Slot:       28B-2         Dec. 28, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                                              

Panel:     Russian Literature and Music

Chair:     Molly Thomasy, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Title:       Revisionist Interpretations of Tatiana’s Letter in Music and Literature

Author:   Tania Gordeev, Willamette University

A part of the lasting impact of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin stems from its significant influence upon Russian literature, music and culture in its wake. Of the many things that have been taken from the novel-in-verse and reworked, Tatiana’s letter has been a particularly fertile theme. This paper will present two revisionist interpretations of her love letter from both music and literature. Most attention will be paid to Tatiana’s letter-aria in Tchaikovsky’s fifth opera, Eugene Onegin (1878).

As I will argue, the letter-aria is a sensitive reproduction of the “original” letter, which the readers of Pushkin never see as it is possessively hoarded by the narrator. To support this claim, a close reading of the letter-aria in comparison to the letter-in-verse will be presented that keeps in mind Boris Gasparov’s insight into one of the major differences between the novel and the opera: the former’s “evasiveness” versus the latter’s “directness” (Gasparov 2005: 84). Additionally, the influence of Tchaikovsky’s own personal letters upon his creation of the letter-aria will be considered. Although much has been made of the strange coincidence that Tchaikovsky began receiving unsolicited letters from Antonina Miliukova while working on this central part of his opera, it is my contention that his unique letters-is-all relationship with Nadezhda von Meck had a much more profound impact upon his understanding of the letter-aria as a letter. By examining Tchaikovsky’s first intimate exchange with von Meck, which took place around the same time he was working on the letter-aria, I will underscore some of the important parallels that can be drawn between his actual correspondence with von Meck and Tatiana’s letter-aria.

In conclusion, my paper will turn briefly to one literary reworking of Tatiana’s letter: Vera’s farewell letter to Pechorin in Lermontov’s “Princess Mary” (1840). An authentic voice lodged into an insincere journal, Vera’s letter to Pechorin constitutes a crucial component of the text that disarms the unsuspecting Pechorin and enhances the reader’s understanding of him. In addition to exploring the letter’s impact in the story, I will consider the ways in which Vera’s letter resonates more distinctly with Tatiana’s monologue to Onegin, as Vera bears greater resemblance to the mature and married Pushkinian heroine.

Each work to be examined presents a distinct but equally robust reworking of the Tatiana letter.



Emerson, Caryl. “Tchaikovsky’s Tatiana.” Tchaikovksy and his World. Ed. Leslie Kerney. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998.

Gasparov, Boris. “Eugene Onegin in the Age of Realism.” Five Operas and a Symphony. Word and Music in Russian Culture. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005.

Hasty, Olga Peters. Pushkin's Tatiana. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999

Poznansky, Alexander. “Two Women.” Tchaikovsky. The Quest for the Inner Man. New York: Schirmer Books, 1991. 195-214.

Tchaikovsky, P. I. Perepiska s N. F. von Mekk, III, 1882-1890. Moskva: Akademiia, 1934.

Zhekulin, Nicholas G. "Evgenii Onegin: The Art of Adaptation, Novel to Opera." Revue Canadienne des Slavistes (Juin-Septembre 1987): 279-91.


Title:       Terrible Moments: Tchaikovsky, Kuprin, and Narrative

Author:   Janneke van de Stadt, Williams College

Alexander Kuprin’s story “The Terrible Moment” (“Strashnaia minuta”) was written in 1895, twenty years after Peter Tchaikovsky composed an art song by the same name.  It was, and still is, one of the composer’s most beloved romances, for which he wrote both the music and the text.  In his story, Kuprin engages with Tchaikovsky’s piece not only as a highly regarded and popular cultural artifact, but also as a narrative in its own right.

This essay proposes to examine the two “Terrible Moments” intertextual relationship within the framework of Kuprin’s tale.  Much as Leo Tolstoy did with Beethoven’s famous sonata, by giving his own narrative the name of Tchaikovsky’s musical one, Kuprin means to establish a dialogue between them.  As he allows the two works alternately to speak, question, answer, and contradict one another, the author poses questions regarding the common ground shared by different narrative forms and also probes the relationship between art and life.      


Title:       “Konstantin has just killed himself”: Chekhov and Wagner

Author:   Galina Rylkova, University of Florida

In this paper I attempt to reevaluate Treplev’s death by showing why it was unavoidable and how it might have brought a sense of closure to the fictional world of Chekhov’s Seagull. So far, critics have interpreted Treplev’s death as a manifestation of the utter despair he finds himself in in Act IV. Although I agree that Treplev’s death was inevitable, I see it not as a culmination of his misfortunes but rather as a Wagnerian-Schopenhauerian willed death that brings eternal happiness and bliss with it. Whether he actually reached his eternal happiness is beside the point – what is important is that only by taking his own life did Treplev stand a chance of winning Nina back. I propose to view Treplev as a Russian version of Wagnerian Tristan even though the evidence of Chekhov’s involvement with this particular opera and with Wagner in general is very circumstantial.  Interestingly, Wagner’s name was mentioned in one of the first reviews of The Seagull. “Kugel [in 1896] shrewdly compared Chekhov’s use of recurrent images and phrases, Leitmotive, to Wagner’s,” Donald Rayfield wrote in his celebrated biography. However, this insight has not been developed to any extent either by Chekhov’s contemporaries or by subsequent generations of critics. In my paper I offer a more engaged reading of Chekhov through the prism of Wagner’s opera.

As is known, upon hearing the news of Isolde’s arrival, Tristan tore off his bandages and let himself bleed to death. As Linda and Michael Hutcheon show in their inspired reading of the opera, Tristan willed his death. He wanted to die, for that was the only means of achieving bliss with Isolde. Prior to that, they both wronged each other several times, mainly because of pressures that arose from their understanding of duty and honor. As the opera progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to put each other first unless they give up everything including life. Not unlike glory-driven Tristan, Treplev had previously denied Nina any right to interfere with his writing. Despite his love for Nina, Treplev was equally preoccupied with his rivalry with Trigorin and his own mother, just as Tristan had his allegiance split between King Marke and Isolde. Like Tristan, Treplev hangs onto his life to welcome Nina back to his house. Like Tristan, Treplev changes. He tears up his manuscripts and commits suicide.

In his “On the Death of Igor Stravinsky” Vladimir Il′in brought Chekhov and Wagner together when he struggled to define artistic genius. He states that Wagner was not a talented man in the generally accepted sense of this word. He claims that Wagner had a bad ear for music and could not play any musical instruments well, and yet, he was a genius. To support this allegation, Il′in refers his readers to Chekhov’s The Seagull. “Creative genius may have nothing or little to do with what is conventionally called “talent” or ability,” Il′in writes. “Let me note in passing here that Chekhov’s uncanny insight in The Seagull has revealed to us this terrifying tragedy that has only one resolution:  either suicide or a superhuman, one might say “Beethovenesque,” i.e., heroic and all-out effort in confronting single-handedly the blind and cruel Fate in order to fell it, grab it by the throat, kneel on its chest, and kill it as you would kill a murderer… Beethoven succeeded in doing that and so did Wagner.” Undoubtedly, the key to our interpretation of Treplev lies in our understanding of the correlation between artistic talent and the choices that artists make in order to realize it. In The Seagull the choice is made clear – one either “looses one’s individuation” and buries oneself as a writer (like Treplev) or consigns oneself to loneliness (like Trigorin).