Letter 3529a

Tchaikovsky Research
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Date 15/27 March 1888
Addressed to Konstantin Koninsky
Where written Vienna
Language Russian
Autograph Location unknown
Publication Чайковский о русской церковной музыке (1899), No. 2, p. 51 (abridged)
Чайковский. Новые документы и материалы (2003), p. 82 (abridged)

Text and Translation

This incomplete text is based on its first publication in Чайковский о русской церковной музыке (1899), which may contain differences in formatting and content from Tchaikovsky's original letter.

Russian text
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
Отче наш Моцарта. Какое богохульство!!! Я говорю богохульство, так как считаю Моцарта музыкальным Богом. То, что вы мне прислали—пошлейшая дребедень в стиле русской церковной музыки конца XVIII и начала XIX века. [...]

Вопросом вашим о русской церковной музыке вы задели моё больное место, и мне пришлось бы исписать целую десть бумаги, чтобы надлежащим образом ответить на ваш вопрос. Техника Бортнянского детская, рутинная, но тем не менее это единственный из духовных композиторов, у которого она была. Все эти Ведели, Дехтеревы и т. п. любили по-своему музыку, но они были сущие невежды, и своими произведениями причинили столько зла России, что и ста лет мало, чтобы уничтожить его. От столицы до деревни раздаётся пошленький, слащавый стиль Бортнянского, и увы! нравится публике! Нужен Мессия, который одним ударом уничтожил бы всё старое и пошёл бы по новому пути, а новый путь заключается в возвращении к седой старине и в сообщении древних напевов в соответствующей гармонизации. Как должно гармонизовать древние навевы надлежащим образом, не решил ещё никто; но есть люди, как например, Разумовский, Римский-Корсаков, Азеев, которые знают и понимают, что нужно русской церковной музыке, но всё это вопиющего глас в пустыне! Не думайте, что я подразумеваю свои сочинения. Я только хотел быть переходной ступенью от пошлого итальянского стиля, введённого Бортнянским, к тому стилю, который введёт будущий Мессия. [...]

An "Our Father" by Mozart [1]. What a blasphemy!!! I say blasphemy, because I consider Mozart the God of music. What you have sent me is the most banal rubbish in the style of Russian church music of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. [...]

With your question about Russian church music you have touched my sore spot, and I would have to use up a whole quire of paper in order to answer your question properly. Bortnyansky's [2] technique is childish and routine, but, still, he is the only one among our composers for the church who had any. All these Vedels [3], Dekhterevs [4], and so on, loved music in their way, but they were utterly ignorant, and with their works they have inflicted so much harm on Russia that a hundred years would not be enough to eradicate it. From the capital to the villages our churches resound with the banal, sugary style of Bortnyansky, and, alas!, the public likes it! A Messiah is necessary who, at one fell swoop, would destroy all that is old and proceed along a new path—and this new path consists in a return to grey-haired antiquity and in the divulgation of our ancient chants in an appropriate harmonization. No one has as yet decided how the ancient chants are to be harmonized, but there are people, such as, for instance, Razumovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Azeyev [5], who know and understand what Russian sacred music needs. Still, all this is but the voice of one crying in the wilderness! Please do not imagine that I am thinking of my own compositions. I merely wanted to be an intermediate step on the way leading from the banal Italian style introduced by Bortnyansky towards the style which will be introduced by the future Messiah. [...]

Notes and References

  1. In an article entitled Чайковский о русской церковной музыке (Tchaikovsky on Russian Sacred Music), published in the January 1899 issue of the Russian Musical Gazette (Русская музыкальная газета), Koninsky published extracts from a letter Tchaikovsky had sent him from Vienna in 1888, in reply to a letter in which Koninsky had enclosed the manuscript of what he believed to be a "Vater unser" by Mozart, and therefore a "unique find". The full text of Tchaikovsky's original letter has not yet come to light — note based on information provided by Alexander Poznansky in Письма Чайковского в Йельском университете (США) (2003), p. 81-82.
  2. Dmytro (Dmitry) Bortnyansky (1751–1825), Ukrainian composer, now most famous for his sacred choral works. In 1881, following a commission from his publisher Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky had edited and arranged for piano Bortnyansky's Complete Church Music.
  3. Artemy Lukyanovich Vedel (1767–1808), Ukrainian composer.
  4. Stepan Anikievich Dekhterev (or Degtiarev) (1766–1813), Russian composer, he wrote the first Russian oratorio Minin and Pozharsky, or The Liberation of Moscow in 1811, as well as several sacred choral works for unaccompanied voices.
  5. Yevstafy Stepanovich Azeyev (1851—1918 or 1920), Russian composer and choir master, he wrote and rearranged many sacred chants.