A Conversation with P. I. Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky Research

A Conversation with P. I. Tchaikovsky (Беседа с П. И. Чайковским) (TH 324 ; ČW 597) [1] was the title of an interview between Tchaikovsky and a certain "G. B." [2], published in the newspaper Petersburg Life (Петербургская жизнь) on 12 November 1892 [O.S.].

Tchaikovsky talked about his working methods; the development of musical life and music education in Russia; his favourite operas by Mozart, Glinka, and Serov; the state of music in Germany, recognizing Wagner's overwhelming influence and the lack of any successor of equal stature; his admiration of Mascagni and Cavalleria rusticana for its real-life drama; the leading French, Scandinavian, and Czech composers; his reservations about Russian music critics; the 'Mighty Handful' and how people were wrong in assuming that he was at loggerheads with the new Russian school of music, since he had a lot in common with Rimsky-Korsakov, and admired such younger composers as Lyadov and Glazunov.

English Translation

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Our renowned composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is currently in Saint Petersburg, where in a short while the following new works by him will be produced on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre: the one-act opera Iolanta and the two-act ballet The Nutcracker. We had the opportunity to converse with P. I. Tchaikovsky, and he said so many interesting things which are of value to those who ardently love art, that we consider it highly appropriate to set forth, with the kind permission of P. I., the contents of this conversation.

First of all, we should point out one peculiarity: P. I. is notable for his uncommon modesty and he is exceptionally brief and reserved when talking about himself. Always calm and gentle, he does, however, become very animated when speaking of music, and in his words one can sense genuine enthusiasm and unlimited devotion to his cherished art.

The first question which we put to P. I. naturally referred to his own person.

—Where do you normally live?

"I live on an estate near the town of Klin, but the life I lead is rather a nomadic one, especially in the last ten years."

—At what time do you work?

"In order to work I retire to my refuge in Klin or to some quiet spot abroad and then lead a hermit's life. I work from ten o'clock in the morning until one o'clock in the afternoon, and from five to eight p.m.. I never work late in the evening or at night." [3]

—I would be interested to know how musical ideas spring up in your mind?

"My system of work is very much like a craftsman's, i.e. absolutely regular, always during the same hours, without allowing myself any indulgence whatsoever. Musical ideas spring up in me as soon as I have abstracted myself from considerations and cares that are extraneous to my work and set about the task I am working on. The majority of my ideas, by the way, come to me during my daily walks, and, in view of my exceptionally poor musical memory, I take a notebook with me." [4]

—Some people think that in our times it is difficult for a composer to produce something that is truly new, without repeating to a certain extent what has already been expressed before by the great masters of the art of music.

"No, that isn't right: the material for music, i.e. melody, harmony, and rhythm, is undoubtedly inexhaustible. A million years hence, assuming that music as we know it still exists then, those very same seven notes of our diatonic scale, in their melodic and harmonic combinations, and animated by rhythm, will continue to serve as the source of new musical ideas." [5]

—Which genre of music do you prefer—the operatic or the symphonic?

"Tous les genres sont bons, hors le genre ennuyeux' [6]. Both of these genres of music have given us equally great paragons."

—Everyone is eagerly awaiting the appearance of Iolanta on our theatre's stage. Why did you choose precisely this subject?

"Eight years ago there came into my hands an issue of the Russian Messenger which included a one-act play by the Danish writer Henrik Hertz, in a translation by F. Miller, entitled King René's Daughter. This subject captivated me because of its poetic spirit, originality, and the profusion of lyrical moments. I inwardly vowed that one day I would set this story to music. But as a result of various obstacles it was only last year that I was able to carry out my decision."

—In operatic compositions the music illustrates, complements, and elucidates the text, but if a musical idea becomes fused with the words, how exactly does this fusion come about?

"That's hard to say. The greater or lesser degree of inner affinity between a text and the music which illustrates it is the result of a mysterious process in the act of creation which does not depend on one's will, and which cannot be described or expressed in words."

—How satisfied are you with the performance of your operas on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre nowadays in comparison with how it was earlier?

"The overall performance, the ensemble, is just as good today as it was in the past, and the reason for that is very simple: the theatre continues to boast the presence of the incomparable E. F. Nápravník on its conductor's rostrum. As for the stage scenery and decorations, it would be absurd to compare the current splendour, luxury, and wonderfully fine taste with the relative poverty of yesteryear. The production aspect of opera stagings has also been raised to a very high level at present, and perhaps in no other opera-house in the European capital cities will one find such thoroughness, such a carefully thought-out approach to details, such understanding and vitality in the acting of the choruses."

—I am sure that you have your own favourite composers, which you prefer to all others, isn't that so?

"I was sixteen when I heard Mozart's Don Giovanni for the first time. For me, this was a revelation: I cannot find words to describe the overwhelming power of the impression which it made on me. It is probably due to this fact that of all the great composers it is Mozart for whom I feel the most tender love. 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 later years. 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 [7]. 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!"

—What do you think about the current state of music in the West and its future?

"It seems to me that music in Western Europe is going through a sort of phase of transition. For a long time Wagner was the only major composer of the German school. This man of genius, from whose overwhelming influence not one of the European composers of the second half of our century has been able to escape, stood there in splendid isolation, so to speak. And just as was the case during his lifetime, now, too, there is nobody who could replace him. True, there is in Germany one highly respected and esteemed composer: Brahms, but the cult of Brahms is more like a way of protesting against the excesses and extremes of Wagnerism. For all his mastery, for all the purity and earnestness of his endeavours, Brahms can hardly be said to have made an eternal and precious contribution to the treasure-house of German music. Of course we can also point to two or three other outstanding German composers: Goldmark [8], Bruckner [9], the young Richard Strauss [10]; indeed, here one should also mention Moritz Moszkowski [11], who, in spite of his Slavic name, lives and works in Germany; but, on the whole in the classical land of music one can sense a certain scarcity of talents, a certain lack of life and stagnation. The only place where there is true life is in Bayreuth, in this centre of the Wagner cult, and whatever our attitude may be to the music of Wagner, it is impossible to deny its power, its fundamental significance and influence on all contemporary music."

—What about other countries?

"Until very recently the art of music in Italy was still in a state of great decline. But it seems that now we are witnessing the dawn of its rebirth there. A whole pleiad of talented young composers has emerged, and amongst these it is Mascagni who, quite rightly, attracts the most attention [12]. People are wrong in supposing that the colossal, fabulous success of this young man is the result of skilful marketing. For no matter how much you advertise a work which is talentless or whose significance is but fleeting, you won't get very far and you certainly wouldn't be able to force the entire European public to be transported with fanatic delight. Mascagni is evidently not just a very gifted man, but also very intelligent. He has understood that nowadays the spirit of realism is in the air everywhere, that is the drawing together of art and the truth of life; he has realised that all these Wotans, Brünnhildes, and Fafners are at bottom incapable of awakening keen sympathy in the listener's mind, that man with his passions and misfortunes is closer to us and more understandable than the gods and demigods of Valhalla [13]. Judging from his choice of subjects, Mascagni proceeds not by means of instinct, but rather by dint of a profound understanding of the needs of the modern listener. Moreover, he does not follow the same path as certain other Italian composers, who seek to resemble their German counterparts as much as possible and seem to be ashamed, as it were, of being children of their native country [14]. No, it is with purely Italian plasticity and prettiness that Mascagni illustrates the real-life dramas which he chooses for his operas, and what comes out of this is a work which is almost irresistibly appealing and attractive for the public.
One can also observe a lot of activity and forward movement in France, which may rightly pride itself on such artists as Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Massenet... We have had a lot of valuable things from Scandinavia, too—the home of Grieg, that composer who is so full of originality and freshness, as well as the witty Svendsen [15], who is so rich in mastery. As for the Slavic nations, much promise is to be found among the Czechs: Dvořák is in the full prime of his talent, but apart from him a number of young composers are also drawing attention to themselves: Fibich [16], Bendl [17], Kovařovic [18], and Foerster."

—Wonderful! But what is your opinion about the present state of music in Russia? There are many who claim that it is in an extremely sorry condition.

"It seems to me that if on the whole it is difficult to agree with the undoubtedly pessimistic views on the state of contemporary music and its future expressed in A. G. Rubinstein's famous book, which caused such a sensation last year [19], then there are even less grounds to succumb to despair regarding the progress being made in the musical profession in Russia. When I think back to what Russian music was like in the years of my youth and compare the state of affairs back then with what it is now, I cannot but rejoice and cherish the most radiant hopes for the future. For in those times there was nothing as yet apart from the corner-stone of Russian music: Glinka, who, however, was unrecognized, persecuted, and utterly stifled by the Italomania which then reigned supreme.
However modest and strict we may be with regard to our native art, we have good reason to take pride in the successes that have already been achieved. As the pledge of these radiant hopes for the future we may cite both the present vintage of musicians, who are, though, starting to grow old, and also the many brilliant young talents who have emerged in the last decade. They are more fortunate than the people of our generation. They were able to receive a comprehensive and proper musical education at the right time for it; from early youth they had the opportunity to devote themselves to the profession to which they were drawn by vocation and, without any struggle or wavering, they could take up their positions on a suitably prepared ground" [20].

—What significance do you attach to music criticism in Russia?

"As a result of certain conditions music and theatre criticism in our country has acquired a greater significance and weight than in Western Europe. Over there, where the main interest of a newspaper lies in politics, the theatre and music review section is, it must be said, of secondary importance, and most readers will just glance at it casually. In Western Europe they have specialist periodicals for the arts. But a newspaper cannot do without topical interest. And so that is why in our newspapers the centre of gravity is often shifted onto the theatre and the other arts—in the section devoted to the latter readers will find that portion of topicality which it is essential for them to consume. It is for this reason that the literary, theatrical, and musical feuilletons over here sometimes constitute a whole event in their own right [21]. All the more reason, then, for our art critics to apply themselves to their task with the greatest possible circumspection, care, composure, and genuine striving for the truth! And yet—at least as far as music is concerned—we can see something quite the opposite taking place. For here we continually come across such curious violations of the most basic notions of justice, that it makes one feel now irritated, now sad, and sometimes it just feels downright ludicrous.
One of the causes of this lamentable state of affairs is the fact that music criticism in Russia is very often in the hands of people who do not restrict themselves to this branch of activity in the field of music—as is mostly the case in Western Europe—but who also compose and, what is more, attach a far greater importance to their compositions than to their review work! [22] ... Their one-sided and inevitably prejudiced approach to their task gives rise to much that is wholly lamentable. I can boldly point this out, all the more so because I myself was once a music critic for a daily newspaper in Moscow and, judging from the fact that in a very short space of time I landed myself with a lot of ill-wishers, I probably lapsed on several occasions into the mistake of a composer who vents his own authorial grievances into the little column space that has been allotted to him" [23].

—What, then, should be done in order to eliminate this lamentable phenomenon?

"It is necessary that a reviewer or critic should be someone who has devoted himself specially to this job and who loves it limitlessly; furthermore, that he should follow the events taking place in his sphere merely in the capacity of an impartial observer. By means of such a voluntary renunciation of the role of arbiter the composer-cum-reviewer would be able to avert a lot of the harm which he will otherwise inflict on the musical profession, as well as regaining for himself that mental peace and calm which are quite out of the question for him as long as he persists in trying to combine these two occupations".

—In society and in the press people here keep talking about the so-called 'Mighty Handful': do the aims pursued by the latter really constitute something special?

"The phrase 'Mighty Handful' was used at the end of the 1860s and throughout the 1870s to refer to a circle of musicians united by personal friendship and by the fact that their musical tastes and opinions were identical. M. A. Balakirev was the life and soul of this circle, as well as standing at its head. The musicians of this circle would find solace and moral support in the company of one another. One would think that such an association of several gifted individuals could not possibly awaken anything other than warm sympathy in anyone else. In practice, however, it so happened that the 'Mighty Handful' gradually acquired a huge number of enemies. The reason for this strange phenomenon must be traced to the fact that the 'Mighty Handful' had its own representatives in the press, who, in the admirable, if you like, striving to extol their ardently beloved friends, would very often go too far, thereby falling into exaggerations and allowing themselves to scoff far too harshly at every individual or phenomenon in the world of music which happened to be alien and disagreeable to the circle.
Now if in the works created by the members of this circle we were to try to look for the implementation of some sort of basic principle, we would have great trouble in finding one. The composers who belonged to the 'Mighty Handful' were very often called radicals, revolutionaries, and innovators. Although such descriptions frequently had a ring of truth about them, they tended on the whole to be exceptions [24]. For, in contrast to Wagner and the Wagnerians, this circle never broke all ties with the past. Never did the most outstanding members of the circle disdain the old and traditional forms. Some people regarded the works created by the 'Mighty Handful' as being suffused, first and foremost, by a "Russian spirit", but that, too, is only a partially accurate description, since some of its members have in all their lives not written a single bar of music in the "Russian spirit" [25]. So we will not succeed in tracking down any special linking or guiding principle in the activities of this circle.
Nevertheless, the hostile attitude inevitably adopted by the latter with regard to the rest of the Russian music world gave rise to notions of a struggle between two parties, as it were, one of which was the 'Mighty Handful'—or, as Mr Cui, if I am not mistaken, called it, the "new Russian school"—and the other was made up of everyone who did not belong to this "Handful". The second of these two parties was for some reason referred to as the "Conservatory" faction. This division into parties is the result of a bizarre mixing up of ideas and notions; it is a colossal hotchpotch which should now be consigned to the past once and for all.
As an example of the very absurdity of such a division into parties, I should like to draw your attention to the following fact, which for me is quite deplorable. The point is that on the strength of a notion which is generally shared by the whole Russian musical public, I am assigned to the party which is hostile towards the one living Russian composer whom I like and rate more highly than all the others: N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov. He is the jewel in the crown of the "new Russian school", whereas I am assigned to the old, retrograde school. But why should that be so? N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov has to a greater or lesser extent submitted to contemporary influences—and so have I. He has composed programme symphonies—so have I. This did not prevent him from creating symphonies in the traditional form, or from gladly writing fugues, or, in general, from working in the polyphonic genre—and it's the same with me, too. In his operas he has succumbed to the influences of Wagnerism or some other, at any rate, innovative approach to operatic facture [26] —well, I too, though perhaps to a lesser degree, have succumbed to these influences. This did not prevent him from including in his operas cavatinas, arias, and ensembles in the old manner—neither has it prevented me from doing so, and to a greater degree in fact. For many years I was a professor at a conservatory supposedly hostile to the "new Russian school"— N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, too, has been a conservatory professor for many years now!
In short, despite all the difference between our musical individualities, it would seem that we are going along the same path; and I for my part am proud to have such a travelling companion. And yet, not so long ago in fact, in Mr Gnedich's serious book about the history of Russian art I was bracketed with the party that is hostile to Mr Korsakov [27]. A strange misunderstanding is at work here which has caused, and continues to cause, lamentable consequences. This misunderstanding undermines a proper appreciation by the public of the phenomena taking place in the sphere of Russian music. It gives rise to a completely pointless animosity in a sphere where one would expect a harmony untroubled by anything to reign supreme; it intensifies even further the extremes which are to be found in both of these movements; and, last but not least, it compromises us musicians in the eyes of future generations. The future historian of Russian music will laugh at us as we now laugh at the carping critics who ruffled the feathers of Sumarokov and Tretyakovsky" [28].

—I must confess that I hadn't expected to hear that from you.

"Well, there you see! And why is it so? I mean, Lyadov and Glazunov, for example, are also reckoned among my musical opponents, whereas in fact I very much like and appreciate their talent."

—In your view, what is it that is essential for the development of musical life in Russia?

"A lot has already been done, but it is necessary to do even more. The achievements attained by our two conservatories are very great. They have provided many talented people with the opportunity to receive a comprehensive musical education at the right time for it; they have raised to a comparatively tremendous height the level of musical appreciation amongst the educated classes; but, still, it is impossible to deny that to a certain extent they are like hothouse plants artificially cultivated on a soil which is as yet insufficiently tilled. To use another analogy, they are like universities in a country without secondary or primary schools. The question is therefore how one might put an end to this abnormal state of affairs.
I think that this could be achieved in the following way. It is necessary to set up, both in our two capital cities and in all our provincial and large district towns, schools which would be equivalent to gymnasiums; the task of these schools would then be to prepare young people for admission into a higher educational institution, that is into a conservatory. But to guarantee that the students at conservatories don't constitute a mixed bag as far as their level of ability is concerned, that is to ensure that only those people are admitted whose vocation really is music, it is necessary to select the pupils for these secondary schools according to the strictest criteria, too. For only a person who is endowed with a special talent can serve art. It is also necessary that compulsory lessons in choir singing should be widely established, and indeed become the norm, in all the primary-level educational institutions of our fatherland."

—What do you think: can all this be achieved exclusively by means of private initiative?

"What you are asking is in effect whether the cause of Russian music will prosper if each one of these private individuals decides on matters of musical education as he or she sees fit. Hardly, I should think! In my view it would be the greatest blessing for Russian art if the government were to assume responsibility for looking after all branches of the arts. Only the government has the sufficient means, resources, and power to be up to such a great task. Only with the creation of a Ministry of Fine Arts will it be possible to hope for the swift and brilliant growth of all branches of art, only then will we see a normal inter-relation and organic bond between all the institutions devoted to the arts, which will allow them to act in unison." [29]


First published in the Saint Petersburg newspaper Petersburg Life (Петербургская жизнь), 12 November 1892 [O.S.] [30].

In 1957, it was included in volume II of the Complete Collected Works, edited by Vladimir Protopopov.



Notes and References

  1. Entitled "Interview for the Periodical Peterburgskaja Žizn" in ČW.
  2. The interviewer "G.B." is identified as Grigory Anatolyevich Blokh (1867–1927), a Saint Petersburg-based poet and music journalist, in Ernst Kuhn, Tschaikowsky aus der Nähe. Kritische Würdigungen und Erinnerungen von Zeitgenossen (1994), p. 220, note 483, as well as in Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky through others' eyes (1999), p. 194. Ernst Kuhn has pointed out that the initials "G.B." were regularly used by Grigory Blokh when signing his articles, so it is very likely that he conducted this interview with Tchaikovsky.
  3. The writing of his First Symphony over several months in 1866 had taken a great toll on Tchaikovsky's physical and mental health, in particular because he often stayed up all night to work on it—something that he swore he would never do again, as his brother Modest recalled in his biography of the composer: "As a result of this exceptionally hard work he began to suffer from insomnia, and the sleepless nights paralyzed his creative energies. At the end of July all this erupted into a terrible nervous attack, the like of which he never experienced again during his lifetime [...] The most distressing symptoms of this illness were dreadful hallucinations, which were so frightening that they resulted in a feeling of complete numbness in all his extremities." The dread of these nervous attacks recurring was such that "all his life he abstained from working at night. After this symphony, not a single note from any of his compositions was written at night." See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 248 — translator's note (quoting a passage translated earlier by Brett Langston).
  4. Tchaikovsky was perhaps exaggerating his lack of musical memory, but it is true that several reminiscences of the composer by contemporaries include anecdotes of how he would sometimes not recognize a particular musical phrase as being from an earlier work of his, and how he was then genuinely surprised when he was told who its author was! As for his working methods, Tchaikovsky discusses these at length in Letter 862 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 June/6 July 1878, where, as in this later interview, he also emphasizes the discipline which an artist needed to have. In a conversation in 1889 with the young Igor Grabar' (1871–1960), who would go on to become a distinguished art historian, Tchaikovsky likewise stressed that "inspiration is born only out of work and during such work". See Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p.288–289. The account by Grabar' of this conversation is also included in David Brown, Vladimir Gerard (1993), p.83–85 — translator's note.
  5. In Letter 862 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 June/6 July 1878, Tchaikovsky had also emphasized how there was no danger of diatonic melodies ever running out, since gifted composers would always be able to produce beautiful tunes based on notes of a triad. To support his point he cited in this letter the examples of " Beethoven, Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and especially Wagner" — translator's note.
  6. Tchaikovsky is quoting Voltaire's famous maxim from the preface to L'Enfant prodigue (1763): "All genres are good except for the boring genre." — translator's note.
  7. The premiere of Aleksandr Serov's Judith took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 16/28 May 1863 — note by Vasily Yakovlev.
  8. Tchaikovsky thought highly of the Sakuntala concert overture by the Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark (1830–1915), enthusiastically praising it in a music review article of 1874 (TH 288), but he did not like his most popular opera Die Königin von Saba (1875), whose score he criticized as "boring" and "pretentious" in Letter 1076 to Nadezhda von Meck, 20 January/1 February 1879. A few days later he wrote to his benefactress, who liked Goldmark very much, that this composer was a lamentable "mix of Wagner and Brahms" (Letter 1080 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 January/4 February 1879)! When he heard Die Königin von Saba (presumably for the first time) at the Dresden opera in February 1889 his negative impressions of the score were confirmed: "I didn't like the music at all. Bad singers, especially the tenor. Falseness and conventionality." (diary entry for 5/17 February 1889 in Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 224) — translator's note.
  9. According to the memoirs of Vladimir Nápravník, who was a guest at Tchaikovsky's house in Maydanovo from 29 January/10 February to 26 February/10 March 1892 while preparing for his law exams, he and Tchaikovsky would play through four-hand piano transcriptions in the evenings. Amongst the contemporary composers whose works they studied in this way, Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) is named alongside Grieg and Brahms. See Vladimir Nápravník's memoirs in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 220; the same extract is also in David Brown, Vladimir Gerard (1993), p.112–113. However, Tchaikovsky nowhere seems to have recorded his impressions of Bruckner's music — translator's note.
  10. Tchaikovsky seems to have revised (or concealed!) his opinion of Richard Strauss (1864–1949) somewhat, since after hearing the younger man's tone poem Aus Italien, Op.16, at a concert conducted by the work's dedicatee Hans von Bülow in Berlin on 11/23 January 1888, he had written to Nikolay Hubert and his wife Aleksandra: "I must confess that the last piece of rubbish by the most worthless of our own Russian composers is far better than this exceptionally untalented work. Incidentally, today (the 12th) I have softened a bit and started to think that perhaps I didn't understand it, or rather that I didn't get to its core." (Letter 3470, 12/24 January 1888, quoted in Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p.435). On the same day, however, he also wrote to his brother Modest from Magdeburg, where he had just arrived: "In Berlin I heard a work by a new German genius, Richard Strauss. Bülow is fussing over him just as he once did over Brahms and others. I don't think there has ever been a more outrageously talentless person, yet quite full of pretensions, as this [Richard Strauss]." (Letter 3472 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 12/24 January 1888). Tchaikovsky was introduced to the young Richard Strauss at this concert in Berlin, as the entry in his diary for 11/23 January 1888 shows: "Symphony by Strauss. His lack of talent. Meeting with Bülow, Wolff, Schneider, etc. Made the acquaintance of Ehrlich and Strauss." See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p.192. Heinrich Ehrlich (1822–1899) was a well-known German pianist and music critic —translator's note.
  11. In Chapter XII of his Autobiographical Account (TH 316) of his first conducting tour to western Europe in 1888, Tchaikovsky comments that at his meeting in Berlin with the Polish composer and pianist Moritz Moszkowski (1854–1925) he had found his personality to be "just as attractive as his music" —translator's note.
  12. Tchaikovsky first heard Mascagni's opera Cavalleria rusticana (1890) in Warsaw on 11 January 1892 [N.S.], and was very impressed by this work, which had taken the opera-houses of Europe by storm. See also the entry for Pietro Mascagni, and also the article on Rachmaninoff for details on how Cavalleria to some extent influenced Aleko, an opera of which Tchaikovsky thought very highly —translator's note.
  13. See the entry on Wagner for more details of Tchaikovsky's criticism of the German composer's choice of mythological subjects for most of his music dramas — translator's note.
  14. In Chapter IX of his Autobiographical Account (TH 316), Tchaikovsky discusses in some detail the development of Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924) as a composer. He had met the younger man at a chamber music soirée in Leipzig on 17/29 January 1888 and was impressed by his talent, whilst lamenting at the same time that in his aspiration to depth and complexity Busoni was "seeking to come across as a German at all costs". In the same section of his Autobiographical Account, Tchaikovsky also noted how both Busoni and Giovanni Sgambati were "ashamed to be Italians; they are afraid of letting even just a particle of melody show up in their compositions, and they want to be 'profound' in the German manner. A very lamentable phenomenon!" — translator's note.
  15. Although Tchaikovsky did not think so highly of the talent of Johan Svendsen (1840–1911) as that of his countryman Grieg, in two review articles of the 1870s he discussed favourably some of Svendsen's works (see TH 268 and TH 295), also noting his great popularity in Russia in the Autobiographical Account of 1888 (TH 316). Svendsen in his turn had featured several works by Tchaikovsky in the concerts he conducted in Copenhagen (where he was principal conductor at the Royal Theatre), and from Nikolay Kashkin's memoirs we know that Tchaikovsky towards the end of October 1893 sent his Norwegian colleague a letter (unfortunately lost) promising to come to Denmark soon. See Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1954), p.184. Svendsen received this letter on the day that he read about Tchaikovsky's death in the newspapers. Thus, the Russian composer's hopes of touring Scandinavia (which he had discussed on several occasions) were never realised — translator's note.
  16. Zdeněk Fibich (1850–1900), Czech composer, second conductor at the Prague National Theatre from 1876.
  17. Karel Bendl (1838–1897), Czech composer and choirmaster. Tchaikovsky met him on 9/21 February 1888, during his first visit to Prague.
  18. Karel Kovařovic (1862–1920), Czech composer and conductor.
  19. The book in question is Музыка и её представители. Разговор о музыке [Music and its exponents. A conversation about music] (Moscow, 1891).
  20. See Tchaikovsky's Autobiography of 1889 and Tchaikovsky: A Life by Alexander Poznansky for more details on how Tchaikovsky, at the age of 22, finally decided to make music his profession, despite having been groomed for a career in the civil service by his upbringing and family expectations.
  21. Tchaikovsky is tactfully referring to the way in which censorship in Russia prevented the free discussion of sensitive political topics in the press, and how ever since the days of the great literary critic Vissarion Belinsky (1811–1848), extended articles about literature (and later about painting and music, too) would often be used as a springboard for a more or less subtly veiled discussion of contemporary social problems — translator's note.
  22. Here Tchaikovsky is alluding mainly to one of his bugbears—the formidable critic and (less formidable) composer César Cui! But he may also have had in mind Nikolay Solovyev and Mikhail Ivanov (1849–1927), both of whom were regular music critics but also regarded themselves as composers. As Alina Bryullova recalls in her memoirs of the composer: "Tchaikovsky was very tolerant and inclined not to bear grudges, but all of [Mikhail] Ivanov's work both as a critic and as a composer was sickening to his artistic and ethical nature." See Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p.106–119 (107). Vasily Yastrebtsev (1866–1934) similarly recalled how Tchaikovsky had once said in 1893: "Well, personally I do not consider Mr I[vanov] to be a composer and I cannot stand the works of S[olovyev] , just as I cannot stand those glorified charlatans of the ilk of Arrigo Boito, with whom I had the misfortune to share the ceremony of obtaining my honorary doctorate at Cambridge University, or Leoncavallo." See Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p.212–215 (214) — translator's note.
  23. Tchaikovsky contributed regular music review articles for the Moscow-based journal The Russian Register (Русские ведомости) from 1872 to 1875. The reasons why he made so many 'enemies' were, however, more complex than what is suggested by the above self-deprecating explanation, for Tchaikovsky had always sought to be objective and fair in his judgements (see, for example, the section of his 1873 article TH 283 entitled "A Frank Discussion with the Reader") — translator's note.
  24. It is very likely that Tchaikovsky is thinking here of Musorgsky, the most innovative of the composers of the 'Mighty Handful' and the one whose music Tchaikovsky would most frequently revile in the sharpest of terms, whilst also recognizing the originality of his talent. See, for example, the extracts from Letter 705 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 December 1877/5 January 1878, quoted in the entry on Musorgskytranslator's note.
  25. Again, Tchaikovsky is alluding ironically to César Cui, whose musical output was and is generally regarded as not being particularly Russian in character—which is quite surprising, given the nationalistic ideas he expressed in his articles — translator's note.
  26. Just a few days before this interview—at some point between 28 October/9 November and 3/15 November 1892—Tchaikovsky seems to have attended a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera-ballet Mlada (which was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 19 October/1 November 1892), since Vasily Yastrebtsev, in his memoirs of Rimsky-Korsakov, reports Tchaikovsky as having said the following after one of the first performances of Mlada, which was not a success: "The public is stupid and aesthetically backward, and that is why it doesn't care for such a work, whereas for us musicians there is a great deal to listen to in it and a great deal to learn from it!". Quoted in Дни и годы П. И. Чайковского. Летопись жизни и творчества (1940), p.562. Rimsky-Korsakov had been profoundly impressed by the music of Wagner's Ring cycle when it was first staged in Russia by Angelo Neumann's company in March 1889, and it has been pointed out that the score of Mlada is tinged by Wagnerian influences. It is probably this which Tchaikovsky has in mind here, since such influences cannot be discerned so readily in his earlier stage works, written when, like the rest of the 'Mighty Handful', Rimsky-Korsakov was hostile to Wagner's theory and practice — translator's note.
  27. The book in question was Art in the 19th Century (Искусство ХIX века) by Pyotr Petrovich Gnedich (1855–1925), which came out as part of a multi-volume edition of his monographs on art history in 1885 — note by Vasily Yakovlev, supplemented by the translator.
  28. Vasily Kirillovich Tredyakovsky (1703–1769) and Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov (1718–1777) were leading Russian writers of the eighteenth century. Whereas Sumarokov, a nobleman by birth, was in fact highly esteemed by his contemporaries, Tredyakovsky was scorned for his lowly origins and timid character, and most of his works were ridiculed at the time. See Charles Drage and Walter Vickery, An XVIIIth Century Russian Reader (Oxford, 1969): "Trediakovsky is now honoured beside Lomonosov and Sumarokov as one of the founders of modern Russian literature" (p. 242) — translator's note.
  29. Even by the end of the nineteenth century Russia had no ministry of culture, and whereas the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg and the main theatres there and in Moscow, as well as the academies which trained children to become ballet-dancers and actors, fell under the tutelage of the Ministry of the Imperial Court (which was directly responsible to the Tsar), the two cities' conservatories did not become state institutions until Soviet times — translator's note.
  30. This interview was reprinted in Забытое интервью с П. И. Чайковским [A forgotten interview with P. I. Tchaikovsky], Советская музыка (1949), No. 7, p. 59–61, as well as in the Soviet collected edition of Tchaikovsky's writings— П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том II (1953, edited by Vasily Yakovlev), p. 367–373. An English translation of the interview is included in Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky through others' eyes (1999), p.202–208.