This morning I listened with great interest to the first episode
broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of Tchaikovsky as composer of the week.
Two facts mentioned in this episode intrigued me. Firstly that
Tchaikovsky was born with some abscess of the head. I haven't encountered
this fact before. Is there more information somewhere? Incidentally, I
have also read that Mozart was born with a deformed ear.
The second fact mentioned was about the orchestrion - an elaborate type
of music box from which Tchaikovsky first heard the music of Mozart.
According to the compiler of the programme, this might, however, be
I have, however, found mention of the orchestrion in the following
- The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky - Modest Tchaikovsky
- Tchaikovsky - The Quest for the Inner Man - Alexander Poznansky
- Tchaikovsky through Others' Eyes - Alexander Poznansky (page 2)
- Tchaikovsky - The Early Years - David Brown (page 27)
- Tchaikovsky - John Warrack (page 23)
- Tchaikovsky - Roland John Wiley (page 6)
I quote from page 6 of Roland John Wiley's book which seems the most
"Modest possessed the letter in which Ilya Petrovich (Tchaikovsky's
father) instructed his wife Alexandra to spend 700 or 800 rubles - a huge
sum in 1844 - on its repair in St. Petersburg even if it meant making
Philip de Vos
Cape Town - South Africa
1) Yes, there was an orchestion in the family home at Votkinsk and
Alapayevsk. It's very well documented.
2) No, Tchaikovsky didn't suffer from "abscess of the head". This
misunderstanding comes from the fact that when Tchaikovsky was young it
was suspected for a while that he might have inherited the epilepsy which
ran in his mother's family. Back in the 19th century epilepsy was believed
to be caused by "lesions" in the brain.
I haven't heard today's programme yet, but you have me worred Philip!
I ask this of the Forum staff..I heard the orchestrion as it is
preserved in Votkinsk playing various airs in one of the BBC programs...is
it true this is the very instrument that Tchaikovsky heard as a child or a
duplicate?....I also saw the piano the composer played as a child in
Votkinsk...are these artifacts true or fake replacements? If they are
genuine, its a wonder they survived all these years.. What would be nice
would be if the apartment where Tchaikovsky died at 13 Malaya Morskaya,
St.Petersburg, should be converted into a museum using as much as possible
the composers or Modest's own belongings...or artifacts from a similar
period...but so far this has not been seen as viable...I can see some of
the problems it would entail...after all this is an apartment house still
in use..it might be resented to have all these strangers tramping in and
out of their building for the need of the occupiers for peace and
privacy.....we were able to get a look inside this apartment thanks to Mr.
Holden's programs on the composer on the BBC .. at the time four families
were living there!....
I have just come across the following article published in 2003 in the
New York Times about the piano in the Tchaikovsky museum at Votkinsk:
Philip de Vos
Thank you Mr de Vos for your article explaining the origins of this
piano of Tchaikovsky...it is in terrible shape and to restore it would
take a lot more than the museum is alloted for restoration projects..the
instrument is 150 years old but it is not the original piano that was at
Votkinsk..this piano was bought when the family moved to St Petersburg in
the 1850's....so at least that issue is solved....the next one would be
whether the orchestrion now sitting in the family home of Votkinsk is an
original object or not.....after the composers death this piano along with
other artifacts were moved to the museum at Klin..so the present
instrument did not get to Votkinsk till Stalin took a personal interest in
these matters in 1940...the grand piano now sitting in the parlor at Klin
was given to Tchaikovsky as a gift in 1875 by the Becker piano company..
Have a good day,