The Queen of Spades
Opera in 3 acts and 7 scenes, Op. 68 (1890).
Tchaikovsky's original score contains an introduction and 24 individual numbers. The three acts are further divided into seven scenes, numbered independently. The titles of numbers in Russian (Cyrillic) are taken from the published score, with English translations added in bold type. Vocal incipits are given in the right-hand column, with transliterations below in italics.
The story is set in late eighteenth-century Saint Petersburg.
Act I. In the Summer Garden in Saint Petersburg (Scene 1), two soldiers, Chekalinsky and Surin, are complaining of their bad luck at gambling. They remark that Herman, an army engineer, seems obsessed with the gaming table, yet never gambles himself. Herman appears with Count Tomsky and explains that he is in love with a young lady whose name he does not know. A group of promenaders enjoys the spring weather; among them are the Countess, with her granddaughter Liza, and her fiancé Prince Yeletsky, a young officer. Herman realizes that Lisa is his beloved. Tomsky tells his friends about the Countess, whose nickname was 'The Queen of Spades'. She succeeded in gambling in her youth by trading her favours for the winning formula of Count de Saint Germain in Paris. With her three secret cards she won back all the money she had lost. The Countess revealed the three cards to her husband and a young suitor, but an apparition told her she would die if she told anyone else. Overwhelmed with the story of the Countess and his love for Liza, Herman vows to learn the secret of the three cards and to win Liza’s heart. Later, in Liza’s room (Scene 2), Liza, Polina and their girl friends sing and dance. Polina ask Liza why she is so glum, but Liza only begs her not to tell the Prince. The governess chides the girls for making noise and sends them home. Herman appears on Liza’s balcony, threatening to kill himself if she will not speak to him. Liza returns his love.
Act II. At a ballroom in Saint Petersburg (Scene 1). Prince Yeletsky enters with Liza. He has noticed her sudden coolness towards him. Herman has received a letter from Liza asking him to meet her later. Surin, Chekalinsky and Tomsky hide near Herman and whisper about the three cards, making Herman believe he is hearing a ghost. A pastorale interlude, The Faithful Shepherdess, is now performed. Herman arranges to meet with Liza later that night, and she gives him a key which will allow him to enter her room via her grandmother’s. The Empress arrives. Later, Herman enters the Countess’s room (Scene 2), and hides as the Countess enters with her entourage. The servants retire to bed, and as the Countess dozes off, Herman stands before her. She awakens in horror as he pleads with her to tell him her secret. When she remains speechless, he grows desperate and threatens her with a pistol—at which point she dies of fright. Liza rushes in, blaming Herman for the Countess’s death, and is appalled that the man to whom she gave her heart was more interested in the secret of the cards than in her love. She angrily sends him away.
Act III. In his quarters in the barracks (Scene 1), Herman reads a letter from Liza, forgiving him and begging him to meet her near the Winter Palace. The ghost of the Countess appears and tells Herman the secret of the three cards, so that he can marry and save Liza. Dazed, Herman repeats the three cards—three, seven, ace. By the Winter Canal (Scene 2), Liza’s doubts are dispelled by Herman’s arrival. But his obsession with the secret of the cards forces Lisa to realize that all is lost. After Herman leaves, she throws herself into the river. At the gaming house (Scene 3), Tomsky, Chekalinsky and Surin are all at the gambling table when Prince Yeletsky arrives, intent on revenge after learning that Liza loves another, and has broken off the engagement. Herman enters, looking pale, wild and distracted. He bets on the three and the seven, winning both times. When he tries to double again, only the Prince will bet against him. Instead of the ace he was expecting, Herman draws the Queen of Spades. The ghost of the Countess appears, mocking him, and Herman takes out his pistol and shoots himself. As he dies, he pleads for Yeletsky’s and Liza’s forgiveness.
The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 82
Composed in Florence between 19/31 January and 3/15 March 1890. The piano score was completed in Florence towards the end of March/beginning of April. The instrumentation of the first three scenes was commenced in Rome in April 1890; the entire orchestration was completed in early June 1890 in Frolovskoye.
The idea of creating an opera based on Pushkin's story The Queen of Spades belonged to Ivan Vsevolozhsky. This information comes from correspondence between Vsevolozhsky and Pavel Pchelnikov. Regrettably two letters only have been found. In the first letter, dated 6/18 May 1885, Vsevolozhsky wrote to Pchelnikov: “Advise Klenovsky that Vielgorsky has an opera based on the subject of The Gypsy ... Would you be able to ask Kandaurov to put together a libretto, based on The Queen of Spades, which under the circumstances could be very successful? A casino, a ball, given by the Princess, a night scene at the same (the Princess’s) place, then a ghost's appearance. A lot of room can be given here to imagination. And with regard to costumes, let him shift the action into the last century and it would be in the bag. Poems by Pushkin can be used as well" . In the second letter, from Pchelnikov to Vsevolozhsky, dated 16/28 May of the same year, we read: "I would be very happy to discuss with you the libretto and the school . I now have a basic structure of the libretto. It has been put together by Shpazhinsky in a quite impressive way. There are of course some inconsistencies with Pushkin's writing, but there was no other way. Besides it was necessary to present Herman in a slightly idealised form. And the Countess had to become a living creature, rather than a doll, as in Pushkin. I have read it to Klenovsky; he likes it very much” .
The collaboration between Nikolay Klenovsky and Vasily Kandaurov or Ippolit Shpazhinsky did not materialize. The reasons for that remain unknown, nor has there has been success in finding a manuscript of the scenario by Shpazhinsky. The only established fact is that towards the end of 1886 Kandaurov offered his scenario to a Petersburg socialite composer A. A. Villamov. A letter from Villamov to Kandaurov has been preserved; it provides an insight on how Kandaurov envisaged the opera. On 9/21 January 1887 Villamov apologized for a prolonged silence and expressed his willingness to compose a music for The Queen of Spades: "The characters should be, I imagine, defined as follows: Liza—a soprano, the Countess—contralto, Tomsky—tenor, Herman—baritone, the girl—either soprano or alto, ad libitum. As regards Kaznachev, he could be dropped altogether, as he sings one only insignificant piece, which is wholly unimportant to the opera. In my mind the musical numbers should be lined up in the following order:
… But if Ivan Aleksandrovich wants a complete opera, based on recitatives, than it is likely I would not be able to do it. Anyway, I will start writing… “ .
On the letter is a note by Vasily Kandaurov that he replied on 14/26 January 1887. So far no additional documents have been discovered. It might be supposed that Vsevolozhsky did not like this idea of a half-musical, half-dramatic staging of Pushkin's novel. This is supported by his approach to Nikolay Klenovsky in September 1887.
The following information concerning this operatic subject can be dated to September 1887. By this time Kandaurov had resigned from the management of the theatres . On 12/24 September 1887 Nikolay Klenovsky wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "A week ago the Director of the Imperial Theatres Mr Vsevolozhsky, Ivan Aleksandrovich, visited Moscow. He enquired about the opera that I am going to write, based on The Queen of Spades by Pushkin. And having learned that the writing of the opera has not yet started due to a lack of a libretto, he advised me to approach you as a person quite competent in such matters. I have decided therefore to trouble you with my humblest request—to let me know whether you agree to write a libretto for the above opera, and if so what would be your terms in this case" .
According to surviving documents, Modest Tchaikovsky did not receive the letter from Klenovsky straight away, but having learned of the proposal he began to work on the scenario . The composer arrived in Saint Petersburg at the end of September/beginning of October for rehearsals of the opera The Enchantress, which was being prepared for staging. As it is known, the opera was not a success, and the response by the press was unfavourable. Apparently Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Modest Tchaikovsky persuaded the composer to write, as a way to turn around his fortunes, an opera on the subject of The Queen of Spades; while Vsevolozhsky assured Tchaikovsky that Nikolay Klenovsky had declined its composition. Feeling bitter about the failure of The Enchantress, the composer was inclined to accept the proposal but, arriving at Maydanovo, changed his mind. All the aforementioned information comes from a number of preserved letters.
On 18 /30November 1887 Aleksandr Yuzhin-Sumbatov wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: “… as you requested, our conversation shall remain between us only, and I will say nothing to Klenovsky. He understandably suspects nothing concerning the subject of our conversation, and is by no means in a position to decline to write the opera himself, especially so because Vsevolozhsky himself has commissioned him. Personally I am sure that Pyotr Ilyich would decline to discuss the opera any further, as soon as he learns all the facts of the matter" .
On the same day Modest Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother: “The other day I sent a reworked script of The Queen of Spades to Klenovsky. He in fact has not even considered declining this subject. It's even better! As I've said already, now you should not bother with such a petty matter as this subject, but concentrate if not on Romeo, than on some other thing as equally great and splendid” .
On 25 November/7 December Tchaikovsky wrote to Ivan Vsevolozhsky: “ … I would like very much to express my deepest regret that the hapless Enchantress failed to live up to our expectations… Now I am in the country, trying to rest, calm down, forget the failure as much as I can, and gain strength for the forthcoming concert tour of Europe. This tour is very necessary. Without it I would have now (as when I have faced failures in the past) been busy thinking of how to rid myself of the shame, started to write a new opera, straining myself to exhaustion, and the overall result would have been a poor hastily-written opera. Ii is most fortunate that my present situation precludes me from commencing a new large-scale work" .
In his reply Vsevolozhsky wrote: "Do not hasten to write the new opera, and I am confident you will have in your hands a good game of aces. Your Queen of Spades would beat the 'jacks'  that are causing you troubles right now" .
Nevertheless it was not Tchaikovsky but Nikolay Klenovsky who commenced writing the opera. Having received the scenario, he told Modest Tchaikovsky: "I like very much the draft of the scenario, and I fully rely on you for both to put together a scenario as well as the libretto. Would you be so kind to start as soon as possible writing the first or another act, as it would be desirable to finish the opera before my summer trip abroad” .
Modest Tchaikovsky began to compose the libretto. The first scene was ready by mid/late January, and on 7/19 February 1888 he wrote to Tchaikovsky: "I have finished the second scene of the libretto. I am very happy the way this scene looks in general. .. There are two main numbers set to words from Batyushkov's Dear Friends and Zhukovsky's “It is Night Already”. Oh Lord! Had you been writing music for this libretto, I would have been scribbling my poems ten times as enthusiastically" .
In all probability Modest Tchaikovsky’s idea of persuading his brother to write the opera based on this subject grew stronger and stronger.
On 28 March/9 April 1888 Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother from Tiflis: "I am very sorry that you have spent so much time on the libretto for Klenovsky. Forgive me Modya, but I have no regrets that I will not be writing The Queen of Spades. After the failure of The Enchantress, I wanted to turn around my fortunes, and was ready to grab any plot, and at the time I was jealous that somebody else was writing it. Right now though that's all in the past, and first of all in the summer I will certainly be writing a symphony. I will be writing an opera only if a subject becomes available that can deeply warm my heart. Such a plot as The Queen of Spades does not excite me, and I would be able to complete only a mediocre writing” .
Advising Modest Tchaikovsky on his work on sketching the first two scenes of the opera, Nikolay Klenovsky wrote: "The libretto is still extremely attractive. I am endeavouring to write light, uncomplicated music, something like Lakmé [or] Manon [Lescaut] where the singer is of primary importance. The Princess resembles “Tatiana”, as melancholic as she is. Herman is energetic, impulsive. The Count is clear-headed, a cold fish. The Prince is grand, noble. Vera is talkative, a real Olga in “Onegin”. Have I got all that right? Awaiting your approval …" .
On 18/30 May 1888 Modest Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother: "Yesterday I sent to Klenovsky another two scenes. He has written already music for the first two scenes. I consider this job almost complete, as it should be very easy to write the last two scenes" .
The last preserved letter from Nikolay Klenovsky is dated 20 March/1 April 1889. In the letter he reports: "Now I am going to put the finishing touches on the opera. Over the summer I will do my utmost to complete it and prepare the orchestral score … The music has already been written for all four scenes that you had sent. It would take no more than two to three weeks to tidy them up. Afterwards I will be able to start composing the music for new scenes … If you have already written the new scenes, send them over …" .
This was the last letter of the correspondence.
In November 1889 when Tchaikovsky was in Petersburg, the issue of commissioning him to write an opera on the subject of The Queen of Spades was raised again. The composer gave his agreement. The libretto was discussed at a management meeting, and apparently on the composer’s initiative, another one scene was included, that at the Winter Canal. Tchaikovsky himself wrote about this in a letter to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya: “You know how much in the first half of this winter I had to strain myself, travelling non-stop between Petersburg and Moscow, spending whole days at either rehearsals or at concerts, testing all my strengths and capabilities to the extreme. In the end I was not just tired, I was completely worn out … On the other hand I have gradually begun to feel the urge to set about my true calling, i.e. in composition, in order to boost my spirits. And right now I. A. Vsevolozhsky is urging me to compose an opera, based on the subject of The Queen of Spades. The libretto has already been done by none other than my brother Modest for a certain Mr. Klenovsky (who by the way has not written a thing). I had read the libretto and liked it. And so one nice day I decided to flee everything: Petersburg, Moscow, many cities in Germany, Belgium, France, where I was invited for concert tours, and go somewhere abroad, so I could work with no interference. I have to tell you that in line with a request by Vsevolozhsky, as well as obeying my own desire, I made a heroic decision: to write the opera for the next season!!! It is difficult, but I like it when something is urgently expected of me, when I write not only to satisfy my urge as an author, but also for the sake of the wishes or requirements of others … I am staying in Florence.. It is 8 days since I started work. I am working with great fervour, realizing that I still can write, despite that feeling I had earlier on; and the opera will be good, if God will extend my life over the next few months" .
The process of work on the opera continued as follows:
After the 2nd scene, Tchaikovsky worked on the 4th scene, as he had received its libretto from Modest Tchaikovsky prior to that of the 3rd scene.
On 6/18 February the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I'm impatiently awaiting the ball scene … for God’s sake do not lose time, otherwise I could run out of text, as I hope to finish the fourth scene in a week's time. Sometimes it is very easy for me to write, sometimes an effort is needed. However that doesn't matter. The effort is perhaps a result of my desire to write in the best possible way; and not to be content with the first idea that comes to mind" . On the following day the composer wrote to Anna Merkling: “ … today I was writing the scene where Herman comes to the old woman … It was so frightening that I can still feel the horror… ” .
The 4th scene was completed on 11/23 February, and on the same day composition of the intermezzo in the 3rd scene was begun: "It was initially difficult, then went quite well” . For the intermezzo Modest Tchaikovsky sent his brother two texts to choose from: "One is an allegory by Derzhavin, the other—a pastorale from my revision of Karabanov’s poem" . Tchaikovsky chose the latter: "I started right away with the Intermezzo, because it presented the biggest difficulty for me. I chose the pastorale … It came out, I believe, very much in the style of that period, it is very short and interesting", Tchaikovsky wrote to Modest on 13/25 February . On 12/24 February Tchaikovsky made an interesting entry into his diary concerning the work on the intermezzo: "At times it seemed as though I was living in the 18th century, and that there was nothing else beyond Mozart” .
In the letter quoted above to Modest Tchaikovsky, dated 13/25 February, Tchaikovsky reported: "Today I have finished the intermezzo … now is 11.30 and at 3 o’clock I will be start writing the 3rd scene. I don't think it will take me more that 5 or 6 days".
According to his diary entries, the Prince’s aria was composed on 15/27 February; and on 19 February/3 March the 3rd scene was finished.
On 20 February/4 March having received the libretto of the 5th scene, Tchaikovsky set about its composition straight away.
On 21 February/5 March Tchaikovsky noted in his diary: "Have started to write the opening of the 5th scene, and completed its finale yesterday in my head, but in actuality this morning” . The composer provided a more accurate description of his work on the 5th scene in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky dated 21 February/5 March: "I began to write the 5th scene not from its beginning, but from the moment of the knock at the window, and it's already finished" .
On 22 February/6 March a diary note indicates: "Finished the 5th scene. Somehow I'm not entirely satisfied with it, — some of its passages are disagreeable, but I haven't been able to change them" . Thus the whole scene was more or less composed on 20 and 21 February.
On 23 February/7 March Tchaikovsky had already started work on the 6th scene: "I had a terrible time the whole morning till breakfast as I was writing verses for Liza’s arioso... The arioso is written" .
On 25 February/9 March the composer finished the 6th scene, and not having yet the libretto for the 7th scene, began to compose the introduction. In a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of that date he reported: "I have finished the 6th scene and started to compose the introduction-overture. I should be very upset if the 7th scene does not arrive tomorrow. I would hate to interrupt this particular draft. I suspect that the sixth scene has come out right, and I am very happy now that it has been done—without it the work would be unbalanced" . But on the following day Tchaikovsky received the libretto of the 7th scene and started to compose the music for it, having set the introduction aside for the time being  : "I have received the seventh scene. It is superb. The Brindisi needs another couplet . I will try to write it, and for your part could you come up with something and send it over? … It's astonishing that last night I finished the 6th scene, and already have the 7th in my hands" .
On 2/14 March the music for the 7th scene was composed except for Herman’s aria. Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary: "I cried bitterly when Herman expired. Maybe this is because I'm tired, or perhaps it is good indeed". On 3/15 March he recorded: "Until dinner was busy with the Brindisi … After tea finished the introduction. Before dinner I finished everything" .
In the draft sketches of the opera, after the sketch for the introduction, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Thanks be to God! I have finished composing the opera, begun on 19(31) Jan[uary] at 6.30 in the morning, 3(15) March". Therefore the entire work on sketches of the opera, was finished within an extremely short period—less than 44 days. On 3/15 March, on the day when the opera was finished, Tchaikovsky told Modest Tchaikovsky: "Laroche wrote to me that he and Nápravník grumble that I have finished so quickly. How could they not understand that fast work is my intransient quality. I can not work anything other than quickly. But the speed does not mean at all that I have written the opera in an off-hand way … The trick is to write with love. And The Queen of Spades was written with particular love. My God how tearful I was yesterday when my poor Herman was given the last rites" .
In the same letter Tchaikovsky wrote: "I finished the opera 3 hours ago, and sent Nazar [Modest's valet] immediately with a telegram to you … Today I wrote the Brindisi (that was conceived earlier) and finished off the introduction. I wrote the very end of the opera yesterday before dinner, and when I reached the scene with Herman's death and finale chorus, I felt such pity for Herman that I suddenly began to weep aloud. This crying lasted a terribly long time and transformed itself into a mild hysteria of a very pleasant nature, i.e. my crying was terribly enjoyable. Afterwards I had realized why this has occurred (for never before it happened to me that I cried because of the fate of my hero, and I tried to comprehend as to why I have such an urge to cry). In reality Herman was not for me only a pretext to write some music or other, but throughout he was a real living person, and very sympathetic to me. .
Tchaikovsky wrote about his deep involvement in composing The Queen of Spades in many other letters as well. Thus, in a letter to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, dated 5/17 August 1890 we read: "I wrote it with an unusual zeal and enthusiasm, having suffered and felt vividly all what is happening in the opera (to such an extent that for a time I feared that the appearance of the ghost of the Queen of Spades), and I hope that all my delights, worries and enthusiasm as the author, reverberate in the hearts of a sympathetic audience"  .
Having finished the writing of the opera, Tchaikovsky on the very next day set about working on the piano score: "Began the piano score", he noted in his diary . On 12/24 March the composer was already able to send the first two scenes to Pyotr Jurgenson for printing—“so that time should not be lost" .
A short illness (from 8 to 14 March) delayed the work somewhat. On 19/31 March in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky the composer wrote: "Today I have almost finished the piano score of the 2nd act. One more still remains!" .
In the manuscript, at the end of Act III, is the note: "24 March–5 April 1890 [OS]. Florence" . On 25 March/6 April the piano score of Act III was dispatched to Moscow: "Yesterday I finished and sent the third act (piano score) to Moscow" .
In the evening of 26 March/7 April, Tchaikovsky left for Rome, where he commenced work on the instrumentation. On the day of his departure he wrote to Ivan Vsevolozhsky: "I have the honour to report that The Queen of Spades has been composed, arranged for pianoforte and voice, and is presently being engraved, and so in all probability Figner and the other artists shall receive their printed parts by the start of June … I should have liked to tell you confidently that the music of The Queen of Spades has turned out well — but I am apprehensive, as experience shows that during the initial period after a new child is born its creators feel a passion towards it that is exaggerated and often far from reality. I can only say that I wrote with delight and selflessness, and put my whole soul into this work" . In the same letter Tchaikovsky gave a number of detailed instructions for the staging of the opera.
In Rome by 7/19 April, Tchaikovsky had orchestrated almost half of the opera. In a letter to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich of 7/19 April the composer wrote: "I wrote the opera particularly quickly in less than 6 weeks. Then I made the complete piano score (because it was required as the artists needed their parts before anything else), and now almost half of the opera has already been scored" . In this letter Tchaikovsky provided the following evaluation of his opera: "It may very well be that The Queen of Spades is a very poor opera; it is quite possible that in a year's time I will dislike it, as I dislike many of my creations; but right now I believe this is my best writing, and that having written it constitutes some kind of achievement".
The remainder of the opera was orchestrated at Frolovskoye between 3/15 May and 8/20 June.
On the same day, reporting on the orchestration of the second half of the opera, the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "At the moment I have a particular love for life. I am reflecting on a successfully completed large work. However, I might just be imagining that The Queen of Spades is a successful opera. I don't know, but right now I am confident that the opera has a brilliant future" .
In the manuscript full score of The Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsky wrote in his own hand the completion dates for individual sections of the work. Thus at the end of the first scene in the full score is the date: " Rome 2(14) Apr[il 18]90"; after the 3rd scene: "End of the 3rd scene. Rome 15(27) Apr[il] 1890". From a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky, dated 14/26 May, we learn that at that time Tchaikovsky was orchestrating the 4th and 5th scenes (which according to his own words demanded "the utmost care and diligence"), and Aleksandr Ziloti was proofreading the piano score . The completion of the work is marked in the manuscript of the score: "The end of the opera. Frolovskoye village 24 May 1890" [OS]. Afterwards some finishing touches were required (voice parts were added into the score, marks were placed, and so on). On 8 June the whole work was finished and the manuscript was sent to Pyotr Jurgenson on the same day: "On Friday 8 June [OS] I finished my work completely and delivered the full score to Jurgenson", Tchaikovsky wrote to Anna Merkling .
While working on the score in April and May, Tchaikovsky (with assistance from Aleksandr Ziloti) proof-read the piano score, the first edition of which was printed at the end of June 1890 (passed by the censor on 2/15 June 1890; the chorus parts were published at the same time). The second edition was brought out in November . For the second edition Tchaikovsky made "a substantial revision of the piano score" having placed in it new metronomic indications, and also for Nikolay Figner he transposed the Brindisi from B major to A major (as a supplement to the piano score). In a letter to Eduard Nápravník of 5/17 August 1890, Tchaikovsky wrote: "At present I am undertaking a substantial review of the piano score for the second edition, which is to be published in the autumn (the first was published in a small number of copies, almost exclusively for the theatre), and I am adding metronomic markings. It so happen that the tempi in the first edition were added in an extremely wrong and in an extremely scant manner. I have listed all my amendments and all my metronomic indications on a separate copy and have sent them to N. O. Khristoforov so they can be entered into the full score. You will receive the full score with tempi observations and metronome markings already corrected" . Here he told Nápravník about some small changes in the parts of Herman and Liza made for the Figners , and also that he had "with great bitterness to make for Figner a transposition of the Brindisi in the last scene".
After Eduard Nápravník had made a number of comments of the difficulty of the piano score, Tchaikovsky decided that a third edition is necessary. In a letter to Nápravník dated 25 August/6 September 1890, he writes: “I will certainly take into account and implement your advice on making The Queen of Spades arrangement easier; but amendments can only be made in the third edition, as the second one is already being printed. It will be produced in a small number of copies, and, God willing the third edition with amendments can be printed by this winter. When I come to Petersburg, I will immediately undertake a careful review of the score” .
In a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 19/31 August, Tchaikovsky asked him "not to print the second edition in a large number of copies”, since he intended to follow Eduard Nápravník's advice and to simplify the piano score. Besides this, he believed that after the opera has been staged other corrections might be needed: "The third edition would be final" .
Tchaikovsky’s letters do not contain more precise details on the third edition of the piano score, but it can be ascertained that the third edition was published bearing the same censor’s date (2/14 June 1890), in February or March 1891 . It does not differ from the second, except for the finale of the 7th scene.
In October responding to a request by Eduard Nápravník and Nikolay Figner, Tchaikovsky agreed to make a number of changes in the score: "I am very glad that Figner will sing the Brindisi in B♭. I ask you to alter as much as you want the inconvenient tessitura in Herman’s part and in other parts as well", Tchaikovsky wrote to Nápravník. "I will accept in advance everything that you consider needs changing. I am very interested to know what alterations are required in the death scene. If we are talking about a small cut, then again I entirely rely on you, while I have to admit I am not too happy about it” .
On 29 October/10 November Modest Tchaikovsky wrote to the composer: "On the question of the finale of The Queen of Spades.. Everyone strongly… insists on the need to amend it, starting from the moment of Herman's suicide. Everyone wants want melodic décor to accompany his death. What is your view on that?" .
In his letter of reply dated 2/14 November 1890, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Needless to say, I would be extremely loathe to agree to any sort of revision. The idea to introduce changes is certainly down to Figner, who probably wants something like the last aria in Lucia [di Lammermoor] with its interruptions, dying gasps, etc... But such a thing is impossible?!!!" .
In comparison with the first and second versions, the third edition contains variations as follows:
An arrangement for two pianos, made by Eduard Langer, appeared in print in October 1890.
The opera was performed for the first time in Saint Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre on 7/19 December 1890, conducted by Eduard Nápravník. On 19/31 December it was staged in Kiev, conducted by Josef Přibík. In Moscow its premiere took place on 4/16 November 1891, conducted by Ippolit Altani. On 16/28 December the same year The Queen of Spades was staged in Kharkov, and on 19/31 January 1893 it was performed in Odessa, conducted by N. B. Emmanuel.
The composer actively participated in the process of producing the scenario and libretto of the opera. In a letter to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich of 7/19 April 1890, Tchaikovsky wrote: "If you are keen to know who is the writer of the libretto, than I can say that it was my brother Modest. He also did the scenario, but with assistance and support from I. A. Vsevolozhsky, while I was involved as well. And I provided my own versions for some extracts" .
At a meeting held in mid-December 1889 by the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres, a decision was made to shift the timing of the action of the opera towards the end of the reign of Catherine II. This entailed a complete change to the scenario of the 3rd scene of the opera. Besides this, on Tchaikovsky's insistence, the scene at the Winter Canal was added.
In a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of 2/14 February 1890, Tchaikovsky explained the need for this scene in the opera as follows: " … despite a desire to have as few scenes as possible and wishing to achieve a concise libretto, I'm afraid that without this scene that entire third act would be without women, — and that would be boring. Besides, the audience must know has happened to Liza. It would not be possible to conclude her role in the fourth scene” . The objective of reaching a concise and laconic libretto is supported by expressions made by Tchaikovsky on this subject. In a letter to Modest of 23 January/4 February 1890, he wrote: “you have written a very good libretto; there are, however, shortcomings, namely: verbosity. Please be as brief and laconic as possible. I'd leave things out". He went on "… the libretto is excellent, and it can be seen that you know music and musical requirements, — and this is very important for a librettist" .
The composer reworked the finale of the 3rd scene, wrote the texts for the Prince’s aria  , Liza’s arioso, the chorus "Darling Masha let you...", and made a number of additions and amendments in almost every scene . Besides the verses of the librettist and the composer, the opera includes lines by Derzhavin (in Tomsky’s Song), an extract from Zhukovsky's elegy Evening (the duet “It's already evening"), verses and prose by Pushkin from The Queen of Spades (in the 4th, 5th and 6th scenes); also verses by Pavel Karabanov (the chorus at the start of Act II), about which Tchaikovsky wrote: "The text of this chorus belongs to the pen of a little known last-century writer Karabanov. His job was to write texts for greetings and various cantatas for celebrations by Catherine’s nobility. It is quite appropriate to perform this cantata in my opera, for the verses were written, the music arranged, and performed by singers at a domestic occasion held by Naryshkin”  . Tchaikovsky explained his wish to include Tomsky's Song by the desire to present "a short characteristic episode in the scene that portrays the customs related to the end of the last century"  . Throughout the whole opera the composer referred to materials that were reminiscent of a characteristic way of life of the period. He studied operatic scores by Salieri, Grétry, Astatitt , as well as folk songs collections of the eighteenth century. In the 4th scene, the part of the Countess uses music from Grétry's opera Richard the Lionheart, and also an ancient French song Vive Henri Quatre.
Modest Tchaikovsky wrote in February 1890: “As a sample of Russian music of that time I am sending you samples from Trutovsky and Kozlovsky" . The composer himself was involved with writing a foreword to the libretto, having changed it substantially in comparison with the first version, written by Modest, and in particular he provided "the reason as to why Liza was elevated to a Princess" .
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 87–100
This page was last updated on 02 April 2013