Base Dog, Shameless Bishka

Base Dog, Shameless Bishka (Собака низкая, бессовестная Бишка) (TH 195 ; ČW 319a) [1], also known as The Underdog [2] is one of two musical jokes (the other being The Siskin) written by Tchaikovsky in September 1876 an album belonging to his friend Mariya Golovina.

Tchaikovsky's wife Antonina, in her memoirs of the composer, recalled how some years before their marriage he had once come across a gang of boys who were about to drown a stray dog in the Moskva River. He had immediately taken out his purse and offered them all the money he had in return for the dog. Tchaikovsky took the latter home and gave her the name Bishka (probably an amalgamation of two Russian interjections: бишь + ка, which may be roughly translated as "now, come on!"). "She turned out to be a very intelligent dog and was terribly attached to him," recalled Antonina. When Tchaikovsky left Moscow in the autumn of 1877 after the crisis of his marriage, Bishka was entrusted to the care of Mariya Golovina [3].

Two works by the composer are dedicated to this little dog: a letter in verse to Mariya Golovina and the humorous song "Base dog, shameless Bishka..." («Собака ннзкая, бессовестная Бишка...»)" .

The song is written for low voice and piano, with the tempo marking 'Pochissimo con passion, ma non tanto' (F major, 21 bars). The autograph is preserved in the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow (ф. 1949) [4].

Notes and References

  1. Entitled "The Underdog" in TH, and "Base Dog, Shameless Biška" in ČW.
  2. The established English translation as "The Underdog" fails to convey the intended humour of an exasperated dog owner upbraiding his unruly hound.
  3. Из воспоминаний вдовы П. И. Чайковского (1894). Quoted in Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 269; Tchaikovsky through others' eyes (1999), p. 113–121. See also Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p. 364, note 7.
  4. Published in facsimile in П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том VI (1961), p. 48/49, and transcribed in Неизвестный Чайковский (2009), p. 201.