Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) in 1874
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) in 1874

By way of review: Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was a homosexual with a predilection for cross-dressing and teenaged boys. In May of 1877, around the time of his 37th birthday on May 7, he received a letter from one Antonina Milyukova – a former student at the Moscow Conservatory, where Tchaikovsky taught – professing her undying love for him. Tchaikovsky hadn’t a clue of who she was, and he blew her off. But Ms. Milyukova would not be blown off (what at first seemed a schoolgirl crush turned out to be full-blown mental illness), and within a few short weeks, Tchaikovsky, in a moment of epic self-delusion (and hoping to deflect rumors of his homosexuality), actually agreed to marry her!

Antonina (1849-1917) and Peter, summer 1877
Antonina (1849-1917) and Peter, summer 1877

As all of this was happening in the late spring and early summer of 1877, Tchaikovsky was initiating a regular correspondence with a fabulously wealthy widow nine years his senior named Nadezhda von Meck. Unlike Antonina, who didn’t know a note of Tchaikovsky’s music, Madame von Meck worshipped Tchaikovsky for his music.

Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda von Meck (1831-1894)

Tchaikovsky and Antonina Milyukova were married on July 18, 1877, some nine weeks after Tchaikovsky received that first letter from Antonia. The marriage was a disaster from the first, and by early October, Tchaikovsky’s despair had brought him to his breaking point. Convinced that suicide was the only way out, he waded into the freezing cold Moscow River in the hope that he would, in his own words:

“Die from pneumonia or some respiratory illness.”

Death by wading? Tchaikovsky didn’t even catch a cold. Which made no difference, because a few days later, on October 7, 1877, Tchaikovsky was reported to have suffered “a complete emotional collapse.” His attending doctor ordered a complete rest, a change of scenery, and insisted that under no circumstances should he ever see his wife again. (For our information: evidence has emerged that Tchaikovsky’s reported “complete emotional collapse” was just another of his bouts of nervous hysteria and that there was no “attending physician” who insisted that he never see his wife again. Rather, it appears that Tchaikovsky and his brothers Modest and Anatoly concocted the doctor’s report to deflect any blame or criticism towards Tchaikovsky for abandoning his new bride. It was left to Tchaikovsky’s brother Anatoly and his friend and mentor Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881) to break the news to Antonina.…

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