Tchaikovsky: A Life

Tchaikovsky Research
Revision as of 16:08, 23 September 2023 by Brett (talk | contribs)
The following essay has been specially written by
Alexander Poznansky
for Tchaikovsky Research.
Tchaikovsky at the height of his fame in 1893

By the end of his fairly short life, Tchaikovsky's inner and outer circumstances would appear to have been perfectly splendid. After his triumphant tour of America, and being awarded an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University, he was accepted as a world figure, not a merely national composer but one of universal significance. In 1891, the Carnegie Hall program booklet proclaimed him, together with Brahms and Saint-Saëns, to be one of the three greatest living musicians, while music critics praised him as "a modern music lord".

Within Russia he became even more than that—he was considered a national treasure, and his music admired and adored by all strata of society. He enjoyed the favour of the Imperial court, where he had a number of influential protectors (including two Grand Dukes), as well as the personal patronage of Emperor Alexander III, who had granted him a handsome government pension. Regardless of his homosexual orientation, which to a large extent was already a matter of public knowledge, it cannot be said that Tchaikovsky's inner life had suffered from any prolonged frustration—rather, to the contrary. His main emotional involvement in this period, with his beloved nephew Vladimir Davydov, proved to be a source of stability and spiritual happiness.

Towards the end of the last century, however, the rumours of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality spread beyond Russia's borders, and this effected a change in attitude to his work within Western musicological circles. His music began to be criticized as sentimental, romantically excessive, charged with many imperfections, and even pathological.

Ironically, it was Oscar Wilde's trial of 1895, with its enormous resonance in the English-speaking world, that precipitated negative tendencies in the reception and critical judgement of Tchaikovsky's art. As Richard Taruskin pointed out, that event became a "major watershed in the essentialization—and pathologization—of homosexuality around the turn of the century… The homosexual was now defined not by his acts but by his character, a character that was certified to be diseased, hence necessarily alien to that of healthy, 'normal' people" [1].

From that moment on, the essentialist curse began to reclaim Tchaikovsky. Almost everything written about his work in America, and in English-language criticism at large, has been substantially affected by the issue of his personal life. The composer's biographers and music scholars more often than not have chosen to dwell on the matter of his "abnormal" sexuality, employing their own standards as regards sexual morality and health to colour their fundamental interpretation of his music [2]. For most of our century, a sort of fictionalized figure bearing that name—an embodiment of romantic grief and turbid eroticism, who was supposed by many to have committed suicide as the logical outcome of his sexual lifestyle—has continued to lurk behind the inflamed imagination of the lay audience—a caricature that fails even remotely to resemble a real man with real concerns [3].

Because Tchaikovsky's archives in Russia were recently made accessible to the students of his life and music, we now know much more about him and his environment than we ever did, and it is time to change this fallacious perception of both Tchaikovsky's personality and his art by putting the record straight.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский) was born on 25 April/7 May 1840 at Votkinsk, in Vyatka Province, situated in the Ural mountains 600 miles east of Moscow. He was the second son of Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, a mining engineer and manager of the Kamsko-Votkinsk iron works, and his wife Aleksandra Andreyevna Tchaikovskaya (née Assier).

On his father's side, Tchaikovsky's origins may be traced to the Ukrainian village of Nikolayevka in the Poltava region. His great-grandfather was an 18th-century Ukrainian Cossack named Fyodor Chayka. Later the family name was changed from Chayka (Чайка) to Chaykovsky (Чайковский), which is usually transliterated in English as Tchaikovsky. At first Chayka's son Pyotr studied in a seminary in Kiev, but he later received medical training in Saint Petersburg. From 1770 to 1777, he served as a physician's assistant in the army. Eventually, he found himself in the Ural region and there, in 1776, married Anastasia Posokhova. In 1785, he was included (as a member of the landless gentry) in the register of nobility instituted by Catherine the Great. He resigned from his medical service and ended his life as city governor of Glazov in Vyatka Province. Pyotr Fyodorovich Tchaikovsky had nine children, one of whom was the composer's father Ilya (1795–1880). After graduating from the College of Mines in Saint Petersburg with a silver medal, he held several teaching and administrative posts, some of the latter in the northeast of Russia.

Tchaikovsky (left), aged 8, with his mother Aleksandra (seated), his sister Aleksandra (leaning on her mother's knee), half-sister Zinayda (standing behind), older brother Nikolay, younger brother Ippolit, sitting on father Ilya's lap.

In 1837, Ilya became a factory manager in Votkinsk. This city was famous for its ironworks, which had been founded in 1758, and by 1820 it could boast the first hearth furnace in all Russia. As manager of the ironworks, Ilya Tchaikovsky enjoyed a broad authority within the Yekaterinburg region—from governing local factories to repealing the decisions of local courts. Ten years earlier, in 1827, he had married Maria Kaiser, who died in 1830, leaving him with a daughter, Zinayda [4].

Tchaikovsky's mother Aleksandra (1812–1854) was the younger daughter of Michael Heinrich Maximilian Acier (1778–1835), who was born in Meissen, near Dresden, to a German mother Maria Christina Eleonora Wittig and French father (and renowned sculptor) Michel Victor Acier. At the age of 17, Michael Heinrich was brought from Saxony to Russia by artillery general Pyotr Mellisino to teach German and French at the Military school in Saint Petersburg. In 1800, by an oath of allegiance, Michael Heinrich officially became a subject of the Imperial Crown and adopted the Russian name Andrey Mikhaylovich Assier. Owing to his social connections and excellent knowledge of almost every European language, he came to occupy a distinguished position within the bureaucracy in Saint Petersburg, where he served in the Customs Department. Andrey Assier received government honours and was twice married. From his first marriage to Yekaterina Tchaikovskaya in 1800 he had four children, including Aleksandra, the composer's mother. After the divorce of her parents and the death of her mother in 1816, Aleksandra was placed in the so-called Patriotic Institute—a government-sponsored school for orphaned girls from noble families—where she received a fine education. In 1833, she met Ilya Tchaikovsky and married him.

Apart from his stepsister Zinayda (1829–1878) and elder brother Nikolay (1838–1911), after Pyotr's birth in 1840 the Tchaikovskys would have a daughter, Aleksandra (1841–1891), and three more sons: Ippolit (1843–1927), and the fraternal twins Anatoly (1850–1915) and Modest (1850–1916). Tchaikovsky was never close to Zinayda, nor was he particularly intimate with his older brother Nikolay, who followed in the steps of their father as mining engineer, or to a younger brother Ippolit, who became a naval officer. But he dearly loved his sister Aleksandra (or Sasha) and his youngest brothers, the twins Modest and Anatoly, who always enjoyed his particular affection. Later in life Anatoly achieved a prominent career in law, rising by the end of his life to the rank of privy councillor and senator, while Modest became a playwright and educator, as well as the biographer of his famous brother Pyotr.

Tchaikovsky was a very impressionable child, due in part to the highly emotional atmosphere within his family and to the characters of his parents. These factors could not but influence the specific "familial-erotic" dimension of his developing personality—a dimension later to play a prominent role in his relations both with his younger brothers and with his nephews.

Tchaikovsky's earliest musical impressions came from the family's orchestrina, with its excerpts from Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. In September 1844, he made his first documented attempt at composition—"Our Mama in Petersburg"—a song written together with Aleksandra (who was then only three). Pyotr became deeply attached to his French governess, Fanny Dürbach, and he also developed a friendship with the son of a neighbour, Venedikt Alekseyev. At the end of 1845, he began taking piano lessons with one Mariya Palchikova and became familiar with the mazurkas of Chopin.

In 1848, Ilya Tchaikovsky resigned his post and the family moved first to Moscow, and later, in anticipation of a new appointment, to Saint Petersburg. In Petersburg, Pyotr and Nikolay were placed in the private Schmelling School, where Pyotr resumed piano lessons. But his father's appointment in the capital did not materialize, and in May 1849 the family had to return to the Urals where Ilya Tchaikovsky was appointed manager of an ironworks in another city, Alapayevsk, some 300 miles to the east of Votkinsk. This did not prevent the composer's mother from returning with him to the capital the following autumn so that he could enrol in the preparatory class of the Imperial School of Jurisprudence. On this occasion, Pyotr saw Mikhail Glinka's A Life for the Tsar at the Alexandrinsky Theatre, which made a lasting impression on him.

During the next couple of years, Tchaikovsky's parents moved back and forth between the Urals and Saint Petersburg, finally settling in the capital in 1852. By this time Pyotr had successfully passed his entrance exam for the School of Jurisprudence, where he participated in the school choir under the direction of distinguished Russian choirmaster Gavryl Lomakin. Tchaikovsky later remembered: "My voice was a splendid soprano, and for several years in succession I took the first line in the trio, which on these occasions was sung by the three boys at the altar at the beginning and end of [the Liturgy]" [5].

Tchaikovsky's mother's sudden death from cholera on 13/25 June 1854 was a traumatic event for Pyotr, then a young adolescent. Earlier that year, the Tchaikovsky family chose to live together with the family of Ilya's brother Pyotr (1789–1871), a retired general, in a large apartment on Vasilyevsky Island, an arrangement that lasted for three years. After Ilya's eldest daughter Zinayda married Yevgeny Olkhovsky and left the capital to live in the Urals, Aleksandra, now fifteen years old and newly graduated from school, ended up in charge of the household and of the twins.

Tchaikovsky at his graduation from the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in 1859

Tchaikovsky spent nine years (1850–1859) as a boarding student at the School of Jurisprudence. During this time, Tchaikovsky also made his first attempts at composition, among which were an opera Hyperbola (lost), a waltz for piano, and his first published work, the song Mezza notte. His stay in that institution must have enhanced Tchaikovsky's innate homosexual sensibilities. The School of Jurisprudence, like any boarding school, was never distinguished by high morals of any sort—a fact well recognised to its contemporaries: for instance, the school could boast an obscene homosexual song composed by its students, and it also produced a number of prominent homosexuals. Of his schoolmates, two loomed large in his life of that period: Aleksey Apukhtin (1841–1893), a future poet of renown, and Sergey Kireyev (1845–1888?), arguably the most passionate of all Tchaikovsky's attachments [6]. As regards Tchaikovsky's relationship with Kireyev, Modest Tchaikovsky called it in his still unpublished "Autobiography" one of the "strongest, most durable and purest amorous infatuations" of Tchaikovsky's life. "It possessed all charms, all sufferings, all depth and force of love, most luminous and sublime", and that without Tchaikovsky's passion for Kireyev, "the music of Romeo and Juliet, of The Tempest, and of Francesca da Rimini is not entirely comprehensible" [7].Tchaikovsky probably dedicated to Kireyev one of his first songs, My Genius, My Angel, My Friend, written in 1858 [8]. Outside the school he forged a close friendship with his cousin Anna Tchaikovsky (later Merkling), the daughter of his uncle Pyotr.

In the autumn of 1858, Tchaikovsky's father was appointed to the coveted directorship of the Technological Institute in Saint Petersburg, and his family moved to the director's large apartments. At the end of 1860, Tchaikovsky's sister Aleksandra moved away from the family after marrying Lev Davydov, a well-to-do landowner, and the couple settled on his family estate at Kamenka, near Kiev. A few years later Ilya Tchaikovsky married for a third time, taking as his wife Yelizaveta (or Lizaveta) Lipport, who had already been taking care of his household for several years. With the death of his mother, Tchaikovsky became mother figure for his twin brothers—Anatoly and Modest. Both boys followed in his footsteps to the School of Jurisprudence, and Modest was alarmingly similar in character to his elder brother—he too became a homosexual.

A month after his graduation on 13/25 May 1859, Tchaikovsky began working as a clerk in the Ministry of Justice. Although he remained there for four years, he quickly found the job ill-suited to his talents. At the same time, he entered the capital's social and cultural milieu as a young man-about-town, spending much of his energies in the pursuit of pleasure, engaging in affairs and amorous adventures with members of his set, until the threat of homosexual scandal, according to the autobiographical account of his brother Modest, sobered him up [9].

The conflict between his desire for pleasure (and sexual pleasure in particular) and his creative aspirations sowed the seed of a phobia for human contact, and especially of large crowds, which became so characteristic of the mature Tchaikovsky. This conflict could only result in a profound ambivalence with respect to the erotic dimension of his personality.

In the summer of 1861, Tchaikovsky travelled abroad for the first time as secretary and interpreter for a family friend, Vasily Pisarev, and in the course of this trip he visited Berlin, Hamburg, Antwerp, Brussels, London and Paris.

In the autumn, Tchaikovsky's life took an unexpected turn: he started to attend Nikolay Zaremba's class in harmony offered by the Russian Musical Society, which had recently been founded by the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna and Anton Rubinstein, with the purpose of promoting professional music education in Russia. When the Saint Petersburg Conservatory was opened on 8/20 September 1862, Tchaikovsky was among its first students. Herman Laroche, the future music critic and composer, also enrolled in the conservatory that same year, and the two soon became friends. There Tchaikovsky studied harmony and form with Nikolay Zaremba, and orchestration and composition with Anton Rubinstein.

Having decided to devote his life to music, on 11/23 April 1863 Tchaikovsky requested a leave of absence from the Ministry of Justice , due to "domestic circumstances" [10]. This decision coincided with the onset of financial hardships for his father Ilya, who by this time had retired from the directorship of the Technological Institute. In order to support himself, Tchaikovsky began giving private lessons in piano and music theory to students recommended to him by Anton Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky spent almost three years of his life at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. In addition to his studies of harmony, strict counterpoint, composition and instrumentation (and despite having been excused from the compulsory piano class), he also decided to study the flute and organ.

The leading spirits of the conservatory from its beginnings were Nikolay Zaremba and Anton Rubinstein. Despite Tchaikovsky's enthusiasm for learning, he considered Zaremba just an average instructor, whose dislike of Mozart and Glinka greatly disappointed him, and whose admiration for Beethoven and Mendelssohn the future composer found unbearable.

There is no doubt that from the start the main attraction of the newly founded conservatory for Tchaikovsky was its director Anton Rubinstein, who seems to have had the power to stimulate his student's innate abilities, so that Tchaikovsky soon threw off the last traces of dilettantism in pursuit of his goal to become a good composer.

Tchaikovsky never worked so hard as in those years: he faithfully fulfilled his technical assignments, instrumental studies, and tried to master the art of conducting. Always in the company of his new friend Herman Laroche, a fellow student who would become the first critic to champion Tchaikovsky's music, the two friends attended concerts and operas. Together they made many important connections in Saint Petersburg's music circles, including Aleksandr Serov, an ideological opponent of Rubinstein, but the composer of the opera Judith, which Tchaikovsky admired.

Tchaikovsky spent the summer of 1863 at Aleksey Apukhtin's estate in Pavlodar. The next summer he stayed at the home of his society friend Prince Aleksey Golitsyn at Trostinets, near Kharkov. Here he composed an overture to Aleksandr Ostrovsky's play The Storm (which was later the source of Leoš Janáček's opera Katya Kabanova). Tchaikovsky also sketched out a program for a descriptive concert overture. Upon completing the score, Tchaikovsky first sent it to Herman Laroche with instructions to pass it on to Anton Rubinstein. For Tchaikovsky the idea of taking the overture to Rubinstein was still uncomfortable: his adoration for his eminent teacher was fraught with fear. This served him well, for it was the hapless Laroche who received the full force of Rubinstein's anger. Here he found not the expected classical exercise, but a remarkably powerful work: a mature attempt at dramatic program music (after the programmatic overtures of Henri Litolff), which not only incorporated a Russian folksong, but was scored for an orchestra that included some instruments "forbidden" to mere students, such as the harp, English Horn and tuba [11].

Tchaikovsky near the end of his studies at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in the autumn of 1865

Tchaikovsky was not discouraged by this, which was to be the first of many such incidents with Rubinstein. Theirs was always an uneasy relationship. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1865, Tchaikovsky found himself fulfilling a promise to Rubinstein to make a translation for conservatory students of the much-needed textbook Traité général d'instrumentation, written in 1863 by the eminent Belgian theorist François Auguste Gevaert. This task did not spoil Tchaikovsky's happy vacation spent with his younger brothers Anatoly and Modest on the Davydov family estate at Kamenka, and Rubinstein proved to be quite pleased with the completed translation, which was published by Jurgenson in 1866 as Handbook for Instrumentation.

While at Kamenka, Tchaikovsky paid close attention to Ukrainian folksongs, gathering material for use in his future compositions. Soon after his return to Saint Petersburg he was extremely pleased to learn that his Characteristic Dances for orchestra, written earlier that year, had been conducted in August by Johann Strauss the younger at a concert in Pavlovsk Park. This was the first public performance of any of Tchaikovsky's works [12].

On 27 November/9 December 1865, Tchaikovsky made his debut as a conductor, directing the Conservatory orchestra in a performance of his Overture in F major. Two weeks earlier his String Quartet in B-flat major was played by a quartet of his fellow students, including the violist Vasily Bessel.

The Conservatory's graduation concert on 29 December 1865/10 January 1866 included a performance of Tchaikovsky's ambitious cantata Ode to Joy, on the text of Schiller's ode An die Freude (upon which Beethoven set the Finale of his Ninth Symphony). This was not Tchaikovsky's choice, but Anton Rubinstein's. According to Tchaikovsky's first biographer, his brother Modest, the young composer was too afraid to attend the public examination, much to Rubinstein's annoyance. But the examination commission's records, preserved in the archives of the conservatory, insist that "all students were present" [13]. Still, Rubinstein threatened to withhold Tchaikovsky's diploma and refused to countenance public performance of the cantata unless it were revised.

A number of musical celebrities who were present at the concert, among them Serov and Cui, also disliked it. However, the final verdict on Tchaikovsky was very favourable and two days later he was graduated from the Conservatory. But it appears that Tchaikovsky's diploma was withheld by Anton Rubinstein after all: the extant copy is dated 30 March/11 April 1870. His grades were reported as: theory and instrumentation—excellent; organ—good; piano—very good; conducting—satisfactory. To Tchaikovsky's surprise, he also received the silver medal which (since the gold medal was not awarded at that time) happened to be the highest award offered to students.


In September 1865, Anton Rubinstein's brother Nikolay offered Tchaikovsky the post of teacher (later professor) of harmony in the classes sponsored by the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society, which would shortly become the Moscow Conservatory under Nikolay Rubinstein's directorship. Tchaikovsky moved to Moscow on 5/17 January 1866, where Nikolay Rubinstein welcomed him, providing him not only with accommodation in rooms in his own apartment, but also introducing him to his circle of friends, which included writers, musicians, and publishers. Tchaikovsky found teaching rather a strain, but Nikolay Rubinstein's constant enthusiasm and encouragement were to have the most palliative effect on him. At a concert on 4/16 March 1866, Rubinstein conducted Tchaikovsky's Overture in F major to great success, which encouraged the composer's faith in his own potential. He began to work on his First Symphony, but found this a far from simple matter: he was unable to sleep and suffered from terrible headaches and depression.

At the end of November, his Symphony No. 1, entitled "Winter Daydreams", Op. 13, was complete. Nikolay Rubinstein had offered to give the work its first performance, but Tchaikovsky refused because he wanted first to hear the opinions of Zaremba and Anton Rubinstein from Saint Petersburg. Apparently they did not like the symphony, and it was only after revisions had been made and two movements were tried out in separate performances, that the complete symphony was heard for the first time in February 1868 with Nikolay Rubinstein conducting.

Although Tchaikovsky had technically remained on extended leave from his civil service post, in January 1867 he was appointed to a role in the ministry's Moscow archives. After failing to show up, in May he was advised to resign, although it was only on 22 August/3 September 1867 that Tchaikovsky finally tendered his resignation from the Ministry of Justice [14].

In March 1867, he started work on an opera The Voyevoda to a libretto by the well-known Russian playwright Aleksandr Ostrovsky. Tchaikovsky lost the libretto and, despite Ostrovsky's efforts to reconstruct it, their collaboration ended in failure, and Tchaikovsky himself completed the libretto on Ostrovsky's plot [15].

Tchaikovsky spent the summer of 1867 in Finland and Estonia, where he composed a set of piano pieces Souvenir de Hapsal, Op. 2. After returning to Moscow, he continued to work on The Voyevoda, and in February 1868 he was invited to conduct some extracts from it at a charity concert. Music from The Voyevoda was well received, even by the "Mighty Handful", who were making their presence known in Russian composition at that time. Later that spring Tchaikovsky went to Saint Petersburg, where he met members of the "Mighty Handful" personally and also visited the composer Aleksandr Dargomyzhsky. In January 1868, he became friendly with the self-appointed leader of the group, Mily Balakirev, whom he sent a score of his new tone-poem Fatum, which did not meet with Balakirev's approval.

In the spring of 1866, Tchaikovsky made the acquaintance of the actor and baritone Konstantin de Lazari. A companionable socialite, Lazari knew everyone in Moscow theatrical circles, and introduced his new friend to the actors and their milieu. It was Lazari who brought Tchaikovsky to the club "the Artistic Circle", where Tchaikovsky enjoyed spending time, and it was he who brought Tchaikovsky to the home of Vladimir Begichev, the director of repertoire for the Moscow theatres. Here the young composer was introduced to Begichev's wife Mariya, and her two sons from her first marriage—Konstantin and Vladimir Shilovsky.

Vladimir Shilovsky

According to Modest Tchaikovsky, "the chief interest for our composer in his acquaintance with the Begichevs lay in the personality of the younger of the Shilovsky brothers, Vladimir. He was then a fourteen-year-old boy, weak and sickly; as a result he had a neglected education, but was endowed, as it seemed then, with a phenomenal capacity for music. In addition, his appearance was unusually lovely, his manners most originally charming and his mind, despite his poor education, sharp and observant" [16]. Vladimir Shilovsky apparently studied music for some time at the Moscow Conservatory and Tchaikovsky came to be his tutor in music theory after that. He was bound to his student not only by Shilovsky's talent, but also in great measure "by that love verging on adoration which he instilled in the boy" [17]. Though Tchaikovsky's profound attachment to Shilovsky cannot be doubted, the emotional initiative almost always issued from the opposite direction, namely from pupil to teacher.

Initially Tchaikovsky appears to have been delighted with his new young friend, but during the later years of their acquaintance their relations deteriorated, becoming stormy, unpleasant and uncomfortable, full of unpleasant scenes and ruptures as a consequence of Shilovsky's intractable character.

During the 1866–67 season, Vladimir Shilovsky's compositions were already being performed in public concerts and productions, while later he would be commissioned by Tchaikovsky to write an entr'acte to the second act of the latter's opera The Oprichnik. It was Vladimir to whom Tchaikovsky dedicated his Third Symphony, as well as the Two Pieces, Op. 10, for piano.

On 26 May/7 June 1868, Tchaikovsky departed on an extended European vacation in the company of Vladimir Shilovsky, his stepfather Vladimir Begichev, and their mutual friend Konstantin de Lazari. Shilovsky had not only invited Tchaikovsky to join them but also paid all his travel expenses. Returning to Saint Petersburg in early August, Tchaikovsky went to visit his brothers in Estonia.

It seems that Tchaikovsky enjoyed life in Vladimir Shilovsky's circle because of their mutual homosexuality. Recent archival studies have revealed the conventional perception of Tchaikovsky as a person tormented by his difference to be unfounded [18]. This perception was based on two largely unsupported assumptions. First, that 19th-century Russia was a society characterized by sexual repression; and second, that as a consequence Tchaikovsky developed a particular fear of exposure and self-hatred. In fact, the Russia of that period happens to have been a society considerably more permissive than, say, Victorian England. Russia had no legal ban on homosexuality until Peter the Great in the early 18th century, and even then the ban only extended to the army. Homosexuality was criminalized in 1832 by Nicholas I, but the law was virtually never enforced. When matters concerned members of the upper classes, homosexual incidents were covered up by the authorities, the guilty parties, at worst, being transferred from one official position to another. Among Tchaikovsky's contemporaries, one may identify several homosexual members of the Imperial family, the most prominent of them being Grand Duke Sergey Aleksandrovich, governor of Moscow. One of the most powerful statesmen under the Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II, Prince Vladimir Meshchersky (who was, incidentally, Tchaikovsky's schoolmate and friend) was repeatedly rescued by the two Emperors from disgrace despite his flagrant homosexual activities. One may list many other individuals of similar status in Russian society [19]. The tradition of serfdom, even after the latter was abolished in 1861, continued to exert a powerful effect on social behaviour of both upper and lower classes. According to established patterns of conduct, socially inferior people were expected to submit to the wishes of the socially superior in every respect, including the gratification of sexual desire. Russian peasants were traditionally tolerant of all varieties of sexual preferences among their masters and were often prepared to satisfy them on demand. This naturally resulted in boundless "sexploitation" which, at the same time, explains the sexual affairs with servants and other lower class persons so characteristic of Tchaikovsky and his milieu—a kind of hierarchical sex [20].

As far as Tchaikovsky's own attitude to his sexual predicament is concerned, he could not of course fully neglect societal convention and, generally speaking, was rather conservative by temperament. In addition, in his youth he was repeatedly pressured to marry, and at some point he conceived the idea that he could change his sexual orientation and successfully live with a woman in order to ease his own life and mollify his relatives. Even at that stage, however, he considered his homosexual tendencies natural and in no way his own fault.

Désirée Artôt in the 1860s

The autumn of 1868 was marked for Tchaikovsky with an altogether new amorous development. This time it was an "affair" with the well-known Belgian mezzo-soprano Désirée Artôt, which, while ultimately and predictably doomed to failure because of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, nevertheless proceeded to the point of betrothal. Artôt, having studied under the famous French singer Pauline Viardot, began singing with the Paris Opera in 1858. Ten years later she arrived in Moscow with a mediocre Italian opera company under the direction of Merelli. The fact that Artôt belonged wholly to the world of art and music formed the psychological basis of Tchaikovsky's infatuation. It seems that the composer fell in love not so much with her as with her voice and her performance, the more so as she was neither very young, being five years Tchaikovsky's senior, nor exceptionally beautiful, according to some contemporary memoirs.

Wishful thinking regarding his own abilities for a heterosexual lifestyle and continuing pressure from his father, who passionately wished to see his son married, led Tchaikovsky to believe that he could marry Désirée Artôt. He met her for the first time very briefly in the spring of 1868, but her name does not begin to appear in his letters until her autumn performances in Moscow. He admits in his letter of 21 October/2 November to his brother Anatoly: "I am now on very friendly terms with Artôt and enjoy her very noticeable favour; rarely have I met a woman so lovely, intelligent and kind" [21].

By the end of December, Tchaikovsky's infatuation with Artôt was obvious to all. He wrote some music for her, and even began to discuss marriage plans with his father.

It appears that Artôt's mother probably found out about Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation and took control of the situation. At the end of January, Tchaikovsky heard that his beloved had married a Spanish baritone Don Mariano Padilla y Ramos in Warsaw. Although he was upset by the news, Tchaikovsky recovered from the disappointment quite quickly, as could be expected.

The premiere of The Voyevoda took place at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 30 January/11 February 1869. Despite initial success, interest in the opera soon evaporated, and it was withdrawn from the repertoire after only five performances. Two weeks after the premiere, Nikolay Rubinstein conducted the first performance of the symphonic poem Fatum. The public reaction was favourable, but again, as in case of The Voyevoda, this success was short-lived. After Balakirev's harsh criticism of its Saint Petersburg performance, Tchaikovsky refused to allow the work to be published and, a few years later, destroyed the score. It was reconstructed after his death on the basis of some discovered orchestral parts. The same fate befell his opera The Voyevoda, from which Tchaikovsky decided to retain only the overture, one chorus, an entr'acte and the dances.

Struggling for recognition, the young composer started work on another opera, this time based on a Russian translation of Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué's famous tale Undina. On 6/18 August 1869, he submitted the finished opera to the Opera Directorate of the Imperial Theatres. Two years later the work was formally rejected and, like its predecessor, consigned to the flames by the composer himself. He saved only four pieces from it which were used later in the Symphony No. 2, the ballet Swan Lake and in the incidental music to Ostrovsky's play The Snow Maiden.

In the autumn of 1869, Tchaikovsky met in Moscow with Balakirev, who encouraged the composer to begin a new tone-poem based on Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet. The Russian obsession with love and death, themes that permeate the story of the young lovers from Verona, almost immediately fired Tchaikovsky's imagination. Romeo and Juliet was heard for the first time at a concert in Moscow on 4/16 March 1870, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein, but the composer immediately made extensive revisions and modifications at Balakirev's suggestion. Tchaikovsky retained a very high opinion of Romeo and Juliet until the end of his life.

It is ironic that the tragic situation so well presented by Tchaikovsky in his tone-poem had real-life implications. About the same time, he was involved in a passionate affair with a student at the Moscow Conservatory, Eduard Sack (Zak), which ended in Sack's suicide on 2/14 November 1873. Fourteen years after the young man's death, Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary: "It seems to me that I have never loved anyone so strongly as him... and his memory is sacred to me!" [22].

Tchaikovsky's relationships with young men were starting to cause disconcerting talk and gossip in Moscow musical circles, but despite this he continued to pursue his love affairs. He rushed off to join Vladimir Shilovsky, after the latter fell seriously ill in Paris in 1870, and the two travelled together for some time following Shilovsky's recuperation.

On 16/28 March 1871, a concert at Moscow's Hall of the Nobility witnessed a successful performance of the young composer's String Quartet No. 1, as well as some of his piano pieces and songs.

In the autumn of 1871, Tchaikovsky finally rented a small apartment of his own, furnished with a sofa, a few chairs and two pictures (one a portrait of Anton Rubinstein, the other of Louis XVII, the dauphin who died in the aftermath of the French Revolution and whom Tchaikovsky had adored from childhood). He also took on a manservant, Mikhail Sofronov (soon to be supplanted by the latter's younger brother Aleksey), a peasant boy from the Klin region near Moscow. About this time, Tchaikovsky began to supplement his small income as a Conservatory professor by writing music criticism for the Moscow newspaper Russian Register (Русские ведомости).

In May 1872, he finished his third opera, The Oprichnik (adapted from a tragedy by the historical novelist Ivan Lazhechnikov and set during the reign of Ivan the Terrible), and, while staying at Kamenka during the summer, he began work on his Symphony No. 2, later dubbed the "Little Russian". The new symphony was received enthusiastically in February 1873. Encouraged, Tchaikovsky proceeded to his next project, incidental music for Ostrovsky's play The Snow Maiden. After another vacation in Europe, he spent almost the whole of August at Shilovsky's estate at Usovo, near Kiev, where he sketched out a new symphonic fantasia, The Tempest (Буря), based on Shakespeare's play. The Tempest was a great success at its first performance in Moscow in early December.

On 12/24 April 1874, The Oprichnik was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Despite some initial success, the opera did not convince the composer's critics. César Cui attacked the music as "barren of ideas" and "without a single outstanding passage or a single happy inspiration" [23]. Tchaikovsky found himself agreeing with the critics: "The Oprichnik torments me", he confided to his cousin Anna Merkling [24]. The failure of the opera spoiled his journey to Italy, where he went right after the premiere in his capacity as music critic. He returned to Russia seized by an intense desire to prove to himself and others that he was capable of better things than The Oprichnik. By mid/late June, while staying at the Nizy estate owned by his society friend Nikolay Kondratyev, he started another opera, this time to a libretto based on Nikolay Gogol's story Christmas Eve.

Tchaikovsky in January 1874, aged 33

A few years earlier, the music patron Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna had commissioned a libretto for an opera based on Gogol's tale from the poet Yakov Polonsky. It had originally been intended for Aleksandr Serov, but the latter had died in 1871 without commencing the project. The Grand Duchess decided to offer a prize in Serov's memory for the best setting of the libretto. Upon her own death in 1873, responsibility for the competition passed to the Russian Musical Society. Having learned that Balakirev, Anton Rubinstein and Rimsky-Korsakov were not competing, and under the impression that the closing date for entry was 1/13 August 1874, Tchaikovsky finished his new opera within a month to discover that he would be obliged to wait a full year for the decision. Although Tchaikovsky eventually won first prize, the setting did not impress the public and the opera Vakula the Smith was abandoned. Nine years later, the composer radically revised it under the new title Cherevichki (or "The Slippers"). In 1895, the same story became the subject for Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Christmas Eve.

In November 1874, Tchaikovsky began working on his First Piano Concerto, a complete draft of which he had completed by 24 December 1874/5 January 1875, when he played it for Nikolay Rubinstein. Three years later he described Rubinstein's reaction on that occasion in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck: "I patiently played the concerto to the end: it was greeted with silence. I got up and asked, ‘What do you think of it?' Suddenly a torrent of words gushed from Rubinstein's lips, getting louder and fiercer every minute until he sounded like Jove the Thunderer. According to him my concerto was no good at all, impossible to play, with many awkward passages... so poorly composed that it would be impossible to correct them. The composition was vulgar, and I had stolen bits from here, there, and everywhere... I was not only astonished but offended by this scene". Stunned, the composer left the room without a word. Presently, Rubinstein came to Tchaikovsky and seeing how upset he was, tried to soften the blow by saying that if Tchaikovsky agreed to revise the piece, he would introduce it at one of his concerts. "I won't alter a single note," answered Tchaikovsky, "I shall publish the work precisely as it stands!" [25].

The concerto was indeed published exactly as it stood, but Tchaikovsky did eventually make alterations, particularly to the piano part. He decided to dedicate it not to his student at the Moscow Conservatory, the future composer Sergey Taneyev, as he had originally intended, but to the famous German pianist Hans von Bülow, whom Tchaikovsky had heard in a recital at the Bolshoi Theatre the previous March. Bülow, highly flattered by the dedication, gave the first successful performance of the B-flat minor concerto in Boston on 13/25 October 1875. Five days later, Tchaikovsky attended the premiere of the concerto in Saint Petersburg. Despite excellent forces—the pianist was Tchaikovsky's old school friend, Gustav Kross, and the conductor Eduard Nápravník—the reviews were almost all unfavourable. When, later that autumn, Taneyev performed the "impossible" work at a concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow with Nikolay Rubinstein conducting, the concerto was proclaimed an instant success.

Tchaikovsky at Verbovka, near the Davydov estate at Kamenka, in the summer of 1875

Tchaikovsky spent the summer of 1875 with his sister's family at Kamenka, his brother-in-law's estate in Ukraine. Here, Tchaikovsky composed his Third Symphony, this time in five movements, two of them in dance style. The symphony has since been nicknamed the "Polish", for no more reason than the marking "Tempo di polacca" of the Finale. Performed for the first time on 7/19 November with Nikolay Rubinstein conducting, the symphony gained almost immediate acclaim.

In August, Tchaikovsky began work on what was to become the first of his famed trilogy of ballets—Swan Lake—which was commissioned by the Imperial Theatres in Moscow. Throughout the winter months the work progressed steadily and was finished by 10/22 April 1876. Meanwhile he also accepted a commission from the editor of Nuvellist (Нувеллист), a music magazine, to compose a series of twelve piano pieces, which became popularly known as The Seasons.

At the very end of 1875, the composer left Russia together with his brother Modest and the latter's deaf-mute 7-year-old pupil Nikolay Konradi. The two brothers decided to go to Paris via Germany and Switzerland. Modest was planning to study the latest methods of teaching deaf-mutes in Lyons at a private school. While in Paris, Tchaikovsky experienced one of the strongest musical impressions of his entire life when he attended a performance of Bizet's Carmen at the Opéra-Comique. In late January/early February he returned to Russia, but he met up with Modest in France the next June. After about a month there Tchaikovsky travelled to Germany, where he attended the first festival devoted entirely to Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. During his stay he made the acquaintance of Liszt, but he failed to meet Wagner himself. Tired by his stay at Bayreuth, Tchaikovsky returned to Kamenka on 11/23 August.

On 14/26 October, he completed the symphonic fantasia Francesca da Rimini, which he claimed to have worked on "with love, and that love, it seems, has come out quite well" [26]. At the end of 1876, he was honoured by a visit from Lev Tolstoy, whom he greatly admired. The premiere of Swan Lake took place on 20 February/4 March 1877. Owing to terrible choreography and a poor orchestra, the ballet was not the success the composer had hoped for, but it remained in the repertoire for another four seasons.


Bearing in mind his affair with Désirée Artôt, there is every reason to believe that until the middle of the 1870s Tchaikovsky did not take his homosexuality too seriously and, as frequently is the case, did not allow himself to think that his sexual preferences were irreversible or insurmountable. Most probably he thought that he could act on his inclinations for as long as possible, but that, when it became absolutely necessary, he could simply abandon these habits.

After travelling with his brother Modest and Nikolay Konradi in early 1876, Tchaikovsky clearly realised that the emotional atmosphere surrounding his brother's relationship with his charge was unhealthy and deeply fraught with potential, if not imminent, danger. He became conscious of this on a very personal level, since he also felt an erotic attraction to the boy, and had always been a role model for his younger brothers. And so the composer resolved to end the crisis in his own way by setting an example himself.

On 19/31 August 1876, Tchaikovsky suddenly wrote to his brother: "I have decided to marry. It is inevitable. I must do this, and not only for myself, but also for you and for Anatoly, Aleksandra [their sister] and all whom I love. For you in particular! But you also, Modest, need to think seriously about this. Homosexuality and pedagogy cannot abide in harmony with one another" [27]. A month later, in a letter to Modest, he stressed this point further: "A man who, after parting with his own (as he can be called) child falls into the embraces of any passing trash cannot be the real educator that you want and ought to become" [28]. Discussing with Modest the possibility of the three of them living together the following year, the composer touched upon another issue which no doubt had been weighing heavily on his mind: "I do not want evil tongues to wound an innocent child, about whom they would inevitably say that I am preparing him to be my own lover, moreover, a mute one, in order to elude idle talk and rumours" [29]. Contemptuous though he was of public opinion, Tchaikovsky found that he could ignore it no longer. He was never a fighter by nature, and in the end he had no choice but to yield. His sudden and impulsive decision to marry was motivated primarily by an emotion more altruistic than selfish—-a desire to ensure his relatives' peace of mind and to retain full and mutual understanding with them without the need for reticence or deception.

Until this time Tchaikovsky had treated his homosexuality as a morally indifferent phenomenon. Now it suddenly seemed imperative to suppress it and, what is more, to advise his brother to do the same. Indeed, his customary relationship with Modest dictated that Tchaikovsky set an example of behaviour to be imitated, one that might save Modest from the danger of scandal without causing him to abandon a pupil who was so deeply loved by both brothers. That he himself would have to make certain sacrifices in this respect must no doubt have flattered the self-esteem of the composer, who may well have seen the decision as an almost heroic gesture. Nevertheless, however vigorous their intent, Tchaikovsky's preparations for marriage did not proceed without some severe setbacks. A few weeks after his sombre letters to Modest about marriage, he went to the country estate of his friend Bek-Bulatov, where he discovered a veritable homosexual bordello, and found himself infatuated with his coachman [30].

Tchaikovsky with Iosif Kotek in March 1877

Tchaikovsky was torn by ambivalent feelings on the subject of sexuality and marriage. In a letter of 28 September/10 October 1876, after referring to three homosexual encounters since his last letter, he agreed with his brother that "it is not possible to restrain oneself, despite all one's vows, from one's weaknesses" [31]. Moreover, at the end of the same letter he honestly confessed: "I shall not enter into any lawful or illicit union with a woman without having fully ensured my own peace and my own freedom" [32]. The "freedom" that Tchaikovsky intended to ensure obviously refers to the freedom to indulge in those "weaknesses" which could not be resisted, whatever vows one may make.

Some time later, at the end of 1876, he fell deeply in love with his conservatory student Iosif Kotek. This was a "passion" which, he admitted in a letter to Modest in January 1877, assailed him "with unimaginable force": "My only need is for him to know that I love him endlessly and for him to be a kind and indulgent despot and idol. It is impossible for me to hide my feelings for him, although I tried hard to do so at first. I saw that he noticed everything and understood me. But then can you imagine how artful I am in hiding my feelings? My habit of eating alive any beloved object always gives me away. Yesterday I gave myself away completely... burst. I made a total confession of love, begging him not to be angry, not to feel constrained if I bore him, etc. All of these confessions were met with a thousand various small caresses, strokes on the shoulder, cheeks, and strokes across my head. I am incapable of expressing to you the full degree of bliss that I experienced by completely giving myself away" [33].

It happened that around this time, in the spring of 1877, when Tchaikovsky's passion for Kotek suddenly declined (owing to the latter's infidelity and his disfigured finger), and when another close homosexual friend Vladimir Shilovsky was getting married, Tchaikovsky received several love letters from a former conservatory student named Antonina Milyukova (1848–1917) [34]. Tchaikovsky hardly remembered Antonina, since he met her for the first time in Moscow in late May 1872, at the apartment of her brother, the staff-captain Alexander Milyukov (1840–85), whose wife Anastasia (née Khvostova) was a close friend of the composer from his days at the School of Jurisprudence in Saint Petersburg [35].

Antonina later admitted, both in her letters to Tchaikovsky (1880s) and in her recollections (1893), that this first meeting made an indelible impression on her, resulting in a profound affection that lasted for many years. She lent special meaning to the fact that her love arose from her attraction to Tchaikovsky's appearance and purely human qualities, and that she was utterly ignorant of his music and growing fame in cultural circles. At Tchaikovsky's personal invitation, Antonina attended the premiere of his Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition in Moscow on 30 May/11 June 1872. Their relationship, however, did not develop in the years after their first meeting, and it was only during Antonina's studies at the conservatory that they briefly saw each other within the walls of this institution. As Antonina later wrote, she loved Tchaikovsky "secretly" for over four years. In late 1876, Antonina received a small inheritance due to the division of the family estate. This potential "dowry" was apparently the immediate incentive for taking active steps toward renewing her acquaintance with the composer [36].

On 26 March/7 April 1877, Antonina sent Tchaikovsky a written confession of her love for him [37]. Both Antonina and Tchaikovsky testified that they "began a correspondence", as a result of which the composer received her offer "of hand and heart" already in the early days of May 1877 [38].

On 20 May/1 June, Tchaikovsky met Antonina. An analysis of Antonina's surviving letters suggests that in all likelihood their personal meeting was initiated by Tchaikovsky himself. The threat of suicide, made in the last letter Antonina wrote before their meeting, cannot be considered a serious factor in Tchaikovsky's eventual decision; in the context of the entire letter, this "threat" seems to be no more than a device in the tradition of sentimental models from so-called "letter books", which were popular at the time and which contained samples of fictional letters for all occasions [39].

The meeting occurred in the house where Antonina was renting a room, on the corner of Tverskaya Street and Maly Gnezdnikovsky Lane in Moscow. At the next meeting, on 23 May/4 June, Tchaikovsky made a formal proposal, promising his bride only his "brotherly" love, to which she readily agreed [40]. But Tchaikovsky chose not to mention this meeting in his letter to Modest, written on the same day. Instead he sought to explain his cooling off with regard to Kotek, and even began to see the manifestations of Providence in various coincidences that had recently happened: "You ask about my love? It is once again subdued almost to the point of absolute calm. And do you know why? You alone can understand this. Because two or three times I saw his injured finger in all of its ugliness! But without that I would be in love to the point of madness, which returns anew each time I'm able to forget somewhat about his crippled finger. I don't know whether this finger is for the better or worse? Sometimes it seems to me that Providence, so blind and unjust in the choice of its protégés, deigns to take care of me. Indeed, sometimes I start to think that some coincidences are not mere accidents... Who knows, maybe this is the beginning of a religiousness that, if it ever takes hold of me, will do so completely; that is, with Lenten oil, cotton-wool from the Iveron icon, etc." [41].}}

The marriage took place at Saint George's Church in Moscow on 6/18 July 1877. The bridegroom's witnesses were his brother Anatoly and his friend Iosif Kotek, the bride's were her close friends Vladimir Vinogradov and Vladimir Malama. They were joined by the priest Dmitry Razumovsky, who was also professor of history of church music at the conservatory [42].

The majority of biographical works on Tchaikovsky date the beginning of his relationship with Antonina Milyukova to early May 1877, the time of the genesis and first drafts of his opera Yevgeny Onegin. According to the composer's own testimony in his letters to Nadezhda von Meck, an important factor in their rapid intimacy and marriage was Tchaikovsky's fascination with the plot of Pushkin's novel—his sympathy for the heroine and his desire to avoid "repeating" Onegin's cruelty towards a woman who loves him. Another significant factor was Antonina's own insistent requests for meetings, accompanied by threats to commit suicide in case of a refusal. The fact that there remained about two weeks before the idea of the opera Yevgeny Onegin took root in Tchaikovsky's mind, after being suggested by the singer Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya on 13/25 May, allows one to conclude that the choice of Pushkin's novel as the plot for an opera could have been stimulated by Tchaikovsky's personal situation: a distant female acquaintance confessing her love in a letter [43].

From the very beginning of his married life Tchaikovsky greatly suffered from his new predicament. He quickly realised that he had made a grave mistake. Moreover, he found himself unable to accept the personality and character of his wife as well as her family and circle of friends. After 20 days of cohabitation their marriage was still not consummated [44]. It is uncertain whether Tchaikovsky had confided in his wife at the outset regarding the problem of his homosexuality or whether she may simply have disregarded such a confession. On 27 July/8 August, Tchaikovsky left Antonina for one-and-a-half months, travelling to Kamenka to stay with his sister [45].

After returning to Moscow, the composer lived with his wife from 12/24 September to 24 September/6 October at their apartment on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street (not far from the conservatory), before leaving her for good. In the first instance, Tchaikovsky contrived to be summoned to Saint Petersburg on a fictitious errand, and thereupon he departed abroad for a considerable period of time in order to recuperate from a nervous breakdown which, as it transpires from archival documents, was faked [46].

Tchaikovsky with Antonina in the summer of 1877

Be that as it may, there hardly remains any doubt that his homosexuality, coupled with the psychological incompatibility on which he insisted in his correspondence, proved the ultimate cause of the break-up of his marriage. This recognition forced Tchaikovsky to admit that he had failed in his plan to enhance his social and personal stability. Most importantly, however, his impulsive marriage helped him to realise that his homosexuality could not be changed and had to be accepted as it was. That Tchaikovsky at some point came to think of it as "natural" follows from his use of that very term in a letter to his brother Anatoly on 13/25 February 1878 from Florence: "Only now, especially after the tale of my marriage, have I finally begun to understand that there is nothing more fruitless than not wanting to be that which I am by nature" [47].

There is not a single document from the rest of his life that can be construed as an expression of self-torment on account of his homosexuality. Some occasional expressions of nostalgia for family life are perfectly understandable in a bachelor, and have nothing to do with sexual orientation. Tchaikovsky's eventual solution in his private life became, while often entertaining passionate and even sublime feelings for young males among his social peers, including his pupils, to gratify his physical needs by means of anonymous encounters with members of the lower classes. In between was his manservant Aleksey Sofronov ("Alyosha"), whose status changed over the years from one of bed-mate to that of a valued friend, who eventually married with Tchaikovsky's blessing, but stayed in his household until the very end. At the end of his life, the composer succeeded in creating an emotionally satisfying environment through close family relationships, and by surrounding himself with a group of admiring young men, headed by his beloved nephew Bob Davydov.

Tchaikovsky undertook several attempts at divorce between 1878 and 1880, but without success, since for a long time Antonina continued to believe in the possibility of some sort of future "reconciliation" and refused to agree to what her husband proposed, thereby invoking his wrath, with accusations of stupidity, suspicions of "blackmail", etc. Only in 1881 did Tchaikovsky finally abandon the idea of divorce. At this time he ceased paying his wife the pension he had promised her (it had fluctuated from 50 to 100 rubles a month) on the grounds of her erratic and unpredictable behaviour.

Antonina Milyukova's role in Tchaikovsky's life is no longer viewed in the one-dimensional terms that used to prevail. It is impossible to deny that she had a very negative effect on the composer's psychological and physical state, a fact that is confirmed by Tchaikovsky's own statements in his letters and diaries. Tchaikovsky called his wife a "terrible wound"—he felt heavily burdened by his legal bind and sometimes even afraid of possible "disclosures" by her concerning his homosexual preferences.

Yet Tchaikovsky was also deeply concerned over the entire fiasco, and felt sincere remorse for his apparently cruel treatment of Antonina. Paradoxically, it is precisely the years from 1877 to 1880—the most difficult time in Tchaikovsky's marital drama—that stand out as one of his most productive periods in a creative sense. Subsequently Tchaikovsky was plagued with pangs of conscience: for instance in his letters to Pyotr Jurgenson from 1883 and 1888, where he asks his publisher to locate his abandoned spouse in order to help her materially. Tchaikovsky appreciated his wife's musical abilities, which is evident by a series of favourable judgments found in his letters. But Tchaikovsky often perceived Antonina's personal qualities unfairly, painting a distorted picture of her, based on his irritation at this or that trait of her character (for instance, in his letters to Nadezhda von Meck, his brothers, and others). One of Tchaikovsky's more balanced statements in respect to his wife can be found in a letter to his sister Aleksandra, written from Rome on 8/20 November 1877: "I give full justice to her sincere desire to be a good wife and friend to me, and... it is not her fault that I did not find what I was looking for" [48]. The fact remains that, despite her ruined family life and perennial pain, not once did Antonina attempt to "avenge" her husband. On the contrary, she even embellished slightly the composer's human image in her recollections: "No one, not a single person in the world, can accuse him of any base action."

Until recently, most of Tchaikovsky's biographers have recounted the details of Tchaikovsky's marriage in a superficial and tendentious manner, always with a bias in favour of the composer. Antonina Milyukova's own recollections, which present her side of the story, have been labelled the product of a rash and insane woman, and therefore ignored [49]. Recent archival studies have made it possible to clarify several key details relating to Antonina's origins, and the history of the couple's acquaintance, marriage, further relationship and her life after their separation [50].

After the composer's death, Antonina received a pension of 100 rubles a month, which Tchaikovsky left her in his will. She moved to Saint Petersburg and moved near to the Saint Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery, where he was buried. Antonina's further fate was tragic: soon after Tchaikovsky's death she began to display signs of an emotional disorder (a mania of persecution). By 1896, the disease had worsened and Antonina moved to Kronstadt, where she sought spiritual support and a cure from the renowned miracle-worker Father John of Kronstadt. For some unknown reason the priest refused to help her. In October 1896, Antonina ended up in the Saint Petersburg Hospital of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker for the emotionally disturbed. After her relative recovery, in February 1900, she was released from the hospital, only to return there in June of 1901 with a diagnosis of paranoia chronica. A month later, with the help of Tchaikovsky's brother Anatoly, she was transferred to a more comfortable psychiatric hospital outside the city—the Charitable Home for the Emotionally Disturbed at Udelnaya. The pension of her late husband served as payment for her room and board. Antonina spent the last ten years of her life at this institution more as a "resident" than a patient. The home provided her with medical supervision in her old age, with attentive care by the personnel, and full living conveniences. She died of pneumonia on 16 February/1 March 1917, and was buried at the Uspensky Cemetery in Saint Petersburg. Her grave has not survived.


Nadezhda von Meck

At the end of 1876, a second woman entered Tchaikovsky's life. This was Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a wealthy railway magnate. She had heard and admired some of Tchaikovsky's music, and when she found out that he was encountering financial problems, she began to commission pieces from him. Both agreed on the one condition—that they should never meet. Their strange relationship, expressed through over 1200 letters, was to last for almost fourteen years. They only met twice, by accident, and hurried off without greeting each other. When Mrs von Meck learned what had happened with Tchaikovsky during his abortive marriage, she agreed on his request to arrange for him to receive a regular allowance of 6000 rubles. This way the composer resolved his permanent financial crisis, and Mrs von Meck's money allowed him to dedicate himself to creative work.

Tchaikovsky's relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, despite their obvious eccentricities, occasional frustrations and their gradual (although on the surface almost imperceptible) deterioration, can be argued to have been among the most gratifying experiences of the composer's life. Their silent understanding never to meet endowed their "epistolary friendship" with a particular "platonic" colouring, which was deeply emotional, and at times almost ecstatic. In the case of Mrs von Meck the erotic component was very significant (even at the conscious level), although always neutralised through her emphatic sentimentalism. This proved satisfactory to both parties, providing a safe outlet for their feelings by ruling out any obvious manifestation of sexual love. In her correspondence with the composer, Mrs von Meck displayed an exceptional degree of tact, sympathy and understanding in the light of Tchaikovsky's psychological idiosyncrasies and the specific characteristics of their epoch. There are reasons to believe that she may have been aware of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality from the very start of their friendship, even if in a somewhat vague and inexplicit fashion, in keeping with the general Victorian attitudes towards the subject.

At the end of 1877 and the beginning of 1878, Tchaikovsky and his brother Anatoly (later replaced by Modest) proceeded with their European tour through Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria, hoping to put the whole disastrous business of Tchaikovsky's marriage firmly behind them. Iosif Kotek arrived in Vienna at the end of November and spent some time with the brothers travelling. By January 1878, Tchaikovsky had finished his Fourth Symphony, the first of his mature symphonic works, which he dedicated (secretly) to Nadezhda von Meck. The other major work which occupied him during the period of his ill-fated marriage was the opera Yevgeny Onegin. At first the opera made a modest impression on the audience, and it took several years to achieve the public acclaim it deserved. One other masterpiece also emerged from this period of self-exile: the Violin Concerto, written in Switzerland. This was inspired by Iosif Kotek, but for opportunistic reasons Tchaikovsky initially offered the dedication to the virtuoso Leopold Auer. However, it seemed that Tchaikovsky's new concerto would suffer the same fate as his First Piano Concerto four years earlier, when Auer claimed it was far too difficult and refused to play it. In 1881, an up-and-coming violinist, Adolph Brodsky, played it at a Philharmonic Society concert in Vienna [51], at which the legendary critic Eduard Hanslick, in his newspaper review of the concert, declared that the music "gave off a bad smell". Just like the Piano Concerto No. 1, the Violin Concerto is now well established as one of the best-loved pieces in the repertoire, among musicians and audiences alike.

In April 1878, Tchaikovsky returned to Russia, depressed by the prospect of resuming his teaching duties, and short of inspiration. Nevertheless, he finished some smaller piano pieces, including the popular Children's Album. Returning to Moscow after his usual summer visit to Kamenka, and also after a visit to Mrs von Meck's estate at Brailov, he took a decisive step. He resigned his teaching job at the Conservatory, and shortly thereafter set off on his travels once again. He was to spend the next few years constantly on the move, avoiding Moscow and Saint Petersburg as much as possible.

First he travelled to Florence, then to Paris, and then to Clarens in Switzerland, where he started to work on another opera — The Maid of Orleans, which did not prove to be one of his greatest successes. Back in Russia by the autumn, he began a Second Piano Concerto. Later he travelled to Rome, where he composed the Italian Capriccio. Tchaikovsky then returned to his homeland, where he spent much of 1880 in the country. There he completed the Serenade for String Orchestra, and the piece most often associated with his name—the overture The Year 1812, a commemoration of the historic Russian defeat of Napoleon's army. Early in 1881, still in Rome, Tchaikovsky learned that the seriously ill Nikolay Rubinstein had gone to Paris for treatment, and had died there soon afterwards. He rushed to Paris to pay his last respects to Rubinstein, and in December he began working on a musical memorial, the Piano Trio dedicated "to the memory of a great artist" (Op. 50). This trio was first played on 18/30 October 1882 in Moscow with Sergey Taneyev, Jan Hřímalý and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen [52]. By now Tchaikovsky's music was being performed more often, thanks in a large degree to the efforts of the late Nikolay Rubinstein, who played and conducted a Tchaikovsky programme at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and premiered many of his new compositions in Moscow, though rarely with total success.

The main work of 1882–83 was the opera Mazepa, based upon Pushkin's epic poem Poltava. During the course of its composition his enthusiasm flagged considerably. Writing to Mrs von Meck on 14/26 September 1882, he admitted: "Never has any important work given me so much trouble as this opera. Perhaps it is a decline in my powers, or have I become more severe in my self-judgment?" [53]. Mazepa was performed in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg in February 1884, but Tchaikovsky left for Europe without attending the Saint Petersburg premiere, since the opera was not very cordially received in Moscow. He had hardly spent three weeks in the French capital before he was summoned back to Russia to appear before Alexander III and receive an official decoration—the Order of Saint Vladimir (4th class).

Tchaikovsky in Tiflis, spring 1889, with a group including his brother Anatoly and sister-in-law Praskovya (front left)

By the beginning of 1885, the composer was feeling the need to cease his restless wandering and settle down. He found a manor house in Maydanovo, near Klin, in the countryside outside Moscow. This residence also had the advantage of being on the direct route between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He moved there on 14/26 February, and the view from the windows, the quiet, and the sense of "being home" delighted him. Soon he settled down to a regular routine: reading, walking in the forest, working in the mornings and afternoons, and playing cards or duets with friends in the evenings. He wrote to his brother: "I am contented, cheerful and at peace" [54]. He was occupied at this time with the revision of Vakula the Smith, which was to be re-issued under the new title of Cherevichki—and also with a new opera based on Ippolit Shpazhinsky's play The Enchantress, the story about an innkeeper's daughter who is courted by two princes (father and son), with predictably disastrous consequences [55]. In May, Tchaikovsky began to fulfil a promise made to Balakirev to compose a symphonic work on the subject of Lord Byron's Manfred. This task cost Tchaikovsky immense effort and was finished only in September 1885. All the autumn he continued to work on The Enchantress while travelling for a few days or weeks at a time to Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kamenka.

Tchaikovsky was very pleased when, on 11/23 March 1886, Manfred was successfully performed for the first time in Moscow, conducted by the German conductor and composer Max Erdmannsdörfer. At the end of this month he decided to visit his brothers—Ippolit in Taganrog and Anatoly in Tiflis (Tbilisi) in the Caucasus. At Tiflis, where he spent the entire month of April, he met with a triumphant reception: a concert was organized on 19 April/1 May consisting entirely of his works and conducted by his great admirer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, who was a composer and later professor at the Moscow and the Tiflis Conservatories. The concert was followed by a supper and the presentation of a silver wreath. From the Caucasus, Tchaikovsky travelled by sea to France, where in Paris he met the French composers Léo Delibes, Ambroise Thomas, and Gabriel Fauré, and spent almost a month combining professional meetings with entertainment. In mid/late June he returned to Russia to continue work on The Enchantress.

In October 1886, Tchaikovsky paid a visit to Saint Petersburg in order to be present at the first performance of Eduard Nápravník's opera Harold, where he met his fellow composers Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Aleksandr Glazunov and Anatoly Lyadov.


Tchaikovsky in 1887, aged 46

The first performance of Cherevichki (the new version of Vakula the Smith) took place at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 19/31 January 1887. It had a far-reaching influence on Tchaikovsky's future, for it was then that he made his first successful attempt at conducting. The work had a great success, perhaps due to the composer's presence, but it remained in the repertoire for only two seasons. He appeared in the capacity of conductor again on 5/17 March at a concert of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society which was totally devoted to his works. Now Tchaikovsky began to think of venturing on a concert tour abroad. He spent most of the spring at Maydanovo working on the orchestration of The Enchantress. At the end of May/start of June, Tchaikovsky set off on another Caucasian journey to visit his brother Anatoly, taking a pleasant steamer trip down the Volga from Nizhny Novgorod to Astrakhan, through the Caspian Sea to Baku, and then on to Tiflis and Borzhom. In Borzhom he received a telegram from his old friend Nikolay Kondratyev, who was dying in Aachen [56]. Tchaikovsky decided to visit him there and by 15/27 July he was already in Aachen, where he spent over a month contemplating God, life and death, while watching Kondratyev's agonizing end.

On 20 October/1 November, his new opera The Enchantress was produced at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Tchaikovsky conducted again but, in spite of a personal ovation, the opera left audiences cold. On the seventh night, the work was sung to a half-empty house, and was quickly withdrawn. On 14/26 November, Tchaikovsky conducted another very successful concert in Moscow consisting of his own works, including the premiere of his suite Mozartiana. At the end of December, he set out on his first European concert tour as a conductor, which included Leipzig, Berlin, Prague, Hamburg, Paris and London. It was a very successful tour, especially in Prague, Paris and London, where he met several well-known composers (among them Brahms, Grieg and Dvořák) and established many good relations with famous musicians.

In mid/late March, Tchaikovsky returned to Russia, again visiting his brother Ippolit in Taganrog and his brother Anatoly in Tiflis. He returned home only in April, but this time to a new house in the village of Frolovskoye which, like Maydanovo, is located near the small town of Klin. There he began a new symphony, inspired by the death of his friend Nikolay Kondratyev. The Fifth Symphony was first performed under Tchaikovsky's baton in Saint Petersburg on 5/17 November and was well received, in spite of discouraging reviews. At the end of November Tchaikovsky travelled to Prague, where he conducted a successful performance of Yevgeny Onegin.

In December, he retired to Frolovskoye for six weeks in order to compose a ballet—The Sleeping Beauty—based on a French fairy tale and commissioned by the directors of the Saint Petersburg Theatres. Tchaikovsky worked with genuine enthusiasm, until he was forced to lay the work aside to go on another concert tour in late January/early February 1889. Tchaikovsky made his first appearance as a conductor on 31 January/12 February at a concert in Cologne, from whence he travelled to Frankfurt am Main, Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig, Geneva, and finally back north to Hamburg. Here he found himself in the same hotel as Brahms, and felt gratified to hear that the concert performance of his Fifth Symphony had pleased the latter, with the exception of the finale. Before going to London at the end of March, as scheduled, Tchaikovsky spent a few weeks in Paris. After the London concert he returned to Russia by the Mediterranean, visiting Batum on the Black Sea and seeing his brother Anatoly in Tiflis. The local music society again celebrated his visit with concerts from his works. The summer was spent as usual in his country home, and his time was occupied by the completion and orchestration of The Sleeping Beauty.

Tchaikovsky spent the greater part of the autumn travelling between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, conducting concerts of his own works, those of Anton Rubinstein (on the occasion of the latter's Jubilee Festival), and rehearsing his new ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre. The first performance of The Sleeping Beauty took place on 3/15 January 1890 in a splendid production, choreographed by Marius Petipa. The day before, Alexander III had expressed his approval of the ballet at a gala rehearsal attended by the Imperial court.

On 14/26 January, Tchaikovsky went to Florence, where he began work on another opera, The Queen of Spades, Op. 68, the libretto of which had been adapted by his brother Modest from Pushkin's novella. Tchaikovsky composed the opera with an enthusiasm almost without parallel in his career. The entire score was written in a fit of creative frenzy that lasted just forty-four days. In the process, as we learn from Tchaikovsky's letters, the composer came to identify with its characters and its action. "I almost totally lost my appetite, my sleep, my cheerful disposition, in a word, all the attributes of health," he wrote to a friend soon after finishing, "but I really performed a heroic deed and wrote a great opera in seven weeks" [57]. Elsewhere Tchaikovsky wrote: "I worked on [the opera] with unbelievable ardour and excitement, and actually experienced everything that happens in the story, at one time even fearing the appearance of the old dame's ghost, and I hope that my authorial tumult and absorption will echo in the hearts of the audience" [58].

Tchaikovsky's home at Frolovskoye, July 1890

As was the case with almost all Tchaikovsky's major compositions, the immediate public and critical response to The Queen of Spades, in the Saint Petersburg production first presented on 7/19 December 1890, was mixed. While he never doubted the quality of his art, the composer was genuinely modest and sensitive to unfavourable feedback. Furthermore, he tended to deprecate his own work and lose interest in it upon completion. It was not so with The Queen of Spades. Despite the scepticism of many, he adamantly held to the belief that the music of this opera belonged among the finest in the world. The judgment of posterity has proved him right.

Tchaikovsky had spent the summer of 1890 in Frolovskoye, preoccupied with the finishing touches for his opera, and composing the sextet Souvenir de Florence. On 17/29 December, he attended a very successful production of The Queen of Spades in Kiev.

In the last ten years, the pathos and enthusiasm so characteristic of its initial stages had gradually diminished in Tchaikovsky's correspondence with Nadezhda von Meck. Her financial assistance would still continue for more than a decade, but eventually they so accommodated themselves to one another that they could treat the whole situation as a matter of fact—quietly and more prosaically. Nevertheless, the intellectual level of their correspondence remained high, and ranged from theoretical discussions to intimate confessions. During September 1890, however, he received a letter from Mrs von Meck informing him that she was on the brink of ruin, and therefore unable to continue either his allowance or their correspondence. The suddenness of this news wounded him deeply, and left him depressed for some time.

His satisfaction with The Queen of Spades led Tchaikovsky to accept two more commissions from the Imperial Theatres for an opera (Iolanta) and a ballet (The Nutcracker). In the meantime, however, Tchaikovsky accepted an invitation to conduct his own works in America on the occasion of the grand opening of Carnegie Hall in New York. On 6/18 March, he left Frolovskoye for Paris, where he was to conduct one of Édouard Colonne's concerts on 24 March/5 April. The success of this concert, which consisted entirely of his own works, was marred when he read news of his sister Aleksandra's death in a French newspaper.

Nevertheless, he decided to go ahead with his tour of America. Tchaikovsky sailed from Le Havre on 6/18 April 1891 and landed in New York eight days later. During the voyage, and throughout his American visit, he kept a diary of his experiences. Tchaikovsky conducted six concerts in which his own works were performed: four in New York, one at Baltimore and one at Philadelphia. He also visited Niagara Falls. The composer was greatly impressed and heartened by the warmth and hospitality of his American hosts and by the enthusiastic reception given to his music. On 9/21 May, he sailed back from New York to Hamburg, feeling fully gratified with his American tour.

Back home, Tchaikovsky returned to the composition of the ballet The Nutcracker, based on E. T. A. Hoffmann's fantasy story (but in the adaptation by Alexandre Dumas (père)). This he finished in late June/early July, whereupon he immediately commenced work on the one-act opera Iolanta, the story of a blind princess, set in medieval Aix-de-Provence. In addition, Tchaikovsky orchestrated a symphonic ballad The Voyevoda (Op. 78), written the previous year to a poem by Pushkin, after the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (and therefore unconnected with Tchaikovsky's first opera of the same name). On 4/16 November, Tchaikovsky went to Moscow to be present at the first Moscow performance of The Queen of Spades at the Bolshoi Theatre, and to conduct The Voyevoda at a concert organised by the Russian pianist and conductor Aleksandr Ziloti. While the opera enjoyed tremendous success, Tchaikovsky developed a strong dislike for The Voyevoda after its performance and actually tore up the score, which was reconstructed only after his death.

Tchaikovsky at Sophie Menter's castle at Itter, with Vasily Sapelnikov, September 1892

The end of 1891 found Tchaikovsky embarking on a new concert tour, this time calling at Kiev and Warsaw before proceeding on to Germany. From Warsaw he went to Hamburg by way of Berlin, in order to be present at a new production of Yevgeny Onegin, conducted by Gustav Mahler. In his later years, Tchaikovsky was often overcome by feelings of homesickness that afflicted him whenever he left Russia, and now he even abandoned a concert for which he had been engaged in Holland — going instead to Paris before heading home. At the end of February/start of March, Tchaikovsky travelled to Saint Petersburg where he conducted his overture-fantasia Romeo and Juliet, as well as the first performance of the suite from The Nutcracker, which was received with immense enthusiasm.

On 5/17 April 1892, Tchaikovsky moved into another new home in the same area around Klin. This time he found a bigger house on the outskirts of the town itself, right next to the Petersburg highway but surrounded by fields and the woods. At the end of April/start of May, he successfully conducted Gounod's Faust, Anton Rubinstein's The Demon, and his own Yevgeny Onegin in Moscow at Ippolit Pryanishnikov's Private Opera. In May, Tchaikovsky began work on a Symphony in E-flat major, but the sketches he produced to this end—which were in some state of completion by October—did not satisfy him. Almost a year later they were used as the basis for the one-movement Third Piano Concerto, and the Andante and Finale for piano and orchestra, completed by Taneyev after the composer's death. In June 1892, Tchaikovsky went abroad with his nephew Bob Davydov to Vichy (France) for a short cure and to spend some time in Paris. On 7/19 July he was back in the Russian capital, and four days later in Klin, where he dealt with the proofs of The Nutcracker and Iolanta. In early/mid-September 1892, Tchaikovsky planned to conduct a concert in Vienna. However, upon arriving he learned that the performance was to be given in a restaurant by a scratch orchestra, and promptly took offence and left. His old friend from the Moscow Conservatory, the Austrian pianist Anton Door, who had not seen him since the late 1860s, not surprisingly found him looking older than his years. From Vienna the composer travelled to be a guest of the German pianist Sophie Menter at Itter Castle, in the Tyrol, and thereupon to Prague in order to attend their first performance of The Queen of Spades. In early/mid-November, Tchaikovsky had to return to Saint Petersburg to take part in the rehearsals of Iolanta and The Nutcracker, whose premieres were to make up a double-bill.

On 6/18 December, both the opera and the ballet were given splendid productions at the Mariinsky Theatre, in the presence of Alexander III and the Imperial court. The opera was conducted by Eduard Nápravník, and the ballet by Riccardo Drigo. The Emperor was cordial with respect to both pieces, but it seems that the music of Iolanta did not appeal to the public. The Nutcracker proved more fortunate, with most critics approving of its music and choreography. Tchaikovsky left the capital on 12/24 December, disappointed by the lukewarm welcome received by his new creations.

This time he travelled to Switzerland, visiting his old childhood governess, Fanny Dürbach. He wrote to his brother Nikolay: "The past rose up so vividly before me that I seemed to breathe the air of Votkinsk and hear our mother's voice" [59].


Tchaikovsky spent the last days of 1892 in Paris and in Brussels. In the Belgian capital he successfully conducted an all-Tchaikovsky concert on 2/14 January, and travelled home via Odessa.

The composer was fêted in Odessa for almost two weeks. He conducted concerts of his own works, supervised a production of The Queen of Spades, and attended several banquets in his honour. Returning to Klin in early/mid-February with renewed confidence and inspiration, Tchaikovsky started work on his Symphony No. 6 in B minor. He worked so vigorously that in the week after his arrival, the first movement of the symphony was already complete, and the rest was clearly outlined in his head.

Tchaikovsky with members of the Russian Musical Society in Kharkov, March 1893

On 11/23 March, Tchaikovsky arrived in Kharkov for a scheduled concert appearance. A great crowd gathered at the train station to greet the famous composer. The response to the concert itself three days later, at which Tchaikovsky conducted his Second Symphony, The Tempest, and the overture The Year 1812, surpassed all expectations: the hurrahs and bravos seemed to continue on without end, and as soon as the famous man appeared in the doorway he was lifted up and carried to his coach.

Tchaikovsky returned from Kharkov on 18/30 March and resumed the work on his new symphony. He finished the finale first and only then took up the second movement. Within five days he completed the sketches of the entire work. After finishing the full score by mid/late August, he wrote to his publisher Pyotr Jurgenson, "On my word of honour, I have never been so satisfied with myself, so proud, so happy to know that I have done something so good!"

In April, Tchaikovsky began to compose the Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72 for piano, commissioned by Jurgenson, and Six Romances, Op. 73, to the text of the poet Danyl Ratgauz. In May, he travelled to Saint Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, where he visited his brother Anatoly, now the deputy governor of that city. During his visits to the capital, Tchaikovsky's meetings with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and with a younger generation of composers, such as Aleksandr Glazunov and Anatoly Lyadov, grew more frequent and productive.

Tchaikovsky receiving his honorary doctorate at Cambridge University, June 1893. This is the last known photograph taken of him during his lifetime.

On 13/25 May, the composer set off for England to formally receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa from Cambridge University, which had been conferred upon him earlier. The London Philharmonic Society intended to give two concerts at which all the foreign composers receiving their honorary degrees at Cambridge would conduct their own compositions. At the first of these concerts on 20 May/1 June, Tchaikovsky was represented by his Fourth Symphony, which appears to have been an enormous success. The festivities at Cambridge, to mark the Jubilee of the University Musical Society, began on 31 May/12 June with a concert whose program included one work by each of the five doctors of music: Boito, Saint-Saëns, Bruch, Tchaikovsky and Grieg (who was not present at the ceremony for reasons of ill health). Tchaikovsky directed the first English performance of Francesca da Rimini and then attended a "gala dinner and still more gala receptions". The next day saw the ceremony awarding him the honorary doctorate. The composer left London on 2/14 June for Paris, where he could finally relax from three weeks of tension and exhaustion. A few days later he travelled to the Tyrol to spend a week with Sophie Menter and the prominent Russian pianist Vasily Sapelnikov. By 18/30 June 1893, the composer was back in Russia.

While Tchaikovsky was abroad he had received a continuing flood of bad news from Moscow and Saint Petersburg: his old Conservatory and society friends Karl Albrecht and Konstantin Shilovsky had both passed away, in late June Vladimir Shilovsky also died, and he was led to expect similar news concerning Aleksey Apukhtin and professor Nikolay Zverev.

In late August/early September, Tchaikovsky briefly visited Hamburg to attend a production of Iolanta conducted by Gustav Mahler. Upon his return he visited his brother Anatoly and family in Nizhny Novgorod.

Toward the end of August/start of September, Tchaikovsky finally came up with the title of his new symphony, as is evident from an unpublished letter to the composer from his publisher Pyotr Jurgenson of 20 September/2 October. The composer had decided to call it '"Pateticheskaya simfoniya"' (Патетическая симфония), which in Russian is roughly equivalent to the title that Beethoven gave to his Sonata in F minor, Op. 57—"Appassionata". The passionate overtones of the Russian title are not adequately conveyed in its better-known French equivalent—"Symphonie pathétique", with its connotations of suffering and sorrow.

In September he worked on his Third Piano Concerto, and started to consider the possibility of writing a new opera. A few ideas had already occurred to him: one was Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, another—Nal and Damayanti (adapted from Vasily Zhukovsky's Mahabharata), but he was especially enthralled by the plot of George Eliot's tale Mr Gilfil's Love Story.

His engagement calendar for the forthcoming concert season was extremely full. On 16/28 October, at a concert in Saint Petersburg, he planned to conduct his new symphony for the first time. On 27 November/9 December, Tchaikovsky expected to return to the capital for another concert, and on 4/16 December he was due in Moscow. Two more engagements in Saint Petersburg were scheduled for 15/27 January and 29 January/10 February 1894; then in March he was to go on tour to Amsterdam, in April—to Helsinki, and in May—to London. In addition, he was considering invitations from Odessa, Kharkov, Warsaw, Frankfurt am Main, and elsewhere.

In early/mid-October 1893, the composer finished scoring the first movement of his piano concerto, and enjoyed a visit to Klin by two young cellists: his old friend and former pupil Anatoly Brandukov, and a new, promising young musician—Yulian Poplavsky. On 8/20 October, he went with his guests to Moscow, and from there he proceeded to Saint Petersburg on 9/21 October.

Tchaikovsky arrived in the capital on 10/22 October [60]. He planned to leave in a few days, in order to be present at a concert at the Russian Music Society in Moscow, and he was temporarily billeted in the apartment of his brother Modest, who shared it with their nephew Bob Davydov. This apartment, located on the corner of Malaya Morskaya and Gorokhovaya Streets, had been rented just a few weeks before Tchaikovsky's arrival.

The entire first week of Tchaikovsky's stay in the capital was occupied by orchestral rehearsals, and his free time was taken up in helping his brother and nephew to settle into their new apartment. The days following the premiere were spent visiting relatives and friends, conducting business negotiations and correspondence, and attending theatres and restaurants.

On the night of 20 October/1 November, after returning from a late dinner at Leiner's restaurant—the one most frequented by the composer and his brother—Tchaikovsky experienced an upset stomach. By morning it had worsened, but it was taken for the composer's usual "indisposition", which as a rule passed quickly. But this time his condition continued to worsen and self-medication failed to produce any positive results. Towards evening Modest Tchaikovsky was obliged to summon a doctor, the family friend Vasily Bertenson. Without making a definite diagnosis, but convinced that his patient's condition was extremely dangerous (with symptoms of constant diarrhoea and vomiting, extreme weakness, chest and abdominal pains), the doctor turned for help to his more experienced elder brother, the renowned Petersburg physician Lev Bertenson [61].

Upon his arrival, Lev Bertenson immediately diagnosed Asiatic cholera, in its severe or algid stage. By this time (about 11 pm) the life of the patient was in immediate danger: he began to experience spasms, his head and extremities turned dark blue, and his temperature fell. Throughout the night the doctor undertook energetic measures, such as the constant massaging of his patient's body by several persons at a time, as well as injections of musk, camphor and other substances recommended by the scientific knowledge of the day. By the morning of 22 October/3 November, Tchaikovsky's condition had greatly improved. It was on this morning that the police were informed of the composer's illness. An official announcement of Tchaikovsky's infection with cholera appeared in Saint Petersburg's newspapers the following day.

Vasily Bertenson, who left Saint Petersburg and participated no further in the treatment of Tchaikovsky, was replaced by two other doctors, Aleksandr Zander and Nikolay Mamonov [62]. They took turns at the bed of the patient between visits from the doctor-in-charge, Lev Bertenson. The latter was concerned with the development of the disease as Tchaikovsky's kidneys had now ceased to function, but hesitated to use the one method considered effective—namely, immersing the patient in a hot bath. The composer and his family shared a superstitious fear of this treatment, stemming from the death of Tchaikovsky's mother from cholera precisely as she was taking such a bath.

All other treatments failed to achieve results, and although on 22 October/3 November Tchaikovsky considered his life to have been saved, the following morning a crisis in his emotional state became evident, and he stopped believing in the possibility of recovery. The inactivity of his kidneys (uraemia) resulted in the inevitable gradual poisoning of his blood by elements of urine trapped in his organism. Furthermore, his intestines became paralyzed: the continuing diarrhoea became uncontrollable, and the patient felt weaker still. On 24 October/5 November, his condition became so critical that the doctors finally resorted to giving Tchaikovsky the hot bath. But even this belated treatment did not have any cardinal effect.

Throughout the day Tchaikovsky repeatedly lost consciousness and succumbed to delirium; towards the evening his pulse began to weaken and his breathing became inhibited. After ten o'clock in the evening the patient's state was declared hopeless. Almost without attaining consciousness, as a result of oedema of the lungs and a weakening of cardiac activity, the composer passed away at fifteen minutes after three o'clock in the morning on 25 October (6 November according to the Western calendar). Present during his final moments were his brothers Modest and Nikolay Tchaikovsky, his nephew Vladimir Davydov and the doctor Nikolay Mamonov.

Tchaikovsky on his deathbed, 25 October/6 November 1893

On the morning of 25 October/6 November, several newspapers printed a short announcement of Tchaikovsky's death. At the apartment where he died, with measures having been taken for disinfection, the body of the deceased lay in state and was made available for homage. "A transparent shroud covered the body up to the neck and only the presence near the head of someone continually touching the lips and the nostrils of the deceased with a bit of light-coloured material soaked in carbolic solution reminds one of the terrible illness that struck down the deceased", wrote the Petersburg Gazette. (Ten years later Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, who had attended this service, would entirely forget about all the extra precautions at Modest's apartment and about the constant disinfection of the composer's face, and recalled in his confused memoirs that he found it odd that the cellist Verzbilovich and others were allowed to kiss Tchaikovsky's body.)

Throughout the day the flow of visitors gradually increased, and two memorial services were held at the apartment. After nine o'clock, at the insistence of health officials, the coffin was closed and was not opened for the following two days. During this time hundreds of people came to bid farewell to the composer, dozens of wreaths were laid, and several more memorial services were given.

The papers published reports on Tchaikovsky's illness, interviews with doctors, relatives and friends of the deceased, and the texts of numerous commiserating telegrams. On 25 October/6 November, Alexander III had already indicated that the funeral was to take place in Saint Petersburg, with all the expenses attendant on the burial being covered by the Emperor's personal treasury. On 28 October/9 November, after a funeral service at the Kazan Cathedral and a grand public procession down Nevsky Prospect, with the participation of dozens of delegations from various cities, organizations and institutions, the composer's body was interred at the Tikhvin Cemetery of the Saint Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery.

The acute public reaction to Tchaikovsky's death found its primary expression in accusations levelled against the doctors who had treated him. The very fact that he had been taken ill with cholera (although quite a rare condition for members of the privileged class), in a city that at the time was at the centre of a cholera epidemic, did not elicit surprise. Moreover, the papers reported that the composer was generally susceptible to abdominal illnesses, that he had survived a case of cholerine (a mild form of cholera) that very summer, that he had often drunk unboiled water in Saint Petersburg (the usual source of infection), and that on the morning of 21 October/2 November, as a form of self-treatment, he had mistakenly taken a glass of Hunyadi alkaline water, which had only aided the development of disease-bearing vibrios.

The only question was where Tchaikovsky could have become infected—at Leiner's restaurant or at home—since according to various testimonies he had drunk unboiled water at both places. But this question turned out to be of secondary importance, even considering the growing criticism of restaurant procedures which permitted the use of unboiled water. The composer's own fateful recklessness was self-evident, and he was not alone in ignoring elementary hygienic measures.

The treatment of the patient was another matter entirely. Here all responsibility was to be shouldered by specific doctors, and they would inevitably become the targets of waves of outraged attacks over the sudden demise of the world-famous composer. Lev Bertenson and his assistants were accused of incompetence (specifically a lack of practical experience in treating cholera, the belated use of the bath, ignorance of modern treatments, etc.) and of criminal arrogance (i.e. their reluctance to call a consultation with colleagues with more experience in treating cholera patients, their failure to move Tchaikovsky to a special cholera ward, etc.).

Modest Tchaikovsky came to the doctors' defence, publishing two explanations [63]. In the first, he described in great detail the progression of the illness; in the second, he declared that everything possible had been done to save his brother and the family of the deceased had no grievance whatsoever against the doctors who treated him. Moreover, Modest expressed profound gratitude for their "sincere and irreproachably thorough treatment" of the composer's illness.


A second wave of emotions arose at a new performance of the composer's Sixth Symphony at a concert in Tchaikovsky's memory on 6/18 November 1893. Stunned by the recent tragedy, the public was especially sensitive to the "funereal" moods of several passages in the symphony. The slow, requiem-like Adagio finale now struck many as a premonition of death, and made an enormous impression. It is not surprising that many listeners (including some of the journalists writing about the concert for various newspapers) gained the impression that Tchaikovsky had written indeed a "requiem" for himself. Shortly afterwards, the first rumours of the composer's possible "self-poisoning" were heard. However, not one single suggestion that Tchaikovsky's death was caused by intentional poisoning was to be found in the newspapers of 1893, or for many subsequent decades.

Tchaikovsky's contemporaries were profoundly shocked by his death on the night of 25 October/6 November 1893. The grief at such an irrecoverable loss for the art of Russia and the world was exacerbated by its untimeliness: Tchaikovsky went to his grave full of creative strength and plans, at the height of his glory and artistic successes. Naturally, the causes and circumstances of Tchaikovsky's death immediately became the subject of heightened public attention. The details of this tragic event were closely recounted in the press, actively elaborated upon in oral rumour in arenas as varied as the royal family and merchants' clubs, and later they were to find reflection in memoiristic literature.

But as well as accurate information there appeared a series of conflicting accounts, which led to the appearance of the most ridiculous rumours and conjectures. Some of these became so deeply rooted that in time they began to aspire to the role of an "ultimate truth" which was allegedly being concealed by Tchaikovsky's relatives, the Tsarist regime, the Soviet government, etc. Facts discovered by recent studies, however, permit one to reconstruct the picture of Tchaikovsky's last days with a much greater degree of accuracy, and also to show decisively both the origin and baselessness of various "sensational" conjectures concerning his end.

Versions of the legend of the composer's voluntary departure from life became more persistent in subsequent years. One can classify them roughly into two main trends. Firstly, the "concealed suicide" stories, according to which Tchaikovsky, tormented by unrequited love, intentionally sought death and often drank unboiled water in the hope of catching cholera, and that, having caught it, he delayed summoning doctors until he was sure that the disease had progressed too far and that there remained no chance of recovery.

Second is the "forced suicide" theory, in which, under the threat of public scandal (or even a criminal trial) caused by the inescapable revelation of his homosexual contacts with a man from the highest royal circles, Tchaikovsky saved his own and his family's honour by taking slow-acting poison with effects similar to the characteristic symptoms of cholera, thus allowing his doctors and family to explain everything away by death from natural causes.

One story that has long enjoyed popularity is that an "order" for suicide stemmed from Alexander III himself. In the 1980s, widespread attention was garnered by another version of the "forced suicide" theory, according to which the composer fell victim to a "court of honour" conducted by his former classmates at the School of Jurisprudence, who sentenced him (due to the same presumed threat of "homosexual scandal") to death at his own hands. This version is essentially a new elaboration based on old hearsay, but it received sanction by a scholarly interpretation and was publicized in an English music journal [64]. The main conclusions of the latter article's author were in fact so provocative that they served to move the question of Tchaikovsky's death from the realm of society gossip and literary fantasy to that of the mainstream and scholarly press, becoming a topic of sharp discussion and stimulating a series of special studies [65].

Since the underlying theses of this new version coincided with traditional arguments for Tchaikovsky's suicide (the motive being a fear of his criminal habit being revealed, the medical "proof" being conflicting testimony on the progression of the composer's illness and the allegation that proper sanitary measures were ignored), scholars were obliged to analyse first and foremost the occasion for such supporting testimony. At the same time they undertook a review of the entire spectrum of questions and factual gaps reflected in all the diverse legends about Tchaikovsky's death [66].

Recent studies suggest that in the context of Russian social attitudes, sexual mores and criminal practice in the late nineteenth century, any scandal or repression with respect to Tchaikovsky was most unlikely, because of his high social standing and a generally tolerant attitude towards homosexuality prevailing in court circles and within the Imperial family. The idea of a poison that could mimic the symptoms of cholera also turned out to be imaginary: not a single one of the toxic substances available at that time could fulfil the basic "requirements" [67].

The Russian microbiologist Nikolay Blinov has thrown particular light on the medical aspect of the problem. Analysing contemporary ideas of the nature, prevention and treatment of cholera in Russia before 1893, Blinov established that Tchaikovsky's doctors acted strictly in accordance with the recommendations of the medical science of their day. They were able to save the patient from cholera itself on the first night, at a stage when, statistically, it causes up to ninety percent of all fatalities. But the treatment was begun late, for reasons outside their control, and the doctors were unable to protect the patient from post-choleric complications (uraemia, blood-poisoning, etc.), which eventually led to Tchaikovsky's death. He could only have been saved by modern medical treatments [68].

It is precisely due to the fact that Tchaikovsky died not from cholera itself (which had been a possibility during the night of 21 October/2 November–22 October/3 November), but as a result of the latter's inescapable repercussions (ultimately, oedema of the lungs and the cessation of cardiac activity), that the coffin of the deceased could be left open to the public on 25 October/6 November without contradicting the prevailing sanitary principles. It was held that the activity of choleric bacilli had ceased two days before death, and in any case during the course of the disease and subsequent ceremonies with the composer's body (on 25 October/6 November–27 October/8 November), sanitary and disinfective precautions were constantly being taken in the apartment. That none of the relatives, servants or friends who had contact with Tchaikovsky was infected is but another proof of the efficacy of these measures.

With respect to the theoretical possibility of a "conspiracy" of the treating doctors with the aim of concealing the composer's self-poisoning, Blinov undertook a detailed study of the biographies of the doctors who treated Tchaikovsky and of the laws of dominant medical ethics. He concluded that such a conspiracy would have been unthinkable for those involved [69].

A close study of newspaper publications and diverse memoirs concerning Tchaikovsky's illness and death permits one to explain the factual contradictions between the testimony of eyewitnesses of the tragedy. Together with objective factors (such as the differences in the doctors' and family members' perceptions of Tchaikovsky's illness, and the psychological difference between an immediate evaluation of events and subsequent reconstructions, etc.), one can identify a series of subjective factors that caused distrust in the official ("choleric") version at the time of the event.

In the first place one must note the media agitation over the sickness of the famous composer, a race for news "hot from the presses", due to which the papers carried inaccuracies, distorted information and sheer disinformation (the emotional statements of Tchaikovsky's friend, the singer Nikolay Figner, were given as "the opinion of Dr. Bertenson", an interview with Lev Bertenson himself was handled in such a way that the date of Tchaikovsky's death would appear as 24 October/5 November, etc.) [70].

On the other hand, the creation of confusion was aided by the authors of memoirs published in later years. In his 1912 memoirs, Vasily Bertenson, who was absent from Saint Petersburg after 22 October/3 November (and who only sent a telegram of condolences from Moscow on 26 October/7 November), presented the whole affair as if he had been at the dying man's bedside throughout his last days. This is despite the fact that he had recently requested Modest Tchaikovsky to describe details of the event "to refresh my memory" (letter from 11/24 January 1911) [71].

The composer's nephew Yury Davydov and the actor Yury Yuryevv collaborated to produce memoirs in the 1940s concerning their presence at Leiner's restaurant with Tchaikovsky, luridly describing details of the "fateful supper" of 20 October/1 November, while in actuality they had not been present there at all. In both cases the psychological motives of such "license" find a simple explanation: people close to the great composer found it permissible to distort the truth in order to lend greater weight to their own role as eyewitnesses [72].

The various rumours concerning an "Imperial wrath" directed at Tchaikovsky also turn out, upon close analysis, to be nothing but lurid fiction. Alexander III highly revered the composer's talent, and members of the Imperial family frequently attended Tchaikovsky's operas and ballets, buying up new editions of Tchaikovsky's music to play at home. Tchaikovsky's outstanding merits as a citizen were also appreciated: he was awarded the Order of Saint Vladimir in the fourth degree and a lifetime pension, and was presented with a valuable ring as a personal gift from the Emperor. His death, according to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich's diary entry of 26 October/7 November 1893, "grieved the Emperor and Empress greatly". "How sorry I am for him and what a disappointment!", the Emperor wrote to the Court Minister Illarion Vorontsov-Dashkov on 25 October/6 November, on receiving the news of Tchaikovsky's demise. On that same day, he issued a resolution concerning the organization of a state funeral for the composer at his own expense, and then he personally revised the plan of the memorial events submitted to him for review by Ivan Vsevolozhsky. It is impossible to imagine that such acts of the monarch's attention could be bestowed posthumously on a man who had fallen into royal disfavour during his lifetime [73].

A series of documents found in recent years present solid evidence against the historical, psychological and medical foundations of the suicide theories, while no new evidence in support of these theories has been discovered. The composer's death from cholera is attested in a burial certificate from 28 October/9 November 1893, preserved in the archive of the Saint Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery [74]. Tchaikovsky's brother Nikolay noted on a page together with a list of memorial wreaths: "Three doctors treated his cholera" [75]. In 1898, Vladimir Davydov, in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky (both being immediate witnesses of Tchaikovsky's last days), recalled: "After all, Uncle Pyotr had terrible problems with his stomach, which by the time I knew him was obviously weaker, but which reached an extreme state and finally served as the breeding-ground of his fatal disease" [76]. Vasily Bertenson also wrote on the beginning of Tchaikovsky's illness: "He fell ill only as a result of faults in his diet and drinking bitter-alkaline water on an empty stomach" (letter to Modest Tchaikovsky from 20 June/3 July 1905) [77]. Modest Tchaikovsky himself, a day before his brother's death (on 24 October/5 November at 12:48 pm) sent a telegram on the progress of the illness to Vasily Bertenson, who had left Saint Petersburg: "The first phase passed, full retention of urine, condition is grave" [78]. On 25 October/6 November, Lev Bertenson wrote to Modest: "The dreadful disease that took the life of your unforgettable brother has brought me closer to him, yourself, and all to whom he was dear. I cannot recover from the terrible drama I have lived through, and I am utterly incapable of communicating to you all the torment I am experiencing!" [79]. These testimonies alone from the archive of the Tchaikovsky Museum at Klin are sufficient to put an end to the old rumours and new fantasies generated by the proponents of an "unnatural" death theory.

An inquiry into the personality of any great artist is imperative if we want to deepen and enrich our appreciation of his or her achievement, since it allows to respond in a more complex and powerful way to the emotional and psychological issues involved in the creative process and their artistic resolution. In the case of Tchaikovsky, his inner longings, which we cannot fully comprehend without studying the realities of his life, had a bearing on the striking and peculiar emotional poignancy of his music, which is either extolled, or berated as "sentimentalism". Ultimately, this kind of study will enable us constructively to reconsider the whole set of musicological clichés about Tchaikovsky, and perhaps even his status in the cultural Pantheon, as well as the relevance of his work to our present-day cultural and spiritual concerns.

Notes and References

  1. Richard Taruskin, 'Pathetic symphonist. Chaikovsky, Russia, sexuality and the study of music', New Republic, Vol. 212 (6 February 1995), No. 6, p. 29.
  2. Nigel Smith, 'Perceptions of homosexuality in Tchaikovsky criticism', Context (summer 1992/93), No. 4, p. 3–9.
  3. For example, the portrayal of the composer in Anthony Holden's Tchaikovsky (1995).
  4. On Tchaikovsky's genealogy see also: Valentina Proleyeva, К родословной П. И. Чайковского. Жизнь и деятельность П. Ф. Чайковского (Izhevsk, 1990); Marina Kogan, «Родословная П. И. Чайковского», Советская музыка (1990), No. 6, p. 83–90.
  5. See Letter 1352 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 November/6 December–25 November/7 December 1879.
  6. For more on Tchaikovsky's life and friendships in the School of Jurisprudence, see Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 18–49.
  7. Klin House-Museum Archive (ref. б2, No. 21, p. 29).
  8. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 48.
  9. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 10.
  10. This request was granted on 1/13 May. See: Russian State Historical Archive, Saint Petersburg (Ф. 1405, оп. 63, д. 3356, л. 25, 27). We are most grateful to to Simon A. Morrison for bringing this source to our attention.
  11. The work was published posthumously by Mitrofan Belyayev as Op. 76 (1896).
  12. Strauss probably obtained the music of the Dances through his friend August Leibrock, the owner of a music shop in Saint Petersburg, since Leibrock's daughter was in the same class as Tchaikovsky at the conservatory.
  13. State Central Historical Archive, Saint Petersburg (ф. 361, оп. 11, ед. хр. 370).
  14. His resignation was formally accepted on 19 September/1 October 1867. See Russian State Historical Archive, Saint Petersburg (Ф. 1405, оп. 63, д. 3356, л. 42-47).
  15. The opera The Voyevoda was based on Ostrovsky's play A Dream on the Volga (Сон на Волге).
  16. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 259.
  17. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 259.
  18. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 1–29.
  19. Alexander Poznansky, 'Tchaikovsky's suicide. Myth and reality', 19th-Century Music, Vol. 11 (1988), p. 202–206; translated as Самоубийство Чайковского. Миф и реальность (1993), p. 25–41.
  20. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 463–485; see also Konstantin Rotikov, «Эпизод из жизни «голубого» Петербурга», Невский архив: Историко-краеведческий сборник (Saint Petersburg, 1997), p. 449–466.
  21. Letter 122 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 21 October/2 November 1868.
  22. Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), p. 176–177.
  23. Quoted in Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 159.
  24. Letter 350 to Anna Merkling, 25 April/7 May 1874.
  25. Letter 736 to Nadezhda von Meck, 21 January/2 February–22 January/3 February 1878.
  26. Letter 504 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 14/26 October 1876.
  27. Letter 492 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 8/20 August 1876.
  28. Letter 494 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 10/22 September 1876.
  29. Letter 833 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 May–20 May/1 June 1878.
  30. Letter 501 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 28 September/10 October 1876.
  31. Letter 501 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 28 September/10 October 1876.
  32. Letter 501 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 28 September/10 October 1876.
  33. Letter 538 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 19/31 January 1877.
  34. All surviving letters of Antonina Milyukova to Tchaikovsky have been published in full — see Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 219–251.
  35. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 13–15.
  36. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 16–18.
  37. The letter has not been preserved, its date has been established on the basis of circumstantial data. See Valery Sokolov, Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 19–20.
  38. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 19–24.
  39. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 29–32.
  40. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 33–34.
  41. Letter 568 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 23 May/4 June 1877.
  42. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 34.
  43. See Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 211, and Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 31.
  44. Sokolov's attempt to prove on the basis of circumstantial evidence that their marriage was consummated is by no means convincing — see Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 35.
  45. For more on Tchaikovsky's marriage, see Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 204–230; Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 12–19; Valery Sokolov, Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 35–56.
  46. Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 40–47.
  47. Letter 759 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 13/25–14/26 February 1878. See my discussion in Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 184–185, and Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 9–22. See also similar conclusions independently reached by Sokolov after his own study of the composer's archives in Klin: "It would be a profound mistake to believe that Tchaikovsky all his life suffered from his 'anomaly'. As can be seen in his letters, in the last decades of his life he achieved a happy psychological balance after fruitless attempts to struggle against his nature" — Valery Sokolov, «Письма П. И. Чайковского без купюр. Неизвестные страницы эпистолярии» in: П. И. Чайковский. Забытое и новое (1995), p. 121.
  48. Letter 641 to Aleksandra Davydova, 8/20–9/21 November 1877.
  49. Nikolay Kashkin, «Из воспоминаний о П. И. Чайковском» in Прошлое русской музыки. Материалы и исследования, том 1 (1920), p. 129–131.
  50. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), p. 195–249; Sokolov's admirable archival study of Milyukova's life creates an idealized image of the composer's wife. Sokolov failed, however, to comprehend the complexities of Tchaikovsky's psychosexuality which inevitably led him to misinterpret the composer's motives in marrying her and his behaviour in the events that followed.
  51. Although Tchaikovsky believed this to have been the work's premiere, it had actually received its first public performance in Hannover on 1/13 March 1880, by the concertmaster of the city's Hofkapelle, Georg Haenflein, with Ernst Frank conducting. See Tchaikovsky Research Bulletin No. 4 (2022), and Signale für die Musikalische Welt (1880), No. 26, p. 409.
  52. Sergey Taneyev (1856–1915), composer and pianist, Tchaikovsky's pupil, an opponent of the nationalist school, gave the premieres of the Second and Third Piano Concertos; Jan Hřímalý (1844–1915), violinist and professor at the Moscow Conservatory; Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (1848–1890), cellist and professor at the Moscow Conservatory.
  53. Letter 2107 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26 September 1882.
  54. Letter 2655 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 14/26 February 1885.
  55. Ippolit Shpazhinsky (1844–1917), Russian playwright, adapted his play The Enchantress to provide the libretto for Tchaikovsky's opera.
  56. Nikolay Kondratyev (1832–1887), a wealthy landowner, graduate of the School of Jurisprudence, belonged to Tchaikovsky's circle of homosexual friends. On their relationship, see Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky. The quest for the inner man (1991), pp. 140–144, 361–363, 476–478.
  57. Letter 4075 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya, 20 March/1 April 1890.
  58. Letter 4195 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 5/17 August 1890.
  59. Letter 4835 to Nikolay Tchaikovsky, 22 December 1892/3 January 1893.
  60. For more on Tchaikovsky's final stay in Saint Petersburg, see Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 49–191.
  61. Lev Bertenson (1850–1929), court physician from 1897, who practised in Saint Petersburg high society; for further information about Bertenson, see Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 11–15.
  62. Alexander Zander (1857–1914), physician, from 1896 personal doctor of the Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, also court physician from 1887; Nikolay Mamonov (b. 1869), specialist in internal medicine, later became personal doctor to Anatoly Tchaikovsky; for more on both doctors, see Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 18–20.
  63. The first explanation, or more precisely "account" of the composer's illness was published in Новое время and Новости и биржевая газета on 20 October/1 November 1893; the second appeared in Новое время on 26 October/7 November 1893.
  64. Aleksandra Orlova, 'Tchaikovsky. The last chapter', Music and Letters, vol. 62 (1981), p. 125–145.
  65. Alexander Poznansky, 'Tchaikovsky's suicide. Myth and reality', 19th-Century Music, Vol. 11 (1988), p. 199–220; Alexander Poznansky, Самоубийство Чайковского. Миф и реальность (1993); David Brown, Tchaikovsky. A biographical and critical study, vol. 4; 4 vols. (1978–91); David Brown, Tchaikovsky remembered (1993), p. 207–226; V. Sokolov, «До и после трагедии. Смерть П. И. Чайковского в документах», Знамя, Vol. 11 (1993), p. 144–169; Richard Taruskin, 'Pathetic symphonist. Chaikovsky, Russia, sexuality and the study of music', New Republic, Vol. 212 (6 February 1995), No. 6, p. 26–40; Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994); Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996).
  66. For example, Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994); Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996).
  67. Alexander Poznansky, 'The Sleeping Beauty', 19th-Century Music, Vol. 11 (1988), p. 199–220.
  68. Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 31–34.
  69. Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 10–28.
  70. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), pp. 94–95, 117–118.
  71. Letter from Vasily Bertenson to Modest Tchaikovsky, 11/24 January 1911 — Klin House-Museum Archive (ref. б10, No. 8, 471).
  72. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 76–78; Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 89–90, note; Alexander Poznansky, 'Tchaikovsky. The man behind the myth', Musical Times, Vol. 136, No. 44 (April 1992), p. 182. Like Yury Davydov, another of Tchaikovsky's contemporaries, Sergey Diaghilev, also yielded to the temptation of exaggerating his own role in the events in his later memoirs, when he "recalled" meeting Tchaikovsky (whom he never met in real life) at the Aleksandrinsky Theatre and personally handling the body of the dead composer together with Rimsky-Korsakov and Nikolay Figner — see Richard Buckle, Diaghilev (London, 1969), 23–24 and Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 134, 139.
  73. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 125–126, 137.
  74. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 162.
  75. Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 190–191.
  76. Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 191–192.
  77. Letter from Vasily Bertenson to Modest Tchaikovsky, 20 June/3 July 1905 — Klin House-Museum Archive (ref. б10, No. 467); Nikolay Blinov (author)/Valery Sokolov (ed.), Последняя болезнь и смерть П. И. Чайковского (1994), p. 183.
  78. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 108.
  79. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky's last days. A documentary study (1996), p. 132.