The Voyevoda (symphonic ballad)

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The Voyevoda (Воевода) is a symphonic ballad in A minor (TH 54 ; ČW 51) [1], written by Tchaikovsky in September and October 1890, but not orchestrated until September 1891. After the first performance the composer destroyed the full score, but after his death it was reconstructed from the surviving orchestral parts and published as "Op. 78".


The Voyevoda is scored for a large orchestra comprising 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A), bass clarinet (in B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in B-flat), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, military drum + celesta + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.


There is one movement: Allegro vivacissimo—Moderato a tempo (A minor, 510 bars), lasting around 12 to 15 minutes in performance.


The Ballad is based on Aleksandr Pushkin's Russian translation of the Polish poem Czaty: Ballada ukraińska (The Ambush: A Ukrainian Ballad) by Adam Mickiewicz, which was first published in the collection Poezye Adama Mickiewicza (1829). The work is unconnected to Tchaikovsky's first opera, also called The Voyevoda (1867-68), or the melodrama he wrote for the stage play of the same name in 1886.


There is very little surviving evidence concerning the origins of The Voyevoda. From Tchaikovsky's letters to Vladimir Davydov, it would appear that the two men had talked to each other about this subject. Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have composed that ballad for orchestra, on the subject of which you disapprove... I assure you that it was a good idea to write this work" [2]. It seems that the ballad was begun in Tiflis in late September/early October 1890. Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson on 28 September/10 October 1890: "I am composing a symphonic poem" [3]. From the aforementioned letter from the composer to Vladimir Davydov, it follows that by 4/16 October the ballad was prepared in rough, and in the same letter Tchaikovsky stated that he would spend the next few weeks on its instrumentation. But his intention was not then carried out. In a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of 10/22 October 1890, the composer wrote: "The ballad is finished, but I'm slaving over the orchestration and getting nowhere. It's so awkward" [4]. Tchaikovsky's circumstances forced him to put off completing the ballad for almost a whole year. The productions of the opera The Queen of Spades in Saint Petersburg and Kiev, a commission from Lucien Guitry for music to Hamlet, composing the opera Iolanta and the ballet The Nutcracker for the next winter season, and a concert tour of America—all of these postponed the orchestration of the ballad.

In a number of letters to relatives and friends dating from June 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote of his intention to begin scoring the ballad [5], and asked Pyotr Jurgenson to obtain a new orchestral instrument, the Celesta Mustel: "It is essential for The Voyevoda..." [6].

In a letter of 22 August/3 September to Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky reported: "I shall now orchestrate the fantasia Voyevoda (on the subject of Pushkin's ballad), and will play it for the first time in Saint Petersburg at a concert of the Musical Society. I have been invited to conduct one of their concerts there" [7].

Tchaikovsky took up the orchestration of The Voyevoda as soon as he had finished the rough sketches of Iolanta: "Yesterday I completely finished the opera. Tomorrow I shall set to work on the instrumentation of The Voyevoda", he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky on 5/17 September 1891 [8].

The scoring of the ballad was completed around 22 September/4 October 1891, as indicated by a letter to Anna Merkling of the latter date, in which the composer reported that he had finished his new symphonic work [9]. On the same day he wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "I've finished my symphonic ballad, The Voyevoda, and I'm very pleased with it" [10].


Tchaikovsky transcribed the central section of the ballad as an independent piece for solo piano under the title Aveu passionné.


The symphonic ballad The Voyevoda was performed for the first time in Moscow on 6/18 November 1891, at a concert organised by Aleksandr Ziloti, conducted by the composer.

Other notable early performances included:

  • New York, [Carnegie] Music Hall, Symphonic Society concert, 14/26 November 1897, conducted by Walter Damrosch
  • Saint Petersburg, Russian symphony concert, March 1897
  • London, Queen's Hall, 15/28 September 1905, conducted by Henry Wood.


After hearing his new work played by the orchestra, Tchaikovsky became extremely dissatisfied, and the next day he destroyed it. He wrote of this to Vladimir Nápravník in a letter of 11/23 November 1891: "My ballad The Voyevoda turned out to be so wretched, that the other day after the concert I tore it to shreds. It exists no more" [11]. Modest Tchaikovsky recalled the same [12]. However, three autograph fragments from the full score have survived, and are now preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive (a1, Nos. 64-66).


The orchestral parts were preserved by Aleksandr Ziloti, who, seeing the composer's agitated state after the concert, ordered that the parts should be collected, and took them to his apartment, and he refused Tchaikovsky's request that they should be destroyed, since he and Sergey Taneyev considered that the ballad The Voyevoda, although weaker than Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini, was "for all its sins, full of interesting things" [13].

After Tchaikovsky's death, the full score of the ballad was reconstructed from the orchestral parts and published by Mitrofan Belyayev in Leipzig in 1897 as "Op. 78". An arrangement of the ballad for piano duet by Nikolay Sokolov was issued at the same time [14].

Several letters between Mitrofan Belyayev and Modest Tchaikovsky survive concerning the question of publishing the composer's works posthumously, a number of which relate to The Voyevoda [15].

The Voyevoda was published in volume 26 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1961), edited by Irina Iordan.

Critical Reception

After the composer's death, Sergey Taneyev, in one of his letters to Modest Tchaikovsky in 1901, recalled how he had given his views on The Voyevoda to Tchaikovsky soon after the first rehearsal:

My first impression of The Voyevoda", he wrote, "was that the main part of the piece—the central love episode—sounded merely preparatory. Moreover, the musical worth of this central section could not bear comparison with similar episodes in earlier works by Pyotr Ilyich—Romeo, The Tempest and Francesca. It seemed to me that the reception this work received at that time was mistaken. The words of Pushkin's ballad might be sung to this melody, thus:


What this suggests, is that this was not composed as a work for orchestra, but as a romance. Performed without words and on orchestral instruments it produces a somewhat insipid impression, and its impact is greatly diminished [16].

It is possible that Taneyev's views had an indirect influence on Tchaikovsky's decision to destroy The Voyevoda.


See: Discography

Related Works

See: Aveu passionné.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'The Voevoda' in TH.
  2. Letter 4228 to Vladimir Davydov, 5/17 October 1890.
  3. Letter 4224 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 28 September/10 October 1890.
  4. Letter 4231 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 10/22 October 1890.
  5. See Letter 4394 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Letter 4397 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 3/15 June 1891, and also Letter 4429 to Sergey Taneyev, 27 June/9 July 1891.
  6. Letter 4397 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 3/15 June 1891.
  7. Letter 4459 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 22 August/3 September 1891.
  8. Letter 4469 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 5/17 September 1891.
  9. Letter 4478 to Anna Merkling, 22 September/4 October 1891.
  10. Letter 4480 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 22 September/4 October 1891.
  11. Letter 4545 to Vladimir Nápravník, 11/23 November 1891.
  12. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1902), pp. 514–516.
  13. See letter from Aleksandr Ziloti to the composer, 21 November/3 December 1891 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  14. See letter from Mitrofan Belyayev to Modest Tchaikovsky, 1/13 April 1896 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  15. See letters from Mitrofan Belyayev to Modest Tchaikovsky of 18/30 March, 1/13 April, 13/25 April 1896 and 31 December 1896/12 January 1897 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  16. Undated letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest Tchaikovsky, 1901 — Klin House-Museum Archive. The words «Не искал он, не страдал он» = "He did not seek, he did not yearn".