Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition (Кантата на открытие Политехнической выставке) (TH 67 ; ČW 63) [1] was written in February and March 1872 for the opening of the Moscow Polytechnic Exhibition, commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of Peter the Great.


The cantata is scored for solo tenor voice, mixed chorus (SATB), and an orchestra consisting of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in D, E), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, triangle, military drum, cymbals, bass drum + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

The cantata has twelve sections:

  • Introduction
Andante lugubre-Allegro moderato (G minor-G major, 140 bars)
  • Solo and Chorus («Как сквозь ночной, туманный неба свод»)
Andante (E major, 125 bars)
  • Chorus («То было зерно нашеи Руси заветное»)
Moderato (G-sharp minor, 31 bars)
  • Fugue («В зошла Москва с макушкой золотой!»)
Allegro moderato e maestoso (E major, 162 bars)
  • Chorus («Отцы завешали нам Русь полудикую»)
Moderato (A minor, 15 bars)
  • Solo («Ужели вновь бороться и страдать»)
Andante non tanto («A minor, 33 bars)
  • Chorus («Завещан простор нам в себе замыкающий»)
Moderato (A minor, 15 bars)
  • Solo («Но кто, прости нам Царь небесный»)
Andante cantabile (F major, 47 bars)
  • Chorus («О, был етот гений, был царь и работник»)
Moderato (B-flat minor, 15 bars)
  • Solo («Его нослал нам Царь, небесный»)
Andante (F major, 33 bars)
  • Chorus («На русском престоле нотомок великого»)
Allegro giusto (C major, 78 bars)
  • Final Chorus («Чтобы к счастью прамей нам шла дорога»)
Allegro molto (G major, 215 bars)

A complete performance of the cantata lasts approximately 30 to 35 minutes.


The Russian text was specially written for the cantata by Yakov Polonsky (1819-1898) [2].


At the end of 1871 (in November or December), Tchaikovsky received a request from the musical organisers of the Polytechnic Exhibition in Moscow to write a cantata in connection with the Exhibition, which was being arranged to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great [3]. The text of the cantata was to be supplied by the poet Yakov Polonsky. Because of Tchaikovsky's travels abroad, the text of the cantata was only delivered to him upon his return to Saint Petersburg in late January/early February 1872 [4]. A condition stipulated by the organisers was that the completed manuscript should be handed over to them not later than 1/13 April 1872, and it must be supposed that Tchaikovsky met this deadline.


The cantata was performed on 31 May/12 June 1872 at the opening of the Exhibition in Moscow, under a specially erected marquee at the Trinity Bridge. The conductor was Karl Davydov, and the solo part was performed by Aleksandr Dodonov [5]. Tchaikovsky attended the performance, and on 2/14 June he wrote to Karl Davydov [6]: "The need for me to leave Moscow on 31 May [O.S.] prevented me from congratulating you on your efforts and benevolent attention to my cantata. This troubled me, and I had to write this quick note to express to you my most sincere gratitude. I heard the cantata from underneath [the bridge], not wishing to become an object of general curiosity" [7].

The cantata was performed again on 14/26 June 1872 at a grand concert held at the Bolshoi Theatre. The soloist was again Aleksandr Dodonov, but the name of the conductor was not advertised on the concert bill. It seems likely that this would have been Karl Davydov once again.

In 1904, Aleksandr Ziloti wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "Pyotr Ilich's cantata is going ahead, probably on 8 January" [8]. This performance of the cantata did indeed take place at a concert organised by Ziloti on 8/21 January 1905, in the hall of the Nobles' Club in Saint Petersburg. The conductor was Aleksandr Ziloti, and the solo performer Fyodor Senyus.

The North American premiere of the cantata (with Tchaikovsky's original text) was given on 26 January 1997 at Ann Arbor, Michigan, by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and University Musical Society Choral Union, with Vladimir Popov (tenor), conducted by Neeme Järvi [9].


The cantata was published for the first time in 1960, in volume 27 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, under the title Cantata to Commemorate the Bicentenary of the Birth of Peter the Great (Кантата в память двухсотой годовщины рождения Петра Великого). This was a reconstruction from the original orchestral and choral parts by Andrey Kovalev, and with a heavily revised text by Sergey Gorodetsky and Aleksey Mashistov. The statement of the anthem 'God Save the Tsar' (24 bars) was cut completely from the finale.


The whereabouts of Tchaikovsky's autograph score remain unknown. It was formerly preserved in the library of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow [10]. In 1900, when Modest Tchaikovsky wanted to publish the cantata, it could not be found in the theatre library. However, some years previously the librarian A. K. Farsky had used the surviving orchestral and choral parts [11] to put together the full score [12], and this was acquired by Modest Tchaikovsky [13].

At Modest Tchaikovsky's request, Yury Pomerantsev made a piano arrangement from the full score compiled by A. K. Farsky. Sergey Taneyev wrote about the arrangement to Modest Tchaikovsky: "Two days ago I returned from Yusha [Pomerantsev], bringing the cantata with me, but the parts still have to be written out, and the markings added" [14].

On 5/18 June 1902, Modest Tchaikovsky wrote to Sergey Taneyev [15]: "I had Yusha bring along your work to me... As a result I am now familiar with the cantata. I am glad that Kashkin was not mistaken when he said that Petya borrowed one of the themes for his Third Symphony (the humorous fanfare in the symphony's scherzo). The first half of it comes from the finale of the First Symphony. I do not agree with Yusha that this is a bad thing—it brings me great pleasure, and great satisfaction". On the manuscript of Yury Pomerantsev's arrangement is the date: "1902. 28 March" [O.S.].

Related Works

Bars 1–90 from the introduction constitute an extended and re-scored version of the opening of the finale from the Symphony No. 1 (1866-68), and the whole of the final chorus is based on the conclusion of the same movement from the symphony. Sergey Taneyev, reviewing the composer's manuscripts in 1901, wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky:

In the cantata there are some borrowings from the finale of the First Symphony, namely: the introduction to the cantata is almost the same as the introduction to the finale of the symphony (Andante lugubre), made almost twice as long by means of exact and varied repeated sections. After this, the first 12 bars of the Allegro moderato were also used in the cantata's introduction, to which was added a further 50 new bars as a bridge between the cantata's introduction and entry into the tenor solo. The final chorus [«Чтобы к счастью прямей нам шпа дорога»], begins a cappella on the theme of the Russian song «Распашу ли я, млада-младенька». This song is used as the second subject in the finale of the symphony. From bar 29 of the chorus the strings enter, then the whole orchestra joins in the accompaniment. This tutti is not that different from the conclusion to the symphony (from letter M on page 104 of the full score), with the addition of the chorus [16].

A modified version of the woodwind theme first heard at bar 101 of the cantata's introduction (and which also recurs accompanying the tenor solo from bar 474), was used in the trio of the Scherzo from the Symphony No. 3 (1875).

The cantata's coda (bars 659-682) includes a full statement of the Russian anthem "God Save the Tsar" (Боже, Царя храни), composed by Aleksey Lvov (1833).


See: Discography

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'Cantata to the Polytechnic Exhibition in Moscow 1872' in ČW.
  2. The original text was published in Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), pp. 382–385. Published scores and recordings of the cantata to date have used modified versions of the text by Soviet editors.
  3. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), pp. 375–377.
  4. Letter from Herman Laroche to Tchaikovsky, 7/19 January 1872 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  5. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 377.
  6. Letter 264 to Karl Davydov, 2/14 June 1872.
  7. Part of the audience was accommodated in a stand, the remainder listened from the garden — see Открытие Политехнической выставки (1872), and Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 378.
  8. Letter from Aleksandr Ziloti to Modest Tchaikovsky, 11/24 May 1904 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  9. The original text of the cantata was restored for this performance [1]
  10. See Letter 2219 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 6/18 February 1883.
  11. The orchestral and choral parts used for the performances are now in the Klin House-Museum (a1, Nos. 266-294).
  12. Farsky's manuscript is now in the archives of the Klin House-Museum (ref. a16, No. 13). It includes the notes: "September 19th 1896", "Moscow, May 4th 1897" and "Completed in Moscow, 21st day of July 1898, from the orchestral parts put together with the printed text by A. Farsky".
  13. See letters from Boris Jurgenson to Modest Tchaikovsky of 8/21 December and 12/25 December 1900 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  14. Undated letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest TchaikovskyKlin House-Museum Archive.
  15. Letter from Modest Tchaikovsky to Sergey Taneyev, 5/18 June 1902 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  16. Letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest Tchaikovsky, 26 March/8 April 1901 — Klin House-Museum Archive.