To study a genius
Interview from Moscow a Galina Stepanovna - senior researcher Tchaikovsky House Museum
What is the most interesting to explore? For physicists - natural laws and phenomena, for mathematicians - logic of numbers, for linguists – world of native and foreign languages. But there are scientists who devoted their lives to studying one of the main wonders of our world - a brilliant personality. Galina Stepanovna Sizko, senior researcher at the Tchaikovsky House Museum in Klin, Honored Cultural Worker of the Moscow Region, tells us about the difficulties and discoveries along this path.
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is a symbol of Russian classical music, a national treasure that unites peoples, countries and continents. And who is the great composer for you personally after working more than 40 years in his memorial estate?
- Pyotr Ilyich once compared music to a treasury, "into which every nationality contributes something of its own for common benefit”. He was the Russian man that Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky spoke about: "a brother to everyone, an all-man who will understand everyone”. Tchaikovsky perfectly mastered universal language of music understandable for every performer and listener. This is, without exaggeration, a heart-to-heart conversation when a recognized genius addresses you personally not from the height of his pedestal, but as an old close friend. I think that is exactly where his unifying power lies. A great musician of the XX century Boris Vladimirovich Asafyev noted very correctly that "in Tchaikovsky's music we hear the voice of a close person whose sympathy and care we always have the right to count on". The all-kindness of the all-man embraces our planet with music, but the inhabitants of the planet, alas, are not always kind.
As for my attitude to Pyotr Ilyich, so one day in Votkinsk the audience asked how much I had managed to love him. The only thing that came to my mind was a counterquestion: is it possible to declare your love to the air you breathe? You do not seem to notice it, but if the air disappears, then you will also be gone.
- How did your journey to studying Tchaikovsky's life and work begin? Perhaps from a melody you heard, a book you read, or a non-accidental meeting with a professional musicologist?
- I was lucky to be born in a family of professional musicians. My mother graduated from the same St. Petersburg Conservatory as Pyotr Ilyich (Leningrad Conservatory in Soviet times) and my father did his postgraduate studies there. The names of Pushkin, Mozart, Bach and Tchaikovsky sounded in our house as often as the words "mom", "dad", "grandma" and "good weather". Father was a brilliant performer of Bach's flute sonatas. Since I was a very little child I remember a sonata composed by Prokofiev who died a month before I was born. That is how the air sounded in our house. And my grandmother who lived during the Great Patriotic War in Belarus under occupation and always listened to the "Latest News" (a broadcast name) always had a radio which was a wonderful musical educator in those days. In the fourth year of my life me and my sister Olya were taken to visit our neighbor Anna Terentyevna Pasternak who had the only TV set in the whole house with a large lens and a small screen behind it, to see how "ladies dance swans". I understood nothing because I stubbornly looked behind the lens and was looking for the ladies. I used to live in Novosibirsk as well: my father was sent to work there as the first flutist of the new Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958. My mother gave lectures on the history of music at the conservatory where we lived in the semi-basement near the wardrobe. One day, on a walk with my grandmother, my younger sister Olya and I found ourselves at the cinema. Near the poster grandma said happily: "Look, Eugene Onegin!". Her joy was incomprehensible for us. Unfamiliar men and women, also not very good depicted. But then our parents dressed us up and said: "We are going to the theater!". The theater turned out to be very unreal, unlike the magic with soft armchairs and elegant dresses called "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp" which I watched with my chin hanging on the velvet parapet of the orchestra pit. They put us in uncomfortable chairs on our own fur coats, but when the lights went out and a fragile, sadly beautiful melody sounded, it took my breath away. I exhaled only when the tall white door slammed shut and the unkind handsome man, having sung about his "miserable fate", fell silent propping the door with his back. A crash of tragic chords sounded, and little sister Olya asked: "Why did he offend Tanya?". That is how we got acquainted with the opera "Eugene Onegin". Another magic happened when our mom took us to a conservatory class where there was an academic vocal concert. Among the lyrical romances "I opened the window", "It was in early spring", "We were sitting together" and many other extremely sweet melodies it suddenly sounded: "I bless you, forests." It was the best of all and got into my soul so much that when my grandmother took my sister and me to Minsk in the spring to rest with her eldest daughter in a town with a country house and a garden, I sang to the whole carriage of a Novosibirsk train with a concert voice: "I bless you, forests" alternately with " Lilies of valley, greetings from bright May" – a song popular at that time. I read Pushkin's Onegin in the first grade, sitting under the table so that the book would not be taken away by my parents. At the same time, when asked by adults what I was playing, I answered: "The Queen of Spades." It was a heavy clavier which was piled up on the piano together with the "Piano school" edited by Nikolaev. "Barcarolle" (June from “The Seasons") also sounded like magic at a school concert. And at home we had musical scores of all Tchaikovsky's symphonies including a volume of quartets. In the third or fourth grade I put a pocket score of Tchaikovsky quartets on the piano stand, opened where it was easier for me and started playing two lines with my right hand and one with my left. It was the song "Vanya was sitting on the couch." "Look what the naughty girl is doing – she's reading the score!", -rang out my dad’s cheerful voice. These were my first experiences of acquaintance with Tchaikovsky’s great works.
- Mathematicians use numbers, chemists and physicists -formulas. And what does it mean to study a genius? How many tools does the science have today?
- As for tools like Internet technologies, so I feel like one of the old detectives from Soviet television series "Seventeen Moments of Spring" who relied only on themselves and their observations. The main instruments for me have always been the piano and my own hands: after all, our musical "genius confessed in his own works1." There were also an electric record player and vinyl records, concerts at the Minsk Philharmonic which were a continuation of the music class, my parents’ book and music library. Classmates used to tell us: "You have the Lenin Library here!". All this was in Minsk, but the main thing is unique teachers. An act-by-act analysis of all symphonies in musical literature, a solfeggio assignment to sing an opera aria to your own accompaniment...I chose, of course, Lisa's aria from “The Queen of Spades”. In musical literature we analyzed the operas "Eugene Onegin" and "The Queen of Spades" in detail. And my scientific work in the museum-reserve is a real feast of spirit. Reading Tchaikovsky's literary and epistolary heritage is a kind of conversation with a great musician. And yet, I received the richest tools during my graduation practice from my supervisor Lydia Saulovna Mukharinskaya - the great teacher of "all musical Belarus", as we used to say about her, the teacher of my parents and teachers. A musical ethnographer and folklorist, she knew everything in the world: music, history, aesthetics, philosophy, psychology, European and ancient languages, iconography. Through all these prisms, a single piece was scrupulously studied: the piano quintet op. 30 in G minor by Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev. Our lessons began at six in the evening every Thursday and lasted not 45 minutes, but until midnight when my mother started calling to find out where I was. A picture of the universe was formed in these classes on the example of the work of a non-banal and absolutely brilliant personality – Tchaikovsky’s favorite student. But the immensity was never grasped: I always discovered new phenomena and worlds. Intellectual generosity of the Teacher turned out to be inexhaustible while criticality, independence and own judgments were welcomed. At the very beginning she told me, who had done nothing, the following words: "If being immersed yourself in the subject you realize that you know some things better than me, don't let it bother you." That was a lesson of generosity and trust. Unforgettable, unique time...
- After reading your book «Tchaikovsky's Spiritual Journey» it is impossible not to ask the question: how did the idea of the unique study come to your mind and who is your "ideal reader"?
- The idea came gradually. 1976, practice in the House Museum under the guidance of Irina Georgievna Migay. One day she said, putting her finger to her lips: "Let's go listen to liturgy." Tchaikovsky's diaries with extensive statements about God, icons in the House Museum in those very atheistic times were not a figure of silence. In 1988 the whole country celebrated the 1000th Anniversary of the Christianization of Rus'. December evenings at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, performance of Tchaikovsky's "Liturgy" in Moscow and Klin.
And in 1989 my father passed away. I had a little son on my arms – he was not even a year old. This kept me in life most firmly, and Tchaikovsky's "Liturgy" on a vinyl record sounded in my apartment from morning till night. The performance of Chernushenko's choir was impeccable. Finally, in the 1990s this topic was an opposition to loss of respect for the national genius whose private life became a subject for gossips between people who forgot about self-respect. I was baptized at the age of 40, and new believers are sometimes devout. In addition, questions and requests for lectures and consultations were increasingly appearing. And there was also my work on a book about the museum with an interesting, highly knowledgeable editor Svetlana Samuilovna Kotomina who saw a reference to Tchaikovsky’s "Liturgy" and "All-Night Vigil" in the subordinate sentence and said: "This is a very serious topic, and one paragraph is not enough for it. There should be a separate work."
My ideal reader is a gallery of specific faces. At first, there were listeners at conferences - in a museum, in a church meeting - continued answers to questions, disagreements, debates. The main reader, as always, was Irina Georgievna Migay. Lev Efimovich Davydov kept all my works in his computer as well and keeps them till this day. His mother Ksenia Yuryevna Davydova and his aunt Irina Yuryevna Sokolinskaya were granddaughters of younger sister of Pyotr Ilyich - Alexandra Ilyinichna Davydova. Communication with them gradually changed the idea of genius as a series of volumes, sheet music and books on shelves, concerts and performances. In the atmosphere of his House- Museum and his everyday life that has not gone anywhere it led to creation of reality, although incomprehensible and impossible to try on. Unfortunately, Ksenia Yuryevna and Irina Yuryevna passed away before this work appeared. Tatiana Alekseevna Sebentsova, a great-granddaughter of Tchaikovsky's sister Alexandra Ilyinichna Davydova, a Decembrist’s son Lev Vasilyevich Davydov and Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck at the same time, turned out to be an ideal reader. She listened to my reading attentively and kindly, spent half a day communicating with the author and wrote a letter of recommendation immediately. "With fear and trembling” I addressed myself to a famous musicologist, professor of the Moscow State Conservatory Vyacheslav Vyacheslavovich Medushevsky on the recommendation of my school friend, his graduate student Nina Samuilovna Stepanskaya. Interesting discussion, good advice and unexpected words: "Thank you for writing about Tchaikovsky so well." The opinion from the sky–high heights is precious for me. My sister Olga Sizko, who passed away quite recently, was also an ideal reader. Olga Stepanovna Sizko-Gabrielyan wrote much better than me and perceived my opuses both critically and joyfully. My school friends -musicologists are both demanding and attentive. Fortunately, the book was read by my favorite teacher Nina Nikolaevna Plavinskaya, who taught us Russian language and literature at school. She did it in such a way that speech was perceived as God’s gift and a great art. After her lessons there was no doubt about the indisputable gospel truth: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." My meeting with Denis Andreevich von Meck brought me lots and lots of readers. My friends from the D. Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia who just came for an excursion to the museum once are ideal as well. Every spring they have Mendeleev readings on a variety of topics with excursions, walks, concerts and bus trips around Europe. Their presence at the presentation of the book gave me joy of warm friendly support. It is scary when my readers are representatives of the Taneyev family and famous musicians. The opinion of the clergy is precious - both those whom I know for a quarter of a century or more and those whom I see only from afar or on a television screen. And most precious of all are indifference, advice and wishes that make the work better. There is no limit to learning: live for a century - learn for a century and work for a century while learning ...
- And what, in your opinion, can the history of the spiritual quest of a 19th century genius teach modern people without outstanding talents?
- The highest ethics, intellectual and spiritual diligence which form the purest, highest spirituality in everyday life and communication with equally great and brilliant creators of his time. The greatest work of the soul (and music is the soul), consisting of completing daily "lessons". And also magnificent modesty of a genius who wrote in his diary after one of his concerts in Prague: "How much delight there was, and all this was not for me, but for my dear Russia!", "Russian music was honored in my person."
- Which personal discoveries did you make while working on the book? Perhaps they are related to largely unknown or vice versa, well-known works of P. I. Tchaikovsky?
- The discovery was that Tchaikovsky turned out to be a great thinker. This can be found in his diaries, correspondence with a philanthropist Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck and K.R. (a poetic pseudonym of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov). A brilliant writer - intelligent, rational, seeing the essence of the whole and at the same time impulsive, full of lively changing impressions turning into creative achievements. A master of verbal portraits and landscapes that would do honor to any great Russian writer. It was also a discovery that while being indifferent to Johann Sebastian Bach, Pyotr Ilyich carefully studied his " St Matthew Passion " to compose his own "Passion". And finally, it is surprising how masterfully he brings music of the surrounding life into his compositions – not only "A birch tree stood in the field", but also everyday church hymns into secular works, spiritual motifs into everyday musical language. Here we hear a chorus of peasants from the opera "Eugene Onegin": "My quick legs are hurting from walking". But this is the melody of the prayer "Eternal Memory": the main character’s rich uncle of the "most honest rules" has just been given last rites. This motif sounds quite different in the trio "In Memory of the Great Artist" - a kind of monument to the friendship of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Grigoryevich Rubinstein. The trio begins with this prayer chant and flows out of it.
- Please tell us a little about your plans for the current year. Which aspects of Tchaikovsky's biography and work are most interesting to you as a researcher now? Perhaps you will continue to "walk" along the path of the composer's spiritual quest?
- It is possible to explore this path for a very long time, and I hope to continue the work that we have done with Lev Efimovich Davydov and Denis Andreevich von Meck. I would like to tell a wide audience about Tchaikovsky's correspondence with Taneyev on the topic of "Vespers", and about his angry letter to the rector of the Kiev Theological Academy about church singing which resembled a concert in the temple and much more. In general, talking about plans is a fruitless task, but there is no limit to interesting topics. Recently I gave Denis Andreevich a synopsis of everything that Tchaikovsky wrote about Mozart. It turned out to be a book that could be called only “A declaration of love” and hopefully one day I will definitely write it. A theme of "Tales of the Frolov Forest" appeared suddenly thanks to the talented work of a choreographer -restorer, teacher and ballet historian Natalia Nikolaevna Voskresenskaya. A unique stained-glass window was created for the centenary of the cycle "Seasons" and became a part of the exposition of our museum-reserve. In my opinion, it can help to explore the theme of the seasons in the works of composers of various eras - from the XVIII century (Antonio Vivaldi) to the present day (Valery Ivanovich Karetnikov). And finally, I would like to investigate a connection of Tchaikovsky's musical language with his childhood impressions including memories about his beloved mother Alexandra Andreevna who passed away early.
- Perhaps a genius can be compared to a great book that no one can read to the end. And yet let me ask: what advice would you give to those who want to know and hear Pyotr Ilyich not only as the creator of the most performed music in the world, but also a person close to each of us in his own way?
- To get acquainted with the great composer, brilliant writer, poet and incredibly interesting person one should read Tchaikovsky's literary and epistolary heritage. It would be good to find an academic publication with all the pointers and comments where a lot of interesting details and information are scattered. And it is also best to read Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to the accompaniment of his own music. He studied a four-volume Mozart’s biography keeping nearby 72 volumes of the brilliant Austrian composer’s complete works given by Pyotr Ivanovich Jurgenson for Christmas. No one has ever written about Tchaikovsky better than himself.
- What could be more interesting than the opportunity to "talk" with the great creator in person, even on the pages of his diaries and letters? Russia and the world are very lucky that the composer's literary heritage has been preserved in such a large volume.
- We are all lucky as well that Pyotr Ilyich's relatives decided to keep the house in Klin in memory of one of the greatest geniuses of the planet. Until now, people close to the composer often come here, engage scientists, researchers and just partial people because they see in the House Museum not only their personal history, but also a part of the world heritage. They care whether next generations will know and love the culture of their homeland.
- Galina Stepanovna, thank you for such a warm and informative conversation. Please accept my warmest congratulations with a recent recognition as Honored Cultural Worker of the Moscow Region. I wish you energy and creative inspiration to the delight of your readers and tourists.
The respondent was interviewed by Irina Chepaykina.
1 A quotation from a letter sent by Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin to his friend Pyotr Andreevich Vyazemsky who lost Byron’s memoirs.