Yevgeny Onegin

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Yevgeny Onegin (Евгений Онегин), also known as Eugene Onegin [1], Op. 24 (TH 5 ; ČW 5), was Tchaikovsky's fifth completed opera, which he described as 'lyrical scenes in 3 acts and 7 tableaux'. It was written and orchestrated between May 1877 and January 1878, with revisions in March 1879, October 1880, August 1885, and June-July 1891.

Contents

Instrumentation

The opera is scored for solo voices, mixed chorus, and an orchestra comprising piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in F), 3 trombones + 4 timpani + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

There are ten singing roles:

  • Larina (Ларина) — mezzo-soprano
  • Tatyana (Татьяна) — soprano
  • Olga (Ольга) — contralto
  • Filippyevna (Филиппьевна) — mezzo-soprano
  • Yevgeny Onegin (Евгений Онегин) — baritone
  • Lensky (Ленский) — tenor
  • Prince Gremin (Князь Гремин) — 1st bass
  • Captain (Ротный) — 2nd bass
  • Zaretsky (Зарецкий) — 2nd bass
  • Triquet (Трике) — 2nd tenor.

Movements and Duration

Tchaikovsky's original score contains an introduction and 22 individual numbers. The three acts are further divided into seven scenes. The titles of numbers in Russian (Cyrillic) are taken from the published score, with English translations added in bold type. Vocal incipits are given in the right-hand column, with transliterations below in italics. The numbering, titles and tempo are taken from the second edition of the full score (published in 1891).

Introduction (Интродукция)
Andante con moto
Act I Scene 1 No. 1 Duet (Дует)
Andante con moto
Слыхали ль вы
Slykhali l, vy
Quartet (Квартет)
Andante con moto
Они поют, и я певала
Oni poyut, i ya pevala
No. 2 Chorus (Хор)
Adagio
Болят мои скоры ноженьки со походушки
Bolyat moi skory nozhenki so pokhodushki
Peasants' Dance (Пляска крестьян)
Moderato assai
Уж как по мосту, мосточку
Uzh kak po mostu, mostochku
No. 3 Scene (Сцена)
Andante
Как я люблю под звуки песен этих
Kak ya lyublyu pod zvuki pesen etikh
Olga's Arioso (Ариозо Ольги)
Andante mosso
Я не способна к грусти томной
Ya ne sposobna k grusti tomnoy
No. 4 Scene (Сцена)
Andante
Ну ты, моя вострушка
Nu ty, moya vostrushka
No. 5 Scene (Сцена)
Moderato
Mesdames! Я на себя взял смелость
Mesdames! Ya na sebya vzyal smelost
Quartet (Квартет)
Andante
Скажи, которая Татьяна?
Skazhi, kotoraya Tatyana?
No. 6 Scene (Сцена)
Moderato
Как счастлив, как счастлив я
Kak schastliv, kak schastliv ya
Lensky's Arioso (Ариозо Ленского)
L'istesso tempo
Я люблю вас, я люблю вас, Ольга
Ya lyublyu vas, ya lyublyu vas, Olga
No. 7 Closing Scene (Заключительная сцена)
Moderato
А вот и вы!
A vot i vy!
Scene 2 No. 8 Introduction and Scene with Nurse (Интродукция и сцена с няней)
Andante mosso
Ну, заболталась я
Nu, zaboltalas ya
No. 9 Letter Scene (Сцена письма)
Andante con moto
Пускай погибну я, но прежде
Puskay pogibnu ya, no prezhde
No. 10 Scene (Сцена)
Moderato assai
Ах! Ночь минула
Akh! Noch minula
Duet (Дует)
Allegro moderato
Ах, няня, сделай одолженье
Akj, nyanya, sdelay odolzhene
No. 11 Chorus of Maidens (Хор девушек)
Allegro moderato
Девицы, красавицы
Devitsy, krasavitsy
No. 12 Scene (Сцена)
Moderato mosso
Здесь он, здесь Евгений!
Zdes on, zdes Yevgeny!
Onegin's Aria (Ария Онегина)
Andante non tanto
Вы мне писали, не отпирайтесь
Vy mne pisali, ne otpiraytes
Act II Scene 1 No. 13 Entr'acte (Антракт)
Andante non tanto
Waltz with Scene and Chorus (Вальс с сценой и хором)
Tempo di Valse
Вот так сюрприз
Vot tak syurpriz
No. 14 Scene (Сцена)
Andantino
Ужель я заслюжил от вас насмешку эту?
Uzhel ya zaslyuzhil ot vas nasmeshku etu?
Triquet's Couplets (Куплеты Трике)
Andantino
À cette fête conviés
No. 15 Mazurka (Мазурка)
Tempo di Mazurka
Messieurs! Mesdames!
Scene (Сцена)
Molto meno mosso
Ты не танцуешь, Ленский?
Ty ne tantsuesh, Lensky?
No. 16 Finale (Финал)
Andante
В вашем доме!
V vashem dome!
Scene 2 No. 17 Introduction and Scene (Интродукция и сцена)
Andante
Ну, что же
Nu, chto zhe
Lensky's Aria (Ариа Ленского)
Andante quasi Adagio
Куда, куда, куда вы удалились
Kuda, kuda, kuda vy udalilis
No. 18 Duel Scene (Сцена поединка)
Allegro moderato
А, вот они!
A, vot oni!
Act III Scene 1 No. 19 Polonaise (Польский)
Moderato. Tempo di Polacca
No. 20 Scene (Сцена)
L'istesso tempo
И здесь мне скучно!
I zdes mne skuchno!
Ecossaise (Экосез)
Allegro vivo
No. 20a Prince Gremin's Aria (Ария Князя Гремина)
Andante sostenuto
Любви все возрасты покорны
Lyubvi vse vozrasty pokorny
No. 21 Scene (Сцена)
Moderato
Итак, пойдем, тебя представлю я!
Itak, poydem, tebya predstavlyu ya!
Onegin's Arioso (Ариозо Онегина)
Allegro moderato
Ужель та самая Татьяна
Uzhel ta samaya Tatyana
Ecossaise (Экосез)
Allegro vivo
Scene 2 No. 22 Closing Scene (Заключительная сцена)
Moderato
О! Как мне тяжело
O! Kak mne tyazhelo

A complete performance of the opera lasts around 140 minutes.

Libretto

The libretto was devised by Tchaikovsky, with some assistance from Konstantin Shilovsky, after the novel in verse Yevgeny Onegin (1837) by Aleksandr Pushkin (1799–1837). Although Shilovsky's name appears on the published score as co-librettist, his involvement seems to have been confined to helping draft the basic scenario.

During 1876 and the first few months of 1877 Tchaikovsky had been looking for a subject for a new opera: "On this road my next planned stop is an opera, and [...] I will go my way without letting myself be put off" [2]. In the spring of 1877, a subject was finally found. On 18/30 May the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky:

Last week I happened to be visiting Lavrovskaya. The conversation turned on subjects for an opera. Her stupid husband kept talking nonsense and suggesting the most impossible subjects. Liz[aveta] Andr[eyevna remained silent and smiled good-humouredly all along until she suddenly said: How about using "Yevgeny Onegin"? This idea struck me as quite preposterous, and I did not say anything in reply. Later, when I was on my own having dinner at an inn, I remembered Onegin and fell to thinking — Lavrovskaya's idea started to seem feasible to me, very soon I was quite carried away by it, and by the end of my dinner I had made my mind up. I rushed off at once to get hold of a copy of Pushkin. Having found one with some difficulty, I headed for home, re-read it enthusiastically, and I spent an utterly sleepless night, the result of which was a scenario for a delightful opera with words by Pushkin. The following day, I went off to visit Shilovsky, and he is now working full steam ahead on trimming up my scenario [3]. Here's a summary of this scenario:
Act I. Scene 1. The curtain rises to show old Mme Larina and the nurse recollecting the past and making jam. Duet of the old women. Singing can be heard coming from the house. It is Tatyana and Olga, who, accompanied by a harp, are singing a duet to words by Zhukovsky [4]. Peasants appear with the last sheaf of corn, singing and dancing. Suddenly the boy-servant announces: "Guests!". Great commotion. Yevgeny and Lensky walk in. The ceremony of introduction and bringing in of refreshments (lingo berry water). Yevgeny tells Lensky his impressions, the women likewise to one another: quintet à la Mozart. The old women leave to prepare the supper. The young people stay behind to go for a stroll in pairs. They take turns (as in Faust [5]). Tatyana is shy at first, but then she falls in love.
Scene 2. Scene with the nurse and Tatyana's letter. Scene 3. The scene of Onegin's frank discussion with Tanya. Act II. Sc[ene] 1. Tatyana's name-day party. A ball. The scene of Lensky's jealousy. He insults Onegin and challenges him to a duel. General consternation.
Sc[ene] 2. Lensky's aria before death and the duel with pistols.
Act III. Sc[ene] 1. Moscow. A ball at the Assembly [of the Nobility]. Tanya has to meet a whole bevy of aunts and cousins. They sing a chorus. The general appears. He falls in love with Tatyana. She tells him her story and agrees to marry him.
Sc[ene] 2. In Petersburg. Tatyana is waiting for Onegin. He appears. A tremendous duet. After his declaration Tatyana begins to succumb to her love for Yevgeny and struggles. He implores her. Her husband turns up. Duty prevails. Onegin runs away in despair" [6].

In the composer's personal library at the Klin House-Museum there is a volume of Pushkin's works containing the novel in verse Yevgeny Onegin. On the margins of the book's pages one can still see the notes which the composer made while drawing up the libretto, including an adaptation of the text of Tatyana's scene with the nurse and Lensky's aria from Scene 5. The descriptions of the principal characters are marked off in pencil.

In a series of letters written by Tchaikovsky we find striking descriptions of the protagonists of his opera. By comparing these statements with the notes in the book it is possible to carry out an interesting analysis of the composer's work on the libretto [7].

Tchaikovsky also talks about his enthusiasm for the subject of Pushkin's Yevgeny Onegin in letters to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 18/30 May and to Lev Davydov on 19/31 May 1877 [8].

What Tchaikovsky found attractive in this subject was the opportunity to "convey through music everyday, simple, universally human emotions, far removed from anything tragic or theatrical" [9]. "You cannot imagine how crazy I am about this subject," he wrote to his brother Modest; "How glad I am to be free of Egyptian princesses, pharaohs, poisonings, and stilted effects of all kinds. What a mine of poetry there is in Onegin" [10]. "I am ever so keen to set about working on my opera," the composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck; "I have instructed Shilovsky to draw up a libretto for me which is taken from Pushkin's poema [11] Yevgeny Onegin! A bold idea, isn't it?! Those few people to whom I have spoken about my intention to write an opera with this subject were at first surprised at my proposition, but then they would go into raptures over it. This opera will, of course, be without any strong dramatic action, but on the other hand it will have an interesting everyday life aspect to it, and, moreover, just think how much poetry there is in all this! The scene alone between Tatyana and her nurse is priceless!... Pushkin's text will act on me in a most inspiring fashion" [12].

Synopsis

The action takes place in western Russia and in Saint Petersburg during the 1820s.

Act I. In the garden of the Larin country estate (Scene 1), Mrs Larina reminisces about her youth with the nurse Filippyevna, while her daughters Tatyana and Olga sing duets. The peasants have gathered in the harvest, and dance to amuse their mistress. Olga’s suitor, Lensky, brings his friend Onegin. Later (Scene 2), Tatyana asks her nurse about her marriage. She writes a passionate letter to Onegin, declaring her love for him, which the nurse agrees to deliver. The following morning Onegin meets Tatyana in another part of the Larins’ garden. He coolly rejects her letter, telling her he was not meant to marry.
Act II. Tatyana’s name-day ball is in progress in the main reception room of the Larin house (Scene 1). At Lensky’s insistence, Onegin attends, but when he hears people gossiping about him, he takes revenge on Lensky by flirting with Olga. Lensky angrily confronts Onegin, and challenges him to a duel. Reluctantly, Onegin agrees. Next morning at a rustic water mill on the banks of the wooded stream (Scene 2), Lensky awaits Onegin’s arrival, and wonders whether Olga will shed a tear if he dies. Both Lensky and Onegin regret the events of the previous night, but neither man will back down. The duel takes place, and Onegin shoots Lensky dead.
Act III. Many years have elapsed, and Onegin is still bored with life. In the ballroom of a nobleman’s house in Saint Petersburg (Scene 1), he encounters Tatyana, who is now married to Prince Gremin. Tatyana’s transformation from a naive country girl to a dazzling grande dame captivates him. In the drawing room of Prince Gremin’s house (Scene 2), Tatyana meets Onegin, and accuses him of loving her now only because she is rich and famous. She still loves him, but is determined to be faithful to Gremin, and does not yield to her passion. She dismisses Onegin, who is now a broken man [13].

Composition

On 29 May/10 June 1877, Tchaikovsky arrived at Konstantin Shilovsky's estate at Glebovo, where in the course of his month's stay there he worked with great enthusiasm on his opera [14].

By 9/21 June Tchaikovsky had made sketches for Scene 2 in Act I (Tatyana's scene with her nurse) and most of Scene 1. In a letter informing his brother Modest about this the composer wrote: "I got your letter yesterday, dear Modya. At first your criticisms about my having chosen Onegin made me angry, but that was only for an instant. Even if my opera is not stage-worthy, even if it has little action to offer, the point is that I am in love with the image of Tatyana; I am enchanted by Pushkin's verses and am writing music to them because that's what I want to do. I am completely absorbed in the composition of my opera" [15].

On 15/27 June, he wrote: "I have divided up my day in the most regular manner; I am working very thoroughly at fixed hours, and, since there is nothing whatsoever that stops me from getting down to my work, the opera is going very well. The whole first act in three scenes is already finished, and today I've started work on the second [...] You can criticize Yevgeny Onegin as much as you like, but I must say that I am writing my music with great pleasure and I know for sure that the poetic quality of the subject and the ineffable beauty of the text will hold their own" [16]. "...I have spent a whole month in Glebovo in complete calm and happiness, and I have written two thirds of my opera there," Tchaikovsky would later inform his brother Modest on 5/17 July 1877 [17].

On 27 June/9 July returned to Moscow for his wedding to Antonina Milyukova on 6/18 July 1877 [18]. On 27 July/8 August, the composer left Moscow alone to travel]] to Kamenka, where he stayed with his sister Aleksandra's family for one-and-a half months and continued working on Yevgeny Onegin, as well as on the Fourth Symphony. Thus, work on the opera was interrupted for about a month, but by 27 August/8 September he had completed the orchestration of Scene 1 in Act I and immediately made a piano arrangement of it [19].

Following the breakdown of his marriage in September, Tchaikovsky travelled abroad in early/mid October [20]. On reaching Clarens, in Switzerland, he soon resumed work on the opera [21], and there he completed the orchestration of Act I [22] .

On 16/28 November, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck from Venice: "... I have set about furiously finishing the orchestration of Scene 1 in Act II of Onegin (Act 1 and Scene 1 of Act II have to be ready as soon as possible, so that I can send them to Moscow, where in all likelihood they are to be staged at Conservatory performances). My work has come along very well, so that already today I have finished the whole orchestration. I just have to add the voice parts, place marks, and make a piano arrangement" [23]. The following date is indicated at the end of the manuscript of the score for Scene 1 of Act II: "Venice, 28 (16) November 1877".

In December Tchaikovsky was engrossed in orchestrating his Fourth Symphony, which he had almost always worked on at the same time as his opera.

In San Remo, on 2/14 January 1878, the composer began orchestrating Act III of the opera. Tchaikovsky's letters do not provide any information on when he made the sketches for Act III. It is possible that part of the music for Act III had already been written in Glebovo ("I have written a large proportion of Onegin in Glebovo", he wrote to his brother Modest on 8/20 July 1877) [24]. The remaining sketches were written by Tchaikovsky abroad, at the same time as he orchestrated the opera [25].

On 5/17 January, the composer wrote to his brother Anatoly: "... I have managed to get a lot done—amongst other things, I spent one-and-a-half hours orchestrating your favourite aria: 'To love all ages are obedient' (Любви все возрасты покорны)" [26].

On 6/18 January, Tchaikovsky informed Nadezhda von Meck: "I am writing the orchestral score for Act III of the opera" [27]

At the end of the manuscript of the score for Act III we find the following date: "San Remo 25 (13) Jan[uary] 1878" [28]

On 14/26 January: "Today I have completed the orchestration of Act III of the opera. Now I just have to finish off in rough Scene 2 of Act II and write an introduction..." [29]

On 16/28 January: "After breakfast I picked up some music paper and set off for the mountains alone in order to finish the Duel scene, which is still not fully composed. With difficulty I managed to find a spot where there was nobody else. My work went well" [30]

On 17/29 January: "My work is going splendidly, and I have now started on the last difficult part of the opera, that is the introduction" [31]

On 18/30 January: "I have just finished the introduction. There are at most two weeks or so of work left for me to do" [32]

On 20 January/1 February: "Today, at last, I have finished writing and orchestrating right up to the very end. All that remains to be done is to make a piano arrangement of everything that I have written afresh—in short, this means a week's work, no more" [33]

On 25 January/6 February: "Today I have started work on the piano reduction of the opera" [34]

On 28 January/9 February: "I have finished the piano reduction. Now all that's left to do is to put down all the marks and make a fair copy of the libretto. Then the opera will be fully complete. What will its fate be?!" [35]

On 30 January/11 February: "I have finished the opera completely. Now I'm just copying out the libretto again, and as soon as everything is ready, I'll send it off to Moscow" [36]

On 3/15 February, Tchaikovsky informed Karl Albrecht that the day before he had dispatched to Nikolay Rubinstein: "1) a microscopic introduction to come before Act I; 2) Scene 2 of Act II; 3) Act III." In this very same letter he requested Albrecht to ask Sergey Taneyev if he could "alter anything in the piano reduction that strikes him as un-piano like, inconvenient or difficult to play" and also to "ask Samarin to read through the libretto carefully [...] and correct in the stage directions anything that he considers to be silly, inconvenient, awkward, etc. I also want him to pay particular attention to the final verse. For the sake of musical and theatrical demands I was forced to dramatize rather strongly the scene of Tatyana's discussion with Onegin. At the end, as I have it, Tatyana's husband appears and with a gesture orders Onegin away. Whilst this happens I had to have Onegin say something, and so I put the following verse into his mouth: 'O death, o death! I go to seek thee out!' I cannot help thinking all the time that this is silly and that he ought to be saying something else. But I just can't think up what! So I'm asking I[van] V[asilyevich to do me an inestimable service and help me out of this difficulty" [37]

This final line for Onegin was later replaced by the words: "Disgrace! Anguish! O how pitiable is my fate!" [38]

Arrangements

The vocal-piano score was arranged by Tchaikovsky between August 1877 and January 1878. The piano part is inserted at the bottom of each page of the autograph full score, and Act I (except for the Introduction) was arranged almost simultaneously with the orchestration: begun by 27 August/8 September and completed by 20 October/1 November 1877 [39]. Acts II and III were arranged in the period 25 January/6 February to 28 January/9 February 1878 [40].

Performances

Tchaikovsky was aware of the innovative nature of his opera and thought that Yevgeny Onegin, due to its lack of stage effects and "as it is insufficiently lively and interesting for it to be to the public's liking", would "never become established as a staple of the opera repertoire in major theatres" [41]. He set very high artistic demands regarding an eventual staging of his opera. They are stated most fully in his letter to Karl Albrecht of 3/15 December 1877:

This is what I need for Onegin: 1) singers of medium quality, but they must have been drilled well and should be reliable; 2) singers, who will also be able to act simply but well; 3) the staging doesn't have to be lavish but it must be strictly in keeping with the period; the costumes must absolutely be from the period in which the opera's action takes place (the 1820s); 4) the choruses should not be like a herd of sheep, as is the case on the stage of the Imperial theatres—rather, they must be people who really are participating in the plot of the opera; 5) the conductor must be [...] a true leader of the orchestra" [42]. In the opera-houses at the time conventionalism and routine very much held sway. The composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "... the more I think about the performance of this opera, the more I am convinced that it is impossible, i.e. a performance which would correspond to my dreams and intentions" [43]. "How Pushkin's charming picture will be debased when it is transferred onto the stage, with all its routine, with its senseless traditions..." [44]. That is why Tchaikovsky did not want to start negotiations for a staging of Yevgeny Onegin in the [Imperial] theatres. "I would much rather hand over this opera for the stage of the Conservatory, and in fact this is what I actually wish to do. For there at least we won't have that banal routine of the official theatres [...] Besides, the Conservatory gives its performances as private events, as it were, en petit comité. That is more suitable for my modest work, which I will not even call an opera if it is ever published. I will call it lyrical scenes or something like that" [45].

After completing the orchestration of Act I of the opera Tchaikovsky sent it to Nikolay Rubinstein, requesting him to stage this act together with Scene 1 of Act II in a production at the Conservatory [46]. "... I think that in a meticulous staging, with a level of performance such as we have been seeing [at the Conservatory] so far, this opera, with its wonderful text, simple human emotions and situations, definitely ought to produce a poetic effect" [47]. In a letter of 10/22 November Tchaikovsky wrote to Rubinstein with details on how the roles were to be allocated [48]. However, the planned performance of excerpts from the opera on the stage of the Moscow Conservatory during the 1877–78 season did not take place [49].

The first four scenes of Yevgeny Onegin were presented at the Conservatory in December 1878. The whole opera was staged for the first time on 17/29 March 1879, at the Maly Theatre in Moscow, in a performance by students from the Moscow Conservatory, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein and directed by Ivan Samarin.

The first professional performance of the opera took place at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 11/23 January 1881 and was conducted by Enrico Bevignani.

The first performance of Yevgeny Onegin in Saint Petersburg (played and sung from the piano score) took place in the house of Yuliya Abaza [50] on 6/18 March 1879. Tatyana was sung by Aleksandra Panayeva; Olga by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya; Onegin by Ippolit Pryanishnikov; and the nurse by Mme Abaza. On 22 April/4 May 1883, the opera was staged at the Kononov Theatre in Saint Petersburg by the Musical-Dramatic Amateur Circle in a performance conducted by Karl Zike and directed by K. A. Potekhin. It was not until 19/31 October 1884 that Yevgeny Onegin was staged at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg in a performance conducted by Eduard Nápravník.

Critical Reception

Ever since he started work on this opera, enchanted by the poetic spirit of Pushkin's original, Tchaikovsky would always retain his great affection for the music that he wrote for his setting of the novel. In a letter to Sergey Taneyev on 2/14 January 1878 Tchaikovsky wrote: "I wrote this opera because one fine day I felt an inexpressible urge to set to music everything in Onegin that is just asking to be turned into music. I did this as best as I could. I worked on the opera with an indescribable enthusiasm and pleasure, not worrying too much as to whether it had action, effects etc. [...] I need people, not puppets; I would gladly tackle any opera [subject] in which, even if it did not have any powerful and unexpected effects, I should find beings like me, experiencing emotions which I too have experienced and can understand [...] I am looking for an intimate but powerful drama, based on a conflict of situations which I have experienced or witnessed myself, and which are able to touch me to the quick [...] Yes, this is an opera without any prospects; I knew this when I was writing it, and still I completed it and I shall definitely have it published [...] I wrote it because I was obeying an irresistible inner attraction. I assure you that it is only under this condition that one should write operas. As for thinking about effects and worrying about how it will work on the stage, that is only necessary to a certain degree. Otherwise, what you'll get is something effective, entertaining, perhaps even beautiful and interesting, but not fascinating, not actually alive" [51]

In another letter to Taneyev, dated 24 January/5 February 1878, Tchaikovsky again wrote: "... Ifit is true, as you claim, that opera is action, and that there is no action in my Onegin, then I am perfectly willing to call Onegin not an opera but whatever you like: scenes, a stage adaptation, a poema [52], just as you wish. I wanted to write a musical illustration to Onegin, whereby I had no choice but to resort to the form of drama and I am ready to take upon myself all the consequences of my notorious inability to understand the stage and to choose suitable subjects for it. It seems to me that all its inadequacies for the stage are redeemed by the charm of Pushkin's verses. However, in this regard I have certain misgivings which are much more important than the fear that the audience will not be shuddering with curiosity to find out the denouement of the plot. I'm referring to the sacrilegious impertinence with which, much against my will, I had to add to many of Pushkin's verses either my own or, in some places, verses by Shilovsky. That's what I am afraid of, that's what's really troubling me! As for the music, I should like to point out to you that if there was ever any music written with genuine enthusiasm, with love for the plot and characters it is inspired by, then that is the music to Onegin. I was melting and quivering with indescribable delight when I wrote it. And if even just the slightest portion of what I felt when composing this opera finds a response in the listeners, then I will be very satisfied and I want for no more" [53]

Publication

On 4/16 February 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "Now the piano reduction is complete, and I would be immensely glad if you were able to arrange for it to be engraved in the near future. This opera, so it seems to me, is more likely to be successful in homes and on concert stages than on the grand stage, and that is why the fact that its score will be published long before it enters the repertoire of the major theatres is not at all unfavourable. The success of this opera must begin from below, rather than from above. That is, it is not the theatre that will make it known to the public, but, on the contrary, the public, by becoming acquainted with it little by little, may come to love this opera, and then the theatre can stage it in order to satisfy the public's need" [54]

From the end of July to mid-September 1878 Tchaikovsky worked on correcting the proofs of the first edition of the piano score [55]. In October 1878, the piano score of Onegin was published (both as a complete set and as individual numbers) [56].

When sending back the corrected proofs to Pyotr Jurgenson (on 2/14 August 1878), Tchaikovsky had asked him to entitle the opera: "'Yevgeny Onegin'. Lyrical scenes in 3 acts". This is essential. For many reasons I don't want to call this thing an opera" [57]

In early 1880, Pyotr Jurgenson on his own initiative started making arrangements for having the opera's full score engraved—something that Tchaikovsky was not happy about [58]. In December 1880, the full score of the opera with the piano arrangement inserted as a supplement was published. In this edition the original version of the opera's final scene was retained (including Onegin's final line: "O death, o death! I go to seek thee out!...").

When the piano score was republished in 1881 amendments were made to the final scene. Corrections and amendments were also made by the author in 1891 [59], when preparing the second edition of the full score [60]. Tchaikovsky expressed the wish to remove the piano reduction from the score, but Pyotr Jurgenson did not comply with this request, and just changed the marking of the piano lines a little [61].

The textual variants in the three editions are mainly to do with the ending of the final scene. In 1880, when preparations were underway for the first production of the opera on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Tchaikovsky, following a request by his brother Anatoly [62], altered somewhat the text and stage directions for the final scene. On 17/29 October 1880, the composer wrote to Anatoly: "Although personally I don't agree with you and think that Pushkin, by certain hints and allusions, entitles one as it were to let this scene conclude the way I did, I have paid heed to your advice and tried to change the scene, as you will see from the enclosed sheets. First of all, on p. 242, instead of the direction that Tatyana is to fall into Onegin's arms etc I have written: Onegin approaches closer. After that he sings what is written on that page, still addressing her as Vy [63]; then it just continues as it was before; at the very end, however, I have changed Tatyana's words—namely, she is no longer to be on the brink of giving in and losing her resolve, but will instead keep going on about duty; Onegin does not try to embrace her, but just implores her in words; then, instead of I am dying! Tatyana now says: Farewell forever! and disappears, whilst he, after standing there dazed for a few minutes, utters his concluding words. The general is not to come in" [64]

The amendments indicated by Tchaikovsky referred to the text of the scene starting from Tatyana's response after Onegin's words: "... there is no other way for you" [... тебе другой дороги нет] (Andante molto mosso) and going up to the end of the scene. The changes to the stage directions indicated by Tchaikovsky in the letter quoted above were not made, except for the last one, and in all editions of the opera the stage directions for the original version of this scene have been retained.

In the 1891 edition the tempi observations were changed; a cut was made in the finale of Scene 4; and in Scene 6 a chorus was replaced by the Ecossaise, which Tchaikovsky wrote at the request of Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the Director of the Imperial Theatres for Saint Petersburg, in 1885. A letter of 10/22 August 1885 from Vsevolozhsky to Pavel Pchelnikov has come down to us in which Vsevolozhsky sets forth the reasons why a new dance number was required for the Saint Petersburg ball scene [65]. On 21 August/2 September 1885, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "I've had a meeting with Vsevolozhsky, who asked me to write a dance number for the second ball in Onegin. Given that new decorations and costumes are currently being fitted out for this ball, and given also that they are taking so much trouble to ensure the success of Onegin, I could not refuse, in spite of my disinclination, and I agreed to fulfil Vsevolozhsky's request. We had a long discussion about the kind of dance that was to be added until, finally, we settled on an Ecossaise..." [66].

A German edition of the vocal-piano score (translated by Avgust Bernhardt) was published sometime before 1891 by D. Rahter in Hamburg.

Tchaikovsky's full score and vocal-piano arrangement were published in volumes 4 (1948) and 36 (1946) respectively of the composer's Complete Collected Works, edited by Ivan Shishov (1950). They include the original versions of passages subsequently revised in later editions.

Autographs

Tchaikovsky's autograph full score, which includes the piano part for his vocal-piano arrangement, is now preserved in the Glinka National Museum Consortium of Musical Culture in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 8). This omits the additional Ecossaise (Act III, Nos. 20 and 21), the autograph of which is held at the Central Music Library of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg (VII.1.4.154).

The sketches and rough draft of the opera Yevgeny Onegin have been lost. From the composer's correspondence with Nadezhda von Meck, we know that the rough draft was sent to her [67].

Recordings

See: Yevgeny Onegin: Recordings

Related Works

For the Russian dance in Act I — 'Across the Little Bridge' (Уж как по мосту-мосточку) — Tchaikovsky used the folk-song 'Twine Round, Little Cabbage' (Вейся, не вейся, капустка). There is good reason to suppose that the composer borrowed this song from a collection of folk-songs written down by S. N. Rachinskaya, a relative of Sergey Rachinsky. In December 1875, Sergey Rachinsky brought these songs with him to show them to Tchaikovsky. In a letter of 18/30 December 1875 [68] the composer asked him for permission to take them abroad with him, as he set off from Moscow on 20 December 1875/1 January 1876 [69].

For Triquet's couplets [70] the composer used the song "Le repos" by the French composer Amédée de Beauplan {{ref|71}.

Notes and References

  1. Entitled "Evgenii Onegin" in TH, and "Eugene Onegin" in ČW  [back]
  2. Letter 552 to Vladimir Stasov, 29 April/11 May 1877 [back]
  3. In the final version of the scenario only Scene 1 in Act III was altered: the ball in Moscow (where Tatyana was supposed to meet the general, and he seeks her hand in marriage) was replaced by a ball in Saint Petersburg (where Tatyana meets Onegin) [back]
  4. The duet of Tatyana and Olga in the final version of the opera is written to words by Pushkin—the poem The Singer (Певец) [back]
  5. See the entry on Charles Gounod for Tchaikovsky's thoughts on Faust [back]
  6. Letter 565 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 May 1877 [back]
  7. See the following letters: Letter 692 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 December 1877, from Milan: "[After an abysmal performance of Marchetti's opera Ruy Blas at the Teatro dal Verme] I thought about my opera. Where shall I find a Tatyana such as Pushkin imagined her, and such as I have tried to illustrate musically? Where is the artist who, to some extent at least, comes up to the ideal of Onegin—that cold dandy who is permeated to the marrow with the bon ton of high society? Where shall we find a Lensky, an eighteen-year-old youth with thick curls, with the impetuous and original gestures of a young poet à la Schiller? How Pushkin's charming picture will be debased when it is transferred onto the stage, with all its routine, its senseless traditions, its veteran artists and artistes, who quite shamelessly, like Aleksandrova, Kommisarzhevskye tutti quanti, will take on the roles of sixteen-year-old girls and beardless youths!"; Letter 2356 to Nadezhda von Meck, 28 September/10 October–30 September/12 October 1883 (Here Tchaikovsky defends the plot and characters of Pushkin's novel against his benefactress, who just acknowledged the beauty of its verses. He emphasizes how Tatyana is "not just a provincial girl who falls in love with a dandy from the capital" but rather "a maidenly soul full of pure feminine beauty, untouched as yet by real life", and that "Pushkin splendidly, with true genius, expressed the power of this maidenly love, and from my earliest years I have always been stirred to the depths of my heart by the poetic spirit of Tatyana after Onegin has first appeared before her. Thus, if I was ablaze with the fire of inspiration when I wrote the Letter Scene, that fire was kindled within me by Pushkin...". Tchaikovsky also points out how "profoundly dramatic and moving" Lensky's death is); Letter 671 to Karl Albrecht, 3/15 December 1877 from Venice (Tchaikovsky stresses here that his opera had to be staged at the Moscow Conservatory before he would even think of handing it over to the Imperial Theatres, and says that there was no point in waiting for "an ideal Tatyana, an ideal Onegin, and an ideal Lensky" to turn up; rather the young students from the Conservatory, headed by Mariya Klimentova, who had been learning the role of Tatyana, were exactly what he wanted for his new opera); Letter 748 to Karl Albrecht, 3/15 February 1878 from San Remo; and Letter 738 to Sergey Taneyev, 24 January/5 February 1878 [back]
  8. Letter 564 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 18/30 May 1877: "Tolya! I am going to write a delightful opera, which is perfectly suited to my musical character. You will be very surprised when I tell you the opera's title. Everyone to whom I've talked about this was surprised at first but would then go into raptures. And do you know who gave me this idea? Lavrovskaya. This opera will be Yevgeny Onegin! I have a splendid scenario drawn up for it"; and Letter 566 to Lev Davydov, 19/31 May 1877 [back]
  9. Letter 597 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 August/11 September 1877 [back]
  10. Letter 565 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 May 1877. For Tchaikovsky's views on Aida and its exotic Grand Opera setting, see the entry on Giuseppe Verdi [back]
  11. In the nineteenth-century Russian tradition «поэма» was generally used to refer to a large-scale literary work with some important underlying 'poetic' idea, irrespective of whether or not it was actually written in verse (as in the case of Pushkin's Yevgeny Onegin). Thus, Nikolay Gogols novel Dead Souls (1st part, 1842) was referred to as a «поэма» by the great critic Vissarion Belinsky (1811–1848) and by all subsequent Russian writers. Likewise, Fyodor Dostoyevsky would also speak admiringly of his rival Ivan Turgenev's novel A Nest of the Gentry (1859) as a «поэма» —note by Luis Sundkvist [back]
  12. Letter 569 to Nadezhda von Meck, 27 May/8 June 1877 [back]
  13. From The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 38 [back]
  14. See the following letters: Letter 564 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 18/30 May 1877; Letter 571 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27 June 1877; Letter 565 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 May 1877; Letter 568 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 23 May/4 June 1877; Letter 570 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 9/21 June 1877; and Letter 569 to Nadezhda von Meck, 27 May/8 June 1877 [back]
  15. Letter 570 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 9/21 June 1877 [back]
  16. Letter 571 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27 June 1877 [back]
  17. Letter 577 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 5/17 July 1877 [back]
  18. For more details on Tchaikovsky's marriage, see the entry for Antonina Milyukova [back]
  19. See Letter 596 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 27 August/8 September 1877 and Letter 597 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 August/11 September 1877 [back]
  20. On 2/14 (?) October 1877, Tchaikovsky departed abroad with his brother Anatoly. They arrived in Berlin on 4/16 October — note by Luis Sundkvist [back]
  21. See Letter 621 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 17/29 October 1877 [back]
  22. See Letter 635 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13 November 1877, from Paris [back]
  23. Letter 648 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 November 1877 [back]
  24. Letter 580 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 8/20 July 1877 [back]
  25. See Letter 730 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27–18/30 January 1878 [back]
  26. Letter 718 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 5/17–7/19 January 1878 [back]
  27. Letter 719 to Nadezhda von Meck, 6/18 January 1878 [back]
  28. The date on the manuscript was probably added once the main compositional work had been completed, after which some minor amendments may also have been made [back]
  29. Letter 728 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26 January 1878. See also Letter 726 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 12/24–14/26 January 1878 [back]
  30. Letter 730 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27–18/30 January 1878 [back]
  31. Letter 730 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27–18/30 January 1878 [back]
  32. Letter 730 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27–18/30 January 1878 [back]
  33. Letter 735 to Nadezhda von Meck, 20 January/1 February–21 January/2 February 1878 [back]
  34. Letter 740 to Nadezhda von Meck, 25 January/6 February 1878 [back]
  35. Letter 743 to Nadezhda von Meck, 28 January/9 February 1878 [back]
  36. Letter 745 to Nikolay Rubinstein, 30 January/11 February 1878 [back]
  37. Letter 748 to Karl Albrecht, 3/15 February 1878 [back]
  38. See the correction to the libretto in Letter 1614 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 17/29 October 1880, quoted below [back]
  39. See Letter 596 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 27 August/8 September 1877, and Letter 623 to Nikolay Rubinstein, 20 October/1 November 1877 [back]
  40. See  [back]
  41. See Letter 722 to Nadezhda von Meck, 9/21 January 1878, from San Remo. See also Letter 597 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 August/11 September 1877, from Kamenka; and Letter 716 to Sergey Taneyev from San Remo, 2/14 January 1878 (a very important letter in which Tchaikovsky again expresses his aversion to Grand Opera settings such as Verdi's Aida, where one saw "puppets" rather than living people on the stage, and admits that he was resigned to Onegin never being a success) [back]
  42. Letter 671 to Karl Albrecht, 3/15 December 1877, from Venice. See also Letter 740 to Nadezhda von Meck, 25 January/6 February 1878, from San Remo, and Letter 750 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 4/16 February 1878, also sent from San Remo [back]
  43. Letter 886 to Nadezhda von Meck, 2/14–5/17 August 1878, from Verbovka [back]
  44. Letter 692 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 December 1877 [back]
  45. Letter 716 to Sergey Taneyev, 2/14 January 1878 [back]
  46. See Letter 623 to Nikolay Rubinstein, 20 October/1 November 1877 [back]
  47. Letter 630 to Nikolay Rubinstein, 27 October/8 November 1877. For details on how Act I was completed and dispatched]] to Rubinstein, see also Letter 635 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13 November 1877 [back]
  48. Letter 642 to Nikolay Rubinstein, 9/21 November 1877 [back]
  49. See Anatoly Tchaikovsky's letter to the composer, 28 January/9 February 1878 — Klin House-Museum Archive [back]
  50. Yuliya Fyodorovna Abaza (née Stubbe; d.1915), German-born Russian concert singer (mezzo-soprano). She was much admired by such writers as Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. When Tchaikovsky resigned from the Ministry of Justice in April 1863 to concentrate on studying music and started giving private piano lessons later that year in September, he had some coaching from Yuliya Stubbe (as Tchaikovsky also needed to earn some extra money as a piano accompanist). Apparently she had treated the young Tchaikovsky rather arrogantly, and when she met him again many years later (around 1880) she pretended that she had never seen him before! This amusing anecdote is recounted by Aleksandra Panayeva-Kartsova in her memoirs of the composer, included in Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), pp. 128–129. In the commentary for this edition (p. 382) the date of this private performance of Yevgeny Onegin in Yuliya Abaza's house is given as 6/18 March 1879 — note by Luis Sundkvist [back]
  51. Letter 716 to Sergey Taneyev, 2/14 January 1878 [back]
  52. See Note 11 above for the special meaning of 'poema' (поэма) in the nineteenth-century Russian context [back]
  53. Letter 738 to Sergey Taneyev, 24 January/5 February 1878 [back]
  54. Letter 750 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 4/16 February 1878 [back]
  55. See Letter 883 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 29 July/10 August 1878; Letter 885 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 2/14 August 1878; and Letter 887 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 3/15 August 1878, all sent from Verbovka [back]
  56. Letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 24 October/5 November 1878 — Klin House-Museum Archive. The piano score had been passed by the censor on 30 September/12 October 1878 [back]
  57. Letter 885 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 2/14 August 1878 [back]
  58. See Letter 1422 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 5/17 February 1880 and Letter 1518 to Karl Albrecht, 24 June/6 July 1880 [back]
  59. Pyotr Jurgenson's negotiations with Tchaikovsky regarding a second edition of the full score started in June 1891—see Jurgenson's letter of 8/20 June 1891 to the composer and Tchaikovsky's Letter 4408 to Jurgenson, 14/26 June 1891). In July 1891, Tchaikovsky was busy correcting the proofs (see Letter 4442 to Vladimir Davydov, 22 July/3 August 1891). Tchaikovsky made an interesting note for himself on the letter that Jurgenson had sent him on 7/19 August 1891, which shows what he was concerned about in this new edition: "The score of Onegin is to be corrected without any hurrying; the voice parts have to correspond to the score; the piano reduction has to be brought into line with the score" [back]
  60. See the authorial corrections in the published score and Letter 4606 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 28 January/9 February 1892 [back]
  61. The full score without the piano arrangement was published by Muzgiz [the Soviet State Music Publishing House] in П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том 4 (1948) [back]
  62. As Abram Gozenpud convincingly argues in Dostoyevsky and the Musical and Dramatic Arts. A Study [Достоевский и музыкально-театральное искусство—исследование] (Leningrad, 1981), pp. 167–169, Anatoly Tchaikovsky, who had attended Fyodor Dostoyevsky's famous speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument in Moscow on 8/20 June 1880, persuaded his brother to change the ending of the opera so that it was closer to Pushkin's much more restrained conclusion because of the powerful impression which Dostoyevsky's interpretation of Tatyana had made on the public. (The speech was published later that year, in August). In his impassioned speech Dostoyevsky had described Tatyana as the "apotheosis of Russian womanhood" and asserted that it could never even have so much as crossed her mind to betray her husband and run away with Onegin, as she was incapable of founding her happiness on the misfortune of someone else. Mariya Klimentova, who was due to appear as Tatyana in the first professional production of Yevgeny Onegin at the Bolshoi Theatre in October 1880 (just as she had sung Tatyana at the opera's première by students of the Moscow Conservatory in March 1879), had apparently also sought out Dostoyevsky's advice on how she should portray her heroine. For more details see the entry on Fyodor Dostoyevskynote by Luis Sundkvist [back]
  63. i.e. the formal 'you' ('Вы') rather than 'thou' ('ты') [back]
  64. Letter 1614 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 17/29 October 1880 [back]
  65. Letter from Ivan Vsevolozhsky]] to Pavel Pchelnikov, 10/22 August 1885 — Klin House-Museum Archive [back]
  66. Letter 2751 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 21 August/2 September 1885 [back]
  67. See a letter from Nadezhda von Meck to Tchaikovsky, 4/16 November 1878 (Klin House-Museum Archive), as well as Letter 959 to Nadezhda von Meck, 6/18 November 1878 and Letter 995 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13 December 1878 [back]
  68. Letter 427 to Sergey Rachinsky, 18/30 December 1875 [back]
  69. The transcription of the song Twine round, little cabbage made by S. N. Rachinskaya was published in: The Great Russian in His Songs, Customs, Traditions, Beliefs, Fairy-Tales, Legends etc. Material compiled and arranged by P. V. Shein (Великорусс в своих песнях, обрядах, обычаях, верованиях, сказках, легендах и т.п. Материалы, собранные и приведённые в порядок П. В. Штейном), Vol. 1, Part 1 (published by the Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg, 1898), p. 134, No. 547. The foreword to this compilation is dated 1867, which indicates that it was being prepared long before its eventual publication [back]
  70. Tchaikovsky wrote two sets of couplets for Monsieur Triquet: one which is all in French ("À cette fête conviée") and one which is a macaronic blend of French and broken Russian («Какой прекрасный этот день»). For more information, see: the opera guide for Eugene Onegin produced by English National Opera and The Royal Opera (London/New York, 1988), p. 26 — note by Luis Sundkvist [back]
  71. Amédée de Beauplan was the nom-de-plume of Amédée Rousseau (1790–1853), a French librettist and writer of popular songs. His song "Le repos" ("Dormez, dormez, chères amours") was used in the vaudeville La Sonnambule (1819) by Scribe and Delavigne and became very popular, with various arrangements for piano being made subsequently — note by Luis Sundkvist [back]