Moscow (cantata)

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Moscow (Москва) [1] is a cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra (TH 69 ; ČW 64), written by Tchaikovsky between 5/17 March and 24 March/5 April 1883 for the coronation celebrations of the Russian Emperor Alexander III.


The cantata is scored for solo mezzo-soprano and baritone voices, with mixed chorus (SATB) and an orchestra consisting of 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in D), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are six movements:

  1. Introduction and Chorus («С мала ключика...»). Andante religioso (A major)
  2. Arioso («То не звездочка...»). Moderato con moto (D major)
  3. Chorus («Час ударил жданный...»). Allegro (D major)
  4. Monologue and Chorus («Уж как из лесу...»). Moderato—Largo (B minor)
  5. Arioso («Мне ли, господи...»). Andante molto sostenuto (E-flat minor)
  6. Finale («По Руси пошёл сиук и гром большой...»). Moderato con moto (D major)

A complete performance lasts 20 to 25 minutes.


The Russian text was specially written for the cantata by Apollon Maykov (1821-1897). Soviet editions of the score used a revised version of the text by Aleksey Mashistov.


As early as December 1882, one of the members of the Moscow City Coronation Committee—a certain Korganov—had discussions with Tchaikovsky about commissioning him to write a cantata. Tchaikovsky agreed in principle, and suggested the poets Yakov Polonsky or Apollon Maykov as possible authors of the text. But then no official commission followed.

In February 1883, while staying in Paris, Tchaikovsky received an inquiry from the director Anton Bartsal as to whether the cantata was ready [2]. Concerned by this question, Tchaikovsky asked Pyotr Jurgenson to find out more about this, and just in case, to send him the manuscript of the Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition: "If the worst comes to the worst I might fall back on that for the music, but—words, words? And when should all this be ready? Is it already too late?" [3].

It was only in early/mid-March that Tchaikovsky received the official commission to compose the cantata from the coronation committee. With the letter came the text by Apollon Maykov. The explanation given for the delay was that the committee members had initially approached Anton Rubinstein with the commission, and he "declined, in view of the short time-scale, and suggested my name", Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck [4]. The time available was exceptionally short—by 17/29 April the completed manuscript would have to be in Saint Petersburg [5]. Completing the commission would be a formidable task, since at the same time the composer was also writing a march to be performed at the coronation. The urgency with which both works were required meant that Tchaikovsky had to interrupt the composition of his opera Mazepa, which displeased him greatly.

Tchaikovsky worked with remarkable application in order to deliver both works on time [6]. The first themes for the cantata are dated 5/17 March [7], and on 21 March/2 April he informed Nadezhda von Meck that he had set about the orchestration [8]. On 24 March/5 April the full score was completed (according to the date on the manuscript), and on 26 March/7 April the cantata, together with the manuscript of the Coronation March also commissioned by the city of Moscow, was on its way to Osip Jurgenson in Saint Petersburg, as well as a message announcing their imminent arrival to the chairman of the Coronation Committee, Pyotr Richter [9].

The cantata was written, in his own words, expediently: "My obligations for the impending coronation festivities are coming along so successfully that soon I will be completely free of them. My circumstances were certainly helped by the fact that the words of the cantata, written by Maykov, are very beautiful and poetic... the whole piece is so deeply profound and so originally written, and there is a freshness and sincerity of tone that made it possible for me not merely to dash off something stolid and formal, but to invest in my music something of the warmth of Maykov's wonderful verses" [10]. Tchaikovsky also wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson that he was very pleased with the cantata, and while he hoped that it might be performed in the next season of Russian Musical Society concerts, he did not recommend that it should be published [11].

In 1890, in a letter to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Regarding Maykov, I remember how it fell to me to write a Coronation Cantata on his text. At the time I was staying in Paris... Suddenly I received a proposal, already declined by A. G. Rubinstein, to write a Coronation Cantata in two weeks... I considered that to carry out such a proposition was impossible within such an outrageously short time scale, and gave vent to my feelings to my brother Modest, who at that time happened to have to hand a book of Maykov's verses; my admiration for these was such that they involuntarily stirred my inspiration, and so that I would not forget, I wrote on the book in pencil the musical ideas that had come into my head. Had this not happened then there probably have been no Coronation Cantata, but under the spell of this magic the cantata was ready and dispatched in time, and I consider it to be among the best of my compositions" [12].


Tchaikovsky arranged the vocal-piano reduction himself. His piano reduction of the orchestral parts appears at the bottom of each page in the manuscript score, and was either made simultaneously with his orchestration of the cantata, or shortly after its completion.


The first performance of the cantata took place in Moscow at a dinner on the evening of Alexander III's coronation, 15/27 May 1883, at the Palace of the Facets (Грановитая Палата) in the Kremlin. The soloists were Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya and Ivan Melnikov, with chorus and orchestra conducted by Eduard Nápravník.

On 8/20 January 1884, the cantata was performed at a Patriotic Society charity concert in Saint Petersburg, by the Russian Opera orchestra with Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya (mezzo-soprano) and Ippolit Pryanishnikov (baritone), conducted by Anton Rubinstein.


The cantata was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow:

  • Vocal score, 41 pages. Plate 5686 — May 1883 [13]
  • Choral parts — December 1885
  • Full score — June 1888

In 1960, the full and vocal-piano reductions of the cantata were published in volumes 27 and 33 respectively of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works using a revised version of the text by Aleksey Mashistov.


Tchaikovsky's autograph score is preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 122) [view].

The composer's notebook for 1883-85 in the Klin House-Museum (ref. a2, No. 9) contains rough drafts of each movement (including two which were unused), and work on the text.


See: Discography

Related Works

See also the Coronation March (1883).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. The title on the manuscript score reads: "Cantata for chorus and orchestra (mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists), written for the occasion of the coronation of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III" (Кантата для хора и оркестра (меццо-сопрано и баритон-соло), написанная по случай коронации Зго Императорского Величества Александра III). The title Moscow was added when the cantata was first published.
  2. See telegram from Anton Bartsal, 5/17 February 1883 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  3. Letter 2219 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 6/18 February 1883.
  4. Letter 2290 to Nadezhda von Meck, 9/21 May 1883. See also Letter 2291 to the editor of the newspaper Le Gaulois, 10/22 May 1883.
  5. See Letter 2239 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 March 1883.
  6. See Letter 2237 to Aleksey Sofronov, 11/23 March 1883.
  7. Notebook No. 9 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  8. Letter 2244 to Nadezhda von Meck, 21 March/2 April 1883.
  9. See Letter 2248 and Letter 2250 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 25 March/6 April and 26 March/7 April 1883.
  10. Letter 2249 to Nadezhda von Meck, 26 March/7 April 1883.
  11. Letter 2245 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 23 March/4 April 1883.
  12. Letter 4114 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 18/30 May 1890.
  13. Passed for publication by the censor on 7/19 May 1883.