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. She had a rare vocal range and sang mezzo-soprano, dramatic soprano and lyric coloratura soprano parts. Aside from holding Artôt’s skill in high esteem, Tchaikovsky was also greatly infatuated with her and was planning to marry her. His Romance in F Minor, Op. 5, and Six French Songs, Op. 65, were dedicated to the singer, and the divertimenti in Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Glinka’s romance The Lark and Dargomyzhsky’s romance I Still Love Him) were instrumented for her. Other than that, the choirs and recitatives in Daniel-François-Esprit Auber opera Le domino noir (performed on 23 January/4 February 1870 in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow at Cantoni’s benefit concert) were written for Artôt’s benefit concert (which had been planned, but never ended up taking place).

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

She started her studies with the singer M. Audran in 1855 and went on to be the famous P. Viardot-García’s pupil. The singer performed at concerts in Belgium, Holland and England. In 1858, she made her debut at the Paris Opéra (she played the role of Fidès in Meyerbeer’s Le prophète). In 1859, she went on tour with Lorini’s Italian company in Italy and Germany, achieving great success. She sang at concerts in London in 1859–1860, and in 1863, 1864 and 1866, she gave performances at the city opera. Even such uncompromising critics as H. Berlioz and G. Meyerbeer were drawn to her artistry.

When Artôt came to Russia in 1868, she 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) were a roaring success. Thanks to her extensive vocal range, she could sing both soprano and mezzo-soprano parts, her coloratura splendor combining with the dramatism of her singing. 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. Gounoud’s Faust — Artôt performed all these roles with passion and musical precision, demonstrating excellent vocal and artistic skill.

Artôt’s first visit to Russia was thoroughly documented in H. A. Laroche’s memoir, which, despite having been written several decades later, retained and revealed the ingenuousness of his impressions: “In spring of 1868, a troupe of Italian singers, <...> lead by the entrepreneur Merelli, who rented out the Bolshoi Theater to host them, visited Moscow. 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 soon came to age both in terms of looks and vocal skill” (LoT I: 300).

Laroche was delighted by Artôt’s performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg: “Her voice, which appeared strong and capable of handling the most dramatic pathos, was actually unsteady, 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, that voice had an excellent low register that gave the opportunity to perform many mezzo-soprano parts, the singer’s repertoire was practically unlimited. Rumor has it that when Il trovatore was being performed in Prague, she would sing Azucena’s part if the performance fell on an even number and Leonora’s if it fell on an odd one. The only parts that were off-limits for her were the high coloratura ones, such as Amina’s and Lucia’s — her range was limited ‘from above’, and she had to make an effort to reach the notes. 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 her arrival 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 conflicting dispositions. With her flawless intonation to the piano and her excellent vocalization, she would blind the crowds with her trills and scales — I must say a large part of her repertoire was dedicated to this virtuoso side of 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 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 whole season. This is when the inexhaustible variety of the singer’s abilities was discovered like a blinding phenomenon. One could even say that in all types of music, in the entire kingdom of lyrical sentiments/moods, 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’s comes closest to Artôt’s, except she surpasses the latter in terms of volume and strength” [ibid: 300–301].

Désirée Artôt’s appearance has been captured in photographs, many of which Tchaikovsky kept his whole life (twelve of them are featured in 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 and 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 encyclopedic and objective abilities did not go hand-in-hand with coldness — they were 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, soon after the singer had arrived in Moscow. By autumn, their acquaintance had grown into Tchaikovsky’s admiration of the singer and actress, followed by reciprocated affection. On 25 September/7 October 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 21 October/2 November, he wrote him again: “I’ve become good friends with Artôt, and she is evidently well-disposed to me; it is not often that I have happened to meet such a lovely, intelligent and kind woman” [CwoT V no. 122: 145].

In November of the same year, Tchaikovsky also wrote to his other brother, Modest Ilyich, about Artôt: “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 as charmed by an actor as I am now. It is truly a pity you cannot see her or listen to her. You would be delighted by her gestures and by the grace of her movements and poses!” [CwoT no. 123: 146].

On 26 December 1868/7 January 1869, Tchaikovsky wrote his father to announce his engagement with 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 to you. I met Artôt last spring, but I only visited her once at the 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 did not visit her; I promised that I would, but I wouldn’t have kept my promise (due to how unenthused new acquaintances make me feel) if it weren’t for Anton Rubinstein, who was passing through Moscow and 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 were set aflame by our tender feelings for each other, a confession of which was soon to follow. Needless to say, this raised the question of a lawful marriage, which both of us desire and which is expected to take place in the summer if it is not hindered by anything” [CwoT V no. 125: 149].

Tchaikovsky also told his father about the obstacles he and Artôt had to face on their path to marriage: “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 the 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 subsides, I will be left with my pride wounded, desperate and ruined. This calamity 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 abandon the stage, which she has grown used to and which provides her with 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, the composer was unsure about the marriage, too, yet he clearly understood the depth of his affection for Artôt. “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 go after 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 for you to share your opinion on this matter, my dear” [ibid: 149–150].

I. P. Tchaikovsky, who was residing in St. Petersburg at the time, answered his son’s confession three days later, 29 December 1868/10 January 1869, in a long letter which included 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 which must be approached with haste; 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 a deed that offers no return, albeit one that youth and a fiery temperament dismiss, leaving themselves to live as they wish and disregarding both the heart’s contract and the church ceremony. You have already come to know my opinion on your marriage from the short note which I slipped into Tolya’s letter: I am happy for you — happy as the 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 untie this Gordian knot string by string. Mlle Désirée [sic], i. e. the desired, is doubtlessly lovely in every aspect 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 select 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 was resolved in a rather unexpected way in 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 of 1/13 February 1869, masking his emotional state with 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 pained Tchaikovsky for a long time, which is demonstrated by the Kashkin’s recollection of the events — he attended Gounoud’s Faust with the composer in October of 1869, an opera 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 following conversations on the matter, I think Tchaikovsky’s pride was wounded more than his affection for the woman” [Kashkin 1896: 78–79].

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

Kashkin described what was apparently one of the final meetings of Tchaikovsky and Artô in Moscow: “Seven or eight years later, I coincidentally 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 waited in the hall that led to the office, waiting for the visitor to leave and discussing the latest news. The door to the office opened, and a lady who I did not recognize at first exited from the office — suddenly Tchaikovsky sprung up and turned pale; the lady, in turn, let out a little cry and got so embarrassed that she started looking for an exit in the blank wall, and then, when she finally saw the door, she quickly went into the antechamber. 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 had exited after the lady, observed 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 came to be good friends, and he once again became an ardent fan of her intelligence and talent, but no other feelings had been awoken in him, from which I conclude that there was no real love there earlier on 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 articles on music criticism, Artôt was mentioned for the first time in 1971 — two years after the relationship had ended. In these articles, one notices the composer’s inclination to mention Artôt and compare other singers to her. For instance, he does so in his remark that “the truthfulness of [Artôt’s] performance” [CwoT II: 44] was astonishing, as well as in his evaluation of A. Patti’s singing: it was “difficult to expect such astonishing and genius bursts of mighty talent from her — ones that are usually found in rare, exceptional artists such as Viardot, Bosio, Artôt, Tamberlik, Mario <...>” [ibid: 71]. In another instance, while mentioning the singer, he called her genius [ibid: 112].

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

Tchaikovsky also described Artôt’s performance in Les Huguenots in a letter to his brother Anatoly: “Yesterday [10/22 December 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 performances where the singer sang, and he remained an admirer of hers; this is proven by his letter to his brother Modest of 10/22 February 1876: “As for musical affairs, here’s what I can tell you: firstly, I listened to Aida and was delighted by it, and what delighted me 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 bumped into each other at a concert on 18/30 December 1887, where H. Berlioz’s Requiem was being performed, conducted by F. X. Scharwenka. 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 of his article, which was not published in his lifetime and later came to be known as “An Autobiographical Description of a Voyage Abroad in 1888”, to these events. 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 fate 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 vocal instructor. I spent an evening at m-me Artôt’s with Grieg, and it is an evening that 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 his private letters to his friend, the publisher P. I. Jurgenson, even though their tone was more familiar and informal. On 5 February 1888, the composer wrote the following about the first meeting with Artôt at the “grand lunch” in Berlin organized 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 relationship have been reconstructed [Skvirskaya 2003: 207–223]. They have to do with the composer’s autograph in the album of Charles Baugniet, the singer’s uncle: “The day Tchaikovsky left an entry in Charles Baugniet’s album, he received a letter from Artôt (dated February 9) — one of the first letters from her that the composer saved. That letter, which is kept in the State Central Theater Museum, sheds light on the story of how Tchaikovsky’s autograph appeared 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 came 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). Talking to his ex-fiancée and receiving her letter of 9 February obviously made the composer think of his Romance, written in 1868, which he put in Baugniet’s album that day” [Skvirskaya 2003: 211].

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

Judging by what the composer said in various texts, whether meant for publication and for opinion-sharing in private conversation, 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 addressed the composer while he was on his European tour: “I can’t wait to hear the romance you promised to write for me. 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 somewhere you can sense people feel awe and respect for you” [TchFM: 29].

Tchaikovsky fulfilled his promise in October of 1888, when he wrote Six French Songs, Op. 65. for 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 your current vocal range. 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 texts Tchaikovsky chose for his romances, one can notice hints at 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 is closed by the 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, witness to his relationship with Artôt and an ardent fan of the singer’s talents. In his article dedicated to the release 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, 3 August 1889), Laroche wrote: “In his six wonderful romances dedicated to the inimitable singer [Artôt], our composer did not manage to touch all the strings of this many-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, <...> splendidly convey the intangible charm that is present in every note, in every movement of the genius singer <...>. For those of us who 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 carried out the promise she made in her letter, where she invited him to a musical evening with the condition that it must happen, as she phrased it, “anytime you wish and with whoever you wish” [TchFM: 30]. These warm meetings and Artôt’s company brightened up Tchaikovsky’s trip to Berlin. He wrote M. I. Tchaikovsky on 27 January/15 February 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 who I love dearly” [CwoT XV-A no. 3795: 51].

Artôt’s penultimate known letter to Tchaikovsky is dated 8 March 1890. It discusses an offer she communicated to the composer from the famous French tenor Joseph-Amédée-Victor Capoul, who was experimenting with opera librettos and went on to become an opera director and the artistic director of the Paris Opéra. Artôt wrote: “Yesterday evening Capoul, a 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 in order to personally present it. And he says that if it doesn’t suit you, 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 offer in a letter dated 25 February/9 March: “First of all, allow me to thank you for thinking of me where 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 the coming 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 an 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, in Paris, Artôt helped many Russian singers perfect 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 they are scarcely translated (one letter in TchFM 1970: 136). In her letters, Désirée Artôt addressed Klimentova-Muromtseva as a colleague, a good acquaintance and even a friend rather than a pupil; she told her news from her family (and often gave her husband’s and daughters’ greetings). The letters also contained information about what was happening in the art world around her: about her own roles and performances, her husband’s tour in Spain and other musicians (J. Massenet, C.-M. Widor, I. Paderewski, S. Sanderson, P. Viardot, É. Colonne and others).

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

Tchaikovsky’s name is mentioned in three letters:

– of 5 June 1890 (in the description of 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 being performed or he was mentioned at the event);
– of 29 October 1890 (evidently, in reply to Klimentova-Muromtseva’s praise of Tchaikovsky’s new opera, The Queen of Spades — Artôt affirmed that she considered the composer she was lucky to have met in Russia a great artist);
– of 19 December 1890 (in the postscript to the letter, where she asked her pupil to give Tchaikovsky her love when she saw him).

Artôt’s last letter to Tchaikovsky, which has not yet been translated or published, was written in June of 1892 (six of the singer’s letters out of nine have been published in TchFM [27–33]). In the 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 what is known of the personal and professional image of the singer and vocal instructor. The letters are dated 20 December 1891, 11 December 1892 and 27 December 1893; the last one was written shortly after Tchaikovsky’s death, but has no mention of him. 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 pupils in France and Great Britain — she tried to find positions in European theaters for her students. 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 daily details: her new house, her family’s life, preparation of the Christmas tree, buying presents; the amicable hostess always invited her pupil to spend the holidays with her [CwoT dm14 no. 6–8].

A portrait of Artôt hangs in the living room of Tchaikovsky’s house in Klin — its mat bears the following inscription in French: “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. 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).

Ðåäàêòîð — A. S. Vinogradova

Äàòà îáíîâëåíèÿ: 14.02.2023