Zemfira's Song

Tchaikovsky Research
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Zemfira's Song (Песнь Земфиры) (TH 90 ; ČW 210) is one of Tchaikovsky's earliest compositions. For many years the song was only known in a version edited by Karl Albrecht, until Tchaikovsky's original score was rediscovered.


Scored for medium or high voice with piano accompaniment.

Movements and Duration

There is one movement: Allegro non tanto (A minor, 26 bars) [1], lasting around two minutes in performance.


The words are by Aleksandr Pushkin (1799–1837), from his 1824 poem The Gypsies (Цыганы). Tchaikovsky used only the first two of the five stanzas, modifying the first:

Старый муж, грозный муж, режь меня
Старый муж, грозный муж, жги меня:
Я тверда, не боюсь
Ни огни, ни меча.
Режь меня, жги меня.

Ненавижу тебя,
Презираю тебя;
Я другого люблю,
Умираю любя.

Старый муж, грозный муж, режь меня
Старый муж, грозный муж, жги меня:
Я тверда, не боюсь
Ни огни, ни меча.
Режь меня, жги меня.

Он свежее весны,
Жарче летнего дня;
Как он молод и смел!
Как он любит меня!

Старый муж, грозный муж, режь меня
Старый муж, грозный муж, жги меня:
Я тверда, не боюсь
Ни огни, ни меча.
Режь меня, жги меня!


Nothing is known about the process of composition. The work was only discovered after Tchaikovsky's death, in the form of a manuscript copy of the score made by Karl Albrecht. On 11/24 May 1901, Boris Jurgenson told Modest Tchaikovsky: "I am sending you... the manuscript I have found of "Zemfira's aria" [sic]. Father does not remember when or where it was written or how it came to be in his possession. Perhaps you know something about this from your letters?" [2].

In August 1940, a few months after the first publication of the song from Albrecht's manuscript, Tchaikovsky's original autograph was discovered. There were found to be significant differences between the published copy and the autograph. For example, the copy changes the form of the romance: there is an additional repeat of the first couplet (after the rest) and a four-bar interlude before the final couplet. The copy is longer than the original (34 bars as opposed to 26 bars) These changes were probably introduced in order to make Zemifra's Song more closely resemble Pushkin's "The Gypsies". This is suggested by the fact that some of the words (without accompanying melody) have been added to the copy but do not appear in the original. The first of these insertions occurs after Aleko's opening line, while the remainder are repetitions of Aleko and Zemfira's lines, broken in the song as Pushkin. The copy also contains modifications of Pushkin's text in the third verse, and the fifth is omitted completely. The autograph uses only the first second and last verses of Pushkin's text [3].


Zemfira's Song was published for the first time from Karl Albrecht's copy in volume 44 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Ivan Shishov and Nikolay Shemanin [4].

Tchaikovsky's original version was only published for the first time in 1986, by Muzyka (Moscow) [5].


Tchaikovsky's autograph score is now preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive (a1, No. 104), where Karl Albrecht's manuscript copy is also to be found ((a16, No. 1).


See: Discography

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Tchaikovsky's original score is 26 bars, but the revised version, as set out in Karl Albrecht's manuscript, is 34 bars.
  2. Letter of 11/24 May 1901 from Boris Jurgenson to Modest TchaikovskyKlin House-Museum Archive.
  3. See Музыкальное наследие Чайковского. Из историй его произведений (1958), pp. 430–431.
  4. Also printed in Два неопубликованных романса П. И. Чайковского (1940).
  5. P. Tchaikovsky, Романсы. Для голоса в сопровождении фортепиано, вып. 1 (Moscow: Музыка, 1986), p. 7-8. Plate 13192.