Artôt Désirée

real name Marguerite-Joséphine Montagney, married name de Padilla; 21 June 1835, Paris — 3 April 1907, Berlin.

Désirée Artôt was a French singer of Belgian descent. Having a unique vocal range, she performed mezzo-soprano, dramatic soprano, and lyric coloratura soprano roles. In addition to holding Artôt’s skill in high esteem, Tchaikovsky was greatly infatuated with her and was planning to marry her. He dedicated his Romance in F Minor, Op. 5, and Six French Songs, Op. 65 to the singer. He also orchestrated the inserted numbers in Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Glinka’s romance “The Lark” and Dargomyzhsky’s romance “I Still Love Him”) for her and composed the choir and recitatives in Daniel-François-Esprit Auber’s opera Le domino noir for Artôt’s unrealized benefit concert (performed on January 23 / February 4, 1870, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow at Cantoni’s benefit concert).

Artôt came from a family of Belgian musicians. Her father, Jean-Désiré Artôt, was a soloist French horn player at the Brussels Opera, as well as a violin virtuoso, guitarist, and singer. His brother, Alexandre Joseph Artôt, was a renowned violinist and composer.

Artôt started her studies under the singer M. Audran in 1855 and later on became a student of the famous P. Viardot-García. The singer performed in concerts in Belgium, Holland, and England. In 1858, she made her debut at the Paris Opéra (Fidès in Meyerbeer’s Le prophète). In 1859, Artôt toured with Lorini’s Italian opera company in Italy and Germany with great success. She performed in concerts in London in 1859–1860, as well as the city opera in 1863, 1864, and 1866. Her artistry received the approval of even such uncompromising critics as H. Berlioz and G. Meyerbeer.

Before coming to Russia in 1868, Artôt had already achieved great popularity in Europe. Her performances at the Italian Operas in Moscow (1868–1870, 1875–1876) and St. Petersburg (1871–1872, 1876–1877) became a roaring success. Her wide vocal range enabled her to sing both soprano and mezzo-soprano parts, combining coloratura brilliance with expressive dramatic singing. Her repertoire included Donna Anna in W. A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Rosina in G. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Violetta, Gilda and Aida in G. Verdi’s operas, Valentine in G. Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, Marguerite in C. Gounod’s Faust. She performed all these roles with passion and musical precision, demonstrating excellent vocal and acting skills.

Artôt’s first visit to Russia was thoroughly documented in H. A. Laroche’s memoirs, which, despite having been written several decades later, preserved and revealed the immediacy of his impressions: “In the spring of 1868, a troupe of Italian singers, <...> led by the entrepreneur Merelli, who rented out the Bolshoi Theater to host them, visited Moscow for several weeks. The troupe consisted of fifth- and sixth-rate singers who possessed neither voice nor talent; the sole — and remarkable — exception was a thirty-year-old lady with an ugly and passionate face who had just begun to gain weight and rapidly age both in appearance and vocal skill” (LoT I: 300).

Laroche fondly remembered Artôt’s performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg: “Her voice, seemingly strong and capable of the most dramatic pathos, was fragile in reality, and, as I have already mentioned, the singer lost it when she was relatively young, about six or seven years after the time in question. But, aside from the dramatic timbre, that voice had a great ability for fioriture and roulades. And since, being a soprano, the singer’s voice had an excellent low register that allowed her to perform many mezzo-soprano parts, her repertoire was practically unlimited. Rumor has it that during performances of Il trovatore in Prague, she would sing Azucena in even-numbered performances and Leonora in odd-numbered ones. The only parts that were off-limits for her were the high coloratura ones, such as Amina and Lucia — her range was limited ‘from above’, and she had to make an effort to reach a high C. Many times she appeared on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater in St Petersburg, and the audience listened to her with respect and reverence; they say the Paris performances of her youth were so disastrous that she did not even attempt to change the public opinion there in her favor. Before she arrived in Moscow, two cities, Berlin and Warsaw, came to be extremely fond of her. But it seems to be that her huge and unanimous success in Moscow cannot be beaten. For many young people involved in the musical world, and for Pyotr Ilyich first and foremost, Artôt was the embodiment of dramatic singing, a goddess of the opera who combined talents usually found in opposing personalities. With her flawless piano-like intonation and her excellent vocalization, she would blind the crowds with a firework of trills and scales — I must say a large part of her repertoire was dedicated to this virtuoso side of the art — but the amazing vitality and poetry of her expression seemed to elevate even the lowliest of music to the highest artistic level. Even though the Italians that arrived in the spring consisted solely of Artôt, thanks to her, they became such a success that the next season, they returned for three months, and in 1869, they came for the entire season. This is when the inexhaustible variety of the singer’s abilities became evident as a dazzling phenomenon. One could even say that in all types of music, in the entire kingdom of lyrical sentiments, there was no idea and no image that Artôt couldn’t reproduce. <...> Her young, slightly sharp timbre, closer to that of an oboe than a flute, possessed indescribable loveliness and exuded bliss and passion. If I had to describe it to Bayreuth regulars, I’d say that, of all the voices I know, Amalie Materna comes closest to Artôt, except she surpasses the latter in volume and strength” [ibid: 300–301].

Désirée Artôt’s appearance has been captured in photographs, many of which Tchaikovsky kept his entire life (twelve of them are preserved at the Tchaikovsky State House-Museum in Klin). This is how Laroche described her: “<...> she [Artôt] wasn’t good-looking. However, she conquered hearts and drove men insane with the ease of a flawless beauty. The incredible paleness of her body, her rare plasticity and grace of movement, the beauty of her hands and neck weren’t her only weapon: even though her face was disharmonious, it was amazingly charming, and of all the Marguerites I’ve come to see, this was the most perfect and bewitching one. Of course, her acting talent was captivating. I’d never seen a person who could become one with the stage like she did; the illusion felt complete from her first movement, a seemingly insignificant one, and up to her final cry of triumph or despair. Not a single feature exposed the actress, nothing would let you awaken from your dream, your fantasy, and what made all of it especially amazing was that Artôt’s talent had no specialization — she was the queen of the comic, the tragic, and the demi-caractère. Her all-encompassing and objective talent did not go hand-in-hand with coldness but was the result of the incredible richness and sensitivity of her nature that could ignite in various and seemingly mutually exclusive tasks” [ibid: 301–302].

Tchaikovsky met Désirée Artôt in the spring of 1868, shortly after the singer had arrived in Moscow. By autumn, their relationship evolved into Tchaikovsky’s admiration for the singer and actress and mutual affection. On September 25 /October 7, 1868, the composer wrote to his brother Anatoly Ilyich: “Artôt is a splendid person, we’re good friends” [Complete Works of Tchaikovsky V no. 121: 144]. A month later, on October 21 / November 2, he wrote to him again: “I’ve become good friends with Artôt, and she is evidently well-disposed to me; rarely have I happened to meet such a lovely, intelligent, and kind woman” [CwoT V no. 122: 145].

In November of the same year, Tchaikovsky wrote about Artôt to his other brother, Modest Ilyich: “Oh! My dear Modest (I feel the need to share my impressions with your artistic heart), if you only knew what a great singer and actress Artôt is! I’ve never been so charmed by an actor as I am now. It is truly a pity you cannot see her or hear her. You would be delighted by her gestures and by the grace of her movements and poses!” [CwoT no. 123: 146].

On December 26, 1868/January 7, 1869, Tchaikovsky wrote to his father to announce his engagement to Artôt: “<...> Surely, the rumor of my prospective marriage has already reached you, and you may be upset that I haven’t written to you about it — let me explain the situation. I met Artôt last spring, but I only saw her once at dinner after her benefit concert. When she returned this autumn, I didn’t see her for a month. We happened to run into each other at a musical evening; she was surprised that I never visited her; I promised that I would, but I didn’t keep my promise (due to how unenthused new acquaintances make me feel) until Anton Rubinstein, who was passing through Moscow, dragged me to see her. From that point onward, I began receiving little invitations from her almost every day, and I gradually got used to seeing her every evening. Soon, we developed tender feelings for each other, a confession of which was soon to follow. Needless to say, this raised the question of a lawful marriage, something both of us desire, and which is expected to take place in the summer if nothing prevents it” [CwoT V no. 125: 149].

Tchaikovsky also told his father about the obstacles he and Artôt had to overcome to get married: “Firstly, her mother, who is constantly by her side and has a great influence on her, is opposed to this marriage — she finds me to be too young for her daughter and, I presume, fears that I will force her to live in Russia. Secondly, my friends, especially Rubinstein, are taking the most active measures to prevent me from carrying out my plans of marriage. They say that when I marry a famous singer, I will have to play a rather piteous role of her husband, i. e. I will have to follow her all around Europe and live at her expense, I will lose the habit of working, nor will I have the opportunity to do so; shortly speaking, when my love for her cools down, I will be left with my pride wounded, desperate and ruined. This disaster could be avoided if she were to leave the stage and live with me in Russia; however, she says that despite all her love for me, she cannot bring herself to leave the stage, which she has grown used to and which brings her both fame and money. She has recently left to sing in Warsaw, and we decided that come summer, I will visit her in her estate near Paris, where our fate will be decided” [ibid].

Evidently, even though the composer clearly understood the depth of his affection for Artôt, he was similarly unsure about the marriage. “Just as she cannot bring herself to leave the stage,” he writes in the same letter to his father, “so am I hesitant to sacrifice my future to her — of course, I will lose the opportunity to follow my own path if I am to blindly follow her. Thus, my dear Father, you can see that I am in a very complicated situation; on the one hand, every fiber of my soul is fond of her, and right now, I cannot imagine living my life without her; on the other hand, common sense makes me consider the possible misfortunes that my friends try to make me picture. I am waiting, dear Papa, for you to share your opinion on this matter” [ibid: 149–150].

I. P. Tchaikovsky, who was residing in St. Petersburg at the time, responded to his son’s confession three days later, on December 29, 1868/January 10, 1869, with a long letter containing advice to choose carefully, warnings about rash decisions, and his view on family and marriage: “My dear Petya, you are asking me for advice on the most important question of your life. It is true, my friend — marriage is a brave step in life that cannot be taken lightly; it is a question of life and death, of ‘to be or not to be’, it is a gambler’s risk, a brave man’s fervor, it is an act that leaves no room for retreat, albeit one that youth and a fiery temperament dismiss, leaving oneself to live as one wishes and without being constrained by either a heartfelt contract or a church ceremony. You have already come to know my opinion on your marriage from the short note enclosed in Tolya’s letter: I am happy for you — happy as a father of a grown-up son or a mature daughter is about their marriage to the worthiest of people. You love her, and she loves you — that matter is in the bag, but… — oh, that cursed ‘but’!.. Truly, you must think about it, consider every little detail and unravel this Gordian knot thread by thread. Mlle Désirée [sic], i. e. the desired one, is doubtlessly lovely in every respect since my son Pyotr has fallen in love with her, and my son Pyotr is a person with good taste, an intelligent person, and a gifted person, and, judging by his character, he would choose a wife with similar qualities” [autograph: Tchaikovsky State House-Museum. Ph. 1 a4. No. 4629–4654. Abridged version published in LoT I: 305–308].

This story of Tchaikovsky’s only strong and passionate infatuation with a woman resolved unexpectedly at the beginning of 1869: Désirée Artôt left on tour, and a month later, she married a singer from her troupe, the Spanish baritone Padilla y Ramos. When the composer found out about this, he shared the news with his brother Modest in a letter from 1/13 February 1869, hiding his emotions behind an ironic tone: “The story with Artôt resolved itself in the most amusing way possible; in Warsaw, she fell in love with the baritone Padilla, whom she ridiculed here — and now she’s marrying him! What a lady! You have to know the details of our relationship to fully understand just how funny this outcome is” [CwoT V no. 130: 155].

However, the inflicted wound still hurt Tchaikovsky for a long time. In his memoirs, Kashkin writes about attending Gounod’s Faust with the composer in October of 1869, where Désirée Artôt performed the role of Marguerite: “<...> I happened to be sitting in the pit next to Tchaikovsky, who was incredibly nervous. When the singer appeared onstage, he covered his eyes with his binoculars and did not remove them until the end of the performance, but I doubt he could see much — tears that he did not seem to notice flowed from under the binoculars. Considering our further conversations on the matter, I think Tchaikovsky was more offended in his pride rather than strongly attached to the woman” [Kashkin 1896: 78–79].

Artôt regularly gave performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg until the 1876–1877 season, and she made several visits to Russia later, including a tour in Astrakhan and Baku in May of 1884.

Kashkin described what was apparently one of the final encounters between Tchaikovsky and Artô in Moscow: “Seven or eight years later, I accidentally happened to be present at the first meeting between Tchaikovsky and his alleged love interest. <...> I ran into Tchaikovsky at the Conservatory, and we headed to N. G. Rubinstein’s office together, but the porter told us that a lady had come in to see him, so we stayed in the hall, waiting for the visitor to leave and discussing the latest news. The door to the office opened, and a lady whom I did not recognize at first came out. Suddenly Tchaikovsky jumped up and turned pale; the lady, in turn, let out a little scream and became so embarrassed that she started looking for an exit in the blank wall, and then, when she finally saw the door, quickly went into the front room. Tchaikovsky stood in silence for about a minute, and then he erupted with loud laughter and said, “And I thought I was in love with her.” N. G. Rubinstein, who followed the lady out, witnessed this quick and silent scene with astonishment, then we spoke a bit about the unexpected meeting, and that was the end of the story. Later on, Pyotr Ilyich met the singer abroad, they became good friends, and he once again became an ardent admirer of her intelligence and talent, but no other feelings had been awoken in him. From this I conclude that there was no real love there before, and the entire affair was limited to his fascination with the actress whose talented nature truly made a charming impression” [Kashkin 1896: 79].

In Tchaikovsky’s music criticism, Artôt was mentioned for the first time in 1871 — two years after the end of their relationship. In these articles, the composer seeks to mention Artôt and compare other singers to her. Thus, in one of the articles he observes that Artot impressed the audience with “the truthfulness of [her] performance” [CwoT II: 44], while in his evaluation of A. Patti’s singing, he writes: it was “difficult to expect such astonishing and ingenious bursts of mighty talent from her, as encountered in a few rare, exceptional artists such as Viardot, Bosio, Artôt, Tamberlik, Mario <...>” [ibid: 71]. In another instance, while mentioning the singer, he openly referred to her as a genius [ibid: 112].

In 1875, while describing the Italian troupe’s performance of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, Tchaikovsky compared it with productions from the time of “the dawn <...> of the flourishing of Italian opera” in Moscow, where “the role of Valentine was performed by a great and ingenious singer, who portrayed the part with such indelible features of the highest artistry and inspiration that the role will remain almost impossible to perform for a long time”. He further explains: “The reader may have guessed that I am talking about m-me Artôt, who is currently in Moscow but, for some reason, is not taking part in our opera” [ibid: 273].

Tchaikovsky also described Artôt’s performance in Les Huguenots in a letter to his brother Anatoly: “Yesterday [December 10/22, 1875], Artôt made her debut here — she has gotten hideously fat and has almost lost her voice, but her talent triumphed, and after the fourth act, she was called back onstage twenty times” [CwoT V no. 425: 424]. That season, the composer attended her performances and remained her admirer, as is evident in his letter to his brother Modest on February 10/22, 1876: “As for musical matters, here’s what I can tell you: firstly, I heard Aida and was delighted by it, and what delighted me the most was Artôt’s performance of Amneris” [CwoT VI no. 445: 24].

Twenty years after their first meeting, in December of 1887 and January-February of 1888, Tchaikovsky met Artôt once again during his German tour (Berlin and Leipzig). They ran into each other during a performance of H. Berlioz’s Requiem under F. X. Scharwenka on December 18/30, 1887. Tchaikovsky mentioned this in a letter to M. I. Tchaikovsky: “Met Scharwenka and a multitude of people; ran right into Artôt” [CwoT XIV no. 3440: 296].

Tchaikovsky dedicated several lines to these events in an unpublished article during his lifetime, later titled “An Autobiographical Description of a Voyage Abroad in 1888.”. In his description of his stay in Berlin, the composer mentioned the people who saw and received him there, including Artôt, “who was especially memorable for her Moscow public” [CwoT II: 362]. Tchaikovsky thought it necessary to tell the reader about her recent career and their meeting: “This genius singer recently moved to Berlin, where she is especially cherished and loved by the court and the public and where she has become a successful voice instructor. I spent an evening at m-me Artôt’s with Grieg, and it will never fade from my memory. Both the personality and artistry of this singer are as irresistibly charming as they used to be” [ibid: 362–363].

Tchaikovsky shared the same opinion in private letters to his friend, the publisher P. I. Jurgenson, even though their tone was friendlier and more informal. On February 5, 1888, the composer wrote the following about the first meeting with Artôt at the “grand dinner” in Berlin hosted by Hugo Bock: “I sat next to Artôt. Apparently, <...> she was glad to see me. We immediately became great friends again, and I’m having lunch with her the day after tomorrow. It was nice and fun to see her” [TchYu II no. 730: 122].

Some details of Tchaikovsky and Artôt’s meetings in 1888 have been reconstructed [Skvirskaya 2003: 207–223] based on the composer’s autograph left in the album of the singer’s uncle, Charles Baugniet: “On the day Tchaikovsky left an entry in Charles Baugniet’s album, he received a letter from Artôt (dated February 9); it was one of the first letters from her saved by the composer. That letter, which is preserved in the State Central Theater Museum, sheds light on the history of Tchaikovsky’s autograph in Baugniet’s album. Among other things, Artôt asks Tchaikovsky to find a few spare minutes to ‘write one or two bars in the album.’ Apparently, the album was enclosed with the letter. <...> Charles Baugniet <...> was the singer’s uncle; he was a court painter and lived in London (Artôt stayed with him for some time). The communication with his ex-fiancée and the letter he received from her on 9 February obviously made the composer think of the “Romance” of 1868, which he wrote down in Baugniet’s album that day” [Skvirskaya 2003: 211].

In the spring of the same year, Tchaikovsky received a letter from the singer which her student passed on through P. I. Jurgenson. He wrote to Jurgenson: “You forwarded me the letter from Artôt which, I presume, m-me Volpyanskaya [Volpyanskaya-Mirskaya, Daria Nikolaevna] passed on to you. Did she leave you her address? Where do I write to her? I need to correspond with her” [TchYu II no. 752: 141].

Judging by what the composer said in various texts, whether intended for publication or for exchanging opinions in personal correspondence, even twenty years after meeting Désirée Artôt, he was still in awe of her as a musician and singer.

In Berlin, Artôt asked Tchaikovsky to write a romance for her. A little later, she wrote the composer while he was on his European tour: “I can’t wait to hear the promised romance. Due to my lack of voice, I will put my entire soul into it” [TchFM: 28]. She invited him to meet her in Berlin in a year: “If you visit Berlin, I’m sure you will come and see us; it is always a joy to be in a place where you can feel that people admire and respect you” [TchFM: 29].

Tchaikovsky fulfilled his promise in October of 1888 when he wrote Six French Songs, Op. 65. on the texts of French poets É. Turquety, P. Collin and A. Blanchecotte: “I did my best to please you, madame, and I presume you will be able to sing all six of them, i. e., all of them correspond to the current range of your voice. I would love for these romances to be a pleasant gift for you” [letter dated 17/29 October 1888; CwoT XIV no. 3700: 570].

When Artôt received the news, she replied: “I only wished for one song, and you have generously written six. ‘Generous as a king,’ they say, forgetting to add, ‘or a musician.’ Of course, I can’t wait to see them, but I don’t want to cause you any more trouble, so I’ll wait for Jurgenson to publish them — please ask him to immediately send me a copy. I do not thank you, but rest completely assured that you fulfilling your promise so quickly has brought me great joy. I only hope my talent reaches the height of your inspiration” [TchFM: 30].

In the choice of texts for the romances, one can notice hints of the former feelings between the composer and the singer, as well as unfulfilled hopes. Op. 65 features two Sérénades (no. 1 and 3), “Déception” (no. 2), “Qu'importe que l'hiver” (no. 4) and “Les larmes” (no. 5); the cycle concludes with a gallant and elegant, typically French Rondel (no. 6).

The biographical motives in Six French Songs, Op. 65, were immediately noticed by Laroche, a close friend of the composer and a witness to his relationship with Artôt, as well as an ardent admirer of the singer’s talents. In his article dedicated to the publication of Six French Songs in D. Rahter’s publishing house (“Sechs Lieder für eine Singstimme mit Begleitung des Pianoforte, von P. Tschaikowsky” with German and French text // Moskovskiye Vedomosti ¹ 212, August 3, 1889), Laroche wrote: “In his six wonderful romances dedicated to the inimitable singer [Artôt], our composer touched upon far from all the strings of this multy-stringed lyre” [Laroche 1889/1975: 135]. The critic considered “Les larmes” to be the most “Russian” of the six romances and the pinnacle of the cycle. Laroche noted that the poetic imagery of the poems chosen by Tchaikovsky “splendidly characterizes the singer that the romances are dedicated to, <...> excellently convey the intangible charm that is present in every note, in every movement of the genius singer <...>. For those of us whose life brought into direct contact with P. I. Tchaikovsky, m. Collin’s poems inevitably acquire another meaning, and we unwittingly link them to the artist himself <...>” [ibid: 135–136].

When they met in Berlin in 1889, Artôt fulfilled the promise she once made in her letter, inviting him to a musical evening under the condition that it must happen, as she phrased it, “anytime you wish and with whomever you wish” [TchFM: 30]. These warm meetings in Artôt’s company brightened up Tchaikovsky’s trip to Berlin. He wrote to M. I. Tchaikovsky on January 27 /February 15, 1889: “My life in Berlin is just like in St. Petersburg, i. e. I am visiting people every day — it’s the worst thing ever. My only consolation is Artôt, who is invited everywhere with me and whom I love dearly” [CwoT XV-A no. 3795: 51].

Artôt’s penultimate known letter to Tchaikovsky is dated March 8, 1890. It discusses a proposal made through her by the famous French tenor and later opera director and the artistic director of the Paris Opéra Joseph-Amédée-Victor Capoul, who was also trying his hand as a librettist. Artôt wrote: “Yesterday evening, Capoul, the famous tenor, read us the libretto of an opera which he wrote, and since the story is Russian, we all exclaimed that only you can write the music for it. This thought made Capoul leap with joy, so I’m asking you whether you’d like to hear his libretto, which I find excellent and moving. Capoul is ready to visit you to present it in person. And if it doesn’t suit you, he says that he would nevertheless be glad to shake your hand and make your acquaintance! Just answer me with one word, and if you care to be even more obliging, send me a telegram saying ‘I am expecting Capoul,’ and he will be on his way in two hours” [TchFM: 31–32]. The note Artôt left in the same letter makes it clear that the libretto was meant for an opera in four acts called The Black Prince.

Tchaikovsky, who was living in Florence at the time and working on The Queen of Spades, rejected the proposal in a letter dated February 25 / March 9: “First of all, allow me to thank you for thinking of me when the creation of a great opera was concerned. Now I will list the reasons why I refused the honor of working with Capoul. I came to Florence looking for the solitude and peace I need to work on an opera that is due to be presented in the upcoming season in St. Petersburg. Such is the will of the Emperor and the Directorate of Imperial Theaters — the latter wants to produce the grand staging of an opera that was approved by the Emperor. I am currently carrying out a heroic deed: six weeks ago, I came here with the opera libretto in my pocket, and in two months, everything has to be finished. I am working with passion and infinite pleasure since I like the plot, I’m in the mood for work (I spent too much time traveling, and I’ve abandoned composing in the last two years), and I am so absorbed in my task that anything beyond its limits does not present any interest to me. Aside from that, as it often happens to me in such cases, I have been overcome by an episode of rampant misanthropy: I do not see anyone, nor do I want to; during the past six weeks, I haven’t said a word to anybody aside from the servants. The arrival of m. Capoul would make me utterly miserable — if I’m avoiding people in general, then the arrival of a librettist would be abhorrent to me. This does not prevent me from sympathizing with Capoul, and I would be very happy to meet him another time” [CwoT XV-B no. 4050: 75].

At the recommendation of the composer, Artôt helped many Russian singers in Paris refine their vocal art, including the first performer of Tatiana’s part in Eugene Onegin, M. N. Klimentova-Muromtseva [see CwoT XIV: 631], and A. I. Politova.

It is known that Artôt wrote Klimentova-Muromtseva six letters, but only one has been translated (TchFM 1970: 136). In her letters, Désirée Artôt addressed Klimentova-Muromtseva as a colleague, a good acquaintance, and even a friend rather than a student; she shared news about her family (and often sent greetings from her husband and daughters). The letters also contained information about what was happening in the artistic world around her: about her own roles and performances, her husband’s tour in Spain, and news about other musicians (J. Massenet, C.-M. Widor, I. Paderewski, S. Sanderson, P. Viardot, É. Colonne and others).

In several letters to Klimentova-Muromtseva, Artôt expressed her fondness of Russia and Moscow, which she wanted to visit again; she mentioned Russian names (for instance, that of Artôt’s student A. M. Markova) and works (the opera Rusalka by A. S. Dargomyzhsky), and others.

Tchaikovsky’s name is mentioned in three letters:

– dated June 5, 1890 (in the context of describing a musical evening where the singers Artôt and S. Sanderson were guests, as was the violinist P. Marsick — it is likely that the composer’s music was performed or his name was mentioned at the event);
– dated October 29, 1890 (evidently, in response to Klimentova-Muromtseva’s praise of Tchaikovsky’s new opera, The Queen of Spades — Artôt confirmed that she considered the composer, whom she was lucky to have met in Russia, a great artist);
– dated December 19, 1890 (in the postscript to the letter, where she asked her student to convey “loves” to Tchaikovsky when they meet).

Artôt’s last letter to Tchaikovsky, which has not yet been translated or published, was written in June of 1892 (six out of nine letters from the singer have been published in TchFM [27–33]). In this letter, Artôt introduced “mademoiselle A. I. Politova,” whom Tchaikovsky had already met by then, and asked him to take the young singer under his patronage.

Three letters Artôt wrote to Politova have also been preserved, and they supplement our understanding of the personal and professional image of the singer and voice teacher. The letters are dated December 20, 1891, December 11, 1892, and December 27, 1893; the last one was written shortly after Tchaikovsky’s death, but has no mention of the composers’ name. Addressing Politova as “my dear child” and “my dear little one” [Ma chère Enfant, Ma chère Petite], Artôt enthusiastically told her about the achievements of her Russian students in France and Great Britain, and her efforts to find positions in European theaters for them. She advised Politova to be simple and natural onstage so that the public believed her, as well as to be diligent and work hard. Artôt’s letters to Politova include descriptions of simple everyday details: her new house, her family life, preparation of the Christmas tree, buying presents; the amicable hostess always invited her student to spend the holidays with her [CwoT dm14no. 6–8].

A portrait of Artôt with the following inscription in French on the mat hangs in the living room of Tchaikovsky’s house in Klin: “Moscow, December 1869. To Nikolai Rubinstein as a keepsake from the eagerly loving Désirée Artôt” [Tchaikovsky State House-Museum, b1, no. 87]. Evidently, Tchaikovsky had kept the portrait after N. G. Rubinstein’s death in 1881. In the following years, the composer brought the picture with him wherever he lived, perhaps in homage to the strong and deep feelings he had for Désirée Artôt in his youth.


Bibliography: Tchaikovsky, M. I. The Life of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In 3 volumes. Volume 1. 2nd edition. Moscow–Leipzig: P. Jurgenson’s Publishing House, 1903. Tchaikovsky, P. I. The Complete Works of Tchaikovsky. Literary Writings and Correspondence. Volumes II, V, XIV, XV-A, XV-B. M.: Muzgiz, 1953. M.: State Music Publishing House, 1959. M.: Music, 1974, 1976, 1977. Kashkin, N. D. Memories of P. I. Tchaikovsky. M.: P. Jurgenson’s Musical Trade, 1896. Tchaikovsky and Foreign Musicians. Selected Letters of Foreign Correspondents / Edited by N. A. Alexeev. Leningrad: Music, 1970: 27–33. Laroche H. A. Selected Articles. In 5 issues. Issue 2: P. I. Tchaikovsky / Executive editor A. A. Gozenpud. L.: Music, 1975. Rukavishnikov, N. Tchaikovsky’s Meetings With Désirée Artôt. Soviet Music, no. 9, 1937: 43–54. Skvirskaya, T. Z. Documents of P. I. Tchaikovsky in the Manuscript Room Stocks / From the stocks of the Manuscript Room of the Russian Institute. Issue 2. St. Petersburg: State Research Institute “Institute of Art History”, 2003: 207–223. Tchaikovsky. New Documents and Materials: A compilation of articles / Executive editor T. Z. Skvirskaya. St. Petersburg: Composer, St. Petersburg, 2003 (St. Petersburg Musical Archive. Issue 4): 100–104. Tchaikovsky. New Materials for His Artistic Biography: A compilation of articles / Compiler and executive editor T. Z. Skvirskaya. St. Petersburg: Polytechnical University Publishing House, 2013 (St. Petersburg Musical Archive. Issue 11): 282–283. Komarov, A. V. Dargomyzhsky and Tchaikovsky. Biographical and Artistic Connections // Dargomyzhsky, Wagner, Verdi: Great Contemporaries: A compilation of articles dedicated to the 200-year anniversary of the composers / Compiler and executive editor T. Z. Skvirskaya. St. Petersburg: Polytechnical University Publishing House, 2014: 56–70. Kalinichenko N. N. Astrakhan Episodes in Tchaikovsky’s Biography // Tchaikovsky and the 21st Century, 2017: 63–68.

Archive Materials: Désirée Artôt de Padilla. Letters to P. I. Tchaikovsky. 1888–1892: Berlin, 14 Avril 1888; Berlin, 2 Juin 1888; Berlin, 8 Novembre 1888; Berlin, 22 Février 1889; Étretat, 21 Août 1889; Paris, 8 Mars 1890; Paris, VI 1892 (Tchaikovsky State House-Museum, a4, no. 118‒124, 27998/174‒180). Désirée Artôt de Padilla. Letters to A. I. Politova. 2 December 1891, 20 December 1891, 27 December 1893 (Tchaikovsky State House-Museum, dm14, no. 6‒8, 16350, 16349, 16359). Tchaikovsky I. P. Letter to P. I. Tchaikovsky. 29 December 1868. (Tchaikovsky State House-Museum, à4, no. 4629‒4654, 27998/4637–4662). Photograph of Désirée Artôt de Padilla with an inscription dedicated to N. G. Rubinstein. December 1969 (Tchaikovsky State House-Museum, b1, 87, 28141/58). Désirée Artôt de Padilla. Letters to M. N. Klimentova-Muromtseva. Paris, 24 April 1890; 21 May 1890; 5 June 1890; 29 October 1890; 19 December 1890; 19 February 1891 (Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, f. 774 (Klimentova-Muromtseva M. N.), inventory 1, storage unit 16).

Editor — A. S. Vinogradova

Update date: 18.04.2024