Obituary: Ivan Osipovich Shramek

Tchaikovsky Research
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Obituary: Ivan Osipovich Shramek (Некролог: Иван Осипович Шрамек) [1] (TH 293 ; ČW 558) was Tchaikovsky's twenty-eighth music-review article for the Moscow journal Russian Register (Русские ведомости), in which it was published on 15 October 1874 [O.S.].

This article contains a noble tribute by Tchaikovsky to a conscientious and hard-working musician who had helped to sustain the Russian Opera in Moscow, despite this being a rather thankless task (in view of the preference given to the Italian Opera); and an appeal to the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres to show some generosity and award Shramek's family a pension even though he had not served the requisite number of years.


Completed by 15/27 October 1874 (date of publication). Concerning the death on 6/18 October of the Czech-born conductor Ivan Shramek (Josef Šramek), who had worked at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow since 1861.

English translation

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Last week, on Tuesday, the 6th of October, Ivan Osipovich Shramek [2], the conductor of the Russian Opera Company, passed away unexpectedly. The death of this artist is a very significant loss for music life in Moscow, and our poor Russian Opera has lost in him its principal mainstay. Everyone has paid tribute, on the one hand, to Ivan Osipovich's extensive musical erudition and great experience, and, on the other, to his conscientiousness, diligence, and love for his profession.

As for his personal qualities, those who knew the deceased will never forget the unshakeable honesty of his character, his infinitely good-hearted and forgiving nature, and, above all, the following invaluable, albeit negative virtue: I mean that Ivan Osipovich was utterly free from that habit of intriguing which is so characteristic of people who move in theatrical circles. One can say with absolute certainty that no one who ever came into contact with the late Ivan Osipovich harbours any memory of him which could possibly be said to be tinged even just by the shadow of a fleeting animosity. He was one of those honest hard-working people who steadfastly keep to their thorny path, sacrificing all their energy in the event, and without casting any envious glances at those around them or seeking to undermine the well-being of others.

Here are a few meagre biographical facts about the artist who has just left us. Ivan Osipovich Shramek was born in Prague in the 1810s. At first, according to his father's wishes, he studied theology at a seminary in his native town, although he would devote all his spare time to music, making such progress therein that at a very early age he gained a reputation as a good piano virtuoso. After his father's death he decided to dedicate his whole life to a career in music and enrolled in the Prague Conservatory, where he very successfully completed his musical education. Then he was engaged as a conductor by a German travelling opera troupe and in this way not only got to know all the major music cities in Germany, but even conducted for a while the orchestra of the German Opera in Paris, where his great professional expertise attracted the attention and sympathy of the French capitals artistic circles [3].

Subsequently, Ivan Osipovich succeeded Richard Wagner as kapellmeister at the opera-house in Riga, whose orchestra the German composer had conducted for a few years. It was in Riga, too, that he met Berlioz, when the latter stopped there on his way back from Saint Petersburg.

Recalling the failure of the concert he gave in Riga, Berlioz adds that he was compensated for the financial loss he endured there by the opportunity he had of making the acquaintance of such a notable artist as the kapellmeister Shramek. Then, in 1861, Shramek moved from Riga to Moscow, where he spent the rest of his life working as conductor at the Imperial Russian Opera.

In the course of his long artistic career Ivan Osipovich composed a number of longer and shorter works, which, though they may not be impressed with the brilliant stamp of mighty and original creativity, do nevertheless testify to his excellent command of the technical aspects of the art of composition. Amongst the works he has left behind him, I would like to mention the opera Ilya Muromets, which he wrote in Moscow, and which it would be very nice to see performed on the stage of our Russian Opera.

Ivan Osipovich, who received a very modest salary and who had not held his post long enough to qualify for a state pension, leaves behind him a wife and daughter, who are now without any means of subsistence. It is very much to be hoped that the Theatres' Directorate will find it possible to ensure that the family of a man who served the theatre so honestly and achieved so much for the cause of music is not condemned to a life of poverty.

P. Tchaikovsky.

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'Obituary (Ivan Osipovič Šramek)' in ČW.
  2. Ivan Osipovich Shramek (= Josef Šramek, 1815–1874), Czech composer who settled in Russia in 1861 and worked as a conductor at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  3. See also the opening of the section entitled "Travels in Russia—Sequel" in Berlioz's Memoirs, from which Tchaikovsky also cites copiously in TH 282 and TH 285note by Ernst Kuhn.