When you get into this place, it seems that time loses its usual properties. You need only to go through the gates of this old park, to dive in a wonderful manner into another dimension. The time waves gently pick you up and carry through the centuries and space several centuries back. This is Kamyanka National Reserved Park of History and Culture.
Here, the present is interwoven with antiquity, the sounds become hollow and extremely expressive, and the air gets a special purity and transparency. Its scenery inspired Pushkin and Tchaikovsky; Decembrists were dreaming about the bright future; the heroes of 1812 war were staying there… When you look far away at the alley, it seems that right now you will meet a busy girl-maid from the master’s estate, and if you listen well enough, you’re going to hear the sounds of the old grand piano of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, quiet and timid like September winds.
Here on the grand piano, Tchaikovsky has been played by well-known Ukrainian composers, Heroes of Ukraine Myroslav Skoryk and Valentyn Silvestrov. The prominent Ukrainian conductor Stefan Turchak led the symphony orchestra in this old park. The world-famous Ukrainian violinist Myroslava Kotorovych enjoys performing in the Green House. Poets Maksym Rylsky and Andriy Malyshko, the writer Hryhir Tiutiunnyk were inspired by Kamyanka landscapes.
What do the trees whisper?
Davydov Park was established in the late eighteenth century. Although it seems that local massive maples and acacia trees saw Pushkin and Tchaikovsky, in fact, it turns out that they are not. There are only two ancient oaks; they were miraculously saved during the great logging of Davydov park, which the Soviet government performed immediately after the 1917 revolution. The red commissars were probably annoyed by beautiful places that combine absolutely wild places, where the grass was not even cut and where very modern flowerbeds and greenhouses with rare trees and plants for that time were set up. You could find beautiful gazebos in Davydov Park. It was nice to have a rest there during long walks. Shady alleys descended down to the river Tiasmyn, which struck with its landscapes. It’s not an accident that it was a favourite place for the recreation of Davydov family and their guests. Pushkin was recalling these places in his famous novel in the verses “Eugene Onegin, and Tchaikovsky, inspired by Kamyanka’s beauty, has created here a number of works, including the world-famous Swan Lake.
“You know, in those days there were a lot of lilacs here, very beautiful and fragrant varieties,” says Tamila Chupak, deputy director of the Kamyanka National Reserved Park of History and Culture, “This bush was a favourite one of the Davydov family. Tchaikovsky was amazed by these lilacs. Especially he liked the exquisite Persian species. There are many lilacs in the park now, but for some reason, the Persian can’t grow here.”
The modern park, of course, differs from that seen by Pushkin and Tchaikovsky, nevertheless it is beautiful. Here the old, huge maples and oaks quietly gossiping with limes and acacias, fragrant thuya tries to reach the sun, even in the winter a magnificent boxwood is green, and wild grapes spread through bushes and trees they go up the trunks as high as possible. “We have a very nice early spring,” Ms. Tamila says, “there are a lot of primroses here. Violets, corydalis, Caltha, periwinkles – everything blossoms almost simultaneously, and the floor is covered with colored carpet. In May lilies of the valley are blossoming. Tchaikovsky liked them a lot, and they are always blooming on his birthday, May 7.”
It should be noted that Davydov Park is included in the State Register of Cultural Property of Ukraine.
Something interesting from the Green House
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, in a picturesque corner of the family park the Davydovs made a small house for recreation. The shutters and doors were painted with green paint, so the inhabitants of the estate called it “Green”. Part of the building was occupied by the master’s library, the other part was the pool hall, in one of the rooms there were tables for playing cards and chess – everything was set up for comfortable rest. Guests of the Davydov family came to the Green House for inspiration as well. Pushkin liked to write poetry here, Tchaikovsky chose himself a place in a small tower and often worked there. Even the Decembrists, under cover of parties, held meetings here, dreaming to overthrow the tsarist regime.
Today, the Green House has the status of the Literary-Memorial Museum of Pushkin and Tchaikovsky. Literary reading and musical evenings with candles are organized here. It’s precious just to come here and feel the special atmosphere of this place. After all, the old things that belonged to people who lived and worked here have a special energy. Here, in a special chest, are dueling pistols. The workers of the museum tell that the same ones were used during the duel of Pushkin and Dantes. It turns out that at that time, every noble family had such sets just in case. Men defended their honor exclusively by gambling their own lives. Here is a sandbox – an interesting piece of art, it resembles a sophisticated table service. It was used for writing. The thing is, during those days the ink was drying for a long time. And aristocratic families could afford themselves a whole ritual: after the letter was finished, the sheet with a wet inscription was sprinkled from the special crystal cubes with sand, so it took away excess ink then they carefully wiped it. Here is the vase-smoker for the incense; it is decorated in the oriental style. They used it as a modern aroma lamp, smoking the fragrant grasses all around a small house. Here are the personal cutlery of the Davydov family, books, drafts…
However, according to Tamila Chupak, not all of the museum’s exhibits belong to the Davydov family. After the arrival of Soviet authorities, the estate was looted and had a pathetic look. But in 1937, for the centenary of Pushkin’s death, the creation of a museum was announced in Kamyanka. So, locals started to bring back what once had been stolen. People brought books, tableware, chandeliers, vases … So it is very difficult to prove that something belonged to the Davydov family. Despite all of this, the majority of exhibits are proven to be authentic.
A legend about Kamyanka grotto
Kamyanka grotto is an artificial cave created by the hands of Davydov family’s serfs. It is located across the road from that part of the park where the Green House is located. The park is empty, and a few locals whom you meet are genuinely surprised by the purpose of our search. So we found the grotto somehow accidentally. It appeared out of nowhere, but it was closed, so it remained a mystery for us. Although the local passer-by assured us that there is nothing interesting inside, only an empty room with a dome ceiling. Nevertheless, the outside of the building is a real cherry on the top of the park. You crave to get inside, to feel how it was here in ancient times…
And in the nineteenth century, artificial stone grottos were made in order to provide nobility with decent rest. In the summer, when it was hot outside, ladies gathered in the grotto for a bottle of cool wine, and in the evening, according to local residents, they often used this facility for romantic encounters. One of the local legends tells that the grotto was secretly connected with the Green House. Another story says that the secret passage from the grotto leads up to the Green Mill, a small building where the Decembrists were gathering. But the purpose of creating those tunnels is not known. After all, progressive people who belonged to secret societies, and gathered for meetings under the guise of various parties held in the Davydov estate, were not afraid of the persecution. Although, who knows…
Kamyanka’s memories of Pushkin and Tchaikovsky
Of course, Pushkin and Tchaikovsky were not at the same time in Kamyanka, after all, they belonged to different generations. Alexander Pushkin lived in the first half of the nineteenth century, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky – in the second half of the nineteenth century. According to museum workers, locals had left a lot of memories of great artists.
It was documented that Pushkin was in Kamyanets twice: since November 1820, during his southern exile, he had been staying here for about 4 months, and in November 1822 – for 2 weeks. The old-timers told that Pushkin loved to write in a pool hall of a Green House. He lay down directly on a pool table and … did his art. Throughout the room sheets of paper were laying, written by Pushkin’s hand, no one except the author himself could understand them. Therefore during the poet’s stay, Davydov family ordered to lock the pool hall so that the servants were not able to confuse Pushkin’s drafts and couldn’t interfere with the creative process of the artist.
Tchaikovsky was staying at Davydov’s estate for 28 years and considered it as his home. He didn’t have his own one, so his sister gave him a shelter. Alexandra was married to Lev Davydov, the owner of the Kamyanka estate. Having the opportunity to live and enjoy the beauty of local landscapes, despite the presence of inspiration, every day Tchaikovsky worked at least 5 hours a day. At the same time, the composer didn’t like, when he was distracted. Also, he had a habit to sing aloud and he was ashamed of it. So Davydov family prevented the servants from interfering with Pyotr Tchaikovsky while he was working, the children were not allowed even to walk alongside the place where the composer works.
In general, Tchaikovsky adored the Ukrainian people and folk art. One of his symphonies is written on the theme of Ukrainian songs and inspired by the dancing humorous song about the crane, which was sung by the bartender of Davydov. When Tchaikovsky played a variation of this song in St. Petersburg, the exquisite musical community was impressed. It should be noted that such love of Tchaikovsky to the Ukrainian songs and lyrics was completely natural; it was deep on a gene level because the composer had Ukrainian roots. The fact that his great-grandfather was Ukrainian сossack of Omelnitska hundred of Mirgorod regiment, his name was Fedir Chaika.
According to Ms. Tamila, in every town which Tchaikovsky had visited, they all say that composer was inspired to create the “Swan Lake” ballet exactly there. In fact, this is easy to explain, those days almost every noble family had the estate with lakes and swans. So he could be inspired by that swan story anywhere. However, the process of Swan Lake’s writing, which Moscow Bolshoi Theater ordered from the composer, preceded the creation of a small children’s play “Lake of Swans,” which was written for the children of Alexandra Davydova precisely in Kamyanka. In Kamyanka there was also a premiere of children’s ballet, the main roles in which were performed by little nieces of the author. So, when the composer created “Swan Lake,” he moved there themes from his children’s ballet. Just wondering, could he imagine back then that his work would become world-famous?
There were always plenty of swans in Kamyanka. Not far from the town there is even the village of Lebedivka (“lebed” means swan in Russian – translator’s note), famous for its reservoirs, which are always flocked with beautiful birds. According to museum workers, last year, a large family of swans (21 birds) settled down the Tiasmyna river near the Davydov Park. When it got cold, they stayed there and did not fly away for a long time, even when the river began to cover with ice. They were feeding the swans, and in order for them not to freeze, the workers of reserve made a hut for them. But when it became extremely cold, the birds flew away. This year they haven’t returned. People say that the family of swans settled down the pond near the village of Kosari. But it’s just a rumour…
Sounds of Tchaikovsky’s piano
There is silence in the room of Tchaikovsky in Green House. However, if you wish, you can hear the sounds of a unique musical instrument – the grand piano of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The instrument’s voice is soft and pleasant. Melodies of “Swan Lake”, “Morning Prayer”, and “Waltz of Flowers” bring listeners far-away to another time, when the keys of this instrument were touched by the fingers of the maestro. And space around is saturated with the strange energy of beauty and light. It is a great honor for any musician to play on the piano of the world-famous composer. That is why the All-Ukrainian Children’s Music Contest in memory of P.I. Tchaikovsky is held in Kamyanka for 16 years in a row. Children-winners have the opportunity to come to the museum and play the piano, which played the great composer. This is very exciting, so the young talents have inspiration for new accomplishments.
A house with good ghosts
“The Green House is rather complicated building, it has its secrets,” says Tamila Chupak, “When you stay here alone, especially behind the instrument of Tchaikovsky, you can hear strange sounds. It seems that the house is alive. Maybe it’s the spirit of composer. They say that a human’s soul stays, where his or her love was. And in the Davydov estate, he was really loved and respected.” In the room with piano on the wall hangs the original lifetime portrait of Tchaikovsky made by the local artist Bonifatiy Sahurskyi. Here the works of the composer are heard, wonderful poems are read. That’s why it’s not surprising that the room really has a special energy. “In this house, you can hear steps, breathing, grunting,” Ms. Tamila shares, “And under the piano you can even hear how snores old domovyk (in Slav mythology, domovyk is a spirit of the house – translator’s note). Why is he old? What do you think; he has been living here since the 19th century. But it’s not scary here. The spirits of Green House are very nice, creative people want to make art here. I know by myself. This aura captures you.” And indeed, when you find yourself in the Green House, it seems that it is alive. Probably this should be the same way until the old piano sounds here and the beautiful verses are read.
PS: For many years the literary-memorial museum of Pushkin and Tchaikovsky kept in touch with the descendants of the Davydov family who are living in Russia. Almost every year they came to Kamyanka to visit the Green House. However, since 2013, due to the war waged by Russia in the East of Ukraine, the connection with the Davydov family is not supported…
Text by Yulia Vovkodav
Photo by Tasha Luchezarova