Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Tchaikovsky: Two Women and a Symphony

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) in 1874, age 34
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) in 1874, age 34

We mark the premiere on February 22, 1878 – 143 years ago today – of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor in a concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow, under the baton of Nicolai Rubinstein.

The story of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and the two women that inspired it is a fascinating one, a story that desperately wants to be told in some detail. Therefore, I am stretching it across two posts: today’s Music History Monday and tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes.

Tchaikovsky at 37

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) celebrated his 37th birthday on May 7, 1877. He was a man with many secrets and many fears: a cross-dressing homosexual with a penchant for teenaged boys living and working in one of the most homophobic societies ever: Tsarist Russia. Not surprisingly given his sexuality and the dangers it created for him, Tchaikovsky was over-sensitive to a fault, given to anxiety attacks, extended bouts of weeping, deep self-loathing and dependence on alcohol and tobacco.

Moscow, circa 1860
Moscow, circa 1860

At the time of his 37th birthday Tchaikovsky was living in Moscow (where he taught at the Moscow Conservatory) and had begun sketching his fourth symphony.

It was at this moment in time that – out of the blue – a letter arrived for Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky later told his friend Nicholai Kashkin:

“It was a longish letter containing a declaration of love for me, signed by one Antonina Milyukova, who said she had fallen in love with me some years before when she was a student at the Conservatory.”

Antonina who? … continue reading, only on Patreon!

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