First impressions: 1879-90
First Impressions
Alexandra Panayeva
Loyal performer of Tchaikovsky's works. She first met Tchaikovsky at the premiere of Eugene Onegin in 1879. The acquaintance took place at a time while Tchaikovsky was still suffering sever side-effects from his marriage, and his difficulties in mixing with people were at their most extreme.(Brown 67)
"I grappled with my opera glasses and saw a man who was not tall, with graying beard and rather disheveled hair, confused, red in the face, not elegant, not at all like the person I had imagined.
® ® 'So that's him,' I said under my breath, somewhat disenchanted.
® ® ' What, you've never seen him before?' Rubinstein said in surprise.
® ® 'No, never.'
® ® 'And you're not acquainted with him? But you're such an admirer and propagandist for him!' said Rubinstein teasingly.
I then told Anton Grigoryevich about my vain efforts to meet my favorite composer, and evident unwillingness to yield to my attempts.
® ® 'Wait; I'll see to it,' declared Anton Grigoryevich, smiling slyly, and leaving the box.
My father had left earlier and I remained alone. Suddenly the door of the box opened, and I saw Tchaikovsky and, behind him, Rubinstein laughing. On seeing me Tchaikovsky would have retreated, but Rubinstein pushed him from behind and he, stumbling over the threshold, fell into the box. Rubinstein burst out laughing and kept repeating:
® ® ' That's where you should be, at her feet, begging for forgiveness!'
Pyotr Ilich got up, redder than ever, and sat on the edge of a chair. IN the face of all my attempts to begin a conversation with him he remained obstinately silent, his suffering face glancing back at the exit until finally bidding farewell to Rubinstein, he flew headlong out of the box. It turned out that Rubinstein had lured him to the box by deceit, assuring him that no one was in it, and like a child he was [now] rejoicing in his joke. . .
I think a week had not passed since our trip to Moscow when Anatoly Ilich [Tchaikovsky] arrived with the great news that Pyotr Ilich wanted to drop in on us. If we agreed he asked to be allowed to come to dinner the following day with his two brothers (at that time we were still not acquainted with Modest Ilich) . . . There was a further request: that at dinner Tchaikovsky should be seated between his brothers so that s far as possible I should not converse with him, and should pay as little attention to him as possible. This was quite a difficult assignment - but 'I agree to everything, everything - as long as you'll bring him to us' was, of course, my response.
The whole company arrived, and strained conversation was kept up in the drawing room until dinner., Pyotr Ilich sat, totally confused and with eyes lowered, between his brothers ,who did not take their eyes off him. At dinner it was exactly the same. . . After dinner everyone went into the reception room and, having conversed in whisper about something with Pyotr Ilich, Anatoly Ilich asked me to sing. Pyotr Ilich sat at the piano, I went to the instrument, but the brothers asked me to stand a little further off, while they themselves sat like guards on either side of the composer.
® ® The latter quietly turned to his brother:
® ® 'Anatoly, ask her to sing some Mozart.'
® ® In his turn Anatoly Ilich turned to me:
® ® 'Pyotr Ilich is asking for some Mozart.'
I sang an aria from The Marriage of Figaro and Pamina's aria from The Magic Flute. Pyotr Ilich was silent for a moment, sighed, somehow helplessly dropped his hands onto his knees, and bares audibly said:
® ® 'How nice!'
® ® - then:
® ® 'Modest, ask her for something else.'
® ® Both twins turned to me with beaming faces:
® ® 'He liked it, and he asks you to sing something more.'
I then sang an aria from Ddon Giovanni and, at his request, an aria from Sonnambula, which he said he had loved in his early youth, and also several of his romances.
By degrees he became livelier, but he communicated his impression only to his brothers, and then they bore him away . . .
I was satisfied that last I had managed to see my beloved Pyotr Ilich, but I was also sad because I had decided that probably with this our acquaintance would also cease.
The next day it was reported to me that 'Mr. Tchaikovsky wishes to see the young lady'. Fully convinced this was Anatoly or Modest Ilich, I entered the drawing room with indifference. What then was my surprise when I saw before me Pyotr Ilich himself 'solo soletto'. He approached to take my hand in a free-and-easy manner, and we had a lively conversation. He began by thanking me for having spent such a pleasant evening the previous day. I saw before me a totally different person - cheerful, lively, a thorough man of fashion, even elegant. Having conquered his shyness, he proved to be charming, corresponding completely to that image I had created for myself in my youthful imagination.
On 6 April 1880 Panayeva sang in all-Tchaikovsky concert in St Petersburg. Rumors circulated that the composer, who had only that day returned to the capital, was present. In the audience was the wife of the future Alexander III, who , was when she was told, pointedly directed her gaze towards where Tchaikovsky was sitting, forcing him to reveal himself and acknowledge the ovations.
Finally he appeared on the platform in the same disheveled condition in which I had first seen him. He grabbed me by the arm and urgently exchanged bows with me, blushed to the roots of his hair, visibly suffering from all this noise. I turned him to face the audience, the [future] empress smiled graciously, pointing extending her applauding hands toward the composer. In the artists' room he almost wept that he had had to appear before the public in a shabby travelling suit, and inveighed against the indiscreet individual who had betrayed his presence.
After each item there was no end to summonses and ovations, and when, after the concert, he was surrounded in the hall by a crowd of friends and unknown admirers, he had already quite lost his head. Mariya Nikolayevna Vasilchikova (the sister of the concert promoter), who had not met the composer before, invited him to supper; he declined, addressing her in reply as 'ti', evidently taking her for someone else.
® ® 'I'll come to you another time. Today I have to go to someone called Vasilchikova. It's so unpleasant.'
Then, discovering his blunder, he was so embarrassed that, to our general distress, he did not come to supper. However, Mariya Nikolayevna did not lose hope of seeing him at her home, and asked me to arrange an occasion for her and bring Pyotr Ilich to an intimate dinner. When I made the appointment with him he asked me to be there earlier, before his arrival, and to sit alongside him at the meal:
® ® 'I don't know any of them and quite certainly will lose my head.'
I did as he asked, and arriving in good time. Dinner was scheduled for seven o'clock, but neither at seven nor at half-past had Tchaikovsky appeared. They waited until quarter to eight and distressed by his absence, decided to begin the meal, with slight grumbles at me as though I were responsible for everyone's disappointment. We had only just left the side table when Pyotr Ilich entered the room hurriedly, confused, red, sweating, with his tie awry, his shoes dusty . . .He muttered some excuses and then guiltily glanced at me.
® ® 'Why were you late?' I asked when we had all sat down in our places.
® ® 'I decided not to enter. I was first here at half-past six; when I asked whether you were here they told me you weren't yet. I went off to walk along the embankment. When I came back you were already here, and such terror descended upon me that I again went off for a walk. I walked along the embankment twice more and finally took myself in hand and came . . . Forgive me; don't be angry,' he concluded with such a sweet, guilty look and tone that not only was it impossible to be angry with him but, on the contrary, you wanted to hug and comfort him.
At dinner he said little - that is, he only replied to questions, and I was forced all the time to bolster him up under my breath. After dinner everyone went into the drawing room for coffee, and our hostess whispered to me that she had to go off for half an hour to feed her three-month-old baby, entrusting me in the meantime with occupying our precious guest. Such was not to be! Our hostess had only just disappeared through the door when Pyotr Ilich began begging me to agree that he might use her absence to go home, saying that he could not bare to remain any longer with people he didn't know. However hard I tried to persuade him to suffer a little longer, there was nothing for it, and seeing his genuine distress, I had willy-nilly to let him go. You can imagine our hosts' distress. However, the next day Pyotr Ilich came to us bright and cheerful, with a request to arrange for him and evening at the Vasilchikovs' - and at those nice people's whom I greatly liked'. Of course they received him with open arms, and after Pyotr Ilich's short visit, we all contrived to pass two very pleasant evenings with him [at the Vasilchikovs']"
(Brown 67-71)

Alexander Glazunov
Glazunov and Tchaikovsky met at Balakirev's soirees in 1868. It must be noted that Tchaikovsky was not considered to be apart of Balakirev's party (and was often attacked) and his appearance was very uneasy. For more information about Glazunov, please refer to here.
"Tchaikovsky's appearance immediately put an end to the somewhat strained mood of those present, especially the younger ones. With his combination of simplicity and dignity, and the refined, purely European restraints in his manner of address, Tchaikovsky produced on the majority of those present the most favorable impression. We somehow breathed freely. In his conversation Pyotr Ilich brought a breath of freshness into our somewhat dusty atmosphere, and talked without constraint about subjects on which we kept quiet, partly out of a feeling of admiration (combined with a certain fear) for the authority of Balakirev and other members of the circle. Balakirev, for all the hospitality that was characteristic of him, liked as they say, to provoke those who were present, sometimes rather caustically and mockingly. On this memorable evening Balakirev, turning to Tchaikovsky, permitted himself to describe rather harshly one of the Moscow musician and wife who had friendly relations with Tchaikovsky. The latter straightway extricated himself from an awkward situation, and in a joking, even somewhat unceremonious way, repulsed Balakirev, asking him whether he knew these friends. When Balakirev replied evasively that everyone was talking about them, Tchaikovsky added that you should not believe rumors. Balakirev was confused, his eyes shifted nervously, he recognized his tactlessness, and did not repeat his attacks. The evening passed in a very lively way . . . Tchaikovsky left before the others, and with his departure we again felt ourselves in our former, somewhat humdrum situation. Many of the younger musicians, among them Anatol Lyadov and I, left Balakirev's enchanted by Tchaikovsky's personality, and went off to sit in an inn to share our new impressions"
(Brown 71-72).

Edvard Grieg
Grieg and Tchaikovsky first met in Leipzig, 1888. This was taken from Grieg's letter to Frants Beyer.
"In the evening I am going through an English work, Tchaikovsky's Life and Letters. It reaches into my innermost soul; it is often as if I were looking into my own, there is so much of myself that I recognize. He is melancholic almost to the point of madness. He is a beautiful and good person, but an unhappy person. I did not think the latter when I met him in his time, but so it is: either one has others or oneself to fight."
(Brown 77)

Back: Impressions
Credit: taken from David Brown's Tchaikovsky Remembered

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