Dolgorouky and Nikolay Kondratyev about various Kittys, Alinas, and Lilis! Why the episode you described in your letter about waiting at the station is a thousand times more artistic, serious, and interesting than all these aristocratic niceties! [30].

  • Letter 1115 to Nadezhda von Meck, 19 February/3 March–20 February/4 March 1879, from Paris, in which Tchaikovsky explains why he did not wish to call on Turgenev during his stay in the city, citing his awkwardness about meeting new people, especially if they were celebrities:

Not once in my life have I ever taken any step to make the acquaintance of this or that interesting personality. And whenever such an acquaintance did take place because it could not be avoided, I invariably just felt disillusioned, saddened, and worn out afterwards. To give just one example, I should like to tell you what happened when some two years ago the writer Count L. N. Tolstoy expressed the wish to make my acquaintance. He is very interested in music. I, of course, made a feeble attempt to hide from him, but it didn't work out. He turned up at the Conservatory and told NRubinstein that he wouldn't leave until I had come down and spoken to him. Tolstoy is a man of tremendous talent and, what is more, one that appeals to me greatly. It was impossible to get away from being introduced to him — something that, as everyone would think, ought to have been flattering and agreeable to me. So we made each other's acquaintance, whereby I of course played the part of someone who feels very flattered and satisfied, i.e. I said that I was awfully glad, that I was ever so grateful — well, in short, a whole string of inevitable, but false words. 'I would like to get to know you better,' he said; 'I would like to talk to you about music.' And then and there, after our first handshake, he expounded his musical opinions to me. In his view Beethoven is untalented. What a fine start! I mean, this writer of genius, this great student of human nature [сердцевед] started off by saying, in a tone of complete certainty, something quite stupid and offensive for any musician.

What is one to do in such situations? Argue? Well, yes, I did start arguing with him. However, could our argument have been serious? I mean, properly speaking, I should have read him a whole lecture! Perhaps someone else in my place would have done that. All I did, though, was to suppress my inner sufferings and continue to act out this comedy, i.e. I pretended to be an earnest and good-humoured fellow. After that he visited me a couple of times, and, although from our conversations I became convinced that Tolstoy is a somewhat paradoxical man, though certainly frank, kind, and in his way even sensitive to music, at the end of it all making his acquaintance left me with nothing but a sense of weariness and pain, just like any other acquaintance.

I am very glad that you feel so happy, and, although I have never experienced anything like that myself, I think that I can perfectly understand everything that you're going through now. There is a certain need for tenderness and care which only a woman can satisfy. Sometimes I am overcome by an insane craving for the caress of a woman's touch. Sometimes I see sympathetic women (not young women, though) in whose lap I could lay my head, whose hands I would gladly kiss. However, it is difficult for me to express all this. When you have calmed down completely, i.e. after the wedding, do read Anna Karenina, which I recently read through for the first time with an enthusiasm bordering on the fanatic. What you are experiencing now is splendidly described there with regard to Levin's wedding… [31].

  • Letter 2356 to Nadezhda von Meck, 28 September/10 October–30 September/12 October 1883, in which Tchaikovsky defends the operatic genre although he says that he could understand his benefactress's misgivings about its essential 'falseness':

I tell you frankly, my dear friend, that, although I not only like to listen to certain operas, but write them myself, I nevertheless find your seemingly somewhat paradoxical view about the groundlessness of theatrical music appealing. Lev Tolstoy has exactly the same view of opera as you do, and he once advised me to abandon my pursuit of successes on the stage. Moreover, in War and Peace he shows how his heroine is bewildered and pained by the false conventions on which the action of an opera rests. Someone like you, who lives outside society and as a result has forsaken all conventionality, or like Tolstoy, who has spent many years in the countryside without going anywhere else and occupying himself exclusively with family affairs, literature, and pedagogical work, must inevitably feel more keenly than others the whole falseness and mendacity of the operatic form. Even I, when I am writing an opera, feel somehow constrained and not free, and then it really does seem to me that I shall never write an opera again. But, all the same, it must be said that many musical beauties of the first order do belong to the dramatic genre of music, and their authors were inspired precisely by dramatic motifs [32].

Have you read, dear friend, A Confession by Count Lev Tolstoy, which some time ago was due to appear in the journal Russian Thought (Русская мысль), but which, due to the demands made by the censors, was ultimately not published? This work is being circulated in manuscript copies, and it is only here [in Saint Petersburg] that I have finally had a chance to read it. It produced an impression on me which was all the more powerful given that the torments of doubt and tragic bewilderment, which Tolstoy has gone through, and which he expresses so astonishingly well in A Confession, are familiar to me, too. But I saw the light much earlier than Tolstoy — probably because the make-up of my mind is simpler than his, and, moreover, my constant need for work has also meant that I have suffered and tormented myself to a lesser extent than he has! I continually thank God for having given me faith in Him. With my faint-heartedness and liability to become despondent from some mere insignificant blow — indeed so much that I start wishing I did not exist — what would have become of me if I did not believe in God and submit to His Will?

At your house I have been reading a huge number of books — in particular, lots of Russian classics, whereby I've noticed that as much as my inclination for Lev Tolstoy has become stronger, so my feelings about Turgenev have grown markedly cooler. I wonder why that is so? — I really can't explain it to myself.

How nice it is to be able to verify with one's own eyes the success of our country's literature in France. All the shop-windows here flaunt translations of Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Pisemsky, and Goncharov. In the newspapers one constantly comes across enthusiastic articles about one or the other of these writers. Maybe such a time will also come for Russian music!

I read [Paul Bourget's novel] Crime d'amour onboard a boat on the Mediterranean Sea, and I also liked it very much. To me it seems that it was written under the influence of Turgenev and even Tolstoy. Bourget is far close to them than to Zola [33].

Due to ill health I have worked very little this summer, and it is with horror that I think of how autumn is fast approaching, and yet I haven't even done half of what I had been intending to achieve. But I have been reading a lot, and, amongst other things, I am re-reading Tolstoy with indescribable pleasure. The more I dislike him as a thinker and preacher, the more and more I bow before his mighty genius as a writer.

  • Letter 3056 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 September/5 October 1886, in which Tchaikovsky says that he was foreseeing many difficulties when Cherevichki eventually came to be staged at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in January, particularly since the new director of the theatre was ill-disposed towards him:

In such cases I always remember two people who have a hostile attitude towards opera — you and Lev Tolstoy — and swear that I shall not write any more operas, but then an irresistible attraction to the theatre always gains the upper hand, and I feel that as long as I can hold a pen in my hand I will nevertheless write more operas than symphonies or string quartets.

You asked me what I thought of The Power of Darkness (Власть тьмы). There is a great deal one could say about this, but, pray forgive me, I must be brief, since otherwise I will end up with a thumping headache. It will take a while yet before I am able to talk with you in writing. I consider Lev Tolstoy to be the profoundest and strongest genius of all those who have ever been active in the field of literature. Normally, when people want to indicate an artist's level of genius they compare him to someone else. Thus, for example, some admirers of Tolstoy would say that he is 'equal to Shakespeare', others that he is 'higher than Pushkin'. But for me Tolstoy is beyond all comparison and just as solitary in his unattainable greatness as, say, Mount Everest or Dhaulagiri amidst the other peaks. I shall not, indeed I cannot, go into explanations as to why he seems so lofty and profound to me; it is more a case of my feeling rather than being conscious of his astonishing power. But the principal trait, or, rather, the keynote which always sounds in every page written by Tolstoy, no matter how seemingly insignificant its content might be, is love, compassion for man in general (not just for the insulted and injured), a certain pity for man's insignificance, his powerlessness, for the transience of his life and the futility of his aspirations. For example, let us say that one has read through a chapter of Tolstoy's [in War and Peace] in which young men are playing cards — now it would seem you can't get more humdrum and banal than that, can you? And still one finds oneself crying!!! And this is precisely because so many things can be read in between the lines, and these many things act in an astonishing, incomprehensible manner on one's heart and soul. However, I feel that I'm starting to land myself with a headache. So, anyway, Tolstoy is for me the dearest, the most profound and greatest artist. But this only applies to the previous Tolstoy, who has nothing in common with the present badgering moralist and theorizer. In everything that he writes now I may be able to find mastery, but certainly not that source of profound delights and joys, that mysterious, irresistible charm which his earlier works possessed. As far as The Power of Darkness is concerned, without discussing the tendency, which one can praise or criticize, I see in it only one great merit: the mastery of language. Everything else, if one thinks about it, is exceedingly false and bizarre, and in places quite disgraceful. Suffice it to say that such inveterate villainesses as Matrena belong to the genre of boulevard melodramas and not to a serious play. And to think that such a figure, who is as loathsome as she is false, was created by Tolstoy!!! Unbelievable!!! And what about that repulsive, imbecile and deaf wench who becomes the object of the hero's passion, or the hero himself, full as he is of implausible contradictions and incomprehensible contrasts? Of course, there are scenes which are very moving — for example, the variant of one scene in which the old man is talking to the girl.

On the whole, The Power of Darkness is in my view the work of a great master, but not of a great artist. In an artist absolute truth is to be found not in a banal, matter-of-fact sense, but in a higher one which opens up to us unknown horizons, unattainable spheres where only music is capable of penetrating, and amongst writers no one reached into these as far as the Tolstoy of earlier times did. And so there you have some incoherent thoughts regarding the question which you put to me. Forgive me for not being able to present them neatly and clearly [34].

  • Letter 3966 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 29 October/10 November 1889, in which Tchaikovsky praises a poem by his correspondent which expressed the Christian sentiment of forgiving and loving those who tried to hurt one, since they were like little children:

I won't claim that my soul is full of sufficient love and all-forgivingness to allow me always to love 'the little hand that strikes me'; very often I have to parry these blows and in my turn act as an infuriated child myself — but still I cannot but bow before the spiritual fortitude and elevated outlook of those exceptional people who, like Spinoza and Count L. N. Tolstoy, make no distinctions between the wicked and the good, and who treat all manifestations of human malevolence with the same attitude as that which is expressed in your poem. Spinoza I have not read myself and am merely repeating what others have said about him; as for Tolstoy, though, I have read and re-read him endlessly, and I consider him to be the greatest of all writers who have ever existed in this world and of those who are now living. Quite apart from the staggering aesthetic impression which his works produce, reading him also awakens in me a quite special, exceptional feeling of emotion [умиление]. I am overcome by this emotion not only when something happens in his works that really is moving, such as someone's death, or sufferings, or a separation and suchlike, but also when faced with episodes which are seemingly the most prosaic, everyday, and banal that one could imagine. For example, I remember that once, after reading that chapter in which Dolokhov fleeces Rostov at cards, I burst into tears and couldn't check them for a long time. How could this scene, in which both characters are doing things that are quite reprehensible, draw forth tears? Well, the reason is in fact quite simple. Tolstoy looks at the people he is portraying from such a height that these people seem to him like poor, insignificant, pitiful pygmies, who in their blindness bear malice against one another quite pointlessly and fruitlessly — and he feels sorry for them. There are never any villains in Tolstoy; all his characters are equally dear to him and equally pitiable in his eyes, all their actions are the result of their general narrow-mindedness, their naïve egoism, their helplessness and insignificance. That is why he never punishes his heroes for their evil deeds, as Dickens does (whom, by the way, I also like very much) — indeed, he never actually portrays absolute villains, just people who behave blindly. His humanity is infinitely higher and broader than the sentimental humanity of Dickens and almost reaches up to that view of human malice which is expressed in the words of Jesus Christ: 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do'.

Now isn't Your Highness's poem an echo of that highest feeling of humanity which so captivates me in Tolstoy, and if so, how can I not be delighted by the idea which underlies your verses?"[35].

You cannot imagine, my dear friend, how I am so impatient to get back to Russia, and with what a sense of bliss I am thinking about the seclusion in the countryside which awaits me there. And yet something bad is going on in Russia now. Those close to the Sovereign are trying to drag him into reactionary policies, and that is very sad. The spirit of reaction has reached a point where the works of Count L. Tolstoy are being persecuted as if they were revolutionary proclamations. Young people are rebelling, and the atmosphere in Russia really and truly is very dismal. However, all this does not prevent me from loving Russia with a strange sort of love. I am astonished at how in the past I could live abroad for such long periods, and even find a certain pleasure in being far away from my native land.

What you write about the dissonances in the heart of your family is very sad indeed. I was more aggrieved than surprised by what you have told me. As you quite rightly explain, having to live together constantly, cheek by jowl, without any changes or distractions, must inevitably lead to petty resentments against one another, irritation, and even bitterness. No one has described better than L. Tolstoy that systematic poisoning of each other's lives which takes place in the relations between people who are bound to one another by the ties of closest kinship and fervent mutual love, when they have to live together, cut off from other people (for example, Prince Bolkonsky and his daughter Princess Marya in War and Peace) [36].

  • Letter 4468 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya, 2/14 September 1891, in which Tchaikovsky again comments on the discord in her family and advises her to travel somewhere alone for a while:

It is essential that you should go away somewhere — only for a while, of course. As soon as there is a great distance between you and your family, their attitude towards you will immediately change. Everything that seemed so jagged at close quarters will smoothen out, everything will clear itself up, and things will go back to normal. But if you continue to cry out fruitlessly upon one another as before, then this mutual animosity will only grow further. Remember how astonishingly well Tolstoy portrayed old Bolkonsky's attitude to his daughter. Only death was able to reconcile these two enemies who adored one another. But in your case there's no reason to think of death…" [37].

The Fruits of Enlightenment is a farce with some decent scenes, but it is unworthy of the genius of Tolstoy [38].

In Tchaikovsky's Diaries

  • Entry for 2/14 April 1886, Tiflis:

A grey, rainy day. After tea I read Sarcey's article about Tolstoy, and could barely stop myself from sobbing…with joy that our Tolstoy has been understood so well by a Frenchman [39].

Tea. Reading of an article about Tolstoy's teaching […] Saw Novichikha home and then returned with the ladies to Kondratyev again. Conversation about Tolstoy. For some reason I'm in low spirits [40].

When one reads the autobiographies of our best people or reminiscences about them, one constantly stumbles across some feeling, some impression, indeed an overall artistic sensibility which one has experienced oneself on many an occasion, and which is wholly understandable. But there is one who is incomprehensible, unattainable, and alone in all his unfathomable greatness. That is L. N. Tolstoy. Quite frequently (especially when I've had a bit to drink) I am inwardly angry at him; I almost hate him. Why, I say to myself, why does this man, who, like nobody else before him, knows how to put our soul into the highest and most miraculously melodious state — a writer who has been endowed from on high with the unique power to make us, in spite of our feeble minds, see into the most impenetrable corners and recesses of our moral existence — why has this man become so keen on didacticism, on this mania for preaching and enlightening our obfuscated or limited minds? In the past it was often the case that from his description of the seemingly most simple and everyday scene one went away with an indelible impression. In between the lines one could read a certain higher love for man, a higher pity for his helplessness, finiteness, and insignificance. One would often start crying without quite knowing why… Because for an instant, through his mediation, one came into contact with the world of the ideal, of absolute goodness and humaneness… Now he is writing commentaries on [theological] texts; asserting an exclusive monopoly on how questions of faith and ethics are to be understood; but all this scribbling he is doing now exudes coldness; one can sense fear and one feels vaguely that he, too, is human… that is a being who, in the sphere of questions about the purpose and meaning of life, about God and religion, is as insanely arrogant and at the same time as insignificant as any ephemeral insect which appears at noon on a hot July day and has already terminated its existence by night-fall.

The previous Tolstoy was a demigod; the present one is a priest [жрец]. Now priests are teachers because of the role they have taken upon themselves, but not by vocation. And yet I still cannot bring myself to pass judgement on his new activities. Who knows? Perhaps this is exactly as it should be, and I am simply unfit to understand and properly appreciate the greatest of all artistic geniuses, who has gone over from the field of novel-writing to that of preaching [41].

When I made the acquaintance of L. N. Tolstoy I was overcome by fear and a sense of awkwardness in front of him. It seemed to me that this supreme student of human nature [сердцевед] would, with one glance, be able to penetrate into all the recesses of my soul. In his presence, so I thought, there was no longer any way of successfully concealing all the rubbish which I have at the bottom of my soul and just showing myself from the bright side. If he is kind (and that he must be, of course), I said to myself, then he will tactfully and gently, like a doctor investigating a wound who knows all the places that hurt, avoid touching and irritating these, but in this way he will also make me feel that nothing is hidden from him; if, on the other hand, he is not particularly compassionate, he will stick his finger straight into the sorest spot. I was terribly afraid of either of these situations. However, neither the one nor the other actually occurred. In his writings the most profound student of human nature, he turned out to be a simple, sound, and sincere person in his treatment of other people, and he revealed very little of that all-knowingness which I had been afraid of. He did not avoid touching [these sore spots], but neither did he seek to cause deliberate pain. It was clear that he by no means saw in me an object for his investigations; rather, he simply wanted to chat with me about music — something that he was interested in at the time. Amongst other things, he liked to reject Beethoven and openly expressed doubts as to his genius. Now that is a trait which is not at all characteristic of a great man, since bringing down to the level of one's ignorance a genius who has been recognized as such by all, is typical of narrow-minded people

Perhaps never in my life has my composer's pride been so flattered and moved as when L. N. Tolstoy, sitting beside me and listening to the Andante from my First Quartet, burst into tears [42].

Finished reading a marvellous thing by Tolstoy: Kholstomer. […] At dinner I had no appetite at all. Sasha Legoshin [the servant of Nikolay Kondratyev] brought me a thermometer (as it turned out, I had a temperature of 37.3 °C), as well as Volume XII of Tolstoy's works. Immediately sat down to read The Death of Ivan Ilyich and read it in one go. Don't feel too well, I've still got butterflies in my stomach. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a work of excruciating genius" [43].

Read through The Death of Ivan Ilyich. More than ever before I am convinced that L. N. Tolstoy is the greatest of all writers and artists ever to have existed — anywhere. He alone is sufficient for a Russian not to have to bow his head in shame if someone were to roll out before him all the great things that Europe has given to mankind. And this conviction of mine about the endlessly great, almost divine, significance of Tolstoy has nothing whatsoever to do with patriotism[44].

At lunch I didn't have any appetite at all. One reason for this was my ill health, but another was that I finally received details about the death of Verinovsky, and this made me weep so much, almost to the point of hysterics, that I just didn't feel like eating. After lunch I decided to read through Tolstoy's The Woodfelling and cried again [45].

  • Entry for 20 September/2 October 1886, Maydanovo:

L. Tolstoy never speaks, with love and enthusiasm, or with contempt and hatred, about any of the harbingers of truth (except for Christ). We do not know what his attitude is towards Socrates, Shakespeare, Pushkin, or Gogol. We do not know whether he likes Michelangelo and Raphael, Turgenev and Dickens, George Sand and Flaubert. Perhaps those close to him are familiar with his sympathies and antipathies (in the realm of philosophy and art), but in print this chatterer [болтун] of genius has not uttered a single word that might shed light on his attitude towards great figures who are his equals or whose significance at least comes close to his. For example, he told me that Beethoven is untalented (in contrast to Mozart), but in print he has not expressed himself at all about music or any other field. I think that really and truly this man is capable of prostrating himself only before God or before the people, before an agglomeration of individuals. The man before whom he could prostrate himself simply doesn't exist. Indeed, Syutayev in the eyes of Tolstoy was not an individual, but the people itself and the embodiment of one aspect of popular wisdom. But it would be interesting to find out what this giant likes and what he doesn't like in literature!!! [46].

  • Entries for 6/18, 7/19, and 8/20 October 1886 at Maydanovo simply record that the composer was reading Kholstomer (1886) again and The Cossacks (1863) [47].

Started reading Tolstoy's What I Believe"; diary entry for 15/27 January 1889: "Visited by Ziloti, Taneyev (he was the earliest — played Mozart with him) and Klimenko. Argument about Tolstoy…"; diary entry for 17/29 January 1889: "…Am reading What I Believe in the mornings and marvel at this combination of wisdom and childish naivety [48].

In Tchaikovsky's Notebooks

  • Notebook for 1886 (date of entry not specified):

Tolstoy says that he didn't know anything before, and that his mad self-confidence led him to seek to teach people without actually knowing anything himself. He repents of this, and yet what he is doing now is to teach. That means he has knowledge. Why? Where does he get all this confidence from? Isn't this rather a sign of thoughtless arrogance? After all, doesn't a true philosopher know only that he knows nothing? The driving force of all such speculations is a purely personal feeling of life slipping away and the fear of death. He says that the inevitability of death is the truth, whereas the rest is 'all lies'. Why? Surely a young man, who calls life the highest blessing and sees the truth in pleasure alone, can say with equal right: 'the rest is all lies'! [49].


External Links

Notes and References

  1. Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 42.
  2. Пётр Ильич Чайковский (1980), p. 361.
  3. Мой воспоминания о Чайковском (1980), p. 219. Although Childhood (Детство) and Boyhood (Отрочество) were originally published separately, they were the first two parts of an autobiographical trilogy which eventually also included Youth (Юность), and as such were always published together subsequently.
  4. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 492.
  5. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 245.
  6. See also Eduard Babayev's introduction in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 24.
  7. From Tolstoy's article 'The Yasnaya Polyana School in November and December' (1862). Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 85.
  8. It is appropriate to use here the word which Turgenev made famous in Fathers and Children (1862), since some commentators have suggested that the character of the 'nihilist' Bazarov in this novel was to some extent modelled on Tolstoy, with whom Turgenev almost fought a duel in the summer of 1861 on account of some disparaging remarks which Tolstoy had made about the value of private philanthropy.
  9. See also Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 112.
  10. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 495.
  11. {{bib|1980/63} (1980), p. 240.
  12. Some scholars have conjectured that Tolstoy may have sent Tchaikovsky extracts from the famous Kirsha Danilov anthology (compiled in the second half of the 18th century) — or even the whole book (which was then a bibliographical rarity) — since most of the tunes in that collection were transcribed in D major and it also contains lots of byliny (epic songs). This would coincide with what Tchaikovsky says in his reply (Letter 527), the text of which is given further down. It is also possible, however, that they were songs recorded in the region of Tula by some music teacher whom Tolstoy had entrusted with this task.
  13. Letter from Lev Tolstoy to Tchaikovsky, (?)19/31 December 1876–21 December 1876/2 January 1877. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 110.
  14. Letter 527 to Lev Tolstoy, 24 December 1876/5 January 1877. This letter is included in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 494–495.
  15. Letter from Ivan Turgenev to Yakov Polonsky, 30 December 1876/11 January 1877, sent from Paris, in И. С. Тургненв. Полное собрание сочинений и писем (Leningrad, 1961–68), Письма ; том 12/1, p. 52. To confirm that it is precisely this which Turgenev is referring to, it would be necessary to consult Polonsky's original letter to him, but it is possible that this may have been lost.
  16. This point has been made by Eduard Babayev in the introduction to Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 32. The chapter in question from Anna Karenina is Chapter 5 in Part Seven (published in the April 1877 issue of the Russian Herald (Русский вестник)). It is also possible that Tolstoy was thinking of Balakirev's incidental music for King Lear (1860). Whatever the case may be, this chapter contains a brilliant parody of programme music, which suggests that the many fine works which Tchaikovsky wrote in this genre would not have found favour with Tolstoy.
  17. L. N. Tolstoy, War and Peace, transl. by Rosemary Edmonds (London: Penguin, 1957), p. 548 (Book 2, Part 3, Chapter 19). These examples are cited by Eduard Babayev in the introduction to Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 18.
  18. Letter 679 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17 December 1877.
  19. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 37.
  20. See also Letter 1258 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28–19/31 August 1879.
  21. An article by M. S. Blok, Неизданные пометы П. И. Чайковского на публицистических произведениях Л. Н. Толстого analyses the notes and markings which Tchaikovsky made in the margins of his copy of the book: Ma Religion par le comte Léon Tolstoy (Paris, 1885), but unfortunately tries to downplay the composer's religious beliefs.
  22. See also Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977).
  23. Letter from Lev Tolstoy to his wife, 26 or 27 October/7 or 8 November 1893. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 149.
  24. Diary entry for 13/25 June 1895 in Sergey Taneyev's diary. Quoted from: С. И. Танеев. Дневники в 3-х книгах: 1894–1909 (Moscow, 1981–85), vol.1, p. 103.
  25. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 149.
  26. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 150.
  27. Quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 181.
  28. From the memoirs of V. F. Bulgakov, quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 249.
  29. Entry for 21 September/3 October 1910 in Aleksandr Goldenveyzer's diary, quoted in Лев Толстой и музыка. Хроника, нотография, библиография (1977), p. 255.
  30. The names of Aleksandra Dolgoroukaia (an unidentified person, but probably related to the Dolgoruky princely dynasty) and Nikolay Kondratyev (a landowner who was a friend of the composer) are written by Tchaikovsky in French spelling in this letter, evidently with ironic intent. Kitty (an English-sounding pet-name for Yekaterina) is one of the heroines of Anna Karenina; the equally aristocratic names of Alina and Lili would not be out of place in the high society milieu that is described in the opening chapters of Tolstoy's novel.
  31. Quoted partly from Tchaikovsky (1973), p. 120. Tchaikovsky is referring to Chapters I–VI in Part 5 of Anna Karenina, in which Tolstoy famously describes Levin's alternation between joy and anguish before his marriage to Kitty, as well as the rites of the Orthodox wedding ceremony.
  32. Tchaikovsky is referring to Chapter 9 in Book Two, Part 5 of War and Peace, in which Natasha Rostova's impressions while sitting in a box at the opera-house are described. It is one of the most famous examples of Tolstoy's device of presenting things that everyone, according to established conventions, takes for granted as seen through the eyes of someone with the freshness and spontaneity of a child, thereby exposing the falseness of these conventions.
  33. On 5/17 May 1886, Tchaikovsky had set sail from Constantinople and spent six days at sea before reaching Marseilles on 11/23 May. While onboard the ship he read Paul Bourget's novel Un crime d'amour (1886) and wrote about it in his diary on 8/20 May 1886: "The ending of Bourget's novel made me cry." See also Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 57. Paul Bourget (1852–1935), French writer and critic.
  34. When Tchaikovsky says that Tolstoy's compassion was reserved "not just for the insulted and injured", but extended to all mankind, he is alluding critically to Dostoyevsky, whose 1861 novel The Insulted and Injured (Униженные и оскорблённые) is full of noble characters who suffer unjustly at the hands of one particularly nasty villain (Tchaikovsky recognized Dostoyevsky's genius, but did not like him as a writer). As for that chapter of Tolstoy's in which a card game is described, Tchaikovsky is referring to Chapters 13 and 14 in Book 2, Part 1 of War and Peace, where Nikolay Rostov loses all his money to the reckless Dolokhov and is thrown into despair at the thought of the pain it will cause his parents. (Tchaikovsky also refers to this scene in letter 3966 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 29 October/10 November 1889, quoted further down.) In The Power of Darkness, the 'hero' is a weak-willed young peasant labourer whose mother, Matrena, does not stop at murder to further the prospects of her son.
  35. Again, Tchaikovsky is referring to Chapters 13 and 14 in Book 2, Part 1 of War and Peace (see letter 3210 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya, 26 March/7 April 1887 above).
  36. Tchaikovsky is referring to the difficult relationship between old Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky, who has an eccentric and tyrannical character, and his submissive daughter Marie, who at one point, after suffering yet another humiliation from her father, is distressed to find herself secretly wishing for his death. See e.g. Book One, Part 1, Chapter 22; Book One, Part 3, Chapters 3–5; Book Two, Part 3, Chapters 25–26; and Book Two, Part 5, Chapter 2 of War and Peace.
  37. Tchaikovsky is again referring to the tortuous relations between Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky and his daughter Marie.
  38. Quoted in Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p. 536. This letter to his nephew, however, is not included in П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955).
  39. Diary entry for 2/14 April 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 48. Francisque Sarcey (1827–1899) was a French critic and publicist.
  40. Diary entry for 24 June/6 July 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 73. The article in question was "The Philosophy of Count L. N. Tolstoy", which appeared in the April 1886 issue of the Messenger of Europe (Вестник Европы) and was signed "Z.". See also Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p. 376. "Novichikha" was Tchaikovsky's humorous way of referring to Mrs Novikova, the owner of the Maydanovo estate. The ladies referred to are Nikolay Kondratyev's wife Mariya, their daughter Nadezhda, and the latter's governess Emma Genton.
  41. Album entry for 29 June/11 July 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 209–210. Although included in the same edition as his diaries, Tchaikovsky's "album" (as he called it himself) was a separate diary-book in which he occasionally wrote down more extensive reflections (e.g. on Tolstoy as is the case here, and also on Beethoven, Mozart, Glinka, and Dargomyzhsky, as well as general observations about life and religion). This album has entries for 1886, 1887, and 1888, and it seems that Tchaikovsky intended it to be read by others.
  42. Album entry for 1/13 July 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 210–211. Quoted partly from Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 191.
  43. Diary entry for 12/24 July 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p.78. Tolstoy's story Kholstomer (Холстомер) was first published in 1886 and presents a critical panorama of human society from the point of view of a horse.
  44. Album entry for 12/24 July 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 211. According to Ippolit Tchaikovsky, Sergey Chemodanov, and Nikolay Zhegin, the editors of the 1923 edition of Tchaikovsky's diaries (of which the cited 1993 edition is a reprint), the page which follows on from the above paragraph was blotted out by the composer himself.
  45. Diary entry for 14/26 July 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 78–79. Ivan Aleksandrovich Verinovsky (d. 1886) was an army officer whom Tchaikovsky had met in Tiflis earlier that year, but who committed suicide shortly after the composer's departure. Tolstoy's short story The Woodfelling (Рубка леса) was first published in 1855 and is based on his experiences of a military campaign against the Chechens in 1853.
  46. Album entry for 20 September/ 2 October 1886 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 211–212. Vasily Kirillovich Syutayev (1819–1892) was a peasant from Tver Province who set up a community in his native village which was based on universal brotherhood and Christian love, as taught in the New Testament. His followers did not attend church and rejected all official rites and ceremonies, as well as such obligations imposed by the State as military service. Although he got into trouble with the authorities, Syutayev was able to meet Tolstoy in 1881, and the latter was greatly impressed by his personality and ideas. Indeed, in many of his pamphlets Tolstoy upheld similar views on religion and the kind of life one should lead. In his famous disquisition What is Art? (1898) Tolstoy would in fact unequivocally state his attitude towards many of the thinkers and artists mentioned by Tchaikovsky in the above entry in his album, but the composer did not live to see this.
  47. Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 100–101.
  48. Diary entries for 13/25, 15/27, and 17/29 January 1889, all made at Frolovskoye, in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 221.
  49. Notebook entry for 1886 quoted in Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p. 398.