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Tchaikovsky's language abilities

Hi there,

I have a question that has been bothering me for some time now. I know Tchaikovsky had been to England more than once throughout his life and had also travelled to the USA, could he speak English? Obviously I mean could he speak basic English?

I know during the era most educated people spoke one or more of the romantic languages, but I am unsure if English was ever considered a languages well worth the time for a Russian. My question stands not only for Tchaikovsky, but also for his contemporaries, Taneyev, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff etc. .?

Thank you for your time.


Gavin Cannon
South Africa
10/05/2013 06:28

As well as his native Russian language, Tchaikovsky could write and converse in French and German (as can be seen from his letters). He also made some translations of songs from Italian, in which he seems to have been less fluent..

During the 1880s he attempted to learn English, partly so that he could read the original works of Charles Dickens, but his grasp of the language remained fairly basic (see, for example, letter 5006a, written in August 1893 after Tchaikovsky received his doctorate from Cambridge University). On his American tour he communicated mainly in French or German, which would have been readily understood by many of his hosts, who themselves were migrants from Europe (e.g. Water Damrosch).

To summarise, Tchaikovsky was fluent in French and German (and of course, Russian), and had at least a basic grasp of Italian and English. I don't know about the other composers you mentioned, but perhaps someone else can provide the answer.

Brett Langston
10/05/2013 21:42

From all that I can remember without turning to outside sources I know this much..Tchaikovsky taught himself English later in his life...he could read it but not speak it well...he knew English however well enough to read "Bleak House" in the original...that would entail a good knowledge of the language I would imagine..he did not know enough people to practice speaking on who could help him...he mentions looking forward to practicing his English with a Miss Eastwood , governess of his sisters children...he also learned enough Italian to read the Italian newspapers and had as a youth a teacher who taught him to sing in Italian.. Besides Russian he could speak and write in French fluently and also was familiar with German as was mentioned.... I cannot speak for the other composers..

Albert Gasparo
11/05/2013 08:50

Having dedicated in 1986, my dissertation on Taneyev, I can give this information.

The young Taneyev he received an education similar to many other boys of his social class: French language and literature, Latin ...  In 1876 Taneyev he traveled to Greece, Italy and Switzerland and then arrived in Paris (October 14). In Paris he met Pauline Viardot-Garcia (sister of Malibran) and attended the salon of the singer.

Taneyev he also attended the home of Saint-Saens and Henri Duparc. At the home of Duparc played and and then wrote a composition for small orchestra, on Russian Themes (writes Vincent d'Indy). During this stay in Paris Taneyev he met Flaubert, Gounod, Franck and became interested about the courses of the historian and philosopher Hippolyte Taine, which were held at the Sorbonne.

The biographical sources are mentioned by: T. A, Choprova, S.I.Taneev (1856-1915), Leningrad, 1968 and 1980.

Antonio Garganese
12/05/2013 00:47

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