Sunday, 5 May 2019


Tchaikovsky's entire oeuvre has been digitized. Access the archive here.
Add the iconic Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky to the growing list of composers who joined the digital age long after death.

Representatives of the Pyotr Tchaikovsky International Charitable Foundation and Muzyka Publishing House recently announced the digitization of the complete works of the 19th century romantic icon, which are presently available in the composers' native tongue on the Foundation's website - a version in English is set to follow later this year.

The virtual treasure trove of scores are derived from both scholar and composer submissions which had been entered into a 63 "fundamental edition" volumes published by the Muzyka Publishing House over some five decades, beginning in 1940 and concluding in 1990.

The digitization process was both a massive and laborious undertaking – over the span of “several years” experts scoured over each and every one of the 63 volumes of collected works for any errant inaccuracies, and, where necessary, restored and cited their corrections.

Speaking through the organization's press service, Foundation President and General Director of Muzyka publishing Mark Zilberkvit referred to the project as one which bears a “significance of which [it] is difficult to overestimate.” “It is important,” he continued, “that the complete works appear in the public domain. Now all professionals and amateurs can access the music."

The archive may be accessed here.

Listen below to the Münchner Philharmonie perform the gorgeous andante cantabile of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony (op. 64 in E minor) conducted by maestro Celibidache (movement 2 begins at 18:42):

Did You Know?

Pyotr's younger brother
Modest provided a source
of comfort for the often
melancholic composer to
air his grievances.
As undeniably stunning as Tchaikovsky's 5th is, the composer had not thought of commencing work on writing a new symphony until the spring of 1888, some ten years following a period of apathetic self-doubt following the disastrous 1878 premiere of his 4th symphony, which had been widely critically panned.

Pyotr first made mention of his intention in letters to his brother Modest and benefactress/confidante Nadezhda von Meck to spend the spring and summer months of 1888 composing at Frolovskoye, just outside of Kiln. A sense of personal vacillation during this process had not evaded him, and was clearly evident in his correspondence to Modest and Frau von Meck, in which the composer flip-flopped between perspectives, both pessimistic and optimistic.

On the 27th May 1888, he wrote to his younger brother:

“[it's now] mid/late May, [yet] I've still not yet made a start, because I've been working on various proofs. But I can honestly say that the urge to create has deserted me. What does this mean? Am I really written out? I've no ideas or inspiration whatsoever!"

This was followed three days later with a soupçon more hope: 

"Now I am gradually, and with some difficulty, squeezing a symphony out of my dulled brain." 

By the 22nd of June, Pyotr would lament in an exchange with the patroness von Meck that inspiration” had “deserted [him] completely."

After toiling for some three months, Tchaikovsky had at last found himself humbled by his work, telling the benefactress: 

“Now, as the symphony nears its end, I can view it objectively, and at the culmination of the work I must say that, thank God, it is no worse than my previous ones. This accomplishment means a great deal to me!!"  

Pyotr even went so far as to later proclaim 

“My symphony is ready, and I think that I have not miscalculated, that it has turned out well."

Critical feedback for Tchaikovsky's 5th was swift, and very much mixed: whilst praised by those in the composer's inner circle following the Moscow premiere in December 1888 (which the composer himself conducted – the first orchestral performance having been held in St. Petersburg one month prior) as possibly his “best work," the demand for the symphony was wholly underwhelming back in St. Petersburg and in Prague, where a mere three performances were held (twice in the Russian Imperial capital and only once in the Czech republic) prompting Tchaikovsky to lament his misfortune in a letter of characteristic self loathing to von Meck:

"With each day that passes I am increasingly certain that my last symphony is not a successful work, and the realisation that it is unsuccessful (or perhaps that my powers are declining) is very distressing to me. The symphony is too colourful, massive, insincere, drawn out and on the whole very unsympathetic... Am I indeed, as they say, written out?... If so, then this is terrible. Whether my misgivings are mistaken or not, regrettably I have concluded that the symphony written in 1888 is poorer than the one written in 1877."

It would take a successful performance in Hamburg in March of 1889 to sate Tchaikovsky's doubts as to his compositional ability (and of his reservations regarding beauty of the 5th itself.) He quietly raved over the concert in exchanges with both Modest and his trusted nephew, Vladimir Daydov:

"The musicians took to the music more and more each time the symphony was played. At rehearsals there was general enthusiasm, flourishes, etc. The concert also went excellently. As a result, I no longer have a bad opinion of the symphony, and like it once more... The Fifth Symphony was again performed magnificently, and I have started to love it again; my earlier judgement was undeservedly harsh..." 

Theodore Avé-Lallemant
Perhaps aiding in Tchaikovsky's change in perception lay in the encouragement of the works' dedicatee - Pyotr dedicated his 5th to Theodore Avé-Lallemant, then Chief Director of the Philharmonic Society, of whose acquaintance the composer first made shortly after his arrival in Hamburg in January 1888, where the composer was scheduled to conduct a concert of his own music at the Philharmonie (the program included his Serenade for String Orchestra, the Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Theme and Variations from Suite No. 3.) Herr Avé-Lallemant, who was known for his criticism of much of Tchaikovsky's oeuvre, was nevertheless so bowled over by Tchaikovsky's potential (as a potential future "German" composer), that he made arrangements for a private meeting with Pyotr two days following the performance, to be held in his home, where he surprised Tchaikovsky with a request that the composer emigrate to the country.

Writing in his memoirs, Tchaikovsky recalled the moment he received the unexpected request:

"First of all I should mention the chief director of the Philharmonic Society, the aged Herr Avé-Lallemant. This most venerable old man of over eighty paid me great attention and treated me with paternal affection. In spite of his age and frailness, as well as the long distance from his house, he attended my two rehearsals, the concert, and even Dr Bernuth's reception [after the concert]. In his extraordinary kindness he went so far as to request some photographs of me, which were to be taken by the best photographer in Hamburg. He even called on me to ask about this and arranged an appointment when I could pose for the photographer, as well as deciding on my behalf what size and format the photographs should be produced in. When I then visited this kindly old gentleman, who passionately loves music and who, as should be obvious to the reader, is quite free from that aversion which many old people have against everything that has been written in recent times, I had a very lengthy and interesting conversation with him.

Herr Avé-Lallemant openly confessed that there was a lot in those works of mine which had been performed in Hamburg that wasn't to his liking; that he could not stand my noisy instrumentation; that he hated some of the orchestral effects which I resorted to (especially with regard to the percussion), but that all the same he saw in me the makings of a good, truly German composer. Almost with tears in his eyes he exhorted me to leave Russia and to settle permanently in Germany, where the classical traditions and the general atmosphere of a higher culture would not fail to correct me and rid me of those deficiencies which he felt were easily accountable by the fact that I was born and grew up in a country which was still so unenlightened and backward when compared to Germany as regards progress.

Evidently, Herr Avé-Lallemant harbours a deep prejudice against Russia, and I tried as far as I could to mitigate his hostile feelings towards our country, which, incidentally, this venerable Russophobe did not actually express openly, but merely allowed to shine through in his words. We parted as great friends."

Unfortunately for Tchaikovsky, the warm reception awarded the composer following the performance at the Hamburg Philharmonie in March the following year (which the composer himself also conducted) went un-witnessed by the director, who had taken ill and was thus unable to attend the concert.


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