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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Chaykovsky; 7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893),[a 2] anglicised as Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of The Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Some of these are among the most popular concert and theatrical music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, which he bolstered with appearances as a guest conductor later in his career in Europe and the United States. One of these appearances was at the inaugural concert of Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1891. Tchaikovsky was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension in the late 1880s.
Years of wandering
Tchaikovsky remained abroad for a year after the disintegration of his marriage, during which he completed Eugene Onegin, orchestrated the Fourth Symphony and composed the Violin Concerto. He returned to the Moscow Conservatory in the autumn of 1879 but only as a temporary move; he informed Nikolai Rubinstein on the day of his arrival that he would stay no longer than December.[a 9] Once his professorship had ended officially, he traveled incessantly throughout Europe and rural Russia. Assured of a regular income from von Meck, he lived mainly alone, did not stay long anywhere and avoided social contact whenever possible. His troubles with Antonina continued. She agreed to divorce him, then refused. While he was on an extended visit to Moscow, she moved into an apartment directly above where he was staying. Tchaikovsky listed her accusations in detail to Modest: “I am a deceiver who married her in order to hide my true nature … I insulted her every day, her sufferings at my hands were great … she is appalled by my shameful vice, etc., etc.” He may have lived the rest of his life in dread of Antonina’s power to expose him publicly. This could be why his best work from this period, except for the piano trio which he wrote upon the death of Nikolai Rubinstein, is found in genres which did not require deep personal expression.[140
Tchaikovsky’s foreign reputation grew rapidly. In Russia, though, it was “considered obligatory [in progressive musical circles in Russia] to treat Tchaikovsky as a renegade, a master overly dependent on the West.” In 1880 this assessment changed. During commemoration ceremonies for the Pushkin Monument in Moscow, novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky charged that poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin had given a prophetic call to Russia for “universal unity” with the West. An unprecedented acclaim for Dostoyevsky’s message spread throughout Russia, and with it disdain for Tchaikovsky’s music evaporated. He even drew a cult following among the young intelligentsia of Saint Petersburg, including Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst and Sergei Diaghilev.
In 1880, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour neared completion in Moscow; the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Alexander II in 1881 was imminent;[a 10] and the 1882 Moscow Arts and Industry Exhibition was in the planning stage. Nikolai Rubinstein suggested a grand commemorative piece for association with these related festivities. Tchaikovsky began the project in October 1880, finishing it within six weeks. He wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that the resulting work, the 1812 Overture, would be “very loud and noisy, but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merits in it.” He also warned conductor Eduard Nápravník that “I shan’t be at all surprised and offended if you find that it is in a style unsuitable for symphony concerts.” Nevertheless, this work has become for many “the piece by Tchaikovsky they know best.”
On 23 March 1881, Nikolai Rubinstein died in Paris. Tchaikovsky, holidaying in Rome, went immediately to attend the funeral. He arrived in Paris too late for the ceremony but was in the cortege which accompanied Rubinstein’s coffin by train to Russia. In December, he started work on his Piano Trio in A minor, “dedicated to the memory of a great artist.” The trio was first performed privately at the Moscow Conservatory on the first anniversary of Rubinstein’s death.[a 11] The piece became extremely popular during the composer’s lifetime and became Tchaikovsky’s own elegy when played at memorial concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg in November 1893.
Return to Russia
Now 44 years old, in 1884 Tchaikovsky began to shed his unsociability and restlessness. In March of that year, Tsar Alexander III conferred upon him the Order of St. Vladimir (fourth class), which carried with it hereditary nobility and won Tchaikovsky a personal audience with the Tsar. This was a visible seal of official approval which advanced Tchaikovsky’s social standing. This advance may have been cemented in the composer’s mind by the great success of his Orchestral Suite No. 3 at its January 1885 premiere in Saint Petersburg, under von Bülow’s direction, at which the press was unanimously favorable. Tchaikovsky wrote to von Meck: “I have never seen such a triumph. I saw the whole audience was moved, and grateful to me. These moments are the finest adornments of an artist’s life. Thanks to these it is worth living and laboring.”.
Despite his disdain for public life, Tchaikovsky now participated in it both as a consequence of his increasing celebrity and because he felt it his duty to promote Russian music. He helped support his former pupil Sergei Taneyev, who was now director of Moscow Conservatory, by attending student examinations and negotiating the sometimes sensitive relations among various members of the staff. Tchaikovsky also served as director of the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society during the 1889-1890 season. In this post, he invited many international celebrities to conduct, including Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák and Jules Massenet, although not all of them accepted.
Tchaikovsky also promoted Russian music as a conductor, as which he had sought to establish himself for at least a decade, believing that it would reinforce his success. In January 1887 he substituted at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow at short notice for performances of his opera Cherevichki. Within a year of the Cherevichki performances, Tchaikovsky was in considerable demand throughout Europe and Russia, which helped him overcome life-long stage fright and boosted his self-assurance. Conducting brought him to America in 1891, where he led the New York Music Society’s orchestra in his Festival Coronation March at the inaugural concert of the Carnegie Hall.
In 1888 Tchaikovsky led the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in Saint Petersburg, repeating the work a week later with the first performance of his tone poem Hamlet. Although critics proved hostile, with César Cui calling the symphony “routine” and “meretricious”, both works were received with extreme enthusiasm by audiences and Tchaikovsky, undeterred, continued to conduct the symphony in Russia and Europe.