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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Women in His Life   1867 – 1893

Preview: Tchaikovsky's Early Years - 1840 - 1867

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(ESTABLISH CHANT SANS PAROLES AND THEN PLAY UNDER)r
NARRATOR:











Chant sans
Paroles
Tchaikovsky in 1868
Tchaikovsky in 1868
aged 28
Both the Rubinstein brothers were influenced by Western composers, as opposed to the fervently Russian five composers, known as 'The Mighty Handful' who were at the Free Music School in St. Petersburg.  They were Mily Balakirev, César Cui, a cruel critic (whom Anthony Holden in his witty biography calls 'the little finger'), Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. They were all self-trained amateurs.  Borodin combined composing with a career in chemistry.  Rimsky-Korsakov was a naval officer (he wrote his First Symphony on a three-year naval voyage circumnavigating the globe).  Mussorgsky had been in the Guards.

In St Petersburg Tchaikovsky had become friendly with the family of Lev Davidov who had married Sacha, his sister.  The Davidov family had entertained hopes that Tchaikovsky might marry Lev's youngest sister Vera, and it seems that Vera had fallen in love with him.

(BRING UP CHANT SANS PAROLES AGAIN AND THEN PLAY UNDER)

 He dedicated his charming Chant sans paroles to her.  He wrote to Sasha:
TCHAIKOVSKY:
Vera Davidov
Vera Davidov
Vera may have told you how often we joked about the farm, at which we would end our days together. Well I can tell you that, as far as I was concerned it was no joke.  I long passionately for the kind of quiet, peaceful life one leads in the country. However I am too lazy to form new ties, too lazy to start a family, to lazy to take on the responsibility of a wife and children.  In short, marriage to me is inconceivable.  Help me set my mind at rest - and for God's sake tear up this letter.
NARRATOR:

Romance in F minor
Desiree Artot
Désirée Artôt
Vera later married an admiral.

(BRING UP CHANT SANS PAROLES AND PLAY OUT AS APPROPRIATE)

Meanwhile Tchaikovsky continued to persuade himself that his neurosis about marriage was nothing to do with his sexuality and everything to do with his work.

Nevertheless not long afterwards he met the Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt, one of the most lustrous opera stars of the day.  Her histrionic charms and beguiling voice had many men at her feet.  When he saw her sing Desdemona in Rossini's Othello, Tchaikovsky was no exception.
TCHAIKOVSKY: She sang so beautifully.  Rarely have I met so good-natured, intelligent and sensible a woman.  We are becoming close.

(ESTABLISH ROMANCE IN F MINOR FOR PIANO AND PLAY UNDER)
NARRATOR: He dedicated his Romance in F minor for piano to her.

He was in the middle of the only relationship of his life in which, it seems, a woman managed to arouse his sexual feelings.  But was he in love with Artôt the woman or was he in love with Artôt the artist?   He exclaimed to his brother, Modest.
TCHAIKOVSKY:






NARRATOR:


TCHAIKOVSKY:
Desiree Artot as Rosina in The Barber of Seville
Désirée Artôt as Rosina
in The Barber of Seville
Ah, Modinka, never before in my life have I experienced such a powerful fascination from an artist as now.  How you would be enraptured by her gestures and the gracefulness of her movements and her posture!

People began to gossip.  He wrote to his father:

I suspect that rumours may have reached you of my engagement, and that you may have taken umbrage at my not having written to you on the subject.  It wasn't long after we met that we became inflamed with great affection for each other, resulting in a mutual understanding (you know what I mean).

Needless to say there soon arose the question of marriage, which we both desire to accomplish this summer, if nothing happens to prevent it.
NARRATOR: In fact Nikolay Rubinstein and other friends were appalled at the idea and made no secret of it.
TCHAIKOVSKY: They say that in marrying a famous singer, I shall be cast in the pathetic role of being my wife's husband - that I shall traipse along behind her all over Europe, living off her income and finding work impossible.  They warn that when my ardour has cooled, I shall find my self-esteem lost in a maelstrom of disillusionment and despair.
NARRATOR: The ravages of time were taking their toll of the relationship.  Within a month he was writing to his brother, Anatoly:
TCHAIKOVSKY: It's very doubtful that my entry into Hymen's bonds will take place.  This affair of mine is beginning to disintegrate somewhat.
NARRATOR: It also seems that Artôt's mother did not consider Tchaikovsky a worthy enough catch.  It is possible that she had been informed of his homosexuality.  Tchaikovsky's response to Modest, Anatoly's twin brother, is revealing.
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Artôt business has resolved itself in the most revealing way.  In Warsaw she has fallen in love with the baritone Padilla - the object of her scorn when she was here - and she is marrying him!  But you would need to know the details of our relationship to have any notion of how funny this dénouement is!

(BRING UP ROMANCE IN F MINOR FOR PIANO AND PLAY OUT AS APPROPRIATE)
NARRATOR:
Fantasy Overture to Romeo and Juliet
Mily Balakirev
Mily Balakirev
About this time Mily Balakirev, the leader of the five St. Petersburg composers known as the 'Mighty Handful' visited Moscow.  He bullied and encouraged Tchaikovsky into writing the fantasy overture to Romeo and Juliet, which turned out to be his first authentic masterpiece.

(ESTABLISH THE OVERTURE TO ROMEO AND JULIET AND PLAY UNDER)

In response to an early version, Balakirev had written:
BALAKIREV: When I play I imagine you are lying naked in your bath and that Artôt-Padilla herself is washing your tummy with hot lather from scented soap.  There's just one thing I'll say against it; there's little in it of inner, spiritual love, only a passionate physical languor - whereas Romeo and Juliet are decidedly not Persian, but European.
NARRATOR:






TCHAIKOVSKY:




NARRATOR:














Love Too Soon Forgot















String Quartet in D major
Andante Cantabile
Interlaken
Interlaken
In the summer of 1870 Tchaikovsky went abroad to revise it.  In order to avoid the Franco-Prussian War, he spent six weeks at Interlaken in Switzerland.

The view is so majestic and astounding that on the day of our arrival, I experienced a vague feeling of fear.

On long walks in the mountains, he revised the fantasy overture with its famously beautiful love theme.  As Jeremy Siepmann says, Tchaikovsky by the age of thirty found his own voice in this piece, to an extent he had not reached before.  He showed himself receptive to Balakirev; yet there was no lapdog servility about him.  He was ever ready to learn, absorb and develop new ideas.  It is in the nature of genius to be a great learner, and to distinguish between what is genuinely fruitful and what is not.

(BRING UP THE OVERTURE TO ROMEO AND JULIET AND PLAY OUT AS APPROPRIATE)

Back in Moscow he worked on several songs.

(ESTABLISH LOVE TOO SOON FORGOT AND TAKE UNDER)

He had been working on an opera, Voyevoda, A Dream on the Volga, with a libretto by Ostrovsky.  Tchaikovsky later destroyed his score, and his former pupil Anton Arensky, wrote an opera based on it.  However the second act contained a sketch for a song, Love Too Soon Forgot, to words by his old friend from schooldays, the poet, Alexei Apukhtin.   It survived.

(BRING UP LOVE TOO SOON FORGOT AND PLAY OUT AS APPROPRIATE)

Leo Tolstoy portrait by Kramskoy Ivan
Leo Tolstoy portrait
by Kramskoy Ivan
He was working rather sluggishly on another opera, The Oprichnik, and was getting short of funds, when Nikolay Rubinstein told him that he would prepare a concert of his work.  However his funds could not run to a large orchestra.  This proved a blessing in disguise. Tchaikovsky decided to attempt a string quartet.

(ESTABLISH THE ANDANTE CANTABILE OF THE STRING QUARTET NO. 1 IN D MAJOR AND WEAVE UNDER)

The String Quartet no. 1 in D Major proved immensely popular.  Five years later he would find himself sitting next to Tolstoy, who was reduced to tears by the Second Movement, the Andante Cantabile.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Never have I been so flattered in my life, nor felt so proud of my work.
NARRATOR: It is considered the first great Russian string quartet.  It is based on the Ukrainian folksong "Sidel Vanya," which Tchaikovsky had heard a carpenter sing at his brother-in-law's estate at Kamenka.  He dedicated it to Sergey Rachinsky, his botanist friend, who exclaimed.
RACHINSKY: I have received a ticket to eternity !

(BRING UP THE ANDANTE CANTABILE AND PLAY OUT AS APPROPRIATE)
NARRATOR: After this success, he spent a very happy summer with his sister and her family at Kamenka.  Here he dreamed up a ballet for his young nieces and nephews.  This was later to become his Swan Lake.

(ESTABLISH THE PAS DE QUATRE FROM SWAN LAKE AND WEAVE UNDER)

Years later his nephew Yuri remembered:
YURI:

Pas de Quatre
Swan Lake
Pas de Quatre, Swan Lake
Pas de Quatre, Swan Lake
The staging of the ballet was done entirely by Piotr Ilyich.  He invented the steps and pirouettes, and he danced them himself, showing the dancers what he required of them.  At such moments, Uncle Piotr, red in the face, wet with perspiration, as he sang the tune, presented a pretty amusing sight.  Yet in the children's eyes he was so perfect in the art of choreography that for many years the memories of this remained with them down to the finest details.

(BRING UP SWAN LAKE AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR: He had been working on his opera The Oprichnik about the bodyguard of Ivan the Terrible for some time.  Its premiere took place in St. Petersburg in 1874, and it was his first public triumph. Yet he wrote to Modest:
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Oprichnik torments me.  It is so bad that I fled from all rehearsals, and at the performance I would willingly have vanished.  Isn't it strange that when I'd written it seemed to me such a delight?  But at the very first rehearsal, what disenchantment !
NARRATOR:

Second Symphony
Final Movement
Tchaikovsky often felt like that about his compositions, though he always hated The Oprichnik.  But he seemed to have mastered his tormenting thoughts, when he left for his sister's at Kamenka and started work on his Second Symphony the most joyous and extrovert of his works.

(INTRODUCE THE FOURTH MOVEMENT FROM THE SECOND SYMPHONY AND WEAVE UNDER:)

Modest, Tchaikovsky's younger brother
Modest, Tchaikovsky's
younger brother
It was also known as the Little Russian Symphony, referring to the Ukraine, which he loved.  Later on his way back to Moscow, he and Modest wined and dined heartily at a staging post and got into an argument with the innkeeper; so in the complaints book he signed himself as Prince Volkonsky, Gentleman of the Emperor's Bedchamber.  This had the desired effect.  The innkeeper bowed and scraped them on their way. But disaster - in the confusion Tchaikovsky left his baggage behind, with the manuscript of his precious Second Symphony.  He sent Modest back to collect it, but the innkeeper refused to release the Prince's belongings until 'the Prince' should turn up in person, which he duly did. The innkeeper, whose name by an amazing coincidence was also Tchaikovsky, returned the belongings to Piotr Ilyich, still believing he was His Royal Highness.

(BRING UP THE SECOND SYMPHONY AND TAKE DOWN AGAIN)

That autumn in spite of his journalistic and teaching duties, Tchaikovsky worked every spare moment on the Symphony, with which he was very pleased.  He wrote to Modest.
TCHAIKOVSKY: This work of genius, as my friend, Kondratyev, calls it, is close to completion.  I think it's my best as regards perfection of form - a quality for which I have not been conspicuous.

(BRING UP THE SECOND SYMPHONY AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR: Later Tchaikovsky was to write of the composers he most admired.
TCHAIKOVSKY: I'll begin with Beethoven, to whom it is enjoined to bow as before God.  I bow before some of his compositions, but I do not love him.  My attitude to him reminds me of the attitude I had in Childhood to the God of Sabaoth, the God of armies. I had for Him a feeling of wonder, but at the same time of fear. He has created the heavens and the earth.  He has also created me - and so I prostrate myself before Him - but love is not there.

If Beethoven occupies in my heart a feeling of fear, then I love Mozart like a musical Christ.  Mozart was a being so angelic, of such child-like purity, his music so full of unapproachable, divine beauty that if anybody may be named alongside Christ, then it is he.
NARRATOR:

The Snow Maiden
Snow Maiden by Nicholas Roerich
Snow Maiden
by Nicholas Roerich
At the beginning of 1873 he was commissioned to write the incidental music for Ostrovsky's play The Snow Maiden

(ESTABLISH THE SNOW MAIDEN AND PLAY UNDER)

It was based on a Russian folk tale, in which the young enchanted Snow Maiden, daughter of Frost and Spring, is warned that her heart must never be warmed by love.  She inevitably falls for another girl's fiancée and melts in the sunshine.

Kashkin wrote:
KASHKIN: Spring had already begun, and her approach always put Pyotr Ilich in a poetic mood.  He laboured with unusual enthusiasm and within three weeks, as well as teaching at the Conservatoire, he managed to finish this large and impressive score.

(BRING UP THE SNOW MAIDEN AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR:









TCHAIKOVSKY:
The Tempest
After a brief European tour he went to Usovo, the country estate, of his friend, Shilovsky.  In the owner's absence it was the perfect place to work, and he set about composing music for Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Miranda - The Tempest by John William Waterhouse
Miranda - The Tempest
by John William Waterhouse
(ESTABLISH THE TEMPEST AND WEAVE UNDER:)

Later he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck:

I can't convey to you my state of bliss.  I was in an exalted, ecstatic frame of mind, wandering during the day alone in the woods, towards evening over the immeasurable steppes, and sitting by night at an open widow, listening to the solemn silence of this out-of-the-way place.

During those two weeks, I sketched out The Tempest without any effort, as though moved by some supernatural power.

(BRING UP THE TEMPEST AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR:

Arioso from
Vakula the Smith
It was well received at its premiere in St. Petersburg; and then he responded to a competition launched by the Russian Musical Society to write an opera based on Gogol's very Russian tale, Christmas Eve.

Vakula's Mother and the Devil
The Devil and
Vakula's Mother
(PLAY VAKULA'S ARIOSO FROM ACT 1, SCENE 2 OF CHERIVICHKI - THE SLIPPERS AND THEN PLAY VERY SOFTLY UNDER SPEECH)

It concerned Vakula the Smith as Tchaikovsky was to call it.  It was rich in characterisation and told of a flirtation between Vakula's mother, who is a witch, and a very human devil, and of the beautiful Oxana, who says she will only marry Vakula, if he obtains for her the Tsarina's slippers.  Vakula flies on the Devil's back to St. Petersburg and succeeds in his mission.  Oxana finally admits her love for him.  A later version of the opera was entitled The Slippers.

Rimsky Korsakov who was one of the judges had no doubt that it should win the competition, which it duly did; while Tchaikovsky's brother Modest wrote:
MODEST: Until his dying day, he remained convinced that it was the best of his operas.

(BRING UP CHERIVICHKI - THE SLIPPERS AND THEN PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR: For his next major work he chose to write his first piano concerto.  He worked on it in a frenzy for six weeks.  Then before embarking on the instrumentation he solicited Nikolay Rubinstein's comments on the piano part.  Later he described the event to Mrs. von Meck.

(ESTABLISH THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF THE FIRST PIANO CONCERTO AND WEAVE UNDER:)
TCHAIKOVSKY:

First Piano Concerto
I played the first movement.  Not a single word, not a single comment !   Rubinstein's eloquent silence had tremendous significance.  How intolerable is the position of a man, when he offers a friend food he has prepared, and his friend eats it and says nothing ?  It was as though he were saying to me: "My friend, can I talk about details when the very essence of the thing disgusts me ?"   I played on to the end.  Then there poured from Nikolay Grigoryevitch's mouth a stream of words, quiet at first, but subsequently assuming the tone of Jove the Thunderer.  My concerto was worthless, unplayable, trite, awkward.  Any outsider, who chanced to come into the room, might have thought I was an imbecile, an untalented scribbler, who had come to pester an eminent musician with his rubbish.

(BRING UP THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF THE FIRST PIANO CONCERTO AND TAKE DOWN AGAIN)
NARRATOR: Tchaikovsky replied to this tirade:
TCHAIKOVSKY: I will not change a single note.  I will publish the piece exactly as it stands.
NARRATOR:
Hans von Bulow
Hans von Bülow
In fact its first performance was given in Boston Massachusetts by the German pianist Hans von Bülow, who greatly admired it.  It has continued to be popular ever since.

(BRING UP AND PLAY OUT AS APPROPRIATE THE FIRST PIANO CONCERTO)

Tchaikovsky was feeling increasingly lonely in Moscow.  This might have had something to do with his homosexuality and that of his younger brother, Modest.
TCHAIKOVSKY: You are too like me, and when I am angry with you I am, in effect angry with myself, for you eternally act as a mirror, in which I see reflected all my weaknesses.
NARRATOR: He wrote of his homosexuality to Anatoly, Modest's twin brother:
TCHAIKOVSKY: It lends my personality an aloofness, a fear of company, excessive shyness, a mistrust of everyone.  Believe it or not my thoughts have been turning quite seriously to life in a monastery.
NARRATOR:






MODEST:


Finale
Swan Lake
Camille Saint-Saëns
Camille Saint-Saëns
But then he enjoyed a new friendship.  The French composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saëns visited Moscow.  Tchaikovsky admired both his music and his wit.  Among their soon discovered bonds was a fondness, not only for ballet, but also for impersonating female dancers.

They brought out a little ballet on the stage of the Conservatoire.  Saint-Saëns, aged 40 played the part of Galatea, most conscientiously, while Tchaikovsky, aged thirty five, appeared as Pygmalion, Nikolay Rubinstein performed the orchestra.  Unfortunately, besides the three performers, there were no spectators to witness this singular performance.

(ESTABLISH THE FINALE OF SWAN LAKE AND TAKE UNDER)

Swan Lake
Swan Lake
Siegfried and Odette
At this time he was working on the score of his famous ballet Swan Lake. The story concerns Prince Siegfried who goes hunting swans in the forest.  But a beautiful creature, more woman than swan, appears before him.  Enamoured, the two dance and Siegfried learns that the swan maiden is the Princess Odette.  An evil sorcerer, von Rothbart, has captured her and used his magic to turn her into a swan by day.  Every night, she becomes a woman again.  Later at a ball, Von Rothbart arrives in disguise with his own daughter Odile.  He has made Odile identical to Odette in all respects, except that she wears black rather than white.  The Prince mistakes her for Odette, dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he intends to make her his wife.  Only a moment too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake.

Bolshoi
Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Siegfried returns to the lake and finds Odette. He makes a passionate apology and she forgives him. The lovers realize that the spell cannot be broken, and so they leap into the lake and drown.

The first performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877 was very badly produced, yet since Tchaikovsky's death it has become one of the most successful ballets ever written.

(BRING UP SWAN LAKE AND PLAY OUT)

Meanwhile in December 1876 with Modest, Tchaikovsky had visited Paris and he regarded his life 'forever altered', when he saw Bizet's Carmen.

(BRING UP AN EXCERPT FROM CARMEN AND PLAY UNDER )

He saw it shortly after the composer's death.  He was fascinated by its fate-laden atmosphere and raw emotion.
TCHAIKOVSKY:
Bizet's Carmen
Although it does not pretend to be profound, this music is so charming and simple, so vigorous, so sincere and uncontrived, that I have committed the whole piece to memory, from beginning to end.  To me, Carmen is a masterpiece in the true sense of the word: that is one of those rare works, which uniquely reflect the musical aspirations of an entire era.

(PLAY OUT CARMEN AS APPROPRIATE)
NARRATOR: Modest added:
MODEST: Rarely have I seen my brother so deeply moved by a performance.  Madame Galli Marie's performance as Carmen was shrouded in an indescribable magic web of burning, unbridled passion and, at the same time, imbued with mystic fatalism.
NARRATOR:
Francesca da Rimini
At about this time Tchaikovsky read the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno, with its tragic tale of Francesca da Rimini, killed by her hunchback husband, and condemned to eternal orbit in the second circle Hell.

(INTRODUCE FRANCESCA DA RIMINI)

From that moment he was aflame to write something about Dante's tragic heroine.  He described the story:
TCHAIKOVSKY:
Rimini discovers Paol and Francesca
Rimini discovers
Paolo and Francesca
by Jean Auguste Ingres, 1819
Dante, accompanying Virgil, descends to the second circle of hell's abyss.  From the countless human souls in the storm there, Dante's attention is drawn to the two lovely shades of Paolo and Francesca.  In life Francesca loved Paolo but was, against her will, given in marriage to the hateful brother of her beloved, the hunch-backed, jealous tyrant, Rimini.  Once Francesca and Paolo were reading the romance of Lancelot. When they reached the passage, where Lancelot gained the first kiss of his love, Paolo kissed Francesca's trembling mouth.  The book that revealed their love for each other fell from their hands.  At that moment Rimini entered unexpectedly and killed them both with blows from his dagger.
NARRATOR: Tchaikovsky decided on a symphonic fantasia, which with its evocation of the whirlwinds of Hell, was to prove his greatest public success to date.

(BRING UP FRANCESCA DA RIMINI AND PLAY UNDER AGAIN)

On his return from France his life was also in turmoil.  He wrote to Modest, who was also a homosexual.
TCHAIKOVSKY: I am now going through a critical period in my life.  The upshot of hard thinking is that I have made a firm decision, starting today, to enter into lawful matrimony with anyone prepared to have me.  I have to do this not just for myself, but for all those whom I love.  I believe that for both us (you and I), our dispositions are the greatest and most insoluble impediments to our happiness and that we must fight our natures with all our strength.

My depression derives precisely from my bachelor state.  The fact is I am utterly useless to anyone.  If I were to vanish from the face of the earth today, then Russian music might suffer some small loss, but it would be no more than that.

(BRING UP FRANCESCA DA RIMINI AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR:
Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra
Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda von Meck
Today we might call Tchaikovsky a manic depressive. This period was later referred to as the 'calm before the storm', in which he wrote some of his more serene music.

(BRING UP HIS VARIATIONS ON A ROCOCO THEME FOR CELLO AND ORCHESTRA AND PLAY UNDER)

His Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, harked back to the serenity of the age of his beloved Mozart.

And then a lady did enter Tchaikovsky's life.  He had an ex pupil, who had become a friend, the likeable Iosif Kotek, a violinist.  The forty-four year old wealthy widow of a railway magnate and mother of eleven children, Nadezhda von Meck, approached Nikolay Rubinstein to find somebody to read through violin and piano pieces with her.  Rubinstein recommended Kotek.

Madame von Meck also required material for their sessions and approached Tchaikovsky who dispatched some work to her.  She wrote to thank him:
NADEZHDA: With your music I live more lightly and more pleasantly.
NARRATOR: She provided an intriguing self portrait.
NADEZHDA: Being entirely devoid of femininity, I am unsympathetic in all my personal relations.  Tenderness is quite alien to my character, a trait passed on to my entire family, all of whom have a horror of affectation and sentimentality. Our relationships are thus comradely, even masculine, one might say, rather than being in any way intimate.
NARRATOR:



NADEZHDA:
Nadezhda von Meck
Could this be the
photo Nadezhda
von Meck perused?
Thus began one of the most extraordinary correspondences in the whole of Western culture.  A little later, she wrote:

I am permitting myself to turn to you with a big request, which is to give me your photograph.
I have got two of them, but I want one from you.

I want to search out in your face those inspirations, those feelings under the influence of which you compose your music, which carries a being into a world of sensations, expectations and desires that life can never satisfy.
NARRATOR: She started to send him large sums of money.  Her letters continued:
NADEZHDA: When I hear your music, I surrender to you utterly; you are deified for me. Everything that is most pure, most generous, most sublime rises up in me, from the very depths of my soul.

There was a time that I very much wanted to meet you.  Now however the more I am enchanted by you, the more I fear acquaintance.  Now I prefer to think of you from a distance, to hear you in your music and to feel myself as one with it.
NARRATOR: This arrangement suited Tchaikovsky very well.  He replied:
TCHAIKOVSKY: I have always been interested in you as a person, whose moral temper has many features \in common with my own nature.  I am in no way surprised that in loving my music, you are not attempting to make the acquaintance of its author.  You fear that you will not find in me those qualities with which your imagination, inclined to idealisation, has invested me.  You are quite right.

(BRING UP HIS VARIATIONS ON A ROCOCCO THEME FOR CELLO AND ORCHESTRA AND PLAY OUT)

Their correspondence was to continue for almost the rest of their lives, but they never met.  Then fate again intervened.  Tchaikovsky, himself, tells the story.
TCHAIKOVSKY: During May 1877, I received a longish letter containing a declaration of love for me. The letter was signed Antonina Milyukova, who told me she had started to love me some years earlier, when she was a student at the Conservatoire.

(BRING UP EUGENE ONEGIN - TATYANA'S LETTER AND WEAVE UNDER)
ANTONINA:
Eugene Onegin
Tatyana's Letter
Antonina Milyukova
Antonina Milyukova
Perhaps if I were a perfect being, I would have remained completely cool towards you.  I am dying of longing, and I burn with desire to see you, to sit with you and talk with you, though I also fear at first I shan't be in a state to utter a word.

I shall be ready to throw myself on your neck, to smother you with kisses - but what right have I to do this?

Perhaps you take this for effrontery on my part.  I can assure you I am a respectable and honourable woman in the full sense of the word, and I have nothing I would to conceal from you.

Yours eternally A.M.
NARRATOR: In the same month Tchaikovsky was inspired by Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin to write a new opera.  Eugene Onegin is a bored Petersburg dandy, with whom Tatyana, a quiet, precocious romantic falls deeply in love. She bares her soul to him in a letter.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Being completely immersed in composition, I so thoroughly identified with Tatyana that she became for me a living person.  I was furiously indignant with Onegin, who seemed to me a cold heartless fop.  Having received a second letter from Miss Milyukova, I became indignant with myself for my attitude towards her.  I forthwith set out for her address and thus began our acquaintance.
NARRATOR: The first meeting between Tchaikovsky and his admirer took place on 1st June.  At their second a day or two later, the composer proposed marriage. When she accepted, he immediately knew he had made the most cataclysmic mistake.
TCHAIKOVSKY: I cannot describe the appalling horrors I went through over the next few days.
NARRATOR: A month later he wrote:
TCHAIKOVSKY: It seemed to me that some force of fate was driving me towards this girl. When we first met, I made it clear to her that I felt for her nothing but sympathy and gratitude for her love.  After leaving, however, I began to think I had behaved thoughtlessly.  If I did not wish to encourage her feelings, why had I gone to see her?  Were I now to reject her, I would be making her desperately unhappy, and driving her towards a tragic end.
NARRATOR: He admitted to her his irritability, his moodiness, his anti-social nature and told her of his uncertain financial circumstances; but he omitted to mention his homosexuality.
TCHAIKOVSKY: After living thirty seven years with an innate aversion to marriage, it is distressing to be drawn into the role of a bridegroom, who, moreover, is not in the least attracted to his bride.
NARRATOR: His first decision was to leave for the countryside to complete Eugene Onegin, leaving his bride-to-be to fend for herself.  She was not upset.

(BRING UP THE FINAL SCENE OF EUGENE ONEGIN AND WEAVE UNDER THE FOLLOWING)
ANTONINA:
Eugene Onegin
Final Scene







NARRATOR:
The newly weds
The Newly Weds
He himself is Onegin, and I am Tatyana.  His previous and subsequent operas are not fired by love.  They are cold and scrappy. They have no consistency.  Onegin is the only one of his operas that is good from start to finish.

It was to have a lukewarm reception from both critics and audience at its first public performance in Moscow in 1880.  However it triumphed in 1885 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and has been in the international repertoire ever since.

According to both Sergey Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky it is the most Russian opera ever performed.

Meanwhile Tchaikovsky's and Antonina's wedding took place at St. George's Church, Moscow on 18th July 1877.  The next day bride and groom left for St. Petersburg, where they stayed at the Europa Hotel.
TCHAIKOVSKY: No sooner did I find myself alone with my new wife, than she ceased to inspire even simple friendship, but became too me utterly detestable.  As time went on, my soul became filled with such hatred that I wanted to strangle her.  What can be more terrible than to behold this most loathsome of creatures?  Why do such reptiles exist at all?
NARRATOR: Yet his wife seemed completely unaware of her husband's feelings. While acknowledging all was not well, she wrote:
ANTONINA: What do all our trials, failures and difficulties amount to when compared with the power of my love for you and of your love for me?  You are in my mind every second of the day and every thought of your dear face consoles, encourages and supports me.
NARRATOR: Of their return to Moscow that autumn, she wrote:
ANTONINA: Surreptitiously I was forever admiring him, especially when he was having his morning tea.  He simply radiated freshness, and with his gentle eyes, I was entranced by him.  I would think: 'Thank God!  This man belongs to me and no-one else!  No one can take him away from me.  He is my husband!'
NARRATOR: Yet Tchaikovsky was thinking of taking himself away, by committing suicide. On a cold September evening he waded into the icy waters of the Moscow River and immersed himself, until he was seized with cramps.   On returning home, he pretended he had been on a nocturnal fishing expedition and had fallen into the river.  He had intended to catch pneumonia, but never even caught a cold.
ANTONINA: One day he simply informed me that he was being called away on business.  I went with him to the St. Petersburg mail train.  In the carriage he looked straight at me - sadly but without lowering his eyes ... And that was it.  He never came back to me.

(BRING UP AND PLAY OUT THE FINAL SCENE OF EUGENE ONEGIN)

Part 3: The Years of Wandering

The Great Composers

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