Tchaikovsky and Nikolay Rubinstein
The younger brother of Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894), Nikolay's formative years were spent in Moscow, where his merchant father Grigory had recently opened a small pencil factory, and Nikolay studied piano with his mother from the age of four. In 1844 he was taken to Berlin to study under Theodor Kullak (1818–1882) and Siegfried Dehn (1799–1858); he made his debut in November 1843 aged just eight, in one of his brother Anton's concerts.
From 1851 to 1855 Nikolay studied law and medicine at Moscow University, where he became increasingly popular within the city's literary-artistic circles. In 1860, he was appointed head of the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society, where he arranged (and conducted) symphonic, chamber and choral concerts, which became generally popular due to their affordable ticket prices. In October 1860 he established the RMS music classes, which led to the opening of the Moscow Conservatory in 1866, Nikolay serving as its director and piano professor. It was on the recommendation of his brother Anton that Nikolay appointed Tchaikovsky as professor of music theory at the new establishment, encouraged his musical abilities, and even gave him lodgings in his own apartment.
Rubinstein did a great deal to promote Tchaikovsky's music, and between 1866 and 1880 he conducted the premieres of almost every orchestral composition the latter had written. The young composer was very grateful for Rubinstein's support, dedicating more of his works to him than to anyone else (see below). There is no evidence to substantiate the assertion that Tchaikovsky originally intended to dedicate his First Piano Concerto to Rubinstein, but five years later he did receive the dedication of the Second Piano Concerto.
Tchaikovsky was deeply upset to learn of Nikolay's sudden and unexpected death from tuberculosis in Paris on 23 March 1881, aged just 45, and he wrote an account of his passing for the Russian newspapers . The Piano Trio, Op. 50, begun some months later to commemorate his friend, is dedicated "to the memory of a great artist".
Tchaikovsky dedicated the following compositions to Nikolay Rubinstein:
- Symphony No. 1 in G minor ("Winter Daydreams"), Op. 13 (1866–68)
- Scherzo à la russe and Impromptu, for piano, Op. 1 (1867) — "À mon ami Nicolas Rubinstein".
- Serenade for Nikolay Rubinstein's Name-Day, TH 43 (1872)
- So What? — No. 5 of the Six Romances, Op. 16 (1872–73)
- Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44 (1879–80)
- Piano Trio in A minor ("In memory of a great artist"), Op. 50 (1881–82) — dedicated posthumously.
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
19 letters from Tchaikovsky to Nikolay Rubinstein have survived, dating from 1870 to 1880, of which those highlighted in bold have been translated into English on this website:
- Letter 193 – 18/30 May 1870, from Saint Petersburg
- Letter 281 – 1872, from Moscow (addressed jointly to Rubinstein and Karl Albrecht)
- Letter 318 – early/mid October 1873, from Moscow
- Letter 617 – 11/23 October 1877, from Clarens
- Letter 623 – 20 October/1 November 1877, from Clarens
- Letter 630 – 27 October/8 November 1877, from Clarens
- Letter 642 – 9/21 November 1877, from Rome
- Letter 652 – 21 November/3 December 1877, from Vienna
- Letter 658 – 22 November/4 December or 23 November/5 December 1877, from Vienna
- Letter 675 – 4/16 December 1877, from Venice
- Letter 699 – 21 December 1877/2 January 1878, from San Remo
- Letter 702 – 23 December 1877/4 January 1878, from San Remo
- Letter 713 – 1/13 January 1878, from San Remo
- Letter 727 – 14/26 January 1878, from San Remo
- Letter 745 – 30 January/11 February 1878, from San Remo
- Letter 814 – 18/30 April 1878, from Kamenka
- Letter 951 – 26 October/7 November 1878, from Saint Petersburg
- Letter 1329 – 8/20 November 1879, from Saint Petersburg
- Letter 1495 – 13/25 May 1880, from Kamenka
4 letters from Nikolay Rubinstein to Tchaikovsky, dating from 1877 to 1880, are preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 3834–3837).
Notes and References
- See The Last Days of N. G. Rubinstein's Life (TH 315).