Letter 70

Date 24 August/5 September 1865
Addressed to Aleksandra Davydova
Where written Kiev
Language Russian
Autograph Location Saint Petersburg (Russia): National Library of Russia (ф. 834, ед. хр. 16, л. 18–19)
Publication П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 65–66
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955), p. 16–17
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 82–83
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Letters to his family. An autobiography (1981), p. 15–16 (English translation).

Text and Translation

Russian text
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
24 августа 1865 года

Милая Саня! Наше путешествие до самого Киева сопровождалось самой гнусной погодой, и если бы мы не были вчетвером, можно было бы с отчаяния броситься в синие волны Днепра. Часто думали и вспоминали о Каменке и почему-то и её тоже не могли себе представить иначе, как в самом мрачном виде, точно будто мы в ней исправляли должность солнца и без нас темно и холодно. Остановились в гостинице «Европа»; она вовсе не дурна и содержится довольно опрятно; даже я не нахожу её очень дорогой, хотя за порцию кофе, которого мы сейчас с прожорливым Модей спросили, требуют 50 коп. без сливок и хлеба, а в порции всего два стакана.

Вчера день был очень скучный. Дождь не переставал лить; я попробовал было провести время туристом и отправился с Толей и Модей осматривать древние церкви, но дальше Софии не был. Какая-то фигура, покрытая парчей (останки митрополита Макария), к которой монах заставил приложиться, навела на меня такой ужас, что я оттуда бежал, и никакие увещания моих деспотических братьев не могли принудить меня продолжать эксплорацию киевских храмов. Алёша и Толя уехали вчера в 7 часов, а мы с Модей пошли в Café italiano, где читали газеты, и это единственный час, проведённый вчера без скуки. Сейчас отправляюсь с Модошей искать Левдика, чтобы снять карточки: погода несколько разгулялась.

О Каменке думаю с великою грустью; я никогда ещё не проводил такого приятного лета; в праздности упрекнуть себя не могу, а между тем как много милых воспоминаний! Одним словом, я возвращаюсь в Петербург с грустью в сердце, но с спокойною совестью, помышляя о том, что не прогулял всё время без всякой пользы. Вера Васильевна, которая по свойственной ей доброте заботилась о том, чтобы я из Каменки уехал с желанием поскорей в неё воротиться, может быть уверена, что оно так и есть. Я иначе не могу себя представить будущим летом, как в Каменке.

Целую тебя, Саша, как можно крепче, так же как и Лёву и детей. Передай поклоны всему Вашему семейству.

П. Чайковский

24 August 1865

Dear Sanya! All the way to Kiev we were accompanied by the most abominable weather, and had there not been four of us travelling together [1], I might well out of despair have hurled myself into the blue waves of the Dnepr. We frequently thought and spoke about Kamenka, and for some reason we could not picture the latter to ourselves other than in the gloomiest colours, just as if we had been exercising the function of a sun there and without us the whole place necessarily has to be dark and cold. We have put up at the "Yevropa" Hotel: it's not at all bad and is kept quite tidily. Even I do not find it all that expensive, although it must be said that a pot of coffee, which is what I and the voracious Modya have just ordered, costs 50 kopecks here (without cream and bread), and the pot contains just two glasses.

Yesterday was a very boring day. It never stopped raining. I tried to spend my time here as a tourist and went off with Tolya and Modya to look round the ancient churches, but I didn't make it further than the Sophia [2]. Some kind of shape covered in a brocade cloth (the remains of Metropolitan Macarius), which a monk made us touch, so horrified me that I ran away from there, and all the exhortations of my despotic brothers could not compel me to continue exploring the Kievan churches. Alyosha [3] and Tolya left yesterday at 7 o'clock, whilst Modya and I went to the Café italiano, where we read the newspapers: that was the only hour I spent free of boredom yesterday. Modosha and I are now going to look for Levdik's [4] in order to have our pictures taken: the weather has cleared up a bit.

It is with great sadness that I think of Kamenka: never in my life have I spent a more pleasant summer [5]. I cannot reproach myself for idleness, and yet at the same time how many dear memories I have taken away! In short, I am returning to Petersburg with a heavy heart, but with a calm conscience as I reflect on how I did not waste my time quite pointlessly [6]. Vera Vasilyevna, who by virtue of her innate kindness sought to make me leave Kamenka with a desire to come back as soon as possible, can rest assured that it is indeed so. For I cannot conceive of spending next summer anywhere other than at Kamenka.

I kiss you, Sasha, as warmly as possible, and the same goes for Lev and the children. Give my regards to all your family.

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. That summer, Tchaikovsky had visited Kamenka for the first time. With him had been the twins Anatoly and Modest, and they returned to Saint Petersburg together. They were also joined on the journey by their brother-in-law Aleksey Davydov (1846-1909), who was a student in the imperial capital.
  2. The Cathedral of Saint Sophia.
  3. Aleksey Vasilyevich Davydov (1846-1909), the younger brother of Lev Davydov.
  4. Fyodor Levdik was the proprietor of the most well-known photographic studio in Kiev at the time.
  5. As Modest Tchaikovsky explains in his biography of the composer, his brother had enjoyed his first summer at Kamenka (June-August 1865) so much because of a number of factors: the beauty of the area (with many opportunities for long walks in the nearby oak forests and along the banks of the Tyasmin river), and above all the company of his sister Aleksandra and her young family, and the fact that the twins Anatoly and Modest were also with them. Moreover, he had got on quite well with his brother-in-law Nikolay Vasilyevich Davydov (1826-1916; the elder brother of Lev Davydov), who was the owner of Kamenka, and whose extensive library Tchaikovsky had been able to use — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 177-180.
  6. During that summer at Kamenka, Tchaikovsky drafted his Overture in C minor and translated F. A. Gevaert's Handbook for Instrumentation. He also noted down a folk-tune he heard sung by one of the Davydovs' gardeners, which he would subsequently use in the String Quartet in B-flat major (1865) and the piano piece Scherzo à la russe (1867).