With piano accompaniment, Op. 47 (1880).
No. 1. If Only I Had Known (Кабы знала я)
No. 2. Softly the Spirit Flew up to Heaven (Горними тихо летела душа небесами)
No. 3. Dusk Fell on the Earth (На землю сумрак пал)
No. 4. Sleep, Poor Friend (Усни, печальный друг)
No. 5. I Bless You, Forests (Благословляю вас, леса)
No. 6. Does the Day Reign? (День ли царит)
(a) 1st version:
(b) 2nd version:
No. 7. Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Meadow? (Я ли в поле да не травушка была?)
(a) 1st version:
(b) 2nd version:
On 2/14 June 1880, Tchaikovsky wrote to Aleksandr Zhedrinsky: "I would like to remind you of your promise to send me some of Lel [Apukhtin]’s poems so I might set them to music... At the moment I feel disposed to write romances, would like to have Lel’s verses" . The poems were sent to the composer in the middle of June . On 28 June/10 July, Tchaikovsky wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I’ve lost my notebook with Apukhtin's poems and my sketches, and for the last few days we’ve been searching here in vain" , but on 10/22 July the composer informed Nadezhda von Meck: "I’ve begun to write something new" .
On 19/31 July, Tchaikovsky composed the romance Softly the Spirit Flew up to Heaven (No. 2), after becoming acquainted with Jules Massenet’s Marie Magdeleine, "by far the most extraordinary thing is the duet between Christ and Magdalene, which in my opinion is a chef d'oeuvre. I was so moved by this deeply heart-felt music—in which Massenet succeeded in capturing the infinite goodness of Jesus—that I shed whole streams of tears... All day today I had this duet in mind while writing a romance to [Aleksey] Tolstoy’s words: Softly the Spirit Flew up to Heaven, in which the melody owes something to Massenet" .
Tchaikovsky wrote to Sergey Taneyev: "Throughout this summer... I’ve worked very little, that is just some small vocal pieces in the form of romances and duets" . On 26 July/7 August the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I have written some romances; one of them  gives me immeasurable delight, but to spare my tears I mustn’t play it" .
It appears that composition of the romances was completed in late July/early August 1880 since in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 31 July/12 August to 2/14 August he said he had begun the fair copies, together with the Six Duets (Op. 46) . In all probability the fair copies of the romances and duets were ready by 24 August/5 September . Tchaikovsky informed Nadezhda von Meck that he had finished the fair copies in a letter of 26 August/7 September to 31 August/12 September . On 30 August/11 September, Anatoly Tchaikovsky took the new compositions to give to Pyotr Jurgenson: "Anatoly is bringing you two new opuses: 1) 6 duets for singers. 2) 7 romances and songs" .
Among the romances, Tchaikovsky considered I Bless You, Forests, Dusk Fell on the Earth and "to words by Surikov (from Shevchenko, I think): Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Field?" . In the latter romance, the second verse of the poem is omitted from the refrain.
The romances Softly the Spirit Flew up to Heaven (No. 2) and I Bless You, Forests (No. 5) were performed, apparently for the first time, in Saint Petersburg – No. 2 by Feodosiya Velinskaya on 31 October/12 November 1881 in the fifth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, and No. 5 by Mikhail Koriakin on 14/26 November 1881 at the seventh symphony concert of the Musical Society.
All the romances are dedicated to Aleksandra Panayeva-Kartsova.
Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya asked Tchaikovsky to orchestrate the romance Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Field? (No. 7) in March 1883, through Sofiya Malozemova. However, Tchaikovsky was occupied at that time with the composition of the cantata Moscow and the Coronation March, and was unable to fulfil her request. In a letter of 21 March/2 April 1883 to Sofiya Malozemova, Tchaikovsky wrote: "How could I refuse? I am honoured and proud to oblige her and satisfy you, and as you rightly say that work will not take me very long—but combined with my fatigue through the strain of simultaneously composing the march and the cantata—I swear that I have no energy to take up a third task, even though it is straightforward work. I certainly will do it—but I beg you and Lizaveta Andreyevna not to be angry with me if I cannot orchestrate the romance just yet" .
On 20 February/9 March 1884, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson from Paris: "Send the romance Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Field? to me at Kamenka right away. Last year I promised Lavrovskaya that I would orchestrate it and I still haven’t done so. I need to do this as soon as I arrive" .
This date on the manuscript of the orchestration is 15/27 December 1884. However, this was certainly a mistake, since the work was passed by the censor on 15/27 September that year.
The orchestrated romance was performed by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya on 27 December 1887/8 January 1888 in Saint Petersburg. at the fourth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Leopold Auer.
In February 1891, Pyotr Jurgenson asked Tchaikovsky whether any of his romances had been arranged with orchestral accompaniment, and whether he wanted any of them to be so arranged . In his letter of reply of 19 February/3 March 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote that the full score of Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Field? was "with Lavrovskaya, but at my request she sent it to a singer in Paris, and it seems to have been lost — but it can be reconstructed from the parts". In the same letter, Tchaikovsky expressed his general view that: "The romances are written to be accompanied by the piano, and do not require an orchestra" .
In 1888 the romance Does the Day Reign? (No. 6) was orchestrated by Tchaikovsky in Paris for the singer Marie Benardaky. On 12/24 February, Tchaikovsky recorded in his diary: "Visited Benardaky. Busy orchestrating a romance" .
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 446–449
This page was last updated on 14 February 2013