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Biography of Modest

The biography of Modest has appeared in the 1900-02 in three volumes in Moscow.

At the same time (1901-04) in Leipzig in two volumes, reduced by Paul Juon. Rosa Newmarch (London, 1905) drew up an edition in one volume using both of the above.

This English edition has many recent remakes in the U.S. (2004 ...).

I therefore ask whether the three-volume edition of Modest exists only in Russian language and if the German by Paul Juon was the modern remakes.

This is the foreword by Rosa Newmarch:

In offering to English and American readers this abridged edition of The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, my introduction must of necessity take the form of some justification of my curtailments and excisions.

The motives which led to this undertaking, and the reasons for my mode of procedure, may be stated in a few words.

In 1900 I published a volume dealing with Tchaikovsky [1], which was, I believe, the first attempt to embody in book form all the literature scattered through the byways of Russian journalism concerning the composer of the Pathetic Symphony.

In the course of a year or two the book having sold out in England and America a proposal was made to me to prepare a new edition. Meanwhile, however, the  authorised Life and Letters, compiled and edited by the composer's brother, Modeste Ilich Tchaikovsky, was being issued in twenty-five parts by P. I. Jurgenson, of Moscow [2].

This original Russian edition was followed almost immediately by a German translation [3], published in Leipzig by the same firm.

In November, 1901, the late P. I. Jurgenson approached me on the subject of a translation, but his negotiations with an American firm eventually fell through. He then requested me to find, if possible, an English publisher willing to take up the book. Both in England and  America the public interest in Tchaikovsky seemed to be  steadily increasing. Frequent calls for copies of my small book by this time out of print testified that this was actually the case.

An alternative course now lay before me: to revise my own book, with the help of the material furnished by the authorised Life and Letters, or to take in hand an English translation of the latter. The first would have been the less arduous and exacting task ; on the other hand, there was no doubt in my mind as to the greater value and importance of Modeste Tchaikovsky's work.

The simplest and in many ways most satisfactory course seemed at first to be the translation of the Russian edition in its entirety. Closer examination, however, revealed the fact that out of the 3,000 letters included in this book a large proportion were addressed to persons quite unknown to the English and American publics ; while at the same time it contained a mass of minute and almost local particulars which could have very little significance for readers unversed in every detail of Russian musical life.

Another practical question confronted me. What publisher would venture upon launching this biographical three-decker, with its freight of 3,000 letters, amounting to nearly 2,000 pages of closely printed matter? Such colossal biographies, however valuable as sources of information to the specialist, are quite beyond all possibility of purchase or perusal by the general public. That the author himself realised this, seems evident from the fact that the German edition was lightened of about a third of the original contents.

Following the lines of these authorised abridgments, while using my own judgment as to the retention of some portions of the Russian text omitted in the German edition, I have condensed the work still further.

It may be true, as Carlyle has said, that mankind takes "an unspeakable delight in biography " ; but it is equally certain that these "headlong days" which have witnessed the extinction of the three-volume novel are absolutely unfavourable to the success of the three-volume biography.

While admiring the patient and pious industry which has raised so colossal a monument to Tchaikovsky's memory, I cannot but feel that it would be unreasonable to expect of any nation but his own a hero-worship so devout that it could assimilate a Tchaikovskiad of such prodigious dimensions.

The present volume is the result of a careful selection of material. The leading idea which I have kept in view throughout the fulfilment of my task has been to preserve as far as possible the autobiographical character of the book. Wherever feasible, I have preferred to let Tchaikovsky himself tell the story of his life. For this reason the proportion of letters to the additional biographical matter is even greater in my version than in the German edition. When two or three letters of only moderate interest have followed in immediate succession, I have frequently condensed their contents into a single paragraph, keeping as closely as possible to the phraseology of the composer himself"

  1. Tchaikovsky, his Life and Works: with extracts from his writings and the diary of his tour abroad in 1888. Grant Richards, London, 1900.
  2. Zijn Piotra Ilicha Tchaikovskavo. P. Jurgenson, Moscow. Three volumes.
  3. Das Leben Peter lljitsch Tschaikowskys , translated by Paul Juon. P. Jurgenson, Leipzig. Two volumes.

Thank you.

Antonio Garganese
19/10/2012 17:59

From one note on "Tschaikowsky-gesellschaft", I can report that there is a current German edition of the book by Modest:

Modest Tchaikovsky, Peter Iljitsch Das Leben Tschaikowskys, new edition edited by Alexander and Thomas Erhard Kohlhase, Mainz, 2011 ISBN 978-3-7957-0778-1.

Antonio Garganese
03/06/2013 15:37

This is a link to track down the book written by Modest, in the German edition that I mentioned, edited (I must correct my typing error) from Thomas Kohlhase and Alexander Erhard (November 2011): 

The current version English (September 2004) by Rosa Newmarch is this:

Antonio Garganese
03/06/2013 22:20

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013