To Whom and on What did Pyotr Tchaikovsky Write?
By showing a fragment of correspondence between Tchaikovsky and Stasov, we would like to draw special attention to epistolary heritage of the composer, stored in the National Library of Russia. Here, there are more than 400 letters by Tchaikovsky.
In the 19th century, the correspondence was the primary means of communication even within the same city, not to mention the contacts over large distances, and it contains a lot of information of various kinds. The letters of Tchaikovsky reflect his daily activities, stages of work on musical works, on critical articles and textbooks. The contents of the letters is determined by the presence or lack of spiritual affinity with a particular addressee. Addressing to some persons, Pyotr Tchaikovsky confines himself to mentioning just practical issues, to the other, he tells about events in his life. The epistolary heritage of Tchaikovsky includes also letters of revelation in which he shares his experiences and feelings, offences or raptures, ideas about faith, about music, about life.
A significant portion of the composer's letters are addressed to his relatives: the mother and father, his father's second wife Elizaveta Mikhailovna (nee Alexandrova); brothers - Modest, Hippolyte, Nikolay and his wife Olga; the sister Alexandra, her husband Lev Davydov and their daughter Tatyana; the aunt Catherine Alexeyeva that Modest Tchaikovsky described as 'the only relative who had an interest and aptitude for music', as well as Pyotr Tchaikovsky's cousin Anna Merkling. Tchaikovsky wrote to his pupils - the pianist Anna Alexandrova-Levenson and Vladimir Shilovsky making good progress in the field of composition. The National Library of Russia houses the letters of Pyotr Tchaikovsky to Alina and Herman Conradi - parents of the deaf-mute boy Kolya Conradi, of whom his brother Modest was an educator, teacher, and then a guardian. It has also preserved the correspondence with Tchaikovsky's former governess Avdotya Bakhireva and his servant Alexey Sofronov.
Our library possesses letters addressed to the Polish pianist and violinist (the secretary of Nadezhda von Meck), the pianists and teachers Paul Peterson and Vera Timanova, the music publisher Pyotr Jurgenson, the music theorist and writer Augustus Bernhardt, the playwright and entrepreneur Alexey Kartavov, the flutist and composer Ernesto Köhler, the composer and music critic Baron Boris Fitinhoff-Schell. Here are stored letters to prominent composers - Tchaikovsky's contemporaries - Mily Balakirev, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Anatoly Lyadov, Anton Rubinstein, and the inspirer of most of them, the critic Vladimir Stasov
The most portion of the letters have been published and everyone can get acquainted with their contents. However, printed texts do not give a complete picture of the letters of Tchaikovsky. They do not convey the expressiveness of his handwriting, which often reflects the emotions he experienced when writing letters. It is impossible to imagine the appearances of the letters, judging from the printed texts. In the 19th century, the authors of the letters had the choice of writing paper. It could be of a different format, with water marks and without them, lined, unruled, white or colored, with printed pattern or border. Often writing paper was made on special order, with a monogram embossed, usually, in the left corner of the sheet.
For his letters, Tchaikovsky chose paper of different grades. Before the 1870s, he wrote on the ordinary unruled or lined paper, often torn from a notebook.
From 1873 till 1875, Pyotr Tchaikovsky added his monogram initials to his letterheads.
This monogram is made by a blind embossing (without paint). Form of initials is simple and austere without any ornamentation. Tchaikovsky's brother Anatoly has a monogram of the similar style on letterheads which were sometimes used by Pyotr Ilyich.
In letters dated to the period of 1876-1881, the shape of the letters was changed. Strict design without any decoration was complemented by triangular serifs. The decorative projections were added as embellishment to characters: not only vertical strokes of the letterforms end in serifs but also their central parts have the small projecting features.
Another monogram appeared in the letter dated to January 1880. It was sent from Rome, where Tchaikovsky lived from November 1879 until the end of February of the next year. Impressions from a merry street carnival with its festive procession accompanied by folk dances and songs were reflected in the «Italian Capriccio» composed in Rome. And we dare to suggest that Tchaikovsky's visits to numerous art museums and galleries exerted an impact on the shape of the embossed monogram «PT» (Petr Tchaikovsky in French transliteration), which, apparently, was commitioned in Rome.
During his next trip to Rome, Tchaikovsky ordered latterheads with a new monogram contsisting of the same letters «PT», but, unlike the previous image it was not so ponderous. On the contrary, the monogram is elegant and light. The embossed monogram with entwined ornamented initials is painted with tastelessly matched blue and gold colours.
From Russia, Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote to his correspondents, mostly, on paper with Cyrillic characters «P Ch». In 1881, there appeared a new form of that monogram. It is also a colour embossed pattern made using only a single colour: either blue or red.
Letters of Tchaikovsky sent in the first half of 1882 are provided with a new monogram. Entwined initials of a different form with a floral ornament, perhaps, excessively magnificent, are embossed using the red or dark brown colors.
In November of the same year, the monogram was slightly changed, the pattern became more simple, colors - more austere.
And in the letter dated to 15 June 1883 from Podushkino (here Tchaikovsky lived at his brother Anatoly's summer cottage from 31 May to 1 September 1883), we see an elegant monogram «PT» in Latin letters, and it is placed not in the left but in the upper right corner of the letter.
There is another form of a Latin monogram, but in English transliteration «PC».
Without dwelling on each form of monogram, we show them here in chronological order.
All of the above monogram made using embossing, only two non-embossed monograms, painted in gold or silver colors, are found.
One letter, dated to November 1887, was written by the composer on the paper with the monogram of his elder brother Nikolay. This monogram is completely different from all others which can be found in Pyotr Tchaikovsky's letters. In the monogram of his brother, an important element of impression is the crown emphasizing his noble origin. In Pyotr Tchaikovsky's monogram is no crown. It is, in fact, a direct demonstration of the composer's attitude to his social status. Modest Tchaikovsky wrote about this the following,
«'One of the most original and characteristic features of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was – his ironic attitude to the nobility of his origin. He never missed a chance to mock at the coat of arms and the noble crown of his family, regarding them as fantastic, and, with perseverance turning, sometimes, into peculiar puppyism, insisted on the plebeian status of the Tchaikovsky family. <…> He did not believe oneself to be a hereditary nobleman, because did not know any nobleman, any patrimonial landowner among the immediate ancestors, and, could only designate his father, who had a cook's big family of ten people, as the owner of serfs'.
In addition to monogrammed paper, Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote letters on paper with printed pattern. So, being in Venice in 1874 for the first time, he purchased the paper with an image of St Mark's Square and wrote to his brother Modest, «'Now look! Viewing the vignette <…> will make you burst with envy. Today I spent the whole day walking in this square'.
Colours of the letters of Tchaikovsky are different, in addition to white or yellowish paper, he used other colours. As is known, at the end of the 19th century, in England, every day of the week corresponds to the colour of the paper. Celadon was used on Mondays, pale pink - on Tuesdays, gray - on Wednesdays, light blue - on Thursdays, silver - on Fridays, yellow - on Saturdays, white - on Sundays. Coloured paper is among the letters of Tchaikovsky. If Peter Tchaikovsky had followed the English fashion, it would have been possible to determine on which day he wrote a particular letter. However, it is unknown weather he followed this mode, so the color of the paper can hardly be reliable guide. In contrast, Tchaikovsky's monograms can help to determine the post date. And although, it is impossible to determine the day of the week, but in cases of dispute, then the date is not indicated, the form of the monogram may help researchers to determine the date of the letter with a certain degree of probability.