Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich

Tchaikovsky Research
Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich (1858-1915)

Russian Grand Duke (b. 10/22 August 1858 in Strelna; d. 2/15 June 1915 in Pavlovsk), born Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov (Константин Константинович Романов); also known as Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich, or by his literary cipher "K.R." (Russian: К.Р.).

His Imperial Highness Konstantin Konstantinovich was the second son of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich (1827–1892) and his wife Aleksandra Iosifovna (1830–1911) — the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Altenburg — and a grandson of Russian Emperor Nicholas I.

After serving with the Imperial Fleet, Konstantin Konstantinovich joined the Izmaylovsky Regiment of the Imperial Guard, where he served with distinction. He took a great interest in literature, art and music, and became a poet and playwright of some renown under his nom-de-plume "K.R.". He was also an able pianist, and became the Vice-President of the Russian Musical Society in 1892, and the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1899.

In 1884 he married his second cousin, Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Altenburg, who became the Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Mavrikyevna (1865–1927), with whom he had nine children.

Tchaikovsky and Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich

Tchaikovsky was introduced to the Grand Duke at a soirée given by Vera Butakova in Saint Petersburg on 19/31 March 1880, and they maintained a significant correspondence throughout the composer's remaining years. One evening during his stay in Saint Petersburg in the spring of 1880, while he and Apukhtin were visiting in the home of his long-time friend Vera Davydova, now married to Vice-Admiral Ivan Butakov, Vera suddenly told him that Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, nephew of Alexander II, desired to meet him and had asked her to arrange it. As he confessed in a letter to Modest, Tchaikovsky was seized with "indescribable terror" [1], and although Apukhtin suggested that Vera should invite the grand duke to come that very evening, he persuaded them with difficulty to put it off. Of course, awe and embarrassment, not displeasure, had caused his terror. But six days later he and the Grand Duke did meet, as described in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck on 20 March/2 April 1880:

Yesterday I had to suffer quite roundly. Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich has a son Konstantin Konstantinovich. He is a young man of twenty-two, passionately in love with music and very fond of mine. He wished to make my acquaintance and asked a relative of mine, the wife of Admiral Butakov, to arrange a soirée at which we might meet. Knowing my dislike of crowds and high society, he requested that the evening be intimate, without white tie or tails. It was quite impossible to decline. But the young man proved to be extremely pleasant and very gifted in music. We sat from nine o'clock until two in the morning talking about music. He composes quite nicely, but unfortunately does not have the time to work at it persistently [2].

Describing the same event to Modest, however, Tchaikovsky did not speak of having "suffered". On the contrary, he referred to the Grand Duke as a "wonderful youth," whom everyone was "enchanted" by [3]. Grand Duke Konstantin also recorded his meeting with the composer in his diary:

I spent a delightful evening at Vera Vasilyevna Butakova's. She had promised to acquaint me with Tchaikovsky, our best composer, and invited him. Also present were his brother Anatoly, Apukhtin, and [Prince] Shcherbatov. Pyotr Ilyich looks like a man of thirty-five, though his face and greying hair make him seem older. He is not very tall, quite thin, with a short beard and meek, intelligent eyes. His gestures, way of talking, and indeed his whole appearance show him to be an extremely well brought up, educated, and nice person. He studied at the School of Jurisprudence, was very unhappy in his family life, and now devotes himself exclusively to music. Apukhtin is famous for his inordinate stoutness and wonderful poetic works, which he will not agree to publish for anything in the world: he remembers and recites them by heart. Vera Vasilyevna asked him to read us something; he suggested Venice, a little known poem of his. It is so good that while he was reciting it, one was constantly afraid that it would soon be over, because one just wanted to hear more and more of it. They got me to play; I very much wanted to play a song by Tchaikovsky, but I was afraid. His brother sings; I accompanied him in A Tear Trembles, then I played None But the Lonely Heart and afterwards also a romance in B-flat minor [4]. P. Tchaikovsky was asked to play something from his new, not yet published opera The Maid of Orleans, and he sat down at the piano and played the prayer chorus [5]. We were all in raptures about the wonderful music... After supper, Apukhtin recited a few more of his own verses. We broke up at two [in the morning]. Tchaikovsky made the most agreeable impression on me [6].

Grand Duke Konstantin was an unusual figure in the Imperial family. From childhood he had displayed marked inclinations towards literature and the arts, and in addition to his piano playing and musical composition, he had distinguished himself as a minor poet and even a religious dramatist under the pseudonym "K. R." for Konstantin Romanov.

Just two days after the soirée at Vera Butakova's, Tchaikovsky spent an evening with the young man's father, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, brother of the tsar and president of the Russian Musical Society, whom he found "very affectionate and pleasant" [7]. All this, Tchaikovsky later claimed, was done to increase the chances of The Maid of Orleans being accepted for production at the Mariinsky Theatre. "I am making great sacrifices for the opera's sake", he told Modest. "Things have even reached a point where, on the advice of Nápravník, I am making official visits!!! ... Here on Tuesday there is going to be a concert... made up exclusively of my compositions. Yesterday I was invited to the Chamber Music Society, where Auer and Davydov played my second string quartet, and I was given an ovation, which included the presentation of a wreath. This is very flattering, but, my God! how I am tired, how repulsive it is here, and how I am dreaming of my departure from Petersburg as of some impossible happiness! What a lunatic I am to have appreciated so little while abroad the full immensity of the bliss that comes from being free! Here, from morning until late in the night, I am constantly having to go somewhere and see this or that person. It is a tyranny of the most loathsome kind" [8].

On 30 March/11 April, a few days before leaving the capital, he saw the younger Grand Duke Konstantin once more and described him as "very musical" in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck [9]. Again the two talked long into the night. A special bond, suggesting a degree of "elective affinity", was established between the two men, demonstrated after their second meeting by the Grand Duke's extraordinary proposal that Tchaikovsky accompany him on a planned voyage round the world. Loath to give up his freedom for the confinement of a cabin aboard ship for three years and uneasy about the inevitable strain of being continually in such august company, Tchaikovsky declined the tempting offer. But the mutual sympathy of composer and Grand Duke would grow and continue until the end of Tchaikovsky's life. "I am utterly charmed," he wrote to Modest on 3/15 April, "by this uncommonly likeable person" [10]. Grand Duke Konstantin for his part was also delighted by the opportunity to continue their acquaintance. "I parted from Tchaikovsky with visible mutual cordiality, just as if we had been acquainted and on friendly terms for a long time," he noted in his diary after their second meeting. "His short-sighted eyes glistened with a kind and affectionate light" [11].

In early March 1881, Tchaikovsky was in Rome and also at this time, visiting the Italian capital during a cruise of the Mediterranean with two of his cousins, was the composer's august young friend Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. Upon learning that Tchaikovsky had arrived in the city, Konstantin had wished to see him at once, and so the very next day after his arrival Tchaikovsky found both himself and the Grand Duke guests at a luncheon at the home of the Russian aristocrat Count Bobrinsky. Then, before he knew it, he found himself invited to dine the following afternoon, on 22 February/6 March, at the Villa Sciarra, where Konstantin was staying with his cousins, the Grand Dukes Sergey and Pavel Aleksandrovich, the two younger sons of the reigning emperor, Alexander II. Tchaikovsky was presented to Sergey and Pavel, and his most august hosts treated him "extremely kindly, affectionately, and attentively". Finding all three grand dukes "very friendly". Summing up for Modest his impressions of that day, Tchaikovsky wrote that he had been "shown much kindness. I left Villa Sciarra at three in the afternoon and came home on foot" [12]. On 24 February/8 March, at the dinner at Bobrinsky's in white tie and tails Grand Duke Konstantin, himself an amateur musician and composer, played a lot. The assembled guests also called upon Tchaikovsky to play, as well as trying to draw him into conversations about music, something that he always hated. So friendly had he and the young Konstantin now grown that the Grand Duke asked Tchaikovsky to call him simply by the familiar diminutive "Kostya." The three Russian imperial ships aboard which the Grand Dukes were travelling were anchored at Naples, and on 28 February/12 March, Tchaikovsky headed there to tour the ships and to rest from the bustle of Rome. In Naples there was talk of having the composer accompany the Grand Dukes to Athens and Jerusalem. But this was not to be. From Saint Petersburg on 1/13 March 1881 arrived the tragic news of the assassination of Alexander II, killed with a bomb by members of the radical group called the People's Will. The Grand Dukes left for Saint Petersburg at once.

From 19/31 August to 8/20 September 1886 Tchaikovsky composed the Twelve Romances, Op. 60, which he dedicated to the Tsarina Mariya Fyodorovna. Grand Duke Konstantin Konstaninovich had agreed to act as his intermediary in requesting the tsarina to accept this dedication. Since their meeting in Italy in the spring of 1881, Tchaikovsky and the Grand Duke had recently met again in Saint Petersburg on 18/30 March 1886, at a soirée in the house of Yuliya Abaza, a singer and the wife of one of the tsar's ministers. The official permission for this dedication was duly granted, and in his reply the Grand Duke informed Tchaikovsky: "Her Majesty has commanded me to thank you most warmly for the romances, which she found to be 'delightful'" [13]. As a further token of her gratitude, the tsarina, in March 1887, sent Tchaikovsky "her inscribed portrait in a magnificent frame" [14]. Once again he was deeply moved by the imperial attention.

In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck on 10/22 November 1886, Tchaikovsky informed her about his contacts with the court:

In the highest spheres, apart from the Sovereign and the Empress, who are favourably disposed towards me, I have one particular, special patron, namely Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. During this stay in Petersburg I saw him quite frequently and called on him. His personality is uncommonly charming. He is a talented poet and quite recently, under the nom-de-plume K. R., a poetry volume of his has been published which is having great success and has had praise lavished on it by all the newspaper and journal critics. He is also devoted to music and has composed several very nice songs. His wife is a very attractive young woman, who, among other things, is notable for the fact that within just two years she has learned to speak and read Russian completely fluently [15]. Despite all my shyness, especially with people from the high spheres, I felt entirely at ease in the midst of these most likeable august individuals and I derived genuine pleasure from my conversation with them [16].

Although they had exchanged letters before, it was in the autumn of 1886 that Tchaikovsky and his "special patron", Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, began their active correspondence, which would last seven years, right up to Tchaikovsky's death. The Six Romances, Op. 63, and the chorus Blessed is He Who Smiles, both written in late 1887, were settings of verses by the Grand Duke. In his library Tchaikovsky had three volumes of poetry by his august friend, two of them with personal inscriptions. The second of these, published in 1886, contains many sketches and notes in the margins which reflect the composer's work on the six romances. In October 1889, in one of his regular letters from Grand Duke Konstantin, Tchaikovsky received a poem that the Grand Duke had dedicated to him, "O people, you often wounded me so painfully". Reading it, Tchaikovsky felt a feeling "of proud consciousness that a splendid poem... had been created in part as a result of my letters of last year" [17]. The correspondence between Tchaikovsky and the Grand Duke had, as Tchaikovsky confided to Nadezhda von Meck at one point, grown "very lively" [18]. Konstantin often sent his poems to Tchaikovsky for his opinion of them. Of one such poem, entitled "St. Sebastian", Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that he had "praised it on the whole, but frankly criticized certain particulars". The Grand Duke was not in the least offended, on the contrary. "He was very pleased by this [criticism], but defended himself", Tchaikovsky continued in that letter to his benefactress. "And in this way an entire correspondence has sprung up which depicts this man in an uncommonly attractive light. He is not only talented and intelligent, but also surprisingly modest, full of selfless devotion to art and of the noble ambition to distinguish himself not in [military] service, which would be so easy, but in the artistic sphere. He is also a splendid musician—altogether, an exceptionally likeable person" [19].

The correspondence between Tchaikovsky and his "special patron" was distinguished not only by a genuine amicability but also by an intellectual level rarely matched in Tchaikovsky's letters, apart from those written to select musical colleagues and to Nadezhda von Meck. His letters to the Grand Duke contain numerous comments on his own work and the creative process and, in the several letters addressed to K.R. the poet, interesting opinions about versification, verse forms, and poetic genres. In his letter of October 1889, Konstantin wrote also that the tsar continued to take an interest in his work and had in fact recently asked Konstantin whether he could play any new works by the composer. "The news that His Majesty has deigned to inquire about me pleases me deeply!!!" responded Tchaikovsky with enthusiasm on 29 October/10 November. "How to interpret His Majesty's question about small pieces? If it is an indirect encouragement for me to compose such pieces, then I shall devote myself to them at the first opportunity." But he had in mind also a far more ambitious project, worthy of an increasingly loyal subject. "I should like terribly to write some grandiose symphony, which would be, as it were, the crowning of my entire creative career, and to dedicate it to His Majesty," he told the Grand Duke. "A vague plan for such a symphony has been floating around in my head for a long time, but a confluence of many favourable circumstances is needed for my design to be carried out. I hope not to die without having fulfilled this intention" [20].

When Grand Duke Konstantin in September 1893 suggested that Tchaikovsky compose a "requiem" to Apukhtin's poem of that name, Tchaikovsky declined. "I am somewhat worried by the fact that my latest symphony, which I have recently completed and which is due to be performed on 16 October (I should awfully like Your Highness to hear it), is suffused by a mood very close to that which pervades Requiem. I think that I have made a good job of this symphony, and I am afraid of repeating myself if I were right now to embark on a composition which has an affinity with its predecessor in terms of spirit and character" [21]. More than this, Tchaikovsky had no wish to write any requiem whatsoever, whether for Apukhtin or, as is often suggested in the case of the Sixth Symphony, for himself. "There is another reason, too, why I am reluctant to compose music for any sort of Requiem at all, but I am afraid of touching indelicately upon your religious sentiment", he wrote in his following (and last) letter to the Grand Duke, in which he decisively rejected the latter's proposal. "In the Requiem a lot is said about God the Judge, God the Chastiser, God the Avenger (!!!). Forgive me, Your Highness—but I shall venture to point out that I do not believe in such a God, or at least that such a God could not elicit from me those tears, that rapture, that veneration before the creator and source of all blessings, which would inspire me" [22]. These letters show once again how favourably disposed Grand Duke Konstantin was towards Tchaikovsky, as well as illustrating the composer's enchanting manner of conversing with his august patron on an equal level.

Grand Duke Konstantin was present in the audience at the Hall of the Nobility during the premiere of the Sixth Symphony in Saint Petersburg on 16/28 October 1893, and later that evening confided to his diary his impressions of the symphony: "I liked it very much. The introductory Adagio is very sombre and mysterious, and it sounds charming. It transforms into an Allegro which has beautiful passages. The second movement Allegro con grazia is written in 5/8 or 5/4 and it is very lucid and good. The third movement, a kind of Scherzo, has a loud march at the end. And the Finale in the tempo Adagio; it has passages reminiscent of a funeral service. I saw Tchaikovsky in the interval" [23].

On 23 October/4 November 1893, Grand Duke Konstantin noted in his diary: "I was told that P[yotr] I[lyich] Tchaikovsky has a true Asiatic cholera that began on Thursday and that he is now in a very dangerous condition. His nephew [Bob] Davydov is serving as a volunteer in the 4th company. I am very worried about Pyotr Ilyich" [24]. The next morning, Sunday, 24 October/5 November, he sent Modest a telegram: "The Grand Duchess and I are very much concerned about Pyotr Ilyich. We would sincerely appreciate any known information regarding his state of health. Please accept my apologies for this awkward request. Konstantin" [25]. The next day, Modest sent a telegram to Grand Duke Konstantin informing him of the composer's death. "Pyotr Ilyich died at three o'clock this morning", Konstantin wrote in his diary moments after receiving the telegram. "My heart bleeds. I loved him and respected him as a musician. We were good and genuine friends, and I shall miss him" [26].

The Grand Duke immediately wired a message of condolence to Modest from himself and his wife: "This is painfully heart-rending. With deep sorrow we mourn the loss of Pyotr Ilyich. We had long ago come to love him sincerely. May the Lord rest his soul and send comfort to you. Konstantin. Yelizaveta" [27]. Later that day, Konstantin added in his diary: "For a long time I could not recover after having received the grievous news about Tchaikovsky's death. Another person in the treasury of Russian art is no more. I corresponded with him and I possess not a few of his letters" [28]. The next day, while at the tsar's residence of Gatchina, near Saint Petersburg, Konstantin noted: "Yesterday morning I was not really myself. I kept lamenting the untimely death of Tchaikovsky. Everyone was struck by it... I tried to write a poem on Tchaikovsky's death, but nothing worked out... The Tsar and the Tsarina are very upset by the death of Tchaikovsky" [29].

The funeral service was attended by Grand Duke Konstantin, Prince Aleksandr of Oldenburg, Government Council member Nikolay Stoyanovsky, Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, other high-ranking officials, and many figures from the musical and artistic world, and men of letters. The Grand Duke recorded his impressions in his diary:

Yesterday was one month after I received Tchaikovsky's last letter, and now he is already buried. I intentionally went to the city so that I could attend a funeral mass in the Kazan Cathedral... The church was full, only those who had tickets were admitted. For a long while I had not witnessed so solemn a liturgy. They sang the Credo and We Hymn Thee from the liturgy composed by the deceased. I wanted to cry and thought that the dead one could not help hearing his own music that accompanied him to the world beyond. I could not see his face, the coffin was sealed. It was painful, and sad, and solemn, and good in the Kazan Cathedral" [30].

Alexander Poznansky

Tchaikovsky's Settings of Works by Grand Duke Konstantin

As noted above, the words of all of the Six Romances, Op. 63 (1887) are taken from poems written in 1882 and 1883 by the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, which were published in 1886 in his collection Verses by K. R. (Стихотворения К. Р.).

Besides the six poems which were eventually used, Tchaikovsky also made sketches for Oh No, Don't Love Me Just For My Beauty (О нет! За красоту ты не люби меня)—a setting of the poem From the German (С немецкого)—and I Dreamed of You (Тебя я видела во сне), which were not subsequently developed.

Tchaikovsky's chorus Blessed is He Who Smiles, also written in 1887, is set to the Grand Duke's poem of the same name.


Tchaikovsky's Six Romances, Op. 63, Op. 63 (1887), which are set to poems by the Grand Duke, are dedicated "to the author of the texts".

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

31 letters from Tchaikovsky to Grand Duke Konstantin have survived, dating from 1880 to 1893, of which the 14 highlighted in bold have been translated into English on this website:

28 letters from the Grand Duke to Tchaikovsky have survived, dating from 1880 to 1893, of which 23 are in the Manuscript Department of the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkinskij Dom) of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, 4 are in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 1737–1739), and one is in the State Academic Mariinsky Theatre, Central Music Library, in Saint Petersburg.


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Notes and References

  1. Letter 1450 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 14/26 March 1880.
  2. Letter 1456 to Nadezhda von Meck, 20 March/1 April–24 March/5 April 1880.
  3. Letter 1457 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 22 March/3 April 1880.
  4. The first two songs are Nos. 4 and 6 respectively of the Six Romances, Op. 6. Tchaikovsky's only romance to date set in the key of B-flat minor was At Bedtime, No. 1 of the Six Romances and Songs, Op. 27.
  5. Presumably the 'Chorus of Angels' from the finale of Act I (No. 8).
  6. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма (1998), p. 78-79.
  7. Letter 1457 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 22 March/3 April 1880.
  8. Letter 1454 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 19/31March 1880.
  9. Letter 1456 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3 April/15 April 1880.
  10. Letter 1468 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 3/15 April 1880.
  11. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма (1998), p. 81.
  12. Letter 1693 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 22 February/6 March 1881.
  13. К. R. Избранная переписка (1999), p. 36.
  14. Letter 3198 to Nadezhda von Meck, 12 March/24 March 1887.
  15. The grand duke's wife was Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Altenburg.
  16. Letter 3091 to Nadezhda von Meck, 10/22 November 1886.
  17. Letter 3966 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 29 October/10 November 1889.
  18. Letter 3600 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 June/4 July 1888.
  19. Letter 3600 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 June/4 July 1888.
  20. Letter 3966 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 29 October/10 November 1889.
  21. Letter 5038 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 21 September/3 October 1893.
  22. Letter 5046 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 26 September/8 October 1893.
  23. Quoted in До и после трагедии. Смерть П. И. Чайковского в документах (1994), p. 78.
  24. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма (1998), p. 200.
  25. Quoted in До и после трагедии. Смерть П. И. Чайковского в документах (1994), p. 76.
  26. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма ' (1998), p. 201.
  27. Петербургский листок, 27 October 1893 [O.S.].
  28. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма (1998), p. 201.
  29. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма (1998), p. 201.
  30. К. R. Дневники. Воспоминания. Стихи. Письма (1998), p. 202.