Undina (projected ballet)

Tchaikovsky Research

Between November 1886 and October 1887, Tchaikovsky considered Undina (Ундина) as a possible subject for a ballet (TH 226 ; ČW 455). In 1869, he had already written an opera based on Vasily Zhukovsky's story [1], which had been rejected by the Imperial Theatres, and in 1878 he had also briefly considered writing a new opera with a fresh libretto by his brother Modest, although this idea came to nothing.

On 8/20 November 1886, Tchaikovsky was about to return home from a visit to Saint Petersburg. "Everything was already packed to leave," he noted in his diary, "when I found a letter from Vsevolozhsky with an invitation for Sunday to discuss a ballet. This sent me into despair, but I decided to stay and made arrangements accordingly. I dashed off to see Vsevolozhsky. Petipa and Frolov were also there, and we immediately began discussions. Turned down Salammbô and Undina" [2]. However, two days later the composer told his publisher that "The Director of the Imperial Theatres in Saint Petersburg has commissioned me to write the music to a ballet Undina for the next season" [3].

The composer also approached his brother Modest to provide the libretto for the ballet: "With you writing the scenario, in consultation with Petipa and Vsevolozhsky, and Undina being so sympathetic to me, I think that I should without any difficulty be able to write the music by December. After all, this isn't an opera", he wrote on 14/26 November [4].

By 25 December 1886/6 January 1887 the scenario for the ballet was still not finalised, and Tchaikovsky wrote to Ivan Vsevolozhsky to ask for a postponement: "Do not think that I lack the desire to write the music for Undina. But I need sufficient leisure and strength to do it well, for it is not merely a question of concocting some sort of commonplace ballet music; it is my ambition for it to be a masterpiece of the genre, but for this all I need is time" [5]. Vsevolozhsky agreed to the delay: "Do not hurry, and bless us with a masterpiece", he wrote, "Undina should not be a fleeting apparition. Like Giselle and Coppelia, it should endure in the repertoire, and enchant our grandchildren as it enchants us" [6].

During 1886 or 1887, Tchaikovsky noted down some themes, headed "for the ballet", which most probably relate to Undina.

Modest Tchaikovsky's diary indicates that he worked on the libretto for the ballet throughout most of 1887, and that he met with Ivan Vsevolozhsky to review it on 15 October 1887. However, the libretto "was not approved by the ballet master M. Petipa, nor by the composer himself" [7], and the project was abandoned [8].

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