Aleksandr Serov

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Aleksandr Serov (1820-1871)

Russian composer and music critic (b. 11/23 January 1820 in Saint Petersburg; d. 20 January/1 February 1871 in Saint Petersburg), born Aleksandr Nikolayevich Serov (Александр Николаевич Серов).


Like Tchaikovsky a generation later, Aleksandr Serov was enrolled by his father at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence (Saint Petersburg) in 1835, when he was fifteen. One vital difference, though, between the early years of Tchaikovsky and Serov was the fact that, unlike Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, Serov's father was determined that his son should follow a career in the civil service and had no sympathy whatsoever for his musical interests. Tchaikovsky refers to this sad circumstance in a long letter of March 1878 to Nadezhda von Meck (quoted in full below) in which he discusses mainly his attitude to Serov, but also mentions at the end how fortunate he was not to have had a "petty tyrant" for a father, as had been the case with Serov.

Nevertheless, at the School of Jurisprudence, where Vladimir Stasov was his classmate, Serov was able to take piano lessons with a German teacher and extend his knowledge of music. After graduating in 1840, he started working at the Ministry of Justice but continued to study music privately. With his great intelligence Serov eventually became an accomplished musical autodidact, but he lacked the means to travel to Western Europe, as Glinka had done, in order to receive more advanced training. While working in Saint Petersburg in 1842–43 he was able frequently to meet Glinka, whom he greatly admired, and Dargomyzhsky. After a few years Serov was posted to Simferopol (Crimea), but in 1850 he left his job and moved back to Saint Petersburg, intending to devote himself entirely to music. His father, however, refused to give him any financial assistance, and, as he was unable to make ends meet working as a music critic, Serov had no choice but to return to government service in Simferopol. In 1855, he resigned from his post again and went to Saint Petersburg. This time he was able to earn a living as a music critic, and within a few years Serov had become Russia's leading authority in the field, writing important articles on Mozart, Beethoven, Spontini, Weber, Meyerbeer, and Donizetti. In later years he would also give public lectures on music.

In 1852, Serov had read Wagner's essays Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (1849) and Oper und Drama (1851), causing him to become a fervent disciple of Wagner and the ideal of 'music drama'. When he was able to travel abroad for the first time, in 1858, he visited Dresden (attending a performance of Tannhäuser) and Weimar, where he met Liszt and Wagner himself. On returning home, Serov was more determined than ever to be "Wagner's apostle in Russia" [1].

As will soon become clear, Serov's championing of Wagner is important with regard to Tchaikovsky. It also led him to fall out with his former school-friend Stasov and subsequently incur the hostility of the "Mighty Handful". The origins of this quarrel were as follows: in 1857, Stasov had published an obituary-article on Glinka in which he had questioned some aspects of A Life for the Tsar (1836), namely its proximity to the state doctrine of 'official nationality'. (After the death of Nicholas I in 1855 and the relaxation of censorship it was possible to be more outspoken in the press). Stasov did praise Glinka's choruses and recitative in this opera — especially the Epilogue with its famous Glory (Славься) chorus — but pointed out that all this made A Life for the Tsar more like a "patriotic oratorio" than a real opera. Serov could not accept such a verdict because in his view A Life for the Tsar satisfied perfectly the Wagnerian requirements of an "organically constructed music drama". In an essay of 1858 he threw down the gauntlet at Stasov by arguing that Glinka's first opera was a greater achievement than Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842):

One [A Life for the Tsar] is a miracle of inspiration, a magnificent creation, a model of organic wholeness from its general conception down to its minutest details. The other [Ruslan and Lyudmila] is a conglomeration of individual strokes of genius and brilliant, profound musical beauties, somehow strung upon one of the most pitiful libretti in the world" [2].

In 1859, Stasov launched a counter-attack with another article in which he criticized A Life for the Tsar for its "celebration of passive self-sacrifice" and "plaintive and melancholy coloration", as well as calling the Epilogue "utterly un-dramatic"; Ruslan, in contrast, he praised to the skies as an "epic" opera [3]. Serov, whose temperament was as stubborn and passionate as that of his former friend, was not slow to respond, and in 1860 he nailed his colours to the mast in an essay which proclaimed that Russia could rightly take pride in Glinka and A Life for the Tsar, since "ten full years before the Wagnerian revolution, here was an artist who managed to create an opera on Russian national soil which approached the Wagnerian ideal very closely" [4]. This provoked a stormy debate in the Russian press, in which Tchaikovsky would belatedly intervene in 1872 (more on this below).

It was not until 1860 that Serov, now aged 40, decided to put his vast stock of musical erudition and his cherished Wagnerian theories into practice by actually writing an opera himself. Ironically, the subject Serov settled on — the Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes — was initially conceived as an opera in Italian for a famous soprano who was then engaged in Saint Petersburg. It was only after this prima donna refused to take part that Serov recast it as a Russian opera. Lacking any formal training in composition technique, though, it took Serov some three years to complete his opera. Just before rehearsals started for the première of Judith at the Mariinsky Theatre, Serov was overjoyed at the arrival of Wagner in Saint Petersburg in February 1863 to conduct a series of concerts. (Tchaikovsky, then a student at the city's newly established Conservatory, attended all six of these concerts at which Wagner conducted several symphonies by Beethoven and various orchestral excerpts from his own operas.) Serov greeted the arrival of his revered 'master' in Russia with a number of enthusiastic articles. But when he showed Wagner the newly completed score of Judith, the latter seems to have been quite unimpressed, and this was a bitter disappointment for him. Wagner's reaction was understandable because Judith was surprisingly full of decorative elements in the Grand Opera style of Meyerbeer that Serov himself (like Wagner) had repeatedly attacked in the past. Likewise, the members of the "Mighty Handful", with César Cui now as their chief spokesman, rejected Judith because they, too, were hostile to anything that smacked of Meyerbeer.

The young Tchaikovsky's reaction was quite different. Although, as Herman Laroche would emphasize in his memoirs, Tchaikovsky was very sceptical of the Wagnerian theories being preached by Serov in the press, "he loved Serov's opera Judith, and, moreover, he fell in love with it at once and with a loyalty that lasted all his life" [5]. Just as was the case with Laroche himself, "both the subject and the music appealed to him [Tchaikovsky] immensely" [6]. Immediately after the première of Judith at the Mariinsky Theatre, on 16/28 May 1863, Tchaikovsky apparently wrote down from memory the whole of Judith's monologue: "I shall dress myself in byssus / And go to our enemies" [Я оденусь в виссон. / И к врагам я пойду]. He later gave this musical sketch to the bass Bogomir Korsov as a present [7]. From the detailed list of references quoted below (particularly interview TH 324 which Tchaikovsky gave in 1892), it is clear that Laroche was not exaggerating: Tchaikovsky always retained the fondest memories of Judith. A few years before Tchaikovsky's death the piano-vocal score of Judith was finally published, and, as Laroche recalled, his late friend had "purchased a copy at once and started playing the score through with the enthusiasm of the years of his youth, making me, too, share his delight and trying to convince me to write a long article about it" [8].

Similarly, the public in general received Judith enthusiastically, and this was a great encouragement for Serov. With his financial position now more secure, he was able to marry his pupil Valentina Bergman (1846–1924), who would later become Russia's first female composer and left some interesting memoirs about Tchaikovsky [9]. In the spring of 1864, Serov gave some public lectures in Saint Petersburg, which Tchaikovsky and Laroche attended, but according to the latter, his friend was not at all impressed by Serov's attacks on Anton Rubinstein and the Conservatory, nor by the various Wagnerian phrases about "the spiritual content of music" and "organically constructed music drama" which the lecturer tried to drum into his audience [10]. Later that year (in the autumn of 1864) Laroche took Tchaikovsky to one of Serov's soirées at his flat, and on that occasion it seems that the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky was present, too. (Dostoyevsky]] was acquainted with Serov and in the journals he was editing at the time had published several of the latter's articles on music) [11]. Laroche does not describe what happened at this soirée, except to say that Tchaikovsky made a favourable impression on Serov, but that this was not the case the other way round, so that Tchaikovsky subsequently visited the elder composer only two or three more times and never came to like his character. This is certainly borne out by Tchaikovsky's lengthy letter to Nadezhda von Meck in March 1878 (quoted below). Serov's wife, however, Valentina Serova, did recall this meeting and wrote a fascinating account of it [12], from which one can see how already then Tchaikovsky was sceptical of high-sounding 'theories' or 'ideals' — something that would later inform his reflections on Wagner and the "Mighty Handful".

The subject of Serov's next opera, Rogneda, which deals with the legendary world of pagan Russia, was suggested to him by the poet Yakov Polonsky. It was again packed with spectacular Grand Opera elements, wholly belying Serov's Wagnerian ideals, and, when it was premièred at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 27 October/8 November 1865, it proved to be an even more resounding success than Judith two years earlier. According to Laroche, Tchaikovsky, too, was swept away to some extent by the general enthusiasm, although his feelings for the music of Rogneda soon cooled considerably (in contrast to his life-long admiration for Judith) [13]. Nevertheless, seven years later, when the opera was revived at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (see TH 263), a contemporary account describes how "Tchaikovsky was sitting there [at the performance of Rogneda] as if hypnotised, and during the interval he rushed backstage and embraced the tenor Orlov with these words: 'How fortunate you are that you were able to give life with your voice to such a wondrous musical dream!'" [14]. Emperor Alexander II, too, was delighted with the opera at its première and he awarded Serov an annual pension of 1,000 rubles. As for the members of the "Mighty Handful", they categorically rejected Rogneda, with Cui writing a sarcastic review and Stasov nicknaming Serov "the Russian Meyerbeer" (on previous occasions he had also called his former friend a "German Slavophile" and an "agent of Wagner") [15]. In their view Serov was just trying to please the public with all sorts of striking effects, and he did not even practice the Wagnerian principles he had preached in his high-flown articles. Modest Musorgsky would later include a parody of Serov's eclectic style and pretensions in his satirical song The Peep-Show (Раёк) (1870).

Despite Serov's attacks on Anton Rubinstein it seems that his brother Nikolay was nevertheless keen to recruit the now famous composer as a teacher of harmony for the Conservatory which he was going to set up in Moscow in 1866. Serov, however, was infuriated at the way the theatres in Moscow had not shown much interest in staging Rogneda, and turned down the offer. Thus it was that Nikolay Rubinstein, acting on a recommendation from his brother, decided to invite the young Tchaikovsky instead, who was due to graduate from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory very soon [16]. It is interesting that Serov was present at the graduation concert in Saint Petersburg on 29 December 1865/10 January 1866 at which Tchaikovsky's cantata Ode to Joy was premièred. As Laroche recalled in his memoirs, Serov said of the younger composer's work: "No, the cantata isn't good — I had expected far more from Tchaikovsky" [17] In the detailed letter of 1878 to Nadezhda von Meck quoted below, Tchaikovsky notes how Serov had always treated him rather arrogantly and refused to acknowledge his talent. Whilst this is probably true on the whole, in Serov's defence it should be mentioned that in 1868 he wrote a very favourable review of Tchaikovsky's translation of François-Auguste Gevaert's Traité Général d'Instrumentation, published by Jurgenson in 1866 as Handbook for Instrumentation (TH 329) [18].

Thus, it was indirectly as a result of Serov's wounded pride that Tchaikovsky was appointed to the staff of the Moscow Conservatory when it was opened in September 1866 — a very fortunate turn of events, given that after his resignation from the Ministry of Justice in April 1863 the young man's future had by no means been certain. When Ilya Tchaikovsky was informed of his son's decision to accept this teaching post at the Conservatory, he sent him a very moving letter, exhorting him to think well about the step he was taking, because it seemed hardly possible to earn a living in Russia as a musician. In this letter Ilya reminded his son in particular of how precarious Serov's situation had been, and how even the pension he had received from the Emperor for Rogneda was "barely enough to live on" [19].

In 1867, Serov rekindled the polemic with Stasov by publishing a long essay entitled "Ruslan" and the Ruslanists (Руслан и русланисты) in which he sharply criticized Glinka's librettists for having chosen Pushkin's youthful poem as the plot for a serious opera. Serov insisted that its fairy-tale subject was suitable only for a ballet or a comic-fantastic opera. Reversing somewhat his previous admiration for Wagner, he also deplored the excessive dramaturgical importance of the orchestra in some parts of Ruslan and Lyudmila, which seemed almost to anticipate Wagner's 'symphonization' of opera [20]. This was of course like a red rag to Stasov and the "Mighty Handful", as they were determined to see in Ruslan the basis for the development of a future independent Russian school of music! Laroche, too, rushed to the defence of Ruslan against Serov's attacks (though for different reasons from the "Mighty Handful"), and Tchaikovsky supported him wholeheartedly in this enterprise, which resulted in Laroche's first major article: 'Glinka and his significance in music history' (Глинка и его значение в истории музыки), vindicating the merits of Ruslan. How surprised he was therefore when five years later, in an article of 1872 (TH 263) Tchaikovsky, recapitulating the polemic between Serov and the advocates of Ruslan, unequivocally sided with the former and declared A Life for the Tsar to be Glinka's most artistically perfect opera [21].

For his last opera, The Power of the Fiend, Serov initially collaborated with the dramatist Aleksandr Ostrovsky, but soon the two men quarrelled. It was a very ambitious and original work, and some scholars (notably Richard Taruskin) have defended it as Serov's finest achievement for its integration of Russian everyday life with music drama in a canvas of unprecedented realism [22]. The composer died of a heart attack before he could finish the orchestration of the final act, and the score was completed by his wife Valentina and the composer Nikolay Solovyev. It was premièred at the Mariinsky Theatre on 7/19 April 1871, but was not successful and soon dropped from the repertoire, although the great bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873–1938) would often perform Eremka's Song from the opera.

The son of Aleksandr Serov and Valentina was the famous Russian portrait artist Valentin Serov (1865–1911).

General Reflections on Serov

Bold references indicate particularly detailed or interesting references.

In Tchaikovsky's Music Review Articles

  • TH 263 — Tchaikovsky observes that Serov had possessed very little creative originality, and that what drove him to start composing operas so late in life was not "the inner impulse of a true creative artist", but rather his "huge stock of musical knowledge" acquired during his work as a critic; Tchaikovsky criticizes the crowd-pleasing "bombastic stage effects" in Rogneda, but finds a few "oases" of musical beauty in it.
  • TH 264 — in the polemic waged a few years earlier between Serov and the 'Ruslanists' (i.e. Stasov and the members of the "Mighty Handful") as to which of Glinka's two operas represented the greater achievement, Tchaikovsky sides firmly with the late Serov, agreeing with his invocation of "the Wagnerian principle that opera is a music-drama" to prove that A Life for the Tsar, because of its dramatic unity, was a more perfect work of art than Ruslan and Lyudmila.
  • TH 270 — in his interesting division of composers into two categories: those who just concentrated on their musical work (a group in which he includes Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Glinka) and those who sought to draw attention to themselves by championing various 'revolutionary' theories and causes, Tchaikovsky places Serov in the latter category, together with Wagner.

In Tchaikovsky's Letters

It was with the greatest pleasure that I read both issues of Russian Antiquity [a monthly journal]. Judging from the fact that the pages were already slit, I suppose you read them too. Serov's letters are very interesting, my friend, aren't they? For me especially, since the period to which these letters refer is very fresh in my mind. You see, it so happened that when Judith was being staged [in 1863] I met Serov and attended many of the rehearsals for this opera. It delighted me greatly then, and Serov seemed to me a man of genius. Subsequently I was very disappointed in him, and not just as a person, but as a composer, too. I never liked him as a person. His petty vanity and self-adoration, which manifested itself in the most naïve ways, struck me as very repulsive and incomprehensible in someone who was so gifted and intelligent. Anyway, it must be said that he was a very interesting figure. Until the age of 43 he had not composed anything (he had tried to compose, carried away by enthusiasm, but then he would lose heart again and decide to leave it till another occasion). Finally, after twenty-five years of hesitation, he set about writing Judith and surprised everyone. People were expecting a boring and uninspired opera from him, with pretensions to a broad style; they thought that someone who had not once manifested himself as a composer till such a late age could not possibly have any talent — they were wrong. This 43-year-old novice presented himself before the public and the musical world of Saint Petersburg with an opera which is wonderful in all respects, and which nowhere betrays that it was in fact his first work. I do not know, my friend, whether you are familiar with Judith? In this opera there are masses of merits. It is written with extraordinary warmth of feeling, and in places it attains great heights and power. It had a decent success with the public and a huge success in music circles, especially amongst the young. Serov, who all his life had been vegetating in obscurity and struggling with poverty, was suddenly transformed into the hero of the day, the idol of some music circles, a celebrity! This unexpected success went to his head. He came to believe in his own genius. How remarkable is the naivety with which he praises himself in his letters, marvels at his uniquely original style and the beauty of his melodies! And yet, as it turned out, Serov, though he was a gifted man, was not a first-rate talent. His second opera, Rogneda, is no longer a work created with true feeling and suffering on the part of the author. In this opera he is clearly chasing after effects; sometimes he lapses into banality (e.g. the Fools Song) and by means of coarse material effects he tries to satisfy the gallery. This is all the more strange given that in his capacity as a fervent Wagnerian he publicly reviled Meyerbeer for his obsession with effects and vulgarity of style. The Power of the Fiend is even weaker. Thus, on the whole Serov constitutes an unprecedented and very interesting phenomenon in the history of music. A composer who made his début aged 43 with an opera of very high quality, and who thanks to it immediately achieved a high status in the musical world, but who soon afterwards entered into steep decline — that is truly a very curious phenomenon. If, moreover, one takes his numerous critical writings and observes just how much his theory did not square with his practice, i.e. the way he wrote music in a vein which was the complete opposite of what he argued in his articles, then this interest is further intensified. I have expatiated so much on Serov because those letters of his I read yesterday have caused me to keep thinking about him all the time today. I recalled the arrogance with which he treated me, and how I was so keen then that he should recognize my abilities. I recalled how this talented, very intelligent man, endowed with universal erudition, refused to recognize anybody else's talent, how he was jealous of others' successes, how he hated everyone who had achieved success and fame in the realm of music, how he sometimes succumbed to the most petty egoistic impulses. On the other hand, one really is inclined to forgive him all this because of everything that he had to suffer until success rescued him from poverty, obscurity, and a degrading situation. And all this he endured with courage and steadfastness for the sake of his love for music. With his birth, upbringing, and connections he could have made a brilliant career for himself in government service, but his passion for music gained the upper hand. How painful it was for me to read in his letters his laments that from his family he had not only received no encouragement or support, but had even encountered scorn, mistrust, and hostility towards his attempts to get out of the well-trodden rut of officialdom and embark on the thorny path of a Russian artist. Good Lord! What a mystery man is, the way he will sometimes make a step before pausing to think!
One other peculiarity in Serov's fate is that he wrote very little, i.e. just three operas, of which two are mediocre, if not downright feeble, and one is very good. This single fine opera of his hasn't been published yet as a result of the madness of his publisher Stellovsky [...]" [23].
Tchaikovsky then replies to Nadezhda von Meck's question as to whether any other members of his family had musical aptitudes. Noting that his younger brothers Anatoly and Modest both loved music passionately, as they had grown up under his influence, but that they could hardly play any instrument, he replied:
Indeed it is remarkable that I, a born musician, who is fit for nothing else apart from music, was born into a family without any feeling for music […] The other members of my family don't like music. Speaking of the unmusical nature of my family, I cannot help feeling moved when I remember how my father treated my flight from the Ministry of Justice into the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. I am more fortunate than Serov. Although it was painful for my father to see that the hopes which he had placed on my civil service career would now not be realised, although he could not but be aggrieved on seeing how I has willing to endure poverty in order to become a musician, he did not say a single word that might have made me feel that he was dissatisfied with me. He just enquired with warm sympathy about my intentions and plans, and tried to encourage me in every possible way. I am obliged to him for so, so much. What would have become of me if Fate had given me a petty tyrant for a father, as it has done to so many musicians, including Serov?
  • Letter 1585 to Nadezhda von Meck, 9/21–12/24 September 1880, in which Tchaikovsky explains that he would like to take up some other type of work to distract him from having to think about his music all the time:
Should I perhaps write a monograph about some musician? The trouble with that is that so much has already been written about the great western composers, and as for Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, and Serov, I can't write about them with enthusiasm because as much as I value their works, I have a very low opinion of their personalities. I've already written to you about Glinka. Dargomyzhsky's personality was even less [intellectually] developed and interesting. As far as Serov is concerned, it is true that he was an uncommonly intelligent person with an encyclopaedic knowledge, but I, who knew him personally, never could bring myself to like his character. He was not good, insofar as I was able to make him out, and that is sufficient for me not to want to devote my leisure hours to him. Now Mozart, in contrast — what a pleasure it would be for me to work on a monograph about him! But after Otto Jahn, who devoted his whole long life to producing a biography of Mozart, there's no point in writing anything else about him.

Views on Specific Works by Serov

Bold references indicate particularly detailed or interesting references.

In Tchaikovsky's Music Review Articles

In Tchaikovsky's Letters

In Tchaikovsky's Diaries

  • The Power of the Fiend, opera (1871) — diary entry for 16/28 April 1887, Maydanovo: "After dinner […] I played "The Power of the Fiend". What an almost repulsive musical monstrosity, and yet at the same time talent, flair, imagination. To be honest, there is infinitely more of all that in Serov than in the notorious Mighty Handful. But on the other hand they possess decency, the striving to be graceful — in short, their outward appearance is more attractive" [24]

In Interviews with Tchaikovsky

It seems to me that the aesthetic delights experienced when one is young leave a mark for the rest of one's life and have a huge influence on one's relative assessment of works of art even in old age. It is a coincidence of the same kind, I think, which accounts for why of all existing operas, after Don Giovanni, I most of all love [Glinka]]'s] A Life for the Tsar — yes, precisely A Life for the Tsar and not Ruslan! — and Serov's Judith. The latter opera was staged for the first time in May 1863, on a wonderful spring evening. And thus the pleasure which I get from the music of Judith always merges for me with a certain vague spring feeling of warmth, light, and regeneration!


External Links


  • Ridenour, R. C. Nationalism, modernism and personal rivalry in nineteenth-century Russian music (1981)
  • Taruskin, R. 'Glinka's Ambiguous Legacy and the Birth Pangs of Russian Opera', 19th Century Music, Vol. 1 (1977), p. 142–162
  • Taruskin, R. Opera and Drama in Russia — As Preached and Practiced in the 1860s (Rochester, NY, 1993), which has a chapter on each of Serov's three operas:
    • Chapter 2: "This way to the future"': The case of Serov's Judith
    • Chapter 3: Pochvennichestvo on the Russian operatic stage: Serov and his Rogneda
    • Chapter 4: Drama revealed through song: An opera after Ostrovsky.

Notes and References

  1. Richard Taruskin, Opera and Drama in Russia — As Preached and Practiced in the 1860s (Rochester, NY, 1993), p. 41.
  2. Quoted by Richard Taruskin, 'Glinka's Ambiguous Legacy and the Birth Pangs of Russian Opera', 19th Century Music ; vol. 1 (1977), p. 153.
  3. Quoted by Richard Taruskin, 'Glinka's Ambiguous Legacy and the Birth Pangs of Russian Opera', 19th Century Music, vol. 1 (1977), p. 154.
  4. Quoted by Richard Taruskin, 'Glinka's Ambiguous Legacy and the Birth Pangs of Russian Opera', 19th Century Music, vol. 1 (1977), p. 156.
  5. Herman Laroche, «Предисловие» in: Музыкальные фельетоны и заметки Петра Ильича Чайковского, 1868-1876 (1898). Here cited from the German translation in Ernst Kuhn (ed.), P. Tschaikowsky. Musikalische Essays und Erinnerungen (2000), xxxiv.
  6. Herman Laroche, «П. И. Чайковский в Петербургской консерватории», in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 57.
  7. See Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p. 33.
  8. Herman Laroche, «П. И. Чайковский в Петербургской консерватории», in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 58.
  9. Valentina Serova, 'Trois moments musicales', Русская музыкальная газета (1895), No. 1 (January) and No. 2 (February). Extracts from these memoirs have been reprinted elsewhere, and they will be quoted further down.
  10. Herman Laroche, «П. И. Чайковский в Петербургской консерватории», in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 58.
  11. For more details on Dostoyevsky and Serov, see: Abram Gozenpud, Достоевский и музыкально-театральное искусство Dostoyevsky and the musical and dramatic arts] (Leningrad, 1981). This soirée in Serov's flat is the only occasion on which Tchaikovsky is reported to have met Dostoyevsky. However, they were to 'collaborate' in 1872, when Tchaikovsky wrote an unfinished series of articles on Beethoven for a newspaper which was then being edited by Dostoyevsky (see TH 275).
  12. See our website's entry for Valentina Serova.
  13. Herman Laroche, «П. И. Чайковский в Петербургской консерватории», in: Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском' (1980), p. 58.
  14. From the 1910 memoirs of Aleksandra Sokolova (1836–1914). Quoted in: Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p. 602. The tenor in question was Dmitry Orlov (1842–1919).
  15. Richard Taruskin, Opera and Drama in Russia — As Preached and Practiced in the 1860s (Rochester, NY, 1993), p. 131.
  16. See John Warrack, Tchaikovsky (1973), p. 42.
  17. Herman Laroche, «П. И. Чайковский в Петербургской консерватории», in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 59.
  18. See Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p. 53.
  19. Letter from Ilya Tchaikovsky to his son, 30 December 1865/11 January 1866: "My dear Petia! Thank you for your nice letter, but I must say, my dear boy, that I am worried about you. I mean, look — you've now, thank God, completed your musical education as you so wanted, and what's going to come out of it for you? You say that you've been offered a post as a teacher. Well, that just means they'll call you a professor of music theory and give you a miserable salary! Is that what you deserve, is that what you've been striving for? Your bright little head, your wonderful education, your excellent character — is that what they deserve? As a father, it's possible I'm being partial, but you just go and ask all your friends and acquaintances if they think you have a bright little head, i.e. if you're intelligent, if you've really had a wonderful education, and what they make of your character. I'm sure they will all unanimously confirm my words. You aren't ambitious — that's fine by me, but that's not the point. What I'm thinking about is your merits and the work you're going to do, and, most importantly, what you'll be paid for it. Your passion for music is praiseworthy, but, my dear friend, it is a slippery path: the reward for a work of genius always comes a long, long time afterwards. Just look at Serov, that poor musician of genius. For all the passion he has been working with, all that he has managed to gain are silver hairs, not silver. He worked for fourteen years on Judith, and the same on Rogneda, and what has he earned from them? Glory, rated at 1,500 [sic] rubles a year, while he's alive — that's barely just enough to live on! I mean in our country it's only Italians like Verdi who can get fees of 30,000 rubles for their works. Glinka died in poverty, and all our other talents aren't valued highly either [...]" Ilya then exhorts his son to return to government service, but nevertheless ends the letter as follows: "Anyway, you're wise enough to decide for yourself. I just want to see you happy, healthy, and satisfied. I kiss your little eyes and all of you from top to toe." This letter is quoted in the commentary section of П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955), pp. 553–554.
  20. Richard Taruskin, "Glinka's Ambiguous Legacy and the Birth Pangs of Russian Opera", 19th Century Music 1 (1977), p. 157. Taruskin notes that by then Serov had been able to study some parts of the Ring cycle and was not entirely happy with this practical realisation of Wagner's theories.
  21. Laroche describes his amazement at this unexpected declaration of Tchaikovsky's in the Foreword (Предисловие) to his edition of his late friend's music review articles: Музыкальные фельетоны и заметки Петра Ильича Чайковского, 1868-1876 (1898). Here cited from the German translation in Ernst Kuhn (ed.), P. Tschaikowsky. Musikalische Essays und Erinnerungen (2000), xxxv.
  22. Richard Taruskin, Opera and Drama in Russia — As Preached and Practiced in the 1860s (Rochester, NY, 1993), p. 238–239.
  23. F. T. Stellovsky was a Saint Petersburg book dealer and literary speculator, notorious for the way he had exploited Glinka and how he almost ruined Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1866 with an unscrupulous contract.
  24. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 139.