The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky

September 20th (October 2nd), 1886.
Tolstoi never speaks with love and enthusiasm of any prophet of Truth (with the exception of Christ), but rather with contempt and hatred. We do not know how he regards Socrates, Shakespeare, or Gogol. We do not know if he cares for Michael Angelo and Raphael, Tourgeniev, George Sand, Dickens and Flaubert. Perhaps his sympathies and antipathies in the sphere of philosophy and art are known to his intimates, but this inspired talker has never openly let fall a word which could enlighten us as to his attitude towards those great spirits who are on an equality with him. For instance, he has told me that Beethoven had no talent (as compared with Mozart), but he has never expressed himself in writing either on music or any kindred subject. Truly I think this man inclines only before God or the people, before humanity as a whole. There is no individual before whom he would bow down. Suitaiev was not an individual in Tolstoi’s eyes, but the people itself, the personified wisdom of the people. It would be interesting to know what this giant liked or disliked in literature.
“Probably after my death it will be of some interest to the world to hear of my musical predilections and prejudices, the more so that I have never expressed them by word of mouth.
“I will begin by degrees, and when touching upon contemporary musicians I shall also speak of their personalities.
“To begin with Beethoven, whom I praise unconditionally, and to whom I bend as to a god. But what is Beethoven to me? I bow down before the grandeur of some of his creations, but I do not love Beethoven. My relationship to him reminds me of that which I felt in my childhood to the God Jehovah. I feel for him—for my sentiments are still unchanged—great veneration, but also fear. He has created the heaven and the earth, and although I fall down before him, I do not love him. Christ, on the contrary, calls forth exclusively the feeling{518} of love. He is God, but also Man. He has suffered like ourselves. We pity Him and love in Him the ideal side of man’s nature. If Beethoven holds an analogous place in my heart to the God Jehovah, I love Mozart as the musical Christ. I do not think this comparison is blasphemous. Mozart was as pure as an angel, and his music is full of divine beauty.
“While speaking of Beethoven I touch on Mozart. To my mind, Mozart is the culminating point of all beauty in the sphere of music. He alone can make me weep and tremble with delight at the consciousness of the approach of that which we call the ideal. Beethoven makes me tremble too, but rather from a sense of fear and yearning anguish. I do not understand how to analyse music, and cannot go into detail.... Still I must mention two facts. I love Beethoven’s middle period, and sometimes his first; but I really hate his last, especially the latest quartets. They have only brilliancy, nothing more. The rest is chaos, over which floats, veiled in mist, the spirit of this musical Jehovah.
“I love everything in Mozart, for we love everything in the man to whom we are truly devoted. Above all, Don Juan, for through that work I have learnt to know what music is. Till then (my seventeenth year) I knew nothing except the enjoyable semi-music of the Italians. Although I love everything in Mozart, I will not assert that every one of his works, even the most insignificant, should be considered a masterpiece. I know quite well that no single example of his Sonatas is a great creation, and yet I like each one, because it is his, because he has breathed into it his sacred breath.
“As to the forerunner of both these artists, I like to play Bach, because it is interesting to play a good fugue; but I do not regard him, in common with many others, as a great genius. Handel is only fourth-rate, he is not even interesting. I sympathise with Glück in spite of his poor creative gift. I also like some things of Haydn. These four great masters have been surpassed by Mozart. They are rays which are extinguished by Mozart’s sun.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky

TCHAIKOVSKY, Modeste. The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1906

Silvia Pato