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Another mystery?

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 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. ".

Antonio Garganese
08/07/2013 13:09

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 Tchaikovsky.

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 letter. "

Antonio Garganese
08/07/2013 23:33

Hello Antonio,

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 following:

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 deceased.

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 100 years!

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.

Brett Langston
09/07/13 11:55

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 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 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....

Albert Gasparo
09/07/2013 20:25

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, 1992).

Maybe someone could ask "why" Alexandra Orlova wanted to spread this story ...

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!

Antonio Garganese
10/07/2013 22:33

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,

Guido Muehlemann
11/07/2013 15:33

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 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 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 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 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 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 to turn the lemon that is life into a 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,

Albert Gasparo
11/07/2013 18:33

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 then can this work be affiliated with suicide? 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 one would expect...

Albert Gasparo
11/07/2013 19:18

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 Sixth Symphony.

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 Tchaikovsky's creations.

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.

Guido Mühlemann
12/07/2013 14:23

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