Complete Church Music (Bortnyansky)

Tchaikovsky Research

Between June and November 1881, Tchaikovsky edited and arranged the Complete Church Music (Полное собрание духовно-музыкальных сочинений) of the Ukrainian-born composer Dmitry Bortnyansky (TH 190 ; ČW 419) [1], at the request of his publisher Pyotr Jurgenson.


Bortnyansky's compositions were scored for various combinations of unaccompanied voices, which Tchaikovsky edited and arranged for solo piano.

Movements and Duration

The collection of 118 works was issued in eleven volumes [2]:

  1. Works for one choir in three parts (Nos. 1-9)
  2. Works for one choir in four parts (Nos. 10-38)
  3. Works for two choirs in eight parts (Nos. 39-54)
  4. Laudatory Chants, for one or two choirs (Nos. 55-61)
  5. Laudatory Chants, for two choirs (Nos. 62-68)
  6. Concertos I to VI, for one chorus in four parts (Nos. 69-74)
  7. Concertos VII to XVII, for one chorus in four parts (Nos. 75-85)
  8. Concertos XVIII to XXVII, for one chorus in four parts (Nos. 86-95)
  9. Concertos XXVIII to XXXV, for one chorus in four parts (Nos. 96-103)
  10. Concertos I to X, for two choruses in eight parts (Nos. 104-113)
  11. Hymns and Private Prayers (Nos. 114-118).


In a letter of 7/19 May 1881, Tchaikovsky asked Pyotr Jurgenson to commission some sort of work from him: "Is there anything you need? Have you any ideas that I could help with?... Such an external stimulus might counter my lack of appetite for work" [3]. Tchaikovsky's request coincided with a letter from Jurgenson [4], in which the latter suggested that the composer might take it upon himself to edit the complete church music of Dmitry Bortnyansky. Tchaikovsky consented, and in mid/late June. he received Bortnyansky's works from Jurgenson and began work. According to Tchaikovsky this proved to be "quite painstaking and tedious, mainly due to the fact that the majority of Bortnyansky's works are very commonplace trifles" [5].

Tchaikovsky attempted to persuade Pyotr Jurgenson not to publish the complete works, but to limit the edition to selected works only [6]. But Jurgenson stuck firmly to his decision, and the composer acquiesced and carried out all the work requested of him [7]. The amount of editorial work required on Bortnyansky's compositions proved to be very extensive. Besides editing, Tchaikovsky made arrangements of some works for chorus with piano accompaniment [8].

Initially this work was delayed due to the fact that Tchaikovsky did not receive all the works right away, but by mid/late August some of the work had been completed and sent to Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow [9]. In the middle of September, Tchaikovsky travelled to Moscow, where he spent around three weeks. Returning to Kamenka on 5/17 October he resumed his work on Bortnyansky's compositions: "I've now just a single thought in my head: to finish the Bortnyansky as soon as possible" [10]. At the same time he was also correcting the proofs of the first sets. By 27 October/8 November, Tchaikovsky had reviewed and corrected everything, made 40 arrangements, and checked most of the proofs, and all this was sent to Jurgenson. "If I continue to pore over this work without any rest, then my senses will become numbed, I will take ill, and go mad!", Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson on 27 October/8 November 1881 [11]. He flatly refused to work on the first and second sets of proofs, and would confine himself only to the third set. Tchaikovsky then left for abroad.


Dmitry Bortnyansky's compositions were published by Pyotr Jurgenson in ten volumes between December 1881 and February 1883 [12].

The first set of Bortnyansky's works was issued in December 1881 [13]. In January 1882, Pyotr Jurgenson sent yet more proofs to Tchaikovsky, since he wanted to be sure that the collection would be ready that month. In Moscow during April, Tchaikovsky was occupied with correcting more proofs of Bortnyansky's works [14], and on 24 April/6 May he arrived in Kamenka. In August during a visit to Moscow, he was again dealing with proofs of "something or other by Bortnyansky, which is finished at last" [15]. The last volume appears to have been printed in September or October 1882 [16].

In March 1883, Pyotr Jurgenson asked Tchaikovsky to arrange some secular choral works by Bortnyansky, but Tchaikovsky could not attend to this right away because he was busy with composition of a cantata and march for the coronation of Alexander III, and he did not know when he might be in a position to undertake this task [17].

Tchaikovsky's work on Bortnyansky's compositions was not published in his own Complete Collected Works (1940-90).


The manuscripts of Tchaikovsky's arrangements are now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, Nos. 102, 152 [view], 153 [view], 154 [view], 155 [view], 156 [view] and 157 [view]).

Notes and References

  1. Entitled "Complete Sacred Works" in ČW.
  2. The works were numbered specifically for Jurgenson's edition. For a complete list see ČW. p. 961-965.
  3. Letter 1743 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 7/19 May 1881.
  4. Letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 5/17 May 1881 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  5. Letter 1791 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 21 June/2 July 1881.
  6. Letter 1791 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 21 June/2 July 1881.
  7. See Letter 1803 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 3/15 July 1881.
  8. See Letter 1803 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 3/15 July 1881.
  9. See Letter 1832, 10/22 August 1881, and Letter 1835, 16/28 August 1881, both to Pyotr Jurgenson.
  10. Letter 1865 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 10/22 October 1881.
  11. Letter 1880 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 27 October/8 November 1881.
  12. Passed by the censor on 29 October/10 November 1881.
  13. See letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 19/31 December 1881.
  14. See correspondence with Pyotr Jurgenson between January and April 1882, and Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2, p. 549.
  15. Letter 2078 to Nadezhda von Meck, 17/29 August 1882.
  16. See letters from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 11/23 and 17/29 September 1882 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  17. See Letter 2242 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 March/1 April 1883. The two works referred to were the coronation cantata Moscow and the Coronation March.