|1/13 August 1880
|Moscow: Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (ф. 880)
| (1907), No. 1, p. 60–61
, p. 52–54
(1951), p. 56–58 (abridged)
(1965), p. 222–224
Text and Translation
By Luis Sundkvist
1-го авг[уста] 1880 г[ода]
Милый Серёжа! Сейчас получил Ваше письмо и испытываю потребность поспорить с Вами. Вы несколько укололи меня, говоря, что будто бы «лицемерю, утверждая, что слава меня тяготит». Во-1-х, я этого не говорил, ибо слава моя так ещё покамест легка, что никакой тягости от неё испытывать нельзя. Во-2-х, я вообще, смею думать, не лицемер. Я сочиняю, т. е. посредством музыкального языка изливаю свои настроения и чувства, и, разумеется, мне, как и всякому говорящему и имеющему или претендующему иметь что сказать, нужно, чтобы меня слушали. И чем больше меня слушают, тем мне приятнее. В этом смысле я, конечно, люблю славу и стремлюсь к ней всей душой. Очень может быть, что, описывая Вам мои петербургские страдания, я помимо своей воли высказал то удовольствие, которое мне доставляет сознание, что меня начинают слушать. Но из этого, однако, не следует, чтобы я любил проявления славы, выражающиеся в тех обедах, ужинах, музыкальных вечерах, на которых я страдал, как всегда страдаю во всяком чуждом мне обществе. Если б я любил обращать внимание публики и общества на себя, на свой индивидуум, — то мне бы ничего не стоило проводить всю мою жизнь во всякого рода обществах. Но ведь Вы, кажется, знаете, что я к этому никогда не стремился и, наоборот, вечно хлопочу об том, как бы куда-нибудь зарыться и быть вне общества. Я хочу, желаю, люблю, чтобы интересовались моей музыкой, хвалили и любили бы её, но я никогда не хлопотал об том, чтобы интересовались лично мной, моей внешностью, моим разговором. Не подписывать своё имя на моих сочинениях ради моей нелюдимости было бы смешно и глупо, ибо чем же нибудь я должен отличать себя от других, говорящих в одно время со мной? Ну, я взял бы псевдоним: не всё ли равно? Я хочу, чтобы моё имя, какое бы оно ни было — своё или заимствованное, — было этикетом, отличающим мой товар от других, и чтобы этикет этот ценился, имел бы на рынке спрос и известность. Но что же в этом общего с тем отвращением к препровождению времени в обществе, которым я всегда страдал и всегда буду страдать? Если б я старался объяснить себе и Вам причины моего нелюдимства, то это повело бы меня слишком далеко. Ограничусь констатированием факта и просьбой не навязывать мне того, чего я не говорил и не думал.
Я не совсем понимаю того обособления русской музыки от европейской, которое Вы доказываете мне, и нахожу в словах Ваших кое-какие непоследовательности. Если Вы признаёте, что западные музыканты фатально увлекаются на свой теперешний путь, то и русская музыка тоже фатально идёт вслед за ними, и против fatum'а ничего не поделаешь. Если я не ошибаюсь, в письме Вашем нужно читать не только строки, но и между строками. Из Ваших междустрочных аргументов следует, кажется, вывести ту мысль, что мы ходим в потёмках, а заря нового солнца, долженствующего озарить обособленность русской музыки, лишь занимается: вся будущность её — в кропотливых изысканиях того Баха из окрестностей пожарного депо, который посредством бесчисленного множества контрапунктов, фуг и канонов на темы русских песен и православных гласов кладёт основной камень будущего величия русской музыки. Может быть, оно так и есть, но я боюсь, Сергей Иванович, чтобы наш Бах не был немножко славянофильствующим Дон-Кихотом. Ведь историю переделать нельзя, и уж если мы фатально попали благодаря Петру Великому в хвост Европы, то так навсегда в ней и останемся. Я очень ценю богатство материала, который строит грязный и страдающий народ, но мы, т. е. те, которые этим материалом пользуемся, всегда будем разрабатывать его в формах, заимствованных из Европы, ибо, родившись русскими, мы в то же время ещё гораздо больше европейцы, и формы их привиты и усвоены нами так сильно и глубоко, что, дабы оторваться от них, нужно себя насиловать и напрягать, а из такого насилия и напряжения ничего художественного произойти не может. Где насилие, там нет вдохновения, а где нет вдохновения, — нет искусства. Очень вероятно, что мы в музыке, как и в науке, ничего не скажем своего, но из этого только следует, что мы, по природе или вследствие исторических условий, лишены творческой силы. Во всяком случае едва ли мы исправим этот недостаток, возвращаясь к старине, да и уж больно далеко нужно идти, чтобы уйти от Европы. Песни записаны людьми объевропеившимися и насильственно подделывавшими мелодию под склад мажорной или минорной гаммы; да даже и обиходные напевы напечатаны нотами в це-фа-ут-ном ключе!!! Уже и тут Европа давала себя чувствовать.
Вообще, Серёжа, музыканту, по моему крайнему разумению, следует избегать лукавых мудрствований и делать так, как Бог на душу кладёт. Весь вопрос в том, много или мало Он кладёт на душу. Все крайности, все нелепости, все сумбурные звукоизвержения новой русской школы происходят от лукавых мудрствований. Тетралогия Вагнера, этот грандиозный памятник артистического самообольщения, есть тоже результат мудрствования, хотя и более глубокого, чем наше. Я знаю, что Вы слишком умны и серьёзны для того, чтобы из Ваших попыток в скучном роде Вы не извлекли каких-нибудь полезных для Вас и для нас указаний и разъяснений. Может быть, плодом всего этого будет какая-нибудь интересная монография о русской музыке. Но, признаюсь Вам, что я не без сожаления и грусти вижу, как мало-помалу Вас заедает рефлексия и как действующий в области творчества художник всё более и более уступает в Вас место кропотливому изыскателю музыкальных премудростей.
Быть может, я ошибаюсь и Вы вступили на свой настоящий путь; Ваши замыслы смелы и намерения достойны сочувствия, но не забывайте героя романа Сервантеса.
От общих рассуждений я неожиданно съехал на реприманд. Извините, сорвалось с языка.
Мне очень хочется побывать в Селище, но ничего не обещаю, ибо завишу от многих обстоятельств. А хотелось бы повидаться с Вами, да и с милыми Масловыми. О повышении Фед[ора] Ив[ановича] я знал уже прежде из газет. Когда напишете ему, — поздравьте от меня.
Если не будет лень, напишите ещё; браните сколько хотите и, пожалуйста, не заключайте из моих опровержений, что я обиделся.
Стихи Ваши очень хорошие. Автор либретто — не ученик Симаков.
Ваш П. Чайковский
1st August 1880
Dear Serezha! I have just received your letter and feel a need to argue with you. You have stung me somewhat with your assertion that I was being hypocritical when I said that fame was a burden on me . Firstly, I did not say that, because so far my fame is so light that it is quite impossible to feel it as a burden. Secondly, I venture to presume that I am in general not a hypocrite. I compose, that is, by means of the language of music I give vent to my moods and feelings, and, of course, like any person who speaks and has, or claims to have, something to say, I need people to listen to me. And the more they listen to me, the more agreeable it is for me. In this sense, of course, I love fame and strive for it with all my soul. It may very well be that when I described to you my woes in Petersburg, I expressed unwittingly the satisfaction which is afforded to me by the knowledge that people are beginning to listen. But from this, though, it does not follow that I love the manifestations of fame that take the form of banquets, suppers, and musical soirées, at which I have indeed suffered, just as I always suffer in the company of people who are alien to me. If I did like to draw the attention of the public and of society to myself, to my person, then I would have no problem about spending my whole life in all kinds of social gatherings. But surely you know, don't you, that I have never aspired to that, and that, on the contrary, I am always trying to bury myself somewhere so that I can remain outside of society. I want, desire, and love people to take an interest in my music and to praise and love it, but I have never sought to get them to take an interest in me personally, in the way I look or in what I say. It would be ridiculous and stupid not to sign my name under my compositions on account of my unsociability, because there has to be after all something by which I can distinguish myself from the others who are speaking at the same time as me! All right, I could assume a pseudonym: but is it not all the same? I want my name, whatever it may happen to be — my own or an assumed one — to serve as a label which distinguishes my wares from others, and I want this label to be valued, to be in demand on the market and to be well-known. But what does this have in common with that aversion to spending time in society from which I have always suffered and will always continue to suffer? If I were to try to explain to myself and to you the reasons for my unsociability, it would require too long a digression on my part. I shall limit myself to acknowledging the fact and to requesting you not to foist upon me what I have not said, nor even thought.
I do not quite understand that isolation of Russian music from European music of which you are trying to persuade me, and in your words I can detect certain inconsistencies . If you acknowledge that it is a fatal attraction which draws Western musicians onto their present path, then it is also something fatal which causes Russian music to go after them, and there is nothing one can do against Fate. If I am not mistaken, in your letter it is necessary to read not just the lines, but also in between the lines. From your implicit arguments I think one is supposed to derive the conclusion that we are walking in the dark, and that the dawn of the new sun which is supposed to illuminate Russian music in its isolation is only just beginning: all its future lies in the painstaking investigations carried out by that new Bach from the environs of the fire station  who, by means of an endless multitude of counterpoint exercises, fugues, and canons on themes from Russian songs and Orthodox tunes, will lay the foundation-stone of the future greatness of Russian music. Perhaps it will indeed be so, but I am worried, Sergey Ivanovich, lest our Bach should turn out to be something of a Slavophile  Don Quixote. I mean, it is impossible to undo history, and if, thanks to Peter the Great, we now find ourselves, again through a fatal process, at the tail-end of Europe, then we shall always remain in that position. I appreciate very much the richness of the material which is accumulated by the grubby and suffering people , but we, that is those of us who make use of this material, will always process it in forms that have been borrowed from Europe, because, though we are born as Russians, we are at the same time Europeans to a far greater extent, and we have assimilated their forms so deeply and strongly that, in order to tear ourselves away from them, we would have to coerce and strain ourselves, and from such coercion and strain there cannot arise anything artistic. Where there is coercion, there is no inspiration, and where there is no inspiration, there cannot be art. It is very likely that, as in science, so in music we shall say nothing of our own, but from this it follows merely that we, by nature or as a result of historical conditions, are devoid of creative power. In any case we will hardly put right this deficiency by returning to olden times, and, besides, we would have to go awfully far in order to get away from Europe. Our songs were written down by people who were quite Europeanized and who forcibly tried to fit these melodies into the mould of the major or minor scale. Why, even our church service tunes are printed notated in the keys of D, F, and C!!! Even there the influence of Europe has begun to make itself felt.
In general, Serezha, it is my utter conviction that a musician should avoid clever theorizing and just do as God lays on his heart. What it all comes down to is whether it is a lot or a little that God lays on his heart. All the extremities, all the absurdities and chaotic ejections of sound of the new Russian school are a consequence of clever theorizing. Wagner's tetralogy, that grandiose monument to artistic self-delusion, is also a result of theorizing, albeit a more profound one than ours. I know that you are far too intelligent and serious not to succeed in deriving, from your endeavours in the boring genre , some indications and clarifications which will be useful for you and for us. Perhaps the fruit of all this will be some interesting monograph on Russian music. However, I must confess to you that it is not without a feeling of pity and sadness that I see you falling prey to reflection, and how the creatively active artist in you is increasingly giving way to an assiduous prospector quarrying for musical subtleties.
Maybe I am wrong and you have found your true path. Your ideas are bold and your intentions worthy of sympathy, but do not forget the hero of Cervantes's novel.
From general reflections I have unexpectedly veered into a reprimand. Forgive me, it just escaped my lips.
I would very much like to visit Selishche , but I cannot promise anything because I am dependent on lots of circumstances. And yet, how I would like to see you and also the dear Maslovs. I had already found out about Fyodor Ivanovich's promotion from the newspapers . When you write to him send him my congratulations too.
If you don't feel too lazy, write to me something more. You can curse me as much as you like, and please do not conclude from my refutations that I have taken offence.
Yours, P. Tchaikovsky
Notes and References
- In Letter 1544 to Taneyev on 21 July/2 August 1880, Tchaikovsky had observed about his life in the secluded village of Simaki: "I would truly be in a state of bliss here if the fact of my belonging to human society and the foul appurtenances of that high honour did not make themselves felt even here". Taneyev evidently interpreted this as a lament about the drawbacks of being a famous, sought-after composer, for in his reply from the French coastal village of Iport on 25 July/6 August 1880 he wrote: "Now I come to the question of human society. Since I occupy in the latter a place which is incomparably more modest than yours, I am not condemned to suffer the inconveniences attached to a high status. I don't write operas, I don't look over proofs, I don't possess fame, and even if I did possess fame, it would in any case not be a burden on me. I think that you too, in your heart of hearts, have nothing against it. For fame allows people to feel that within them, within themselves, they have strength, and there is nothing more agreeable than to feel strength within oneself. I think that you are being a bit hypocritical when you claim that such fame burdens you (I remember your stories about your stay in Petersburg)". Taneyev's letter has been published in (1951), p. 53–56.
- In Letter 1544 to Taneyev on 21 July/2 August 1880, Tchaikovsky had reflected on the significance of such an opera as Bizet's Carmen appearing in an age in which both Western European and Russian composers no longer strove for the great and grandiose, but for "the pretty and piquant". This prompted Taneyev, in his reply of 25 July/6 August 1880, to set down some very interesting thoughts of his own about the development of European and Russian art. First of all, he noted how during his recent stay in Paris he had met up with such colleagues as Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924), Vincent d'Indy (1851–1931), and Camille Benoît (1851–1923). "In the music of the aforementioned friends," he informed Tchaikovsky, "I was struck by one common feature which until now had not caught my attention to such an extent. Namely, that the scale no longer has seven tones, but comprises a whole twelve tones, and this not just in melodies but also in the harmony. There is no tonality; the only rule is that after any chord one can play any other, regardless of the scale to which it belongs. Their inventiveness is focussed entirely on that aspect: on finding a sequence of chords which no one else has ever come up with. Essentially, there is no difference whatsoever between them and our Petersburgers [i.e. Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Musorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov], except that a Frenchman will turn out an elegant work, whereas we Russians like to turn out coarse and unpolished ones. Music in Europe is becoming shallow. There is nothing on a par with the high aspirations of man. The character of the people who write modern European music is reflected in it perfectly: people who are refined, elegant, somewhat feeble, accustomed to or striving towards a cosy, comfortable life, and who love all that is piquant. As the people are, so is the music. However, one should be precise in the expressions one uses. One mustn't say: 'our age is such', 'our music is such' — that is not correct. Say 'the music of the Western nations is going through such an age', and then you will be right. What you mustn't do is to extend this observation to us. In the West music has been going along its own road for a thousand years, and its current situation follows on necessarily from the preceding one. It is a fatal attraction which draws Western musicians onto the path they are following. The classical era of Western music has passed and it is now sinking into preciosity and pettiness. We, the last newcomers of civilization, are completely outside of the trajectory of European music, and it is only in an artificial way that we situate ourselves, as we please, either at the beginning of this trajectory or in its middle or at the end. This has happened to us Russians with all the arts that we have taken up. Derzhavin wrote Greek odes. Apollo, the Muses and Graces all moved to Russia. Zhukovsky and Karamzin imagined in real earnest that they were Germans, endowed with the most Germanic sentimentality. [Aleksandr] Ivanov went off to Italy to paint his painting [The Appearance of Christ before the People], for which he came up with a universal European subject and had to go to Europe to find the models. Can there be anything more comical than the Petersburg musicians, who deliberately mix up our songs with the most novel harmonic contrivances and have made a whole theory out of this?! Our mistake lies in the fact that we willingly place ourselves at the end of the European movement. One mustn't forget that only that is permanent which is rooted in the people. In the Western nations each of the arts, before merging in the general stream, was national. This is a general rule from which one cannot get away. The Dutch wrote their compositions on the basis of folksongs; the Gregorian melodies which underlie the compositions of the Italians in the 16th century were previously folk tunes; Bach created German music out of the chorale, that is, once again out of a folk melody. Those medieval writers who, seeking to be pan-European, wrote in Latin and forgot their native tongues, did not create anything permanent. When, however, others began to write in their own language and with time brought that to an advanced stage of development, only then did it become possible for truly universal creations to appear, such as, for instance, Goethe's Faust, the tragedies of Shakespeare etc. The coarse, grubby, and suffering people unconsciously amass the material for creations which satisfy the highest needs of the human spirit. It was highly agreeable for me to hear at the Pushkin festivities [which took place in Moscow on 6/18–8/20 June 1880 to mark the unveiling of a statue of the poet] a detail about his biography which I was previously unaware of: towards the end of his life he was writing down popular sayings, he was listening carefully to the way the people speak [this is something that both Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the Slavophile publicist Ivan Aksakov (1823–1886) emphasized in their speeches at the Pushkin festivities]. 'One should learn Russian from the women who make our communion bread', those are Pushkin's very own words. We must remember these words and direct our eyes towards the people".
- i.e. Taneyev himself, whose house in Moscow, on Obukhovyi Lane, was situated near a fire station.
- The Slavophiles were an important group in the Russian intelligentsia whose heyday was in the 1830s–50s, but who nevertheless continued to exert considerable influence on Russian public opinion until the end of the century. They believed that the peasantry was the repository of Russian culture and spirituality, and that the educated classes had to return to those traditions of their ancestors which were still alive among the common folk. Opposed to the Slavophiles were the Westerners, who argued that Russia had to continue along the path marked out by Peter the Great and learn from Western Europe.
- The emphasized words are a direct quotation from Taneyev's letter of 25 July/6 August 1880 (see note 2 above).
- i.e. the genre of chamber music. At the end of his letter of 25 July/6 August 1880 Taneyev had written: "As far as my musical compositions are concerned, I am hoping by September to enrich the boring genre with a string quartet which is supposed to occupy a fairly decent place in it". The work in question was Taneyev's String Quartet No. 1 in E♭ major, which he began in Moscow on 24 January/5 February 1880 and completed on 7/19 October 1880. It was first performed at a chamber music concert of the Russian Musical Society on 19/31 October 1881 but was never published. See Sergey Popov, Неизданные сочинения и работы С. И. Танеева — Археографический очерк (Unpublished compositions and works by S. I. Taneyev. An archaeographical outline) in Сергей Иванович Танеев. Личность, творчество и документы его жизни (Moscow/[Leningrad]], 1925), p. 135–136.
- In his letter of 25 July/6 August 1880 Taneyev had mentioned that later in the summer he hoped to spend a week at Selishche, the estate of his friends the Maslovs (Fyodor Maslov and his three sisters) in Oryol Province, and he urged Tchaikovsky to make good his promise and finally pay a visit to Selishche himself at the same time.
- In his letter of 25 July/6 August 1880 Taneyev informed Tchaikovsky that Fyodor Maslov had recently been appointed to the Moscow Appellate Court.
- In his letter of 25 July/6 August 1880 Taneyev included some humorous verses which he had written to congratulate Fyodor Maslov on his appointment. Taneyev and the Maslovs regularly 'published' the humorous poems which they wrote during their annual summer stays at Selishche in a handwritten journal entitled Захолустье (The Backwoods).
- In Letter 1544 to Taneyev on 21 July/2 August 1880, Tchaikovsky had told Taneyev about an absurd libretto which a certain Simakov had sent him, suggesting that he use it for an opera to be entitled Sasha and Vanya, and in his reply of 25 July/6 August 1880 Taneyev asked whether the author was the same person as a student of his with that surname.