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Tchaikovsky Anniversary

To mark the 115th anniversary of the composer's death on 6 November 1893 (shortly after 00.30hrs GMT), I am pleased to announce the addition of a new section devoted to the Places where Tchaikovsky lived and visited during his extensive travels. His comments concerning some cities—particularly those outside his homeland— were not always flattering, but often made interesting reading.

I am also grateful to Dr Pedro Sanchez Palma from Cartagena, Spain, for supplying the following obituary for Tchaikovsky, as printed in the New York journal Harper's Weekly on Saturday 18 November 1893 (vol. 37, p. 1112). The author, identified only by the initials "E.I.S." is understood to be the American writer and journalist Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson (1858–1942):


It is somewhat startling just in the present peculiar status of music as a creative art that two composers of such broad and undisputed distinction as Charles Gounod and Peter Tschaikowsky should pass from the world within a fortnight of each other. The news of Tschaikowsky’s sudden death in St. Petersburg from cholera was cabled to the press of November 7th. it brought a distinct sense of shock to New York, not only among the Russian composer’s considerable personal acquaintance here, but to our musical public in general. Mr. Seidl, Mr. Damrosch, Nr. Nikisch, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Gericke, and others have steadily aroused a special enthusiasm in the city for much of Tschaikowsky’s most characteristic work. In addition to such an acquaintance with him in the abstract, his participation here in 1891 as a conductor in the elaborate dedication concerts of the Carnegie Music Hall left New York with a strong conviction of his merits as a magnetic and efficient orchestra leader.

Tschaikowsky was born in 1840 at Wotkinsk (one of the Ural cities), and entered upon a responsible government post before he decided to give himself entirely to a musical life. In the Russian National Conservatory, where he studied, he was a pupil of Anton Rubinstein, and he so distinguished himself as to be among the institutions’ professional staff after his course was completed. He was associated with the conservatory about a dozen years. After 1878 he gave all his time to composition and direction, with the result of that remarkable group of symphonic and other scores, frequently of large dimensions and of the most elaborate development, performed in every musical centre, from Saint Petersburg to Australia, from Moscow to New York. His activity was great, and his success proportionate. Even in remembering a tendency among critics to overvalue the musical message of Russia to the rest of the world (exactly as Russia’s literary message has been over-exploited), Tschaikowsky’s was an intellect that gave utterance to things extraordinarily impressive and beautiful, and cosmopolitan in their acceptability. He was emphatically national in his themes, even more patently national both in themes and treatment than Rubinstein; but he seldom showed the Slav in him repellently. He was a genius in the splendour of his resources in instrumentation, and at times his finest scores attain climaxes of high and absolute distinction in effectiveness everywhere admitted. By turns sombre, passionate, trifling, dramatic, and often sumptuously barbaric in his work, he astonishes and dazzles where he may not always please. The Teutonic color of much of Rubinstein’s work leaves Tschaikowsky a more direct exponent of the Russian in music than the older master, who, by-the-bye, will probably not long be spared to the world.

He is an undoubted loss to art. Gounod’s career and influence had become preteristic; it was removed widely from the symphony. Tschaikowsky’s was a vital, potent, brilliant light, that of a sort of Alpha Lyrae of Russia, and much yet was to be expected from him. He was in the plenitude of his fame and industry. Only a few days before he left New York in 1891 he remarked cordially, to one who had met him frequently during his brief visit, “I shall surely come over here again and see what you are all doing in music here, and how well you may be liking what I am doing.” His unexpected death reminds the writer of the kindly remark, and of the cancellation of a courteous hope and a splendid career.


Brett Langston

Hello, everyone.

In 1888 Tchaikovsky listened to the piano performance of Polish pianist-composer-potitician Paderewski and met Gounod several times in Paris. Tchaikovsky started on composing the fifth symphony at Frolovskoe after touring from western-europe. It is said that He derived the main theme in 1st movement from a Polish folk song. And for the main theme in 2nd movement, Gounod's "Ave Maria", "do_do^re^mi^♯fa(_mi_re_la^ti)" and "mi-mi^fa^so^la_la, ^re-re^mi^fa^so_so, ^do-do^re^mi(^fa-fa^so^la^ti_la_so_re^mi)"; Tchaikovsky's symphony, "do^re^mi^♯fa-♯fa-♯fa-♯fa-♯fa(♯fa^la_so-so)" and "mi^fa^so-so_la, ^re^mi^fa-fa_so, ^do^re^mi-mi-mi-mi-mi(_re^la_so)" . I suppose that Gounod's "Ave Maria" inspired Tchaikovsky for composing the main theme in 2nd movement of fifth symphony.

Kamomeno Iwao

Hello Kamomeno Iwao,

Thanks for your posting. Could you elaborate a little more on "It is said that he derived the main theme... from a Polish folk-song"? I've never come across any references to this in the literature, and I must admit that I can't hear any resemblence between Gounod's Ave Maria and the symphony's second movement.

Brett Langston

Excuse me, I am not good at English. So I misuse words "It is said that". I only tried to express that "There are a few Japanese old books referring to it", as follows; Notes(by Keizo Horiuchi) in "Miniature Score of Tschaikowsky's Symphony No. 5" -ISBN-13:9784276908291(current issue)-published in 1957 by Ongaku-no-tomo-sya Corp, Tokyo Japan, "Tschaikowsky-According to Composer Description Library of Excellent Pieces" mentioned by Kazuo Inoue-ISBN-13:978-4276010482(current issue)-published in 1993 by Ongaku-no-tomo-sya Corp, Tokyo Japan.

Gounod's "Ave Maria": "mi---------------^fa----------- fa-^so-----------_re---^mi--------- ", and the 2nd movement of Tschaikowsky's "Piano Concerto No. 2" that it was composed in December 1879 at PARIS, its main theme: "mi-----------^fa-----------^so--^la_so-----_re-^mi-----------"(in D major). And bar 12 to 16 of Gounod's "Ave Maria"; "mi---------mi-^fa-^so-^la-----_la-la--- ^re---------re-^mi-^fa-^so-------_so--- ^do---------do-^re-^mi-", and Tschaikowsky's "Symphony No. 5" was created in 1888 after visiting in PARIS and meeting Gounod several times, its main theme of the 2nd movement: "mi-^fa-^so-so-----_la-----------, ^re-^mi-^fa-fa-----_so-----------, ^do-^re-^mi-mi-----mi----mi-mi---------"(in D major). Half of ancestors of Tschaikowsky's mother Aleksandra are French. I suppose that Tschaikowsky had regarded her as "Notre Dame" gratia plena. Gounod firstly composed "Ave Maria" in 1853, the one year later Tschaikowsky lost his mother at the age of 14 in 1854, and Gounod who lost his father at 5 years old was separated by death with his mother in 1858, Next year "Ave Maria" was remade in 1859, to the best of my GNOSIS.

Best Regards.

Kamomeno Iwao

Dear Kamomeno Iwao,

Thank you for your response, and your English is very good!

May I ask whether the authors of either of the two books identified the source of their reference to the Polish folk-song?

Brett Langston

Dear Brett

Neither of two authors identified the source of their reference to the Polish folk-song, to my regret. Mr.Horiuchi, who specialized in engineering, graduated from University of Michiganthe and graduate school of MIT, however he became a words-translater, composer and founder of Ongaku-no-tomo-sya Corp, Tokyo Japan, is the deceased. Mr.Inoue maybe resides in Hiyoshi, Yokohama, near keio University. But I am an amateur, and have no acquaintance with him. So I am in search for the source, and posted this forum.

Kamomeno Iwao

Dear Kamomeno Iwao,

Thank you for your reply. While trying to keep an open mind, I remain to be convinced that the theme from the Symphony No. 5's opening movement is derived from a Polish folk song, or that any resemblence to Gounod in the second movement is other than coincidence. But perhaps someone reading this forum will be able to tell us more.

Incidentally, Tchaikovsky's mother was actually of German parentage, not French (as had previously been believed). The composer's maternal grandfather was one Michael Heinrich Maximilian Acier, born at Meissen, Saxony, who later setled in Russia and took the name Andrei Assier.

Brett Langston

Dear Brett,

Many thanks.

Michelle Victor Acier(born in 1736, Versailles) moved into Meissen in 1764 and changed his name to Michael. He married an Austrian soldier's daughter Marie Wittich. Their second son is Michael Heinrich Maximilian Assier(from Acier to Assier as you have taught me). He is the composer's maternal grandfather. He married an Russian Clergyman's daughter Ekaterina Popova. Their second daughter is the composer's mother Aleksandra. "Acier" is French name; it means steel. So I have thought that the composer's mother Aleksandra is a half-Russian, a quarter-German, and a quarter-French.

By the way, in "Swan Lake" names of characters are German, for instance, Siegfried(=victory and peace), Benno(=bear) von Sommerstern(=summer star): Ursa, Wolfgang(=wolf's trail), Baron von Rothbart(=red beard), Baron von Stein(stone), Freiger von Schwarzfels(=black rock), except for French names Odette et Odile.

"It is said that" ballet "Swan Lake" is based on Johann Karl August Musaeus's "Der geraubte Schleier". Zwickau which is the stage of the tale is in Sachsen (Saxony) where the composer's great-grandfather and grandfather had lived. In the tale one of main characters Friedbert comes from "Schwaben". I think it is a pun with "schwanen". Anyway Schwaben is located near French territories, so I suppose that the tale is an allegory of Catholics vs. Protestants or French vs. German.

Kamomeno Iwao

When it comes to "The Swan Lake",we should consider that Begichev and Gelzer were the driving force behind the development of the script/libretto.

Alexander Geidelerg

Hellow Alexander,

As it is shown in "Works" of this website, the author of the libretto of "Swan Lake" is strictly uncertain. However I think that Tchaikovsky had been considerably concerned with the script. Furthermore, I suppose that "Swan Lake" is the rehash of "Undina" and Tchaikovsky recommended "Swan Lake" as a repertoire.

Incidentally, Vladimir Begichev is a step-father of Konstantin and Vladimir Shilovskii.

Thank you.

Kamomeno Iwao

Further to the points raised by Kamomeno Iwao on the issue of thematic derivation in Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, I would like to mention the following. Hans Keller remarked that, in regard to the 'integration of folkloristic material' this symphony reveals that Tchaikovsky was 'at the height of his powers as a composer in the more literal sense: on purely internal evidence, it would be impossible to discover that the opening movement's first subject is not Tchaikovsky's own invention, but is built on a fragment from a serious Polish love song - so eminently symphonic does this basic material seem in the light of one's wisdom after the event' (from Keller's article on Tchaikovsky's symphonies in The Symphony, vol.1: Haydn to Dvořák, ed. Robert Simpson (Harmondsworth, 1966), p.351). Unfortunately, as Keller neither cites a name for the 'serious Polish love song', nor any reference source, the matter remains indeterminate.

Henry Zajaczkowski

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