Letter 4856a

Date 5/17 February 1893
Addressed to Francis Arthur Jones
Where written Klin
Language French
Autograph Location unknown [1]
Publication Richard Reilly, Promise Kept. The Story of the James S. Copley Library (1983), p. 115–116 (English translation; addressee not identified)
Советская музыка (1990), No. 6. p. 92–93 (addressee's name given as "Francis Arthur Jameson")
Tchaikovsky Research Bulletin No. 1 (February 2011), p. 73-74 (with English translation, p. 74-75)
Чайковский. Новые материалы к творческой биографии (2013), p. 262-263 (with Russian translation, p. 264-265)
Notes Includes an autograph musical quotation from the finale of The Queen of Spades

Text and Translation

French text
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
5/17 Février 1893
Klin, nearly Moscow


Je viens de rentrer chez moi après un voyage de plusieurs mois, — ce qui Vous expliquera le retard involontaire de ma réponse. Veuillez m'éxcuser aussi de ce que je Vous réponds en français, car quoique je le comprenne — je n'écris pas en anglais.

Voici donc ma réponse.

1) Je compose toutes les ésquisses de mes compositions en faisant ma proménade quotidiénne de deux heures; je les écris sur un petit calepin et je les mets en ordre, rentré chez moi.

2) Le piano ne m'est pas absolument nécessaire et j'ai composé bien de choses sans en avoir un à ma disposition (par exemple en voyage, pendant les grandes traversées maritimes), mais cet instrument facilite quelquefois le développement de mes idées musicales.

3) Ma meilleure œuvre selon moi est mon opéra "La Dame de Pique".

4) Certainement que je crois possible des compositions commandées, et d'ailleurs l'histoire nous enseigne que bien des chefs d'œuvres ont été faites par commande.

5) Je n'ai jamais songé aux raisons qui expliquent pourquoi l'Angleterre qui a produit de grands poètes, n'a que très peu de grands musiciens, mais il me semble que l'opinion que la race anglosaxone est peu douée pour la musique, ne peut être considerée comme définitive. Qui sait si elle ne produera pas un Shakespeare musical? Vous avez déja en ce moment un musicien qui promet énormément et dont le talent est très sérieux, — c'est C. V. Stanford.

6) La faculté créatrice est un don précieux de la nature. Elle ne peut être obtenue par le travail et l'étude, mais seulement perfectionnée et eclairée par la science musicale, d'ailleurs purement empirique;

7) Je travaille depuis 9 jusqu'à 1 et depuis 5 jusqu'à 8½, jamais la nuit.

Voici, Monsieur, les réponses, que je m'empresse de Vous donner en Vous priant de m'éxcuser d'avoir été peut-être un peu trop bref, mais je n'ai pas malheureusement le temps de Vous écrire plus longuement.

Vous me demandez de Vous envoyer two or three bars. Je ne sais pas au juste ce que veut dire bar: ligne ou page? Probablement c'est de lignes qu'il s'agit, et je Vous les envoie très volontiers.

Recevez, Monsieur, l'expression de mes meilleurs sentiments.

P. Tschaïkovsky

Veuillez excuser ma mauvaise écriture, — je suis très pressé.

4856a ex1.jpg
5/17 February 1893
Klin, near Moscow


I have just returned home after travels lasting several months [2], which accounts for the involuntary delay of my reply. Would you also excuse me for replying to you in French: for, although I understand English, I cannot write in that language.

Here, then, is my reply:[3]

1) I compose all the sketches of my compositions while taking my daily walk of two hours; I write them down in a little note-book and put them into order once I get back home.

2) The piano isn't absolutely essential for me, and I have composed a great deal of things without having one at my disposal (for example, while travelling, during long sea-crossings[4]); still, this instrument does sometimes facilitate the development of my musical ideas.

3) My best work, as I see it, is my opera The Queen of Spades.

4) I certainly do believe that commissioned works are possible, and, moreover, history teaches us that a great many masterpieces were in fact made to order.

5) I have never thought about the reasons as to why England, which has produced several great poets, has only a few great composers, but it does seem to me that the view according to which the Anglo-Saxon race has little talent for music, cannot be considered a definitive one [5]. Who knows if it will not perhaps bring forth a musical Shakespeare? As it is, you already now have a musician of enormous promise and whose talent is very significant—namely, C. V. Stanford.

6) The creative faculty is a precious gift of Nature. It cannot be acquired by work or study, but can only be perfected and enlightened by musical learning, which, moreover, is purely empirical;

7) I work from 9 am to 1 pm and from 5 pm to 8.30 pm; never at night.

So here, Sir, are the replies which I hasten to give to you, whilst also apologizing for having been perhaps a little too concise: the fact is that I unfortunately do not have the time to write to you at greater length.

You ask me to send you two or three bars. I do not know exactly what bar means: a line or a page? It probably refers to lines, and I send you these most gladly.

Please accept, Sir, my best regards.

P. Tchaikovsky

Please excuse my poor handwriting: I am in a great rush [6].

4856a ex1.jpg

Notes and References

  1. The autograph was auctioned on 17 June 2010 by Sotheby's, New York[1]. It had formerly been held at the James S. Copley Library, La Jolla, California (No. 2521).
  2. Tchaikovsky had left Klin on 26 October/7 November 1892, travelling to Saint Petersburg for the final rehearsals and premieres of Iolanta and The Nutcracker on 6/18 December. Six days later, he had left for Europe, travelling to Montbéliard in Switzerland to visit Fanny Dürbach; then, via Paris, to Brussels, where he conducted a concert of his works on 2/14 January 1893; and from there he had travelled to Odessa, where in the course of a fortnight he conducted a series of concerts. After a short visit to Kamenka he finally returned to Klin on 3/15 February, i.e. two days before he wrote this letter.
  3. In a letter to Tchaikovsky dated 16 January 1893 [N.S.] Francis Arthur Jones explained that he was writing an article on how composers worked, and he asked Tchaikovsky to answer a series of questions which he had already put to a number of composers, including Grieg, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and Gounod. Jones's questions were as follows: "What method do you use when composing? Which of your compositions do you consider the best? Do you believe there can be composers who write music to order or under compulsion? Do you consider the English a musical nation? If not, what in your view is the reason for this? Do you consider the composing of music an art which can be developed or acquired? Which part of the day do you prefer for working?". Jones's questions are cited here not from the original, but, rather, translated back from the Russian translation given in Голоса из Клинского дома. Письма, документы (1990), No. 6. p. 92.
  4. Thus, Tchaikovsky, for example, made a number of sketches for his abortive Symphony in E-flat major during the return voyage from America in May 1891.
  5. In the nineteenth century, and later too, England was often referred to by the Germans, in particular, as "das Land ohne Musik" ("the land without music").
  6. Tchaikovsky had just begun composing his Symphony No. 6.