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TCHAIKOVSKY, Pyotr Ilyich (1840-1893). Autograph letter and music signed (‘P. Tchaikovsky'; in Cyrillic) to Eduard Francevic Nápravník, Moscow, 5 January 1885.
TCHAIKOVSKY, Pyotr Ilyich (1840-1893). Autograph letter and music signed (‘P. Tchaikovsky'; in Cyrillic) to Eduard Francevic Nápravník, Moscow, 5 January 1885.
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TCHAIKOVSKY, Pyotr Ilyich (1840-1893). Autograph letter and music signed (‘P. Tchaikovsky'; in Cyrillic) to Eduard Francevic Nápravník, Moscow, 5 January 1885.

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TCHAIKOVSKY, Pyotr Ilyich (1840-1893). Autograph letter and music signed (‘P. Tchaikovsky'; in Cyrillic) to Eduard Francevic Nápravník, Moscow, 5 January 1885.

In Russian. 10 pages, two bifolia (170 x 134mm) and a singleton (120 x 125mm), monogrammed, each numbered ‘43’ in later pencil (small splits at bifolia hinges and central folds, tiny losses at page edges, final singleton reinforced at edges and central fold). Envelope (cut).

Tchaikovsky as incisive critic and anxious composer: an important letter to his close friend and collaborator Eduard Francevic Nápravník offering a detailed review of his opera, Nizhegorodtzy, and supplying revisions for his own Mazeppa in advance of its premiere. Incorporating three passages of autograph music, this is also the longest Tchaikovsky letter ever to be offered at auction (ABPC). Tchaikovsky has only now managed to hear Nizhegorodtzy, which ‘worked out well, because everyone is saying that yesterday's performance was particularly brilliant. I'll start with my personal experience: it would certainly be an exaggeration if I said that the music in Nizhegorodtzy had first-class artistic beauty’. He tempers this criticism; since the work was written, Nápravník has come along far with works such as [his second opera] Harold, but ‘[Nizhegorodtzy] is the product of a youthful, not-yet-established talent’. Yet he enjoyed himself very much yesterday evening, explaining in some detail the merits of Nápravník’s work and concluding: ‘In general, I must say that while on the one hand, the music in Nizhegorodtzy is the fruit of talent influenced by predecessors, on the other hand, as regards its staging, and the ability to act on the listener so that it does not strain the attention and so that interest grows, you were the master’. He continues in his praise, ‘To be perfectly honest, I have to say that in this respect I felt yesterday envious of you. I can imagine how Harold will be brilliant in this regard!’; Nápravník’s orchestration also inspired a mixture of pleasure and ‘a petty, fairly vile feeling of envy for your skill in the opera business’. All told, it was a colossal success, as attested by the thunderous applause and packed theatre: Tchaikosky himself ‘paid a horse-dealer an extra 3 rubles for his chair’. He then turns to his own work, moving ‘from pleasant things to less pleasant ones. [Bogomir] Korsov says he will sing in your Mazeppa and wants to sing an additional aria’, which Tchaikovsky would like, if an orchestral rehearsal is possible. More importantly, he must beg another change to the duet with Mazeppa and Maria, which will necessitate an insertion. ‘The fact is the plot demands that, before Maria begins declaring her love, Mazeppa should ask her who she loves more of the two: her father or him. Because I have changed my mind about this question before, taking it out and putting it back between Moscow and St Petersburg, I did not dare to ask you again to change anything in this scene’. Tchaikovsky then includes three passages of autograph music [eleven bars in total], making a change to page 163, altering Mazeppa’s words and reworking the music. ‘You see, my dear, that there is no major change, but all the same I am ashamed to bother you again with such a request. For God's sake, do not be angry, I'm sorry, and please do it if you can’. Tchaikovsky closes noting that he may see his friend in person soon, as ‘I am coming to talk to [Hans von] Bülow to see if he will play my new suite [Orchestral Suite No 3]’, and sending New Year’s greetings.

The Czech-born conductor and composer Eduard Francevic Nápravník (1839 – 1916) held a central position in the 19th-century Russian musical firmament as the longstanding principal conductor of St Petersburg’s Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, a role he occupied from 1869 until his death. Tchaikovsky respected Nápravník deeply as a musician and conductor, fully trusting him with the staging of his operas, and over time they developed a great personal friendship: here, Tchaikovsky – recently ennobled by the Tsar and at the height of his musical powers – offers an insight into his approach to opera, both in his critique of Napravnik’s work and in his last-minute tinkering to his Mazeppa before Nápravník’s production premiered at the Mariinsky on 7 February 1885.
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