This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Tchaikovsky by John Hamilton Warrack

Tchaikovsky (1973)

by John Hamilton Warrack

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
203763,809 (3.75)1



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 1 mention

Showing 3 of 3
John Warrack


Hamish Hamilton, Hardback, 1973.

4to. 287 pp. Comprehensive List of Works [271-9]. Index [284-7]. Family trees of Tchaikovsky, Davidov and Frolovsky-Meck on the endpapers. 29 colour plates, numerous black-and-white illustrations.

First published, 1973.


List of Colour Plates

Childhood: 1840–55
The Young Composer: 1855–68
First Successes: 1868–74
The Growth of Talent: 1874–7
Crisis: 1877
New Mastery: 1877–8
The Mature Composer: 1879–84
Country Life: 1885–7
Travels and the Break: 1888–90
Fame: 1890–3
The End: 1893

Comprehensive List of Works
Select Bibliography
Liszt and Sources of Illustrations


Though now more than 40 years old, this book remains a fine introduction to Tchaikovsky’s life and music. I have found it decidedly superior to David Brown’s Tchaikovsky (2006), a similar one-volume introduction but much less lavishly illustrated. Mr Warrack also seems to know a good deal about nineteenth-century Russian music, literature and history, and he also writes for the lay public. But he is less self-conscious and more perceptive, even though his long and somewhat convoluted sentences make for a somewhat slow read. He is certainly more appreciative of Tchaikovsky’s music. The text is rather extensive for a lavishly illustrated volume and it does hold its 43 years remarkably well. There is very little new material in Mr Brown’s volume and none of it is terribly revealing.

Mr Warrack strikes a fine balance between life and work. The historical background, except for the Introduction, is sketchy but sufficient. Tchaikovsky’s life was eventful but hardly adventurous, yet Mr Warrack keeps the story moving and seldom resorts to dry listing of facts. The large-scale works, symphonies, operas, ballets, some of the tone poems and even the orchestral suites, are discussed in considerable detail and always put in the all-important context of Tchaikovsky’s personality and development. Mr Warrack even provides synopses for the stage works. One of his ideas I found most fascinating was that Tchaikovsky, always on the look for operatic subjects, had little feeling for the stage and his attention was usually attracted by a single emotionally-charged scene, an intimate one as he derided grand opera, and that’s why the music of his operas (excepting Onegin) is uneven and often accompanied by trashy libretti. Tchaikovsky’s attitude to his compositions, violently changing from one extreme to the other, is vividly presented by excerpts from his letters. So is his complex, contradictory and sometimes downright bewildering personality. “As ever with him”, Mr Warrack writes in one of his not so rare flashes of insight, “a certain relish in self-reproach went together with genuine self-awareness and a cutting honesty.”

Though sympathetic, the author is no sycophant. When Tchaikovsky blatantly cajoles a jury to make sure his composition would win a contest, he is frankly told that “the affair was not one on which [he] could congratulate himself.” Tchaikovsky’s notoriously wrong opinions of his colleagues are rightly judged quite a bit wide of the mark. He liked Brahms the man, but he intensely disliked his music. He knew Wagner was doing something extraordinary at Bayreuth, but he couldn’t respond to it at all. He adored Mozart for all the wrong reasons and probably never really realised the depth of the great Salzburger. Bizet’s Carmen is just about the only place where he got it right, history-wise. Perhaps most perceptively of all, Mr Warrack speculates that his boundless admiration for Delibes was “the not infrequent composer’s habit of fastening with articulate enthusiasm upon the petit maître while arguing against those who are substantial enough to represent serious rivalry or superiority.” The beautiful thing is that Mr Warrack observes Tchaikovsky’s foibles without harping on them. On the contrary, more often than not he explains and condones them. Those opinions of his colleagues, for example, are only too natural to come from a composer who was never a critic and liked best what he could do best himself.[1]

Mr Warrack is not afraid of trying to enter the heads of the people closest to Tchaikovsky too, and he is generally very successful in this dangerous endeavour. Sometimes he even allows himself some humour in the process. I couldn’t help smiling when I read of Antonina, Tchaikovsky’s mentally disturbed wife who was certified insane in 1896, “continuing to nurse delusions that of all the famous men who were in love with her the most ardent was Tchaikovsky” or that Balakirev, a far greater meddler than a composer, was “never happier than when he was writing his friends’ compositions for them”. These remarks are as funny as they are incisive. Tchaikovsky’s complex relationship with the Rubinstein brothers is shrewdly dissected. He admired both immensely, but the feeling was not always reciprocated. Nikolay Rubinstein, the founder of the Moscow Conservatory, was exhaustively cordial and hospitable, but he liked people to be dependent on him and his friendship could become oppressive. Anton Rubinstein, the founder of the St Petersburg Conservatory, was probably jealous of Tchaikovsky’s massive success as a composer. He was far better known as one of the greatest pianists of his time. So is he today. He was a prolific but profoundly mediocre composer. Even in Russia they don’t perform his works anymore.

Mr Warrack is particularly excellent on the strange relationship with Nadezhda von Meck. It continued for nearly 14 years and some 1200 letters, yet they never met (except a few times accidentally) and they never spoke face to face (though they exchanged extravagant compliments on paper). This is a case study that every student of human nature, including the professional psychiatrist, must relish. It was the ideal relationship for an intensely reserved homosexual like Tchaikovsky. Mr Warrack suggests that von Meck, being decidedly the more ardent party, probably hoped for something more in time, but her gentle epistolary advances were courteously rebuffed. Oddly enough, what really consolidated their relationship and turned it into an intimate exchange was her setting an allowance on him. Some idealistic fans of the composer find it hard to bear that he was actually kept by a woman for years, but Mr Warrack analyses the predicament with great understanding, if with some unnecessary repetition as well:

The financial security produced by the pension which she soon allowed him, so far from being an embarrassment to their pure relationship, afforded it a practical basis: she could feel she was setting her wealth to work in a way that gave her the satisfaction of involving her in music, while he was given a prompt to composition and enabled to avoid the feeling that he was merely a rich woman’s emotional plaything. His need for a woman to whom he could stand in some kind of relationship was answered by the arrangement, and her stipulation that they should not meet naturally avoided the need for carrying the relationship onto any kind of physical level. For two lonely, unusual and unhappy people it was a solution that provided each with great contentment; and though the tone of the letters is emotional, not to say gushing, and the protestations of devotion hysterical on her part, with sometimes a rather touching girlishness hinting at her emotional inexperience, and on his strained and (he privately admitted) at times cynically insincere, it should be remembered that each was thereby provided with the deepest emotional relationship that their lives were to produce.

As far as the financial side of their relationship was concerned Nadezhda von Meck found that matters were far from simple. Though willing to accept reasonable, even generous, payment for arrangements or original works which she wanted for her own pleasure, Tchaikovsky was unwilling to compromise his artistic conscience by turning out music which was demanded in detail by her (he was reluctant to fulfil her request for a piece for violin and piano to be entitled ‘The Reproach’) and too proud to accept for his work a ludicrously exaggerated fee that was thinly disguised charity. Yet when she decided openly to make him regular allowances, he was happy to accept; and in the same letter, only the fifth which he wrote her, in which he delicately refuses her commission for ‘The Reproach’ for fear that without inspiration he would be returning false metal for true, he asks her for a loan of 3000 rubles – the equivalent of a year’s salary. He was in debt to this extent, partly due to his inability to manage his affairs, partly through a natural generosity which led to his giving away money almost casually when he did find himself briefly solvent.
[…] Improvident but proud, he would naturally find a regular arrangement with Nadezhda von Meck which was open and which, he sensed, gave her pleasure, or even a direct loan whose repayment he conscientiously planned by various methods, preferable to ill-concealed charity by over-subsidizing works for which he had no enthusiasm.

Now and then, however, Mr Warrack commits all original sins of writers about music. For example, he wastes a good deal of space with musical description which is entirely useless. The two pages dedicated to the Pathétique are excruciating. He has some strange ideas of vocabulary, too. What does “subjective symphony” mean? Is there any other kind? If objective symphonies ever existed, they certainly haven’t survived into the standard repertoire. The symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler are every bit as subjective as those of Mozart and Beethoven. Sometimes Mr Warrack becomes too technical, as in his meaningless (to me) analysis of the key structure of Swan Lake. Even when he is quite comprehensible to the layman, he is often useless. Consider this description of one movement from the Third Suite:

Entitled ‘Quasi Rondo’, it attempts to combine sonata and rondo forms by first expounding two themes as if in sonata form, then abandoning them for a central section as if the episode in a rondo, and finally bringing the opening music back in rondo fashion but with the material modified in sonata fashion.

This may serve to make you look very knowledgeable in the eyes of your musically ignorant friends, but it tells you absolutely nothing important about the music or the composer. Nor do the two pages about the Pathétique. Even when the author is at his provocative best, I’m not sure it is to the reader’s benefit to accept his philosophical speculations. Consider the stimulating discussion of Fate in the last three symphonies:

With his last work, Tchaikovsky completes the triptych of symphonies that deal with his obsession with a personal Fate that had always haunted his life. In the Fourth, Fate had been represented by a violent, merciless theme, void of any expressive harmony at first and eventually set aside in the finale claiming solace in the life of the peasants. In the Fifth, Fate had become Providence, a more sympathetic concept and one accompanied by humanizing harmony, though this, too, proved fundamentally hostile and was subjected to a still less convincing defeat. Tchaikovsky had immediately sensed the hollow nature of that victory, and in his last symphony he finally faces up to the truth about his nature and his failure to master Fate. […] It is clearly to be a symphony of defeat.

This is interesting and plausible. But I am inclined to think that Mr Warrack takes Tchaikovsky’s “programs”, not to mention his self-deprecatory comments, a little too seriously. Believe it or not, I had reached pretty much the same general conclusion long before I read this book. Yet words in this case can only degrade music. I had also thought of a million other things in regard to these symphonies. Over the years, with every new listening and with every new extra-musical experience, my concept of this mighty triptych has grown and changed. Finally, it has become far too big for mere verbal expression. I can’t put it into words. And even if I could, I would not. Art is a person-to-person communication. It doesn’t work by proxy.

Since Mr Warrack is so well-versed in Fate (or “Fatum” as Tchaikovsky called it), it is all the more surprising that he carelessly propagates some of the common misconceptions about the music. The most annoying example is the old chestnut that the opening theme of Romeo and Juliet is supposed to represent Friar Laurence. Who said so? Well, Tchaikovsky did in one of his letters, but only to flatter Balakirev that it was his idea. Balakirev, for his part, declared himself dissatisfied with the theme. As so often happens, it’s not the theme that matters but its development. It opens gently on the woodwinds, but later it does appear several times fortissimo in the brass, including one unforgettable moment with the trumpets blasting it with full force. If there is Fate in Tchaikovsky’s oeuvre at all, implacable and merciless Fate, this is it. Nor is it hard to understand how Tchaikovsky could have seen the hand of Fate in Shakespeare’s play. The same is true of Hamlet, by the way.

One specific sin in regard to Tchaikovsky which Mr Warrack commits is calling homosexuality “the central emotional fact of his life” and “a powerful formative influence on his art”. Modern scholarship tends to disagree. Alexander Poznansky, in his biographical essay written for Tchaikovsky Research[2], argues that the attitude to homosexuality in nineteenth-century Russia was more relaxed and tolerant than it has hitherto been recognised. Therefore, Tchaikovsky’s presumed terror of discovery and social scandal makes little sense. Moreover, Mr Poznansky continues, there is every reason to believe that Tchaikovsky considered his homosexuality as something reversible and, when after his disastrous marriage he realised it wasn’t, he accepted it with calm and resignation. In short, the role of homosexuality in Tchaikovsky’s life has been greatly overestimated based on false assumptions.

Tchaikovsky’s much bigger problems, of which Mr Warrack is well aware, were his unhealthy preoccupation with Fate with capital “F”, his pathological shyness with strangers, his insecurity and hypersensitivity, his bouts of depression and self-pity, his craving for success yet abhorrence of public decorations and acclaim. Mr Warrack seems to imply that homosexuality was the major cause of all this in the first place. That doesn’t hold water. According to the testimony of Fanny Dürbach, a beloved French nanny, the future composer was an extremely sensitive child ready to burst into tears at the smallest provocation. Other childhood experiences like the death of his beloved mother, living with relatives he didn’t know or didn’t like, and his lonesome time at boarding school may well have contributed to Tchaikovsky’s becoming a loner.[3] The nine years (1850–59) at the School of Jurisprudence (not to be confused with the Schmelling School in which Pyotr had been a boarder before) “must have enhanced Tchaikovsky's innate homosexual sensibilities”[4], but these still seem to me, at best, of secondary importance.

Even if we assume that Mr Poznansky does underestimate the importance of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality, there is more than enough in his childhood to support a tentative theory of its being of far lesser importance than generally recognised. It is to Mr Warrack’s credit that he makes a poor case, indeed, of homosexuality being “the central emotional fact of his life” and “a powerful formative influence on his art”. It is seldom mentioned and then only in strictly biographical context. It is never claimed to be essential for understanding Tchaikovsky’s music, the mainspring of his art, or other nonsense to that effect. So far as I can tell, Mr Warrack does not even imply such thing – which is more than can be said of some other “scholars”.[5]

One sin Mr Warrack shares (to a lesser degree, fortunately) with Mr Brown is the unreasonably negative attitude to some of Tchaikovsky’s works. He boldly declares the obvious, namely that Manfred is “one of the great programme symphonies of the nineteenth century”, and he often says this or that work (e.g. the Third Suite, Hamlet) should be better known than it is, but for all that Mr Warrack often gives me the impression of criticising with relish and praising with grudge. In some tortured and not altogether lucid way he implies that the finale of the Fourth Symphony does not fit with the rest, evidently taking Tchaikovsky’s famous “program” way too literally. Of course the finale of the Fifth is disappointing, we all know that. He barely mentions showpieces like Marche slave and 1812, as if he were afraid he would catch some terrible disease should he talk more about them. Perhaps Mr Warrack was wise to refrain from comment. Consider this one on Tchaikovsky’s third great showpiece:

The Capriccio’s assembly of several Italian folk and street songs and bugle calls, at times almost suggesting a parody of the simplest Verdi, haphazardly constructed and blatantly scored, has indeed come to adorn the repertory, but not his reputation.

This is simply ridiculous. “Haphazardly constructed”? “Blatantly scored”? Not even close! Let me tell you a secret. Capriccio italien is one of Tchaikovsky’s sublime masterpieces. I am not joking. I am perfectly serious. It was intended to be “merely” a showpiece. It is idiotic to complain that it’s nothing more. It aims at cheerful relaxation. It achieves that splendidly, for I know of no case when it was played well in the concert hall and it didn’t get tumultuous applause. Not a single theme of it is by Tchaikovsky himself (the opening fanfare was reportedly a bugle call he heard from the nearby barracks), but the construction and the orchestration could not possibly have been done by any other composer of the late nineteenth century. This is pure genius. Tchaikovsky far surpassed Glinka’s Spanish fantasias which he claimed he had used as a model. The only problem with the piece is that it is extremely difficult to perform, requiring as it does a conductor who can let his hair down, an orchestra that can manage the virtuoso scoring, and acoustics (or an audio engineer in case of recordings) that can capture its exuberance. Surely none of this is Tchaikovsky’s problem. He can’t be blamed if his performers can’t keep up with him.

Last, least and just occasionally, Mr Warrack also writes some embarrassing nonsense: “Possibly Carmen appealed to the French blood which he had inherited from his grandmother.” Fortunately for the author and his readers, such sentences are rare.

Not surprisingly, the best parts of the book come from the subject himself. Tchaikovsky’s letters are some of the most fascinating ever written by any composer. All biographers have made extensive use of them and Mr Warrack is no exception. He manages well the humble function of editor who simply selects and comments on the primary evidence. You won’t find here any of Tchaikovsky’s naughty letters[6], either because they were not available at the time of writing or (less likely) because Mr Warrack did not find space for them, but you will find more or less complete his letter to Nadezhda von Meck written a few days after his, to put it mildly, unsuccessful marriage. Not the least remarkable thing about Tchaikovsky is his astonishing capacity for self-analysis. If only he had carried this one step further into his actions! He knew perfectly well that he had married a stupid woman out of misplaced chivalry. He had foolishly encouraged her advances, but when she fell for him he had not the resolution to reject her.[7]

Far more interesting are Tchaikovsky’s reflections on music, of which there is a great deal in his correspondence with Nadezhda von Meck. Nobody has ever described Tchaikovsky’s working methods, including the elusive term “inspiration”, better than Tchaikovsky himself. Mr Warrack notes with a fine touch of healthy scepticism that the composer may well be giving a deliberately romanticised account to his benefactress, but he does add, wisely, that Tchaikovsky’s main points remain none the less true for that:

In general it is suddenly and in an unexpected shape that the seed of a future work appears. If the soil is receptive, i.e. if it is disposed to work, this seed takes root with astonishing force and swiftness, shows itself above the ground, puts out a little stalk, leaves, twigs and finally flowers. I can most precisely describe the creative process by means of this metaphor. The great problem is that the seed must appear in favourable conditions. The rest looks after itself. It is useless trying to find words to describe to you the unbounded sense of bliss that overcomes me when a new main idea appears and begins to take definite form. I forget everything, I behave like a madman, trembling and shaking in every limb, with scarcely time to jot down the sketches, so quickly do thoughts pursue one another. In the middle of this magic process it sometimes happens that an outside shock wakes me from this state of somnambulism. Someone rings the bell, the servant enters, the clock strikes and reminds me that I must be about my business. The interruptions are hard, inexpressibly hard. Sometimes inspiration flies away for quite some time; one must seek it again, often in vain. Very often a completely cold, rational technical process must be employed. Perhaps it is for this reason that in the great masters themselves it is possible to detect where there is a lack of organic coherence, where one notices the seams, bits of completely artificial coherence. But it’s impossible otherwise. If that state of the artist’s soul which we call inspiration, and which I have tried to describe to you, should continue uninterrupted, it would be impossible to survive a single day. The strings would snap and the instrument shatter to pieces! Only one thing is essential: that the main idea and the general outline of all the separate parts appear not by means of searching, but of their own accord, as the result of that supernatural, inscrutable and wholly inexplicable force which we call inspiration...[8]


Sometimes inspiration vanishes, and is not recaptured. But I consider it an artist’s duty never to give in, for laziness is a very powerful human trait. There is nothing worse than for an artist to give in to it. One must not wait about. Inspiration is a guest who does not like visiting the lazy. She comes to those who invite her…

I hope that you, my friend, will not suspect me of boasting if I tell you that my appeal to inspiration is almost never in vain. I can only tell you that that power, which I have called a capricious guest, has long become so familiar to me that we live our lives inseparably, and that she deserts me only when owing to circumstances oppressing my everyday life she feels herself superfluous. But scarcely has the cloud dispersed – there she is. Thus I can say that in a normal state of mind I am always composing, every minute of the day and in any circumstances. Sometimes I observe with curiosity this continuous work which, all on its own, apart from any conversation I may be having, apart from the people I am with at the time, goes on in that part of my head devoted to music.

If you know of a better description how music, the most mysterious of all arts, is born, let me know about it too. By the way, it’s fascinating to compare this with Somerset Maugham’s ideas how a novel is born. He also talks of an initial idea around which, piece by piece as the author’s imagination works, all sorts of events and characters are arranged in order to illustrate it. He also remarks, in relation to short stories this time, that their writing is very much a matter of luck and the right moment is of paramount importance. He also states firmly that a professional writer must control his inspiration, not the other way round. If he just sits and waits for it, he will end by producing little or nothing. He also says that writing is “a whole time job”. In short, Maugham’s theories of literary creation are fantastically similar to Tchaikovsky’s notions of musical one.[10]

Further exploring the creative process with Wagnerian thoroughness, Tchaikovsky separates works to two major categories, those written from inner creative necessity and those commissioned from without, and then proceeds to explore the discrepancy between “an artist’s mood or outward circumstances and his inner life.” What Tchaikovsky calls “somnambulism” is nowadays called “the unconscious”. Alan Walker has discussed at length in his early books the role of the unconscious in the creative principles that have guided great composers. It is no coincidence that Tchaikovsky’s name is often mentioned on his pages.[11]

I was rather amazed to read Tchaikovsky’s opinion (with which I totally agree) that music is a language infinitely superior to words for the expression of feelings. This is almost word for word the same as Felix Mendelssohn’s famous letter to Marc-André Souchay (1842). Compare:

There is so much talk about music, and yet so little is said... Words seem to me ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison with genuine music... The thoughts expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.[12]

How can one express those inexpressible sensations which pass through one when writing an instrumental work without a definite subject? It is a purely lyrical process. It is a musical confession of the soul, which is full to the brim and which, true to its essential nature, pours itself out in sound, just as the lyric poet expresses himself in verse. The difference is that music possesses incomparably more powerful means and is a subtler language for the articulation of the thousand different moments of the soul’s moods.[13]

Various collections of Mendelssohn’s letters were published in German or English well before 1893, but I should like to believe Tchaikovsky reached his conclusions independently. Great composers, unlike many of their listeners, were very well aware of the immense implications of the cliché “music begins where words end”.

There are plenty of other stimulating reflections in Tchaikovsky’s letters, illuminating about music in general and his working habits in particular. For them alone, not to mention the vivid picture of his personality, the book is worth having. When Nadezhda von Meck compares music with intoxication, Tchaikovsky remarks, rather sharply, that they have nothing in common. Music is revelation of beauty and reconciliation to life, while intoxication is merely a brief illusion of forgetfulness. He insists that music can be written to words (lyrics, programs), but in serious composition the reverse is unthinkable. He is positive that the main idea appears in the mind already coloured by certain scoring. He regarded orchestration as “great fun” and apparently, unlike Ravel, not independent of composition. Even Tchaikovsky’s opinions of his colleagues are not always without merit. It is worth considering Cui as a “gifted amateur with taste and instinct but no originality” or Rimsky-Korsakov as a “dilettante turned pedant”.

The illustrations are wonderful. The 29 colour plates are mostly fine portraits of famous Russian composers (Glinka, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov) or writers (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev), but there are several ravishing photos of Tchaikovsky’s house at Klin, a village some 50 miles from Moscow, where he spent much time towards the end of his life and composed the Pathétique. One plate is dedicated to the portrait from the dust jacket, painted by Nikolay Kuznetsov in January-February 1893 and described by Tchaikovsky as “in its expressiveness, vividness and reality really wonderful”. A photo of Tchaikovsky’s bedroom shows almost Spartan furniture and, hanging above the bed, his favourite painting aptly named “Melancholy”. Another interesting photo is that of Tchaikovsky’s foreign-language bookcase; four volumes of Byron in French are prominent on the upper shelf. According to Mr Warrack, late in his life Tchaikovsky knew enough English to read Dickens (whom he adored), but he apparently never tackled Byron or Shakespeare in original. He once said: “Dickens and Thackeray are the only single people I forgive for being English. I should go on to add Shakespeare, but he was of a time when this vile nation had not yet sunk so low.” Mr Warrack shrewdly observes that this opinion was expressed in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War, when anti-British sentiments were rampant in Russia.

The black-and-white illustrations in the text are numerous. They range from fine portraits of important people (Bülow, Balakirev, Cui, Nadezhda von Meck, Nikolay and Anton Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky’s parents, brothers and sister together with their families) and contemporary images of important places (e.g. the Mariinsky Theatre, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Moscow in the 1880s, etc.) to autograph scores, letters and sketchbooks in Tchaikovsky’s own hand. Pretty much every person or place of some importance in Tchaikovsky’s life is given some visual representation.

The endpapers are rather special. Both are occupied with genealogical charts. Much fascinating information is hidden in these. You can see at a single glance, for instance, that Tchaikovsky had four brothers, one sister, one half-sister, four cousins and even some French blue blood on his mother’s side.

The List of Works is indeed comprehensive! It is thematically organised into several tables (opera, ballet, concertos, orchestral works, piano works, miscellaneous dramatic music, etc.). Dates of composition are given with the greatest possible precision. Additional information includes opus numbers, keys, dates of first performances, conductors, choreographers and soloists who were involved. Many obscure compositions are listed; some of them I didn’t know existed at all. Except for the minuscule font, the tables are easy to use, very convenient and hardly dated at all.

Old copies are still available at very reasonable prices. Fans of Tchaikovsky ought to have one on their shelves. The illustrations are worth the price of admission alone, but the text of Mr Warrack, though far from ideal, certainly has a merit of its own. He has to be read in the light of modern scholarship, for which Tchaikovsky Research is the best place online, but much of his interpretations remain relevant if not always convincing. In both the life and the music he is superior to David Brown’s 33 years younger book. So much for modern scholarship!

[1] Cf. Somerset Maugham, “The Art of Fiction” in Ten Novels and Their Authors (1954):
A novelist, I have written these essays from my own standpoint. The danger of this is that the novelist is very apt to like best the sort of thing he does himself, and he will judge the work of others by how nearly they approach his own practice. In order to do full justice to works with which he has no natural sympathy, he needs a dispassionate integrity, a liberality of spirit, of which the members of an irritable race are seldom possessed.
[2] Fans of Tchaikovsky who have not yet explored this site, make haste to rectify the omission. Magnificent resource!
[3] Cf. Somerset Maugham. He too lost his beloved mother at an early age, had to live in a strange country with an indifferent uncle, and suffered a good deal of humiliation in school due to his stammer and small stature. He too was a lifelong loner. He too, of course, was a homosexual, but that seems rather incidental, or at least of much smaller consequence. Tchaikovsky’s case was milder but, broadly speaking, very much similar.
[4] Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky Research.
[5] Possibly my favourite example is Timothy Jackson in the Cambridge Music Handbook dedicated to the Sixth Symphony (CUP, 1999), “a work representing Tchaikovsky's homosexual grande passion”. Such people don’t realise – cannot possibly realise – how much they limit the scope of the Symphony with such “interpretations”.
[6] See, for example, the letter to his brother, Modest, from 31 January 1877 (new style) in which he tells about his falling in love with Iosif Kotek (1855–1885), a 21-year-old student (Tchaikovsky was 36 at the time) from the Conservatory and a relatively gifted violinist. Such letters make Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality a fact. It is quite another story, however, how much he was tormented by it and how much it coloured his personality or his art.
[7] Compare yet again – so many parallels between these two great men! – Somerset Maugham’s marriage. He too married a silly and shallow dame simply because she was pregnant and he couldn’t bear to do the “wrong” thing. So he paid the price, a steeper one than Tchaikovsky’s, but not nearly as steep as some biographers would have you believe.
[8] Mr Warrack does not always bother to indicate his sources, indeed he seldom does, but thanks to the invaluable Tchaikovsky Research project we can to a large degree rectify this. This comes from a letter to Nadezhda von Meck from Florence (1 March 1878), the same rather famous letter with the “program” of the Fourth Symphony. See the original Russian text and an English translation here.
[9] This is from another letter to Nadezhda von Meck. I have not been able to source it yet.
[10] See the essay “Reflections on a Certain Book” from the collection The Vagrant Mood (1952); the Foreword to the short story collection The Mixture as Before (1940); and The Summing Up (1938), chapters 46 & 48.
[11] See Alan Walker, A Study in Musical Analysis (1962) and An Anatomy of Musical Criticism (1968). See also Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music (1959), particularly chapters 1 and 4.
[12] Alan Walker, An Anatomy of Musical Criticism, Chilton, 1968, p. 4.
[13] Letter to Nadezhda von Meck, 1 March 1878. See note 8. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jan 25, 2016 |
An old volume and not incredibly scholarly, but as a boy I found it a great book and I still enjoy thumbing through it. Great pictures. ( )
  Eleusis | May 22, 2009 |
This is a biography which gives due space both to Tchaikovsky's unhappy, restless life and also to the prodigious talent, his methods of working and the gradual genesis of his greatest large-scale works. It includes a comprehensive list of his works.
  antimuzak | Nov 29, 2005 |
Showing 3 of 3
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
To Lucy
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.75)
3.5 1
4 1

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 136,295,861 books! | Top bar: Always visible