Nikolay Kondratyev

Tchaikovsky Research
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Nikolay Kondratyev (1832-1887)

Lawyer and friend of Tchaikovsky (b. 1832; d. 3 October 1887 [N.S.] at Aachen), born Nikolay Dmitriyevich Kondratyev (Николай Дмитриевич Кондратьев).

Tchaikovsky and Kondratyev

He was first introduced to Tchaikovsky in 1864 at the estate of Prince Aleksey Golitsyn in Trostinets, but became friendly with the composer in 1870, when Kondratyev brought his wife Mariya and daughter Nadezhda (1865-1940) to Moscow for the winter. Tchaikovsky was also a frequent visitor to the family's estate at Nizy, near Kharkov, where he worked on his operas The Oprichnik (1870–72) and Vakula the Smith (1874), his Symphony No. 3 (1875), as well as his Guide to the Practical Study of Harmony (1871).

Modest Tchaikovsky, in his biography of the composer, noted how the latter's great friendship with Kondratyev might at first glance have seemed quite improbable, since Kondratyev was very much a man-about-town who moved in high society circles like a fish in water, whereas Tchaikovsky had distanced himself from that world ever since deciding to devote his life to music. However, Kondratyev's irrepressible cheerfulness and joie de vivre appealed to the composer enormously. Tchaikovsky's own optimism would gain fresh strength whenever he visited his friend, who was always happy and satisfied. Even in difficult moments he would invariably expect something to turn up, and in this respect the composer's brother Modest felicitously compared Kondratyev to Stiva Oblonsky in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina[1]. But as Alexander Poznansky has noted, Modest did not give a complete appraisal of Kondratyev's character: "From the [composer's] letters and diaries, however, emerges a different and far more complex relationship. In general, they draw a rather stormy picture of the relations between the two men, leaving little doubt that Kondratyev was a capricious, selfish, and wilful person and extremely difficult to get on with, especially for so sensitive and delicate a companion as Tchaikovsky. And yet, despite the categorical assertions quite often found in his writings, Tchaikovsky continued to take pleasure in Kondratyev's company" [2].

Kondratyev was in the habit of spending his money without thinking twice, and in the winter of 1881–82 he went with his wife and daughter to Italy, in order to accompany Tchaikovsky, Modest, and the latter's pupil Nikolay Konradi on their sight-seeing tours of Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii, and Florence. Although in the 1880s the Kondratyevs no longer spent their summers at Nizy, since they had moved to Saint Petersburg for the sake of Nadezhda's education, Tchaikovsky would still visit them frequently whenever he stopped by at the Imperial capital. In the summer of 1886, though, Kondratyev and his family rented a dacha at Maydanovo, near Tchaikovsky's house, greatly to the latter's delight. From Kondratyev's library he was able to borrow several volumes of Tolstoy's works that summer, leading to some fascinating diary entries about his favourite writer (see the entry on Lev Tolstoy for more details).

Early in 1887, however, Kondratyev became incurably ill with dropsy and underwent terrible agony during the last ten months of his life. Tchaikovsky stayed with him in Aachen for three of these months and tried to comfort and encourage his friend as best as he could, but in the end it was too much for him to bear and he left for Russia. After Kondratyev's death, Tchaikovsky continued visiting his widow Mariya and daughter Nadezhda in Saint Petersburg. He also provided assistance to his late friend's servant Sasha Legoshin, whose character he thought very highly of [3]. He would often invite Legoshin's wife and children to stay with him at Maydanovo, Frolovskoye, and Klin during the summer months [4].


In 1873, Tchaikovsky dedicated Rêverie du soir — No. 1 of the Six Pieces, Op. 19 — "à M. Nicolas Kondratief".

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

No letters from Tchaikovsky to Nikolay Kondratyev are known, but 108 letters from Kondratyev to the composer, dating from 1878 to 1887, are preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 1539–1646).

Notes and References

  1. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 328–330.
  2. Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 143. As also pointed out there, an important circumstance regarding Kondratyev which Modest did not (and could not) touch upon in his biography of the composer was their shared homosexuality.
  3. See also the following entry in Tchaikovsky's diary for 23 June/5 July 1886 while at Maydanovo: "What a joy it is to see Legoshin here so often; he is such a wonderful person. Lord! and to think that there are people who will turn up their nose at the sight of a servant just because he is a servant. Why, I do not know anyone who has a purer and nobler soul than this Legoshin! And he is a servant! This sense of the equality of people in terms of their position in society has never struck me so decisively as in the given case". Quoted from Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1993), p. 73.
  4. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1997), p. 13. See also Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1993), p. 361-362, 477, and Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том II (2009), p. 275-276, for more details on Tchaikovsky's attitude to Sasha Legoshin.