In a note from the editor of the Italian edition (Maria Rosaria
Boccuni), on page xxxi of the book:
Anatol'evna Alexandra Orlova, Tchaikovsky. A self-portrait, with a
foreword by David Brown, 1990. ISBN 88-7063-172-9 - tit.orig. Tchaikovsky.
A self-portrait, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990 (translated and
edited by Maria Rosaria ediz.it. Boccuni) EDT Turin 1993
Mrs. Boccuni writes concerning the mystery of the death of Cajkiovskij,
which at the Museum of Klin was kept in a box, a letter containing the
truth about each other. The box had to be opened only a hundred years
after the composer's death (so 1893-1993).
During the war, the material was prudentially placed at the sheltered
(the Nazis, however, came in Klin, in the rooms, and they put upside down,
there are photographs on this).
The box, however, he did not return to the museum.
Mrs. Boccuni specifies that the source of the news it dated back to one
of the grandchildren of Tchaikovsky. The interesting thing is, that Mrs.
Boccuni adds that personally asked in 1991, news about the box and the
letter, to the then head of the Museum in Klin. Mrs. Boccuni writes
textually: "The refusal was instantaneous, decisive. No box, no letter. ".
This is the full portion of the note of the Italian curator Maria
Rosaria Boccuni (pages XXXI-XXXII):
"With regard to the mystery about the composer's death, I had the
opportunity to personally check one of the many oral traditions survived
to archiving 'official' of this issue. An old Russian pianist, whom I met
recently in Italy, confirming the version of Alexandra Orlova [Boccuni
alludes to suicide by poison ...], the has further enriched.
In fact it seems that in the Museum of Klin was conserved in a casket a
letter containing the truth about the story.
The casket was to be opened only one hundred years after the death of
At the outbreak of Second World War the casket followed the destiny of
the rest of the material, which it was evacuated, but it never came back
to the museum.
The source of this news was reliable: the mother of my interlocutor was
a friend of Yury Lvovich Davydov, Tchaikovsky's nephew, at the relevant
time, had fifteen years.
In 1991, I spoke with the director of the Museum of Klin, about of the
casket and the letter: the refusal was immediate, resolute. No casket, no
Dear oh dear! Yes there were lots of crazy stories floating around in
the 1990s, none of which had any basis in fact. But if you start to look
at them in any detail, they quickly fall apart. Just consider the
1) We know that in the early 1980s Mrs Orlova emigrated to the west
with a story about Tchaikovsky's 'suicide' that was apparently told to her
late husband, by someone who had been researching the history of
Tchaikovsky's school, who was told by someone else who used to go to the
school that they used to know a former schoolmate of Tchaikovsky who told
them that the composer had been forced to commit suicide. There was not a
scrap of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony to back up this series
of anecdotes, all the people involved except Mrs Orlova were by that time
2) If Mrs Boccuni was "recently" speaking to "an old Russian pianist"
in 1990, then that pianist couldn't even have been born at the time of
Tchaikovsky's death, so they weren't in a position to 'confirm' anything.
Notice that like most of the people in these conspiracy stories, the
pianist concerned remains anonymous.
3) The story about a box or casket comes from an anonymous source too,
i.e. the mother of a friend of the composer's nephew Yury. Again,
both the 'friend' and the mother remain unidentified.
4) We are asked to believe that someone we don't know, had some kinds
of 'evidence' (we don't know what) concerning the composer's death. And
that somehow the safest place to keep this would be in a locked box in the
composer's archive at Klin, where it would be surrounded by his relatives
and academics. In other words, the same people we're told had sworn to
protect Tchaikovsky's reputation by destroying any evidence that his death
wasn't by cholera, were now being trusted to keep this 'evidence' safe for
5) Why is that Mrs Orlova, who had been a staff member at the Klin
Museum before the German occupation, was apparently unaware of existence
of such a box, when it would have been a vital piece of evidence for her
stories about Tchaikovsky's death?
These kinds of stories might appeal to fans of The Da Vinci Code,
but not to anyone interested in hard historical facts. The latter will
find Alexander Poznansky's book Tchaikovsky's Last Days (1995) to
be the last word on the subject.
This is a story and its variations that we have covered many times in
the Forum...I have to agree with Mr Langston and Mr Poznansky's thorough
review of the subject in his book "The Last Days of Tchaikovsky"...some
people are determined to keep this conspiracy of his suicide alive
going...they thrive on gossip and then repeat it and more and more is
added with each retelling...it was Tchaikovsky's habit not to have sexual
relations with notable members of society but unknown members of the lower
classes...this decision was made I believe when he was arrested for
frequenting a gay restaurant in his early twenties..in St
Petersburg.....there were exceptions along the way...but by and large this
is what he adhered to...I see nothing hard to believe in that he
contracted cholera by accident during his last trip to
Petersburg...hundreds of people fell to this disease at this time tho most
of them survived....remember that his own mother died of this disease when
the composer was fourteen in that very city....there was nothing unusual
or exceptional about it...even the composer Borodin contracted this
disease but survived...yes he probably drank a glass of unboiled water
unknowingly as happened to many other unfortunates...
but there are those who no matter what the evidence still are
fascinated by the idea of a conspiracy...again I am reminded of President
Kennedy and the host of conflicting conspiracies surrounding his death...I
think that a greater familiarity with Tchaikovsky's life would dispel some
of these theories...the composer loved life and looked forward to more
successes in his endeavors....he was beloved by the populace at large and
honored by the Tsar himself...knowing all this it is unthinkable for me
that a man such as our composer would mindlessly throw his life away....or
that anyone would compel him to...however no one has come up with a book
of evidence that would contradict what Poznansky has to say...and so it
just seems a lot of unconfirmed blather....
In writing this post, I have wanted (only and exclusively) to arouse
curiosity, as I have done in the past
Often the imagination (as Mr.Gasparo says) is more fulfilling!
How boring know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
...Not even Perry Mason would love!
The history of the casket (as has observed Mr.Langston) is really
strange! But it is very ..."pittoresco" (in Italian).
Did not even want go back on the controversies of long ago, between
Orlova, Poznansky, H.Malcolm Brown, David Bown, Berberova, Olga
Cajkovskaja, Karlinsky addition to the New York press (Paul Griffiths,
Maybe someone could ask "why" Alexandra Orlova wanted to spread this
But for that matter there are those who say that man it has never been
on the moon!
The history you do with the documents, of course.
But when they miss? You have to do it anyway! But how?
In May, 1981, in Milan Teatro alla Scala-I listened to the
"International Convention Mussorgsky" on the centenary of the death of the
musician. Other speakers include: Carl Dahlhaus, Abram Akimovich Gozenpud,
Robert C. Ridenour, Alexei Ivanovich Kandinsky, David Lloyd-Jones, Massimo
Mila, Roman Vlad ... and Alexandra Orlova.
Mrs. Orlova showed up, its contribution to the The Five, which I liked
and found accurate.
But, the thing that struck me was her appearance, her manner of dress
She could to be the character of a work of Rimsky-Korsakov!
During a break I would have liked speak with Mrs. Orlova, asking for
something about the history of the poison of Tchaikovsky ... but obviously
was not the time and I did nothing.
However, short time later, obtained by the press office of the Theatre,
the address of Mrs. Orlova, I wrote to Jersey City, a small, simple
letter, where I asked to Mrs. Orlova some additional explanation.
I have never received an answer, of course.
In the book of David Brown, recently published in Italy :
David Brown,Čajkovskij. Guida alla vita e all'ascolto, 2012. ISBN
978-88-428-1497-9 - original title: Tchaikovsky: The Man and his Music,
2007, Pegasus Books, New York, ISBN 0-571-23194-2, (Italian translation by
Alessandra Burani and Luca Fontana), Basic Books, Milano, 2012
I like this final passage (page 408 Italian edition):
"There have been long discussions filled, often, of acrimony about
these facts and several outbuildings, and the only possible conclusion is
that there will never be given way to know what truly it happened and-more
importantly-because . "
With much gratitude and sorry for my English!
I don't agree with Mr Garganese that rumors are more interesting than
the simple truth.
As far as Tchaikovsky's passing away is concerned, I think there are in
the mean time plenty of informations, proofs and also logical reasons that
he succumbed to uremia caused by severe cholera (and not to a
self-inflicted poisining for whatever silly reason). All these
informations are well-described in Alexander Poznansky's books. However,
regardless of what A. Poznansky (and many other well-informed researchers)
have written on this topic, there is just not any reason for believing
that somebody on this earth would have hated him so much in order to ask
him to kill himself. Also, as far as Tchaikovsky himself is concerned,
even until his final days he had many plans for future travels and also
planned to rework some of his earlier works, which are also very strong
indications against any suggestion that he would have considered a suicide
in these days.
Unfortunately, the baseless rumors spread by Miss Orlova (and a few
other people who wanted to make themselves "interesting") still continue
to haunt the whole world, so that in every other publication or CD booklet
about Tchaikovsky and his works the readers are confronted with these
utterly useless - and I would even say: slandering - rumors.
I really hope that the day will approach when such uninteresting and
misleading rumors will stop once and for all.
Unfortunately, as in the case of Mozart and Salieri, many people still
seem to think that Tchaikovsky needed to have died of unnatural reasons in
order to make him more interesting. I just cannot understand why all these
people are not ready to spend more of their time with the great music of
Tchaikovksy (or with many interesting - and real! - episodes of his life.)
With best regards,
I concur with Mr Muehlemann...I believe he gave an excellent answer to
the whole suicide conspiracy theory which in my mind has no legs to stand
on...except for his statement of the fact that people are not intrigued by
fantasy more than reality....since his death all manner of suicide
fantasies have come into being and people believed in them and still
do..they cant get over the idea long since demolished as far as I'm
concerned that the composer died a mysterious death and that some
authority or other is trying to hide the facts....this last one about a
hidden casket being a case in point...the BBC especially has come forward
with these mysterious plots...I refer specifically to Holden's hosting a
show in a review of the suicide theory in Mr Garganese's last entry in the
post "Who Killed Tchaikovsky? BBC Documentary"..where you have respected
authors and musicians and caretakers spouting the suicide idea as if its
to be taken for granted...among these are the eminent biographer David
Brown, conductor/pianist Vladimir Ashkenazi, Madame Orlova again, and the
host Holden...who make you think this suicide nonsense is perfectly
respectable....but you cant have it both ways...you cant say in one breath
that Tchaikovsky was already planning his death when he wrote the
Pathetique and then almost a year later say he was commanded to kill
himself via this Court of Honor....the two having nothing to do with one
another...it is well known that the composer completely sketched out the
symphony between February and March of 1893....then he put it aside and in
April he wrote the 18 piano pieces op 72...for the purpose of earning some
cash as he put it...shortly after he wrote his last six songs...in May he
went to Cambridge to receive his honorary doctorate in music...July was
spent in visiting friends and relatives, August was mostly spent in
orchestrating his Pathetique Symphony...by early September he had visited
Hamburg to attend Mahler's production of Iolanta...during that month he
worked on arranging the aborted Sixth Symphony of 1892 into a piano
concerto,,completing only the first movement of the later...he also had
many requests to conduct in various parts of Europe for the coming
year....this does not sound like the moribund, morbid, grim,humorless
person portrayed in some of the BBC bios about the composer...this does
not sound like a man disillusioned with life and so depressed he is
thinking of suicide nor does it indicate that this international celebrity
would incur the hatred by some to want him dead...you have to know what an
active life Tchaikovsky was living at the time...hardly had any time for
himself as he went from place to place conducting and being feted
over...yes he did write a tragic symphony to release some of the demons
that were haunting him...and turned his pain into a work of art...look how
many funeral marches there are in Mahler's Symphonies triggered by his
early childhood experiences where he saw a number of his siblings
die...and out of this gloom and depression he creates works of great
beauty..again here too Mahler loved life and was looking forward to give
up conducting and devote the rest of his life to composing...the reason
for his coming to America...that's art...how to turn the lemon that is
life into a lemonade...art is an affirmation that in spite of the many
hurts and pains of life one can still turn this into a work of beauty..
Have a good day,
I want to add in reference to the Pathetique Symphony..when the
composer had finished sketching out the work he turned to his friends and
associates and said....never before have I been so proud of one my
works...this is the best piece I've ever written or ever will write....I
have renewed faith in myself as a composer...(I paraphrase)...having said
this one can see that the composition of the Pathetique was not one of
mourning but of rejoicing....how then can this work be affiliated with
suicide?...it is true it had a so so reception..partly due to the
composers fault...but two weeks later after his death the work was
performed again and this time received accolades which continue to this
day...after the performance many wept at the sudden loss of the composer
and also the dirge like quality of the composition...as one would
I fully agree with Albert Gasparo's observations.
Also, what is often somewhat forgotten is the fact that though the
Sixth Symphony was the last of Tchaikovsky's work to be publicly performed
under his baton during his lifetime, it would be wrong to consider this as
being his last composition. In the mean time he had been composing some
new works - among them the 6 Romances, op. 73 - which are of an entire
different nature than his Sixth Symphony. Especially the Third Piano
Concerto (of which, unfortunately, he himself could only finish the first
movement) is of a much "happier" nature than the last movement of his
Also, although Tchaikovsky had been very satisfied with his Sixth
Symphony as a whole he was - according to Nikolaj Kashkin's memories (and
I think to have read this in other documents, too) - seriously considering
to rework (or even completely change) the last movement of his Sixth
Symphony, i.e. just the movement which must be considered the most saddest
and most requiem-like not only of this Symphony, but of all of
Of course, the fact that Tchaikovsky died suddenly after the
performance of the Sixth Symphony - with its original fourth movement -
can easily lead to misguided conclusions by ill-informed people that
Tchaikovsky must have had a foreboding about his imminent demise, not
dissimilar from what many people think about Mozart and his Requiem.
But what would the people have thought, then, if instead of the Sixth
Symphony, the Nutcracker Ballet (which Tchaikovsky had just composed a
year before...) with its so happy and cheerful music would have been the
last of Tchaikovsky's major works being performed? If the chronology of
his works would have been different - i.e. with the Nutcracker Ballet and
not the Sixth Symphony - being the last of his major works performed,
then, most probably, there would hardly be anybody wanting to believe the
misguided rumours about anything unnatural in this great composer's death.