January 3Oth, 1890.
Your kind letter touched me very much. Just now I am sadly in need of friendly sympathy and intercourse with people who are intimate and dear. I am passing through a very enigmatical stage on my road to the grave. Something strange, which I cannot understand, is going on within me. A kind of life-weariness has come over me. Some- times I feel an insane anguish, but not that kind of anguish which is the herald of a new tide of love for life ; rather something hopeless, final, and like every finale a little commonplace. Simultaneously a passionate desire to create. The devil knows what it is ! In fact, some- times I feel my song is sung, and then again an unconquerable impulse, either to give it fresh life, or to start a new song. … As I have said, I do not know what has come to me. For instance, there was a time when I loved Italy and Florence. Now I have to make a great effort to emerge from my shell. When I do go out, I feel no pleasure whatever, either in the blue sky of Italy, in the sun that shines from it, in the architectural beauties I see around me, or in the teeming life of the streets. Formerly all this enchanted me, and quickened my imagination. Perhaps my trouble actually lies in those fifty years to which I shall attain two months hence, and my imagination will no longer take colour from its surroundings?
But enough of this! I am working hard. Whether what I am doing is really good, is a question to which only posterity can give the answer.
I feel the greatest sympathy for your misgivings as to the failure of your ’ Oriental Fantasia.’ There is nothing more painful than such doubts. But all evil has its good side. You say your friends did not approve of the work, but did not express their disapproval at the right time at a moment when you could agree with them. It was wrong of them to oppose the enthusiasm of the author for his work, before it had had time to cool. But it is better that they had the courage to speak frankly, instead of giving you that meaningless, perfunctory praise some friends consider it their duty to bestow, to which we listen, and which we accept, because we are only too glad to believe. You are strong enough to guard your feelings as composer in those moments when people tell you the truth. … I, too, dear Alexander Constantinovich, have sometimes wished to be quite frank with you about your work. I am a great admirer of your gifts. I value the earnestness of your aims, and your artistic sense of honour. And yet I often think about you. I feel that, as an older friend who loves you, I ought to warn you against certain exclusive tendencies, and a kind of one-sidedness. Yet how to tell you this I do not quite know. In many respects you are a riddle to me. You have genius, but something prevents you from broadening out and penetra- ting the depths. … In short, during the winter you may expect a letter from me, in which I will talk to you after due reflection. If I fail to say anything apposite, it will be a proof of my incapacity, not the result of any lack of affection and sympathy for you.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky