Tchaikovsky and mushroom collecting

Like so many Russians, he was a madly keen collector of mushrooms and could indulge his passion freely at Klin; the woods and fields around his house were filled with them.  However, as anyone will know who has taken to the sport, there are mushroom collectors and mushroom collectors; some have the eye for it, others have not.

Kashkin came over for the weekend during the summer and Tchaikovsky at once – he could never believe that his bad luck would last – insisted they go out mushrooming.  When they reached the wood in which the best kind grew (they called them the white ones as distinct from the dark) Kashkin spotted them first as usual, gathering them at times from under Tchaikovsky’s very nose.

Tchaikovsky stood this for a time in silence, then looked from his friend’s half-filled basket of white mushrooms to his own measly collection of dark ones and burst out irritably, “Let’s split up. You’ll only pinch my mushrooms again if we stay together.”

Kashkin agreed and each went to different parts of the wood.  For once Tchaikovsky was in luck; after walking some way he stumbled on a colony of white mushrooms, a colony so thick that even he could not miss them.  He stared at the treasure for a moment, speechless before the sight of such riches.  When the truth dawned he “let out a fearful yell”.

It was a cry of triumph but to Kashkin, out of sight, it sounded like a cry for help.  He hurried through the trees in the direction of the cries, for they were still going on. When he discovered Tchaikovsky at last he saw him standing in the midst of his colony of mushrooms like one possessed, crowing with joy.

Tchaikovsky heard Kashkin’s footsteps cracking the twigs.  He looked back, his face changed and so did his cry; from a yell of triumph it turned into a scream of fear.  He waved one hand violently at him.  “They’re mine!” he shouted.  “All mine!”  As Kashkin still continued to walk towards the horde Tchaikovsky suddenly threw himself headlong into the heart of the colony.  He lay there spread-eagled, his wide-stretched arms covering as many of the precious mushrooms as possible.  “Don’t you dare come nearer, Nikolai!” he shouted, his face red and excited.  “They’re mine, d’you hear! I found them.  You aren’t going to pinch these.  Don’t you dare move!  Go away, go right away!”

Cited in: Hanson, Lawrence and Elisabeth (1965) Tchaikovsky: A New Study of the Man and His Music. London: Cassell & Company, p.300-301.