Anton Chekhov

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Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
His inscribed photograph to Tchaikovsky

Prominent Russian writer and dramatist (b. 17/29 January 1860 in Taganrog; d. 15 July 1904 at Badenweiler, Germany), born Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Антон Павлович Чехов).

The son of Pavel Yevgenyevich Chekhov, a shopkeeper and choirmaster, Anton moved with his family from Taganrog to Moscow in 1876. His early education was sporadic, but in 1879 he enrolled in the medical school at Moscow University, qualifying as a physician five years later. His writing interests progressed from writing articles for periodicals and newspapers, to publishing short stories, novels, and plays, of which The Seagull (1896), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904) are among the best known.

Tchaikovsky and Chekhov

Tchaikovsky was introduced to Chekhov's work in April 1887, when together with Nikolay Kashkin he read the story Laymen [Миряне], and he was so impressed by the writer's talent that he sent a letter to the editor of New Time [Новое время], the newspaper in which Chekhov's story had appeared (this letter did not reach Chekhov and has unfortunately not been preserved). He became personally acquainted with the writer during the autumn of 1887, at Modest Tchaikovsky's home in Saint Petersburg, and the following year they met again in Moscow. On 9/21 January 1889, Tchaikovsky wrote to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya from Frolovskoye: "Have you ever read Chekhov? This young man, in my view, is likely to become a major force in literature. Would you like me to send you a volume of his short stories (he doesn't write large works!)" And on 2/14 June of that year he again wrote to Shpazhinskaya: "Are you at all familiar with the new great Russian literary talent — Chekhov? If not, I will gladly send you his stories. In my view, he is a future pillar of our literature"

Tchaikovsky visited Chekhov in Moscow on 14/26 October 1889 to thank the writer personally for dedicating to him his new collection of stories Gloomy People [Хмурые люди], which was soon to be published. Two days later, Tchaikovsky wrote to Modest about this dedication: "I am awfully proud and happy!" At their meeting they had also discussed collaborating on an opera based on Lermontov's Béla, with Chekhov providing the libretto, but the two men's travels meant that these plans were never realised. On 16/28 March 1890, Chekhov wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "In a week or two my book dedicated to Pyotr Ilyich will be published. I am ready to stand day and night as a guard of honour in front of the house where Pyotr Ilyich is living — such is my respect for him. If we are to speak about ranks, then in Russian art he currently occupies second place after Lev Tolstoy, who has long since been on the top rung of the ladder. The third place I would give to [the painter Ilya] Repin, and for myself I would kindly ask for the 98th. I had been nursing this bold dream of dedicating something to him [Tchaikovsky] for a long time. This dedication, I thought, would serve as a partial, minimal expression of that huge critical essay which I, scribbler that I am, have been drawing up [in my head] about his magnificent talent and which, because of my lack of musical competence, I cannot really put into writing". When Tchaikovsky, who was working on The Queen of Spades in Florence at the time, heard about this from his brother, he wrote back on 23 March/4 April 1890: "You cannot imagine how pleased I am with Chekhov's words about me. I will write to him as soon as things get back to normal again" It seems that Tchaikovsky did not actually write such a letter. He did, however, continue to read Chekhov with great interest. Thus, on 1/13 January 1891 he wrote to his brother Modest: "What a delightful little thing by Chekhov there is in the Christmas issue of New Time!". The story in question was Gusev (Гусев).

Chekhov's admiration for Tchaikovsky's music was certainly genuine, and it is a very revealing detail that one of the non-verbal communication devices so beloved by the playwright used in The Three Sisters is Prince Gremin's aria from Yevgeny Onegin: "All ages are obedient to love" [«Любви все возрасты покорны»], which in Act III of the play Vershinin suddenly starts humming in front of Masha after one of his long monologues, and this beautiful music does more than anything else to bring them together. We also know from the memoirs of Ignaty Potapenko (1856–1929) about life on Melikhovo, the small country estate Chekhov was finally able to buy for his family in 1892, that the writer often asked Potapenko to sing romances by Tchaikovsky, with the musically gifted Lidiya ('Lika') Mizinova accompanying at the piano: "Anton Pavlovich usually asked for those things which he particularly liked. Tchaikovsky was very much in his good books, and his romances were constantly part of our repertoire".

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

3 letters from Tchaikovsky to Anton Chekhov have survived, dating from 1889 and 1891, all of which have been translated into English on this website:

3 letters from Chekhov to Tchaikovsky, dating from 1889 and 1891, are preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive.


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