Home > Forum > Tchaikovsky and the orchestrion

Tchaikovsky and the orchestrion

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 fiction.

I have, however, found mention of the orchestrion in the following books:

  • The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky - Modest Tchaikovsky (page 12)
  • Tchaikovsky - The Quest for the Inner Man - Alexander Poznansky (page 7)
  • 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 recent (2009):

"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 other sacrifices."

Philip de Vos
Cape Town - South Africa
22/07/2013 15:38

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!

Brett Langston
22/07/2013 21:13

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 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 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!....

Thank You,

Albert Gasparo
23/07/2013 04:37

Mr Gasparo

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
23/07/2013 15:56

Thank you Mr de Vos for your article explaining the origins of this piano of 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' 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 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,

Albert Gasparo
24/07/2013 03:44

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