Symphonic ballad, Op. 78 (1890–91).
There is very little surviving evidence concerning the origins of this project. From Tchaikovsky’s letters to Vladimir Davydov, it would appear that the two men had talked to each other about this subject. Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have composed the ballad for orchestra, on the subject of which you disapprove... I assure you that it was a good idea to write this composition" . It seems that the ballad was begun in Tiflis in late September/early October 1890. Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson on 28 September/10 October 1890: "I am composing a symphonic poem" . From the aforementioned letter from the composer to Vladimir Davydov, it follows that by 4/16 October the ballad was prepared in rough, and in the same letter Tchaikovsky stated that he would spend the next few weeks on its instrumentation. But his intention was not then carried out. In a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of 10/22 October 1890, the composer wrote: "The ballad is finished, but I’m slaving over the orchestration and getting nowhere. It’s so awkward" . Tchaikovsky’s circumstances forced him to put off completing the ballad for almost a whole year. The productions of the opera The Queen of Spades in Saint Petersburg and Kiev, a commission from Lucien Guitry for music to Hamlet, composing the opera Iolanta and the ballet The Nutcracker for the next winter season, and a concert tour of America—all of these postponed the orchestration of the ballad.
In a number of letters to relatives and friends dating from June 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote of his intention to begin scoring the ballad , and asked Pyotr Jurgenson to obtain a new orchestral instrument, the Celesta Mustel: "It is essential for The Voyevoda..." .
In a letter of 22 August/3 September to Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky reported: "I will now orchestrate the fantasia Voyevoda (on the subject of Pushkin’s ballad), and will play it for the first time in Saint Petersburg at a concert of the Musical Society. I have been invited to conduct one of their concerts there" .
Tchaikovsky took up the orchestration of The Voyevoda as soon as he had finished the rough sketches of Iolanta: "Yesterday I completely finished the opera. Tomorrow I shall set to work on the instrumentation of The Voyevoda", he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky on 5/17 September 1891 .
The scoring of the ballad was completed around 22 September/4 October 1891, as indicated by a letter to Anna Merkling of the latter date, in which the composer reported that he had finished his new symphonic work . On the same day he wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "I’ve finished my symphonic ballad, The Voyevoda, and I’m very pleased with it" .
After hearing his new work played by the orchestra, Tchaikovsky became extremely dissatisfied, and the next day he destroyed it. He wrote of this to Vladimir Nápravník in a letter of 11/23 November 1891: "My ballad The Voyevoda turned out to be so wretched, that the other day after the concert I tore it to shreds. It exists no more" . Modest Tchaikovsky recalled the same . The orchestral parts were preserved by Aleksandr Ziloti, who, seeing the composer’s agitated state after the concert, ordered that the parts should be collected, and took them to his apartment.
Through Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky asked Aleksandr Ziloti to destroy the parts. However, Ziloti preserved them, since he and Sergey Taneyev considered that the ballad The Voyevoda, although weaker than Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini, was "for all its sins, full of interesting things" . Later, the central episode of the ballad was arranged by the author as an independent piece for piano under the title Aveu passioné.
After the composer's death, Sergey Taneyev, in one of his letters to Modest Tchaikovsky in 1901, recalled how he had given his views on The Voyevoda to Tchaikovsky soon after the first rehearsal: "My first impression of The Voyevoda", he wrote, "was that the main part of the piece—the central love episode—sounded merely preparatory. Moreover, the musical worth of this central section could not bear comparison with similar episodes in earlier works by Pyotr Il’ich—Romeo, The Tempest and Francesca. It seemed to me that the reception this work received at that time was mistaken. The words of Pushkin’s ballad might be sung to this melody, thus:
What this suggests, is that this was not composed as a work for orchestra, but as a romance. Performed without words and on orchestral instruments it produces a somewhat insipid impression, and its impact is greatly diminished" .
It is possible that Sergey Taneyev’s views had an indirect influence on Tchaikovsky's decision to destroy The Voyevoda.
Fortunately the parts were preserved, and the full score of the ballad was reconstructed and published by Mitrofan Belaiev in 1897 as Op. 78. An arrangement of the ballad for piano duet by Nikolay Sokolov was issued at the same time .
Several letters between Mitrofan Belyayev and Modest Tchaikovsky survive concerning the question of publishing the composer's works posthumously, and a number of them relate to the ballad The Voyevoda 
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 305–307
This page was last updated on 16 February 2013