Home > Forum > Religious Beliefs

Religious Beliefs

Was Tchaikovsky a religious person? Did he believe in God?

Craig Sayer
20/01/2012 19:25

In my searches I came upon this quote from ''The Forum for Ayn Rand fans" as per B. Royce from the book ''Russian Symphony'. 1947...a work by various Russian writers of the time on critiques of Tchaikovsky's music...the composer like many educated people of his time was rather a skeptic regarding religious matters...even though he attended religious services from time to time and wrote a number of religious works and even called on God like many of us do regardless of our religious affiliation...the quote is in keeping with Tchaikovsky's beliefs as I know them even though the book was written during the Communist regime when religion in any form was considered anathema...

"In the book Russian Symphony I read, "Christian methods were too rigorous, austere and cold for Tchaikovsky, while the mystical element in all religion clashed with man's "reasoning faculties" and the conclusions "reached by critical processes of the mind." The dogma of retribution for sins struck Tchaikovsky as "monstrously unjust and irrational." On the other hand, the conception of the hereafter as a serene, untroubled existence and a state of eternal bliss he considered not only fantastic but extraordinarily flat, boring and unattractive. "I have come to the conclusion that if there is indeed a life after death, it exists only in the sense that matter does not die and also in the pantheistic conception of the eternity of nature in which I constitute a microscopic phenomenon. In a word, I cannot understand individual immortality. Indeed, how can we conceive of an eternal future life of eternal pleasure? In order that there should be pleasure and bliss there must be its opposite---eternal suffering. The latter I repudiate altogether. Finally, I do not even know whether one should wish for a life after death, for the only charm that life has is the alternating joys and sorrows, the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, in a word, the unity of opposites. How can eternity be conceived as endless bliss? According to our earthly understanding we would tire eventually of bliss too, if it were altogether unrelieved. As a result of this reasoning I have come to the conclusion that there is no eternity."


Best wishes,

Albert Gasparo
23/01/2012 06:26

The author of that essay in Russian Symphony: Thoughts about Tchaikovsky (1947) ends his quote as in the above posting, but Tchaikovsky’s letter (to Nadezhda von Meck on 23 November/5 December 1877) does in fact continue as follows:

“However, conviction is one thing, and instinct and feeling another. Whilst I deny an eternal afterlife, it is with indignation that I reject at the same time the monstrous thought that I shall never see again some loved ones who are now dead. In spite of the triumphant force of my convictions, I shall never reconcile myself to the thought that my mother, whom I so loved and who was such a wonderful person, has disappeared forever and that I will never be able to tell her that even after twenty-three years of separation I still love her the same…” (quoted from the article on Beethoven in the People section)

A letter to Mrs von Meck on 16/28 February–17 February/1 March 1879, in which he tells her of his impressions of reading the scene in The Brothers Karamazov where Father Zosima has to comfort a woman who has lost all her children, shows that this was a question which Tchaikovsky often thought about:

“Yes, my friend! It is better to have to die oneself every day for a thousand years than to lose those whom one loves and to seek consolation in the hypothetical idea that we shall meet again in the other world! Will we meet again? Happy are those who manage not to have doubts about this” (quoted from the article on Dostoevsky in the People section)

On the subject of Tchaikovsky’s views on religion, it is very instructive to turn to his ‘special diary’. On 22 February/6 March 1886, he noted there:

“What an infinitely deep abyss between the Old and the New Testament! Am reading the Psalms of David and do not understand why, first, they are placed so high artistically and, second, in what way they could have anything in common with the Gospel. David is entirely worldly. The whole human race he divides into two unequal parts: in one, the godless (here belongs the vast majority), in the other, the godly and at their head he places himself. Upon the godless, he invokes in each psalm divine punishment, upon the godly, reward; but both punishment and reward are earthly. The sinners will be annihilated; the godly will reap the benefits of all the blessings of earthly life. How unlike Christ who prayed for his enemies and to his fellow man promised not earthly blessings but the Kingdom of Heaven. What eternal poetry and, touching to tears, what feeling of love and pity toward mankind in the words: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” All the Psalms of David are nothing in comparison with these simple words.” (Quoted from Wladimir Lakond, The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 244)

This contrast between the Old and New Testament and his admiration for the figure of Christ, and, in particular, for Christ’s exhortation: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Mathew 11:28)—the underlying idea of which he once tried to set into music—are themes he often returned to in those years. Another interesting diary entry is that which he made in Maydanovo on 21 September/3 October 1887, on the same day that his old friend Nikolay Kondratyev died after a long illness in Aachen (where Tchaikovsky had visited him that summer):

“How strange it was for me to read that 365 days ago I was still afraid to acknowledge that, despite all the fervor of sympathetic feelings awakened by Christ, I dared to doubt His Divinity. Since then, my religion has become infinitely more clear; I thought much about God, about life and death during all that time, and especially in Aachen the vital questions: why? how? wherefore? occupied and hung over me disturbingly. I would like sometime to expound in detail my religion if only for the sake of explaining my beliefs to myself, once and for all, and the borderline where, after speculation, they begin. But life with its excitement rushes on, and I do not know whether I will succeed in expressing that Creed which recently has developed in me. It has developed very clearly, but still I have not adopted it as yet in my prayers. I still pray as before, as they taught me to pray. But then, God hardly needs to know how and why one prays. God does not need prayer. But we need it.” (Quoted from Wladimir Lakond, The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 249)

It is possible that the Fifth Symphony grew out of some of these reflections, as suggested by Tchaikovsky’s notes on the initial sketches (see the work history).

An interesting article by Elena Dyachkova, “Tchaikovsky and the Bible”, is available online:

... in which she also touches upon Tchaikovsky’s admiration for St Joan of Arc (the subject of another recent posting).

Luis Sundkvist
23/01/2012 22:26

I thank Mr. Sundquist for giving us the broader view of the composer's beliefs...but I am wondering if he had lived into the 20th century where the sciences have developed 100 fold in fields like paleontology, astronomy, air flight, automobiles, and all the modern means of communication...not to speak of the revolution that was to happen in his own country in 25 years after his death where religion itself was to be suppressed..two world wars, a civil war, the dropping of atomic bombs, the discovery of galaxies in the 1920's..when we can deduct the approximate age of the universe and the earth....the cold war...and now the rise of Islam and China looming as a great world power..a world in more turmoil than its ever been....I wonder taking all that into consideration how it would further affect an educated, intelligent person like Tchaikovsky who already had his doubts in a world that had a much more limited access to the information we have today....

Best wishes,

Albert Gasparo
25/01/2012 22:51

As always, thank you Albert and Luis for your research and insight into the matter. It seems Tchaikovsky had many more questions than answers, as most of us do. I find his skepticism in a time without modern science refreshing. He truly was one of a kind.

Craig Sayer
01/02/2012 13:43

This discussion is closed and has been archived, but you are welcome to try our new forum at:

Please note that we are not responsible for the content of external web-sites

This page was last updated on 05 November 2013