With P. I. Tchaikovsky

With P. I. Tchaikovsky (У П. И. Чайковского) [1] was the title of an interview between Tchaikovsky and a reporter identified only as "R.", which was published in the Odessa Leaflet (Одесский лиситок), 13 January 1893 [O.S.].

Tchaikovsky fulfilled five conducting engagements during his visit to Odessa between 12/24 January and 25 January/6 February 1893, and this was the first of four interviews he gave during his visit [2].

Russian text

Наш известный композитор, Петр Ильич Чайковский, приехал вчера в Одессу почтовым поездом и был встречен на вокзале некоторыми членами музыкального общества. П.И. Чайковский остановился в «Северной» гостинице. Композитор встретил нас (меня и одного знакомого) очень любезно и, невзирая на усталость, поделился с нами своими впечатлениями.

— Я приехал в Одессу, — начал П.И., — из Брюсселя, где дирижировал концертом, устроенным в пользу фонда артистов-музыкантов. Программа концерта была составлена из моих произведений: увертюры «1812 год», третьей сюиты для оркестра, сюиты из балета «Щелкунчик», второго концерта для фортепиано и романсов. По дороге из Брюсселя сюда, я заехал в Париж, пробыв там один день. Но вообразите себе моё удивление! Ехал я в Одессу, надеясь увидеть южный город, где солнце ярко блещет, где все в полузимних пальто, и, вдруг, какой сюрприз! Зима, настоящая зима, словно в Архангельске: снег чуть ли не по колено, все встречающиеся на улицах тщательно закутаны в шубы...

По поводу слухов о поездке в Чикаго, П.И. заявил нам:

— В газетах, действительно, появилось известие, что я еду в Чикаго, на выставку. Сведения эти неверны. Меня, действительно, приглашают, но я не соглашаюсь ехать туда.

— Куда же вы намерены отправиться из Одессы?

— После двух концертов, 16 и 23 января, на которых я буду дирижировать, я поеду домой, в подмосковское имение, где проведу всю зиму. Я думаю написать за это время новую симфонию, фортепианную пьесу и некоторые другие вещицы. Слухи о том, что я собираюсь писать новую оперу — неверны. Пока я об этом не думаю. В начале мая я поеду в Лондон. В Кембриджском университете меня избрали доктором музыки, и мне нужно быть там для получения установленных знаков.

На вопрос о том, как были поставлены в Петербурге его новая опера «Иоланта» и балет «Щелкунчик», Петр Ильич ответил:

— Балет «Щелкунчик» был поставлен довольно хорошо: обстановка роскошная, сошло все превосходно, но, тем не менее, как мне кажется, он не понравился публике. — Она скучала... Одноактная же опера «Иоланта» понравилась. Через неделю после её постановки на петербургской сцене, она шла за границей, в Гамбурге, а затем, в Шверине. Хотя последний город не велик, но театр там громадный, прекрасный; труппа образцовая. В обоих этих городах опера имела положительный успех, о чем мне было прислано много телеграмм.

— Скажите, пожалуйста, — спросили мы, — вы намерены, кажется, дирижировать в вашей опере «Пиковая дама», которая будет поставлена в Городском театре? Кстати, как вам нравится одесский храм Мельпомены?

— Театр, бесспорно, хороший. Что касается первой части вашего вопроса, то я могу вам сказать, что дирижировать не буду, хотя не откажусь посмотреть игру моей оперы на одесской сцене.

Отвечая на вопрос, как нравится ему опера «Сельская честь», П.И. Чайковский сказал:

— Опера очень хорошая, написана искренне, сюжет весьма интересный. Автор оперы, Масканьи, талантливый человек. Он не старается, по примеру других молодых композиторов, обезьянничать. Он пишет с большим одушевлением, сюжет выбран им весьма удачно, оркестровка — вполне современная, блестящая, рутины он избегает, — все это вместе взятое и способствует успеху его оперы в публике.

Нашу заметку о беседе с знаменитым композитором мы закончим «моментальным снимком».

П.И. Чайковский — выше среднего роста, седой, с бородкой à la Буланже. Большой, открытый лоб, умные глаза. Одет скромно, в черном рединготе. Говорит громко, но голос приятный. За разговором много курит. Производит на слушателя самое лучшее впечатление. Это — наш миниатюрный снимок; оригинал же «вся Одесса» увидит 16 января на концерте.

English translation

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Our famous composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arrived in Odessa yesterday on the post train, and was met at the station by a delegation from the Musical Society. P. I. Tchaikovsky stayed at the North hotel. The composer very kindly met us (myself and one acquaintance) and, despite his fatigue, shared his impressions with us.

"I came to Odessa", P. I. began, "from Brussels, where I conducted a charity concert organised for the benefit of artists-musicians. The concert programme was made up of my works: the overture "The Year 1812", the Third Suite for orchestra, the suite from the ballet "The Nutcracker", the Second Piano Concerto and romances [3]. On the way here from Brussels, I stayed over in Paris for one day [4]. But imagine my surprise! I travelled to Odessa, hoping to see the southern city where the sun shines brightly, where everyone is in waistcoats, when all of a sudden it was winter! And a real winter, as in Arkhangelsk: snow almost up to the knee, and everyone I encountered on the streets was tightly wrapped in furs..." [5]

Regarding the rumours about his trip to Chicago, P. I. informed us:

"In the newspapers, indeed, there appeared reports that I was going to Chicago for the exhibition. This information is incorrect. It is true that I was invited, but I did not agree to go there" [6].

"Where are your plans after leaving Odessa?"

"After two concerts on 16 and 23 January, in which I will be conducting [7], I shall go home to my estate near Moscow, where I shall spend the whole winter. During this time I am intending to write a new symphony, piano pieces, and some other things [8]. Rumours that I am preparing to write a new opera are incorrect. I am not considering this at present. At the beginning of May I shall be going to London. Cambridge University have chosen me as a doctor of music, and I need to attend the honours ceremony" [9].

As to the matter of the Petersburg productions of his new opera "Iolanta" and the ballet "The Nutcracker" [10], Pyotr Ilyich replied:

"The ballet "The Nutcracker" was staged quite well: it was lavishly produced and everything went off perfectly, but nevertheless, it seemed to me that the public did not like it. They were bored... The one-act opera "Iolanta" met with approval. A week after it was produced on the Petersburg stage, it was put on abroad in Hamburg, and later in Schwerin. Although the latter is not a large city, the theatre there is an enormous and beautiful; its troupe—exemplary. In both of these cities the opera was a complete success, and I received many telegrams.

"Tell us, please", we asked, "is it your intention to conduct your opera "The Queen of Spades", which is to be staged at the City Theatre? [11] And by the by, how do you like Odessa's 'Temple of Melpomene'?" [12]

"The theatre is undeniably good. As for the first part of your question, I can tell you that I will not be conducting, although I will not decline to watch my opera play out on the Odessa stage.

Responding to the question whether he liked the opera "Cavalieria Rusticana", P. I. Tchaikovsky said:

"The opera is very good, and sincerely written, with a very interesting story. The author of the opera, Mascagni, is a talented fellow. He is not trying, as many other young composers do, to imitate. He writes with great animation on stories which are very well chosen, his orchestration is completely modern and glittering, and he avoids banality; all of this together contributes to the success of his operas with the public" [13].

We conclude our report on our conversation with the famous composer with a "snapshot". P. I. Tchaikovsky is above average height, grey-haired, with a beard à la Boulanger [14]. He has a large, open forehead, and intelligent eyes. He was dressed modestly, in a black frock-coat. He speaks loudly, but with a pleasant voice. He smoked a lot during the conversation. He made a very favourable impression on his listeners.

Such is our miniature portrait. The original himself can be can be seen by "all Odessa" at the concert on 16 January [15].

Publication

First published in the newspaper Одесский лиситок, Odessa, 13 January 1893 [O.S.].

Reprinted for the first time in: Grigory Moyseyev, Одесские гастроли в зеркале прессы. Два забытых интервью П. И. Чайковского (2010), p. 122-123.

Notes and References

  1. Not included in TH or ČW.
  2. See With P. I. Tchaikovsky (TH 326) (a slightly later interview with the same title), In Memory of P. I. Tchaikovsky (TH 327) and Tchaikovsky on Odessa (TH 328). The last two interviews were first published later in the year after Tchaikovsky's death.
  3. Tchaikovsky's concert in Brussels on 2/14 January 1893 included the the First Piano Concerto (soloist Franz Rummel), rather than the Second, as well as the suite from The Nutcracker, the Serenade for String Orchestra, and the overture The Year 1812. During the interval François-Auguste Gevaert delivered a speech thanking him on behalf of the Brussels Association of Musicians to which Tchaikovsky had donated his conducting fee.
  4. The composer was actually in Paris for one week rather than one day, i.e. from 3/15 to 9/21 January 1893.
  5. On 24 January/5 February 1893, in Letter 4850 to his cousin Anna Merkling, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Odessa is a very attractive city, but this current winter is as severe as in the north, and it therefore resembles any northern city in the midst of winter. The sea is frozen for tens of versts".
  6. On 24 October 1892 [N.S.], the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus was celebrated across the United States, and one of the main events organized in connection with these festivities was the World Fair (called the "Columbian Exposition") which was to be held in Chicago in the summer of 1893. On 4 January 1891 [N.S.], Frederick Grant Gleason (1848–1903), an American composer and music critic for The Chicago Tribune, had written to Tchaikovsky to inform him about the forthcoming Columbian Exposition in 1893 and asking him for his views on the latter. Gleason's letter has been published (in Russian translation) in Чайковский и зарубежные музыканты (1970), p. 88–89. It is not clear whether Tchaikovsky answered this letter or whether he met Gleason during his visit to America in April–May 1891. In May 1892, Tchaikovsky had already received an invitation to the Chicago World Fair, specifically to appear as a conductor there. However, the proposed terms proved to be unacceptable, and Tchaikovsky did not travel to Chicago. Some months after this interview in Odessa took place the composer received a further invitation to attend from William Mathews. Replying to this in Letter 4915a on 13/25 April 1893, the composer wrote: "I have received the invitation wishing me to take part in the Musical Congress at Chicago, which you have the extreme attention to send me. I thank you cordially for the honour intended, but unfortunately my affairs and my health do not permit me to undertake so extended a journey, and I am obliged to renounce the pleasure of admiring the marvels of your exposition. Be certain that I greatly regret my inability".
  7. Tchaikovsky actually conducted five concerts in Odessa between 16/28 January and 24 January/5 February 1893. Afterwards he wrote in Letter 4852 to Modest Tchaikovsky on 28 January/9 February 1893: "Never have I been so exhausted from conducting as in Odessa because I had to conduct five concerts, but nowhere have I been so praised and feted as here... There were many intolerable heavy hours (e.g. the festival dinner at the English club), but also many gratifying ones. If only I could be lauded one tenth as much in the capitals as I was in Odessa!".
  8. The composer returned to his home at Klin on 3/15 February 1893, where he started work on his Symphony No. 6, and during March and April he composed his Military March and the Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72, for piano.
  9. Tchaikovsky arrived in London on 17/29 May 1893, and received his honorary doctorate from Cambridge University on 1/13 June.
  10. The opera Iolanta and the ballet The Nutcracker had been premiered as a double bill at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 6/18 December 1892, conducted by Eduard Nápravník.
  11. The Queen of Spades was produced by Ivan Grekov's opera company on 19/31 January 1893, with N. B. Emmanuel conducting. The composer attended rehearsals as well as the first performance.
  12. In Greek mythology, Melpomene was the muse of singing and also of tragedy.
  13. Tchaikovsky also spoke approvingly of Pietro Mascagni in an interview two months earlier. See A Conversation with P. I. Tchaikovsky (TH 324).
  14. The French general and politician Georges Ernest Boulanger (1837-1891).
  15. Tchaikovsky's first conducting engagement was a Russian Musical Society symphony concert on that date, including the fantasia The Tempest, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major by Franz Liszt (soloist Sophie Menter, conductor Vasily Sapelnikov), the Andante cantabile from the String Quartet No. 1, Variations on a Rococo Theme (soloist Wladyslaw Alois), and the Suite from The Nutcracker ballet.