The Life & Letters Of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky
By Modest Chaikovskii

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I N offering to English and American readers this abridged edition of The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky , my introduction must of necessity take the form of some justification of my curtailments and excisions. The motives which led to this undertaking, and the reasons for my mode of procedure, may be stated in a few words. In 1900 I published a volume dealing with Tchaikovsky, [1] which was, I believe, the first attempt to embody in book form all the literature—scattered through the byways of Russian journalism—concerning the composer of the Pathetic Symphony. In the course of a year or two—the book having sold out in England and America—a proposal was made to me to prepare a new edition. Meanwhile, however, the authorised Life and Letters , compiled and edited by the composer’s brother, Modeste Ilich Tchaikovsky, was being issued in twenty-five parts by P. I. Jurgenson,...

Part I

41 minute read

O ne of the most characteristic traits of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky was his ironical attitude towards his family’s traditions of noble descent. He never lost an opportunity of making fun of their armorial bearings, which he regarded as “imaginary,” and clung obstinately to the plebeian origin of the Tchaikovskys. This was not merely the outcome of his democratic convictions, but had its origin, partly in the pride which lay at the very root of his nature, and partly in his excessive conscientiousness. He would not consider himself a scion of the aristocracy, because his nearest ancestors could not boast of one boyar , nor one owner of patrimonial estates. His father was the sole serf-owner in the family, and he possessed a cook with a numerous progeny—ten souls in all. But if he was unconcerned as to family descent, he was far from indifferent as to nationality. The aristocratic pretensions...

Part II

15 minute read

A T this time there were two music masters at the School of Jurisprudence. Karel, who taught the piano, until he was succeeded by Bekker, and Lomakin, the professor of singing. It is not known whether Tchaikovsky ever took lessons with Karel. With Bekker he did learn for a time, but the lessons made no impression upon his memory. The singing lessons he received from Lomakin amounted to little more than choral practices. Lomakin was a very competent man, who brought the school choir to a pitch of perfection; but he had not time to train individual voices, consequently he exercised no direct influence on Tchaikovsky, although he observed his beautiful soprano voice and his great talent for music. Besides these masters, Tchaikovsky took piano lessons at home from Rudolf Kündinger. Kündinger had come to Russia at eighteen, and delighted the public of St. Petersburg by his brilliant virtuosity. Having...

Part III

31 minute read

T CHAIKOVSKY’S first impressions of Moscow practically resolve themselves into his association with a few Muscovites, with whom he was destined to be linked to the end of his days. His subsequent life is so inseparably connected with the narrow circle of his friends in the old capital, that the reader needs to be introduced to some of them individually, before I pass on to my brother’s career as a teacher and composer. At the head of these musical friends stands Nicholas Rubinstein, of whom it is no exaggeration to say that he was the greatest influence throughout Tchaikovsky’s after career. No one, artist or friend, did so much for the advancement of his fame, gave him greater support and appreciation, or helped him more to conquer his first nervousness and timidity, than the Director of the Moscow Conservatoire. Nicholas Rubinstein is intimately associated with every event in Tchaikovsky’s private...

Part IV

2 hour read

S OME time during the seventies, a violinist named Joseph Kotek entered Tchaikovsky’s theory class at the Conservatoire. He was a pleasant-looking young man, good-hearted, enthusiastic, and a gifted virtuoso. His sympathetic personality and talented work attracted Tchaikovsky’s notice, and Kotek became a special favourite with him. Thus a friendship developed between master and pupil which was not merely confined to the class-room of the Conservatoire. Kotek was poor, and, on leaving the Conservatoire, was obliged to earn his living by teaching, before he began to tour abroad. At that time there lived in Moscow the widow of a well-known railway engineer, Nadejda Filaretovna von Meck. This lady asked Nicholas Rubinstein to recommend her a young violinist who could play with her at her house. Rubinstein recommended Kotek. No young musician could have desired a better post. Nadejda von Meck, with her somewhat numerous family, lived part of the year...

Part V

23 minute read

W HEN in 1877 Tchaikovsky declined to act as delegate for the Paris Exhibition, the office was accepted by Nicholas Rubinstein, who, in September, 1878, gave four important concerts at the Trocadéro, the programmes of which were drawn exclusively from the works of Russian composers. Tchaikovsky was represented by the following works: the Pianoforte Concerto (B♭ minor), The Tempest , Chant sans Paroles (played by Nicholas Rubinstein), and “Serenade and Valse” for violin (played by Bartzevich). The success of these compositions, especially of the Concerto, thanks to Rubinstein’s artistic interpretation, was so great that, judging by the opinions of Tchaikovsky’s friends and opponents, the chief interest of all four concerts centred in them. Eye-witnesses declare they never saw such enthusiasm in any concert-room as was displayed on the first evening after the performance of the B♭ minor Concerto. The work was repeated with equal success at the fourth concert. The...

Part VI

42 minute read

S TRONG and energetic, fearing neither conflict nor effort, the Tchaikovsky who entered upon this new phase of life in no way resembled the man we knew in 1878. The duties connected with his public career no longer dismayed him; on the contrary, they proved rather attractive, now he had strength to cope with them. At the same time interests stirred within him such as could not have been satisfied in his former restricted existence. Thanks to the enormous success of Eugene Oniegin , his fame had now reached every class in educated Russia, and he was compelled to accept a certain rôle which—at least, in these first days of success—was not unpleasant to him. He was glad to pay attentions to others, to help everyone who came his way, because by this means he could show his gratitude to the public for the enthusiastic reception accorded to his work....

Part VII

31 minute read

Those menacing blows of fate—like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—had sounded, although muffled and distant, even on the day of Tchaikovsky’s first concert (March 5th); while that intangible and groundless sense of bitterness—that “touch of gall,” as he himself calls it—was present even in that triumphant moment when he found himself master of the orchestra and all its tempestuous elements, as though prophetic of those sufferings which overshadowed the last years of his life. At the time he did not understand this vague warning; afterwards, when it came back to him, he realised it had been a friendly caution, not to continue the chase for fame; not to take up occupations that went against his nature, nor to spend his strength upon the attainment of things which would come of themselves; finally, to cling to his true vocation, lest disappointment should await him in the new path he had...


33 minute read

First Season , 1866-1867 1. Op. 15. Festival Overture upon the Danish National Hymn; completed October, 1866. Published by Jurgenson. 2. Op. 13. Symphony in G minor, No. 1, “Winter Dreams.” Begun in March, completed in November, 1866. Jurgenson. 3. Op. 1. Russian Scherzo and Impromptu. Composed early in 1867. The first of these compositions was originally entitled “Capriccio.” It is based on the first theme of the Andante in the quartet in B major, which Tchaikovsky composed while still at the Conservatoire in 1865. The theme itself is a Malo-Russian folksong, heard at Kamenka. The Impromptu—a still earlier work—was never intended for publication. It chanced to be in the same manuscript-book as the Capriccio, which was given to Jurgenson by Rubinstein, without any intimation that the Impromptu was not to be published. The Russian Scherzo was performed at Rubinstein’s concert in 1867. Both these works—like the First Symphony —were...


21 minute read

1. The Oprichnik. The Oprichniks were a band of dissolute young noblemen, the chosen body-guard of Ivan the Terrible, who swore by fearful and unnatural oaths to carry out every command of the despot they served. Sometimes they masqueraded as monks and celebrated “black mass.” In reality they were robbers and murderers, hated and feared by the people whom they oppressed. Andrew Morozov, the descendant of a noble, but impoverished, house, and the only son of the widowed Lady Morozova, is in love with the beautiful Natalia, daughter of Prince Jemchoujny. His poverty disqualifies him as a suitor. Natalia’s father promises her hand to the elderly boyard Mitkov. While desperately in need of money, Andrew falls in with Basmanov, a young Oprichnik, who persuades him to join their community, telling him that an Oprichnik can always fill his own pockets. Andrew consents, believing it to be his only chance of...


19 minute read

Leipzig “Signale” “ January , 1888. “So far we have only become acquainted with three or four works by Peter Tchaikovsky, a follower of the Neo, or young, Russian school of ‘storm and stress’ composers, and these works, to speak frankly, have not won our sympathies; not because the composer is lacking in talent and skill, but because the manner in which he employs his gifts is repellent to us. Equally frankly we are ready to confess that we went to hear the Suite (op. 43) included in this programme, somewhat in fear and trembling, being prepared for all kinds of monstrosities, distortions, and repulsiveness. But it turned out otherwise. The Fugue and Introduction at the beginning of the Suite bore honourable witness to the composer’s contrapuntal science; of the other movements—the Divertimento, Intermezzo, Marche miniature, and Gavotte—the march seems least worthy of praise, for it merely recalls the tea-caddy-decoration...