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8.570438 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Songs (Complete), Vol. 5
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Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Complete Songs • Volume 5


Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home, under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he was a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg, thereafter taking employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years he developed his abilities as a musician privately, but the foundation of the new Conservatory of Music in St Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him to study there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow to teach at the new Conservatory established there by Anton Rubinstein’s brother Nikolay. For over ten years he continued in Moscow, before financial assistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. The same period in his life brought an unfortunate marriage to a selfproclaimed admirer of his work, a woman who showed early signs of mental instability and could only add further to Tchaikovsky’s own problems of character and inclination. His homosexuality was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled with physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous breakdown.

Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still left practical and personal problems to be solved. Tchaikovsky’s relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his career, but also the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from making physical demands of him, never even met him face to face. This curiously remote liaison and patronage only came to an end in 1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, she discontinued an allowance that was no longer of importance and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.

Tchaikovsky’s sudden death in St Petersburg in 1893 gave rise to contemporary speculation and has given rise to further posthumous rumours. It has been suggested that he committed suicide as the result of pressure, when an allegedly erotic liaison with a young nobleman seemed likely to cause an open scandal even in court circles. Officially his death was attributed to cholera, contracted after drinking undistilled water. Whether the victim of cholera, of his own carelessness or reckless despair, or of death deliberately courted, Tchaikovsky was widely mourned.

Tchaikovsky wrote a hundred or so songs, the first before his entry to the Conservatory and the last in 1893, the year of his death. The earliest to be heard here is Poymi khot’ raz (Hear at least once) [18], a setting of a poem by Afanasy Fet, based on Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved). It is the third of Six Romances, Op. 16, published in March 1873. Tchaikovsky’s opera The Oprichnik had been accepted by the Imperial Theatre, to which it had been submitted in December 1872, and the same month had brought approval of his Second Symphony, ‘The Little Russian’ by Rimsky-Korsakov and his friends in St Petersburg. The song Novogrecheskaya pesnya, Op. 16, No. 6 (New Greek Song) [10], dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s Moscow Conservatory friend, the cellist Konstantin Albrecht, is a translation by Apollon Maykov of a Greek folk-song. Marked Moderato lugubre, it begins with the familiar notes of the Dies irae, from the Latin Requiem Mass, a fitting element in a song about the souls of the dead.

Ya s neyu nikogda ne govoril, Op. 25, No. 5, (I never spoke to her) [19] is one of Six Romances that Tchaikovsky handed to his publisher in 1875, after he had completed his orchestration of his First Piano Concerto, to which Nikolay Rubinstein had proved so disappointingly hostile. Like three others in this group of songs, it was dedicated to one of the singers in The Oprichnik, successfully staged in April 1874, the baritone Ivan Melnikov. The words, taken from a longer poem by Lev Mey, suggest a youthful love song.

The Six Romances, Op. 27, published in 1875, are all dedicated to the contralto Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya. The first song, Na son gryadushchiy (Before sleep) [20], a prayer at bed-time, has words by Nikolay Ogaryov, a political idealist, first set by Tchaikovsky for unaccompanied chorus during his days as a student at the St Petersburg Conservatory. The second song, Smorti: von oblako (Look: there is a silver cloud) [21] is a setting of words by Nikolay Grekov. The first verse compares the passing cloud and the brightness of the sky to the beauty of the beloved, with a second verse that brings a sadder aspect, as rain clouds gather. The fifth of the set, Ali mat’ menya rozhala (Had my mother borne me) [22] has words by Lev Mey, based on a translation from the Polish ballad by Teofil Lenartowicz. A girl laments the departure of her lover for the wars, leaving her only in sorrow at his absence. The last song, Moya balnovitsa (My mischief), also has words translated from Polish by Lev Mey. The original poem is by Adam Mickiewicz and is set by Tchaikovsky in the tempo of a mazurka. It praises the beauty and vivacity of the beloved, longing for her kisses.

The Six Romances, Op. 28, date from the same period, the songs now dedicated to singers who were to take part in the Moscow première of The Oprichnik. The first of the set, Net, nikogda ne nazovu (I will never name her) [1], has a text by Nikolay Grekov based on a poem by Alfred de Musset, Chanson de Fortunio, from the latter’s play Le chandelier. The lover declares that he will not name his beloved or do anything against her wishes, hiding his own feelings. It is dedicated to Anton Nikolayev. The second song, Korol’ki (A String of Corals), takes a translation by Lev Mey of a ballad by the Polish writer Władysław Syrokomla. Dedicated to the tenor Aleksandr Dodonov, the song tells of a man who rides away with the Cossacks, takes part in the capture of a town and seizes a string of coral beads to take back to his beloved Hannah; on his victorious return, however, he finds Hannah dead, and leaves the beads on a holy icon. The fifth song, Ni otzïva, ni slova, ni priveta (No reply, no word, no greeting) [9], dedicated to the baritone Bogomir Korsov, is a setting of words by Aleksey Apukhtin, with the lover left without any answer, his past love now seemingly forgotten. 

The Six Romances, Op. 38, were written after the disaster of Tchaikovsky’s marriage, his escape abroad and return in 1878 to stay at Nadezhda von Meck’s estate in the Ukraine. The first of the set, Serenada Don Zhuana (Don Juan’s Serenade) [24], a text among those suggested by Madame von Meck, is taken from Aleksey Tolstoy’s play on the subject of Don Juan, and echoes the well-known mock serenade in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, here calling on Nisetta, a woman of the town, to appear on her balcony. The fourth song, O, esli b tï mogla (Oh, if you could) [8], another poem by Tolstoy, calls on the beloved to forget her troubles and recapture their former happiness. The fifth song, Lyubov’ metvetsa (Love of a dead man) [12], with words by Lermontov, is in the voice of a dead man, who even from the grave still feels love and jealousy. It is based on a French original. The Op. 38 Romances were dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s brother Anatoly, who had been of considerable support during the difficulties of the past year.

In 1886 Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov, a grandson of Tsar Nikolay I and a young man of wide cultural interests, had a small volume of his poems privately printed, for presentation to his friends. He had known Tchaikovsky since 1880 and held him in high respect, sending him a copy of the poems, of which Tchaikovsky set a group of six as Six Romances, Op. 63, published in 1887. Two other settings remain as sketches dating from the same period, Tebya ya videla vo sne (You were in my dream) [13] and O net! Za krasotu tï ne lyubi menya (Oh no! Do not love me for my beauty) [14].

In Berlin in 1888, during a concert tour in which he introduced his own work to audiences outside Russia, Tchaikovsky met again the mezzo-soprano Désirée Artôt, whom he had twenty years before thought of marrying. It was for her that he set a group of six French poems, to be published, in Russian translation, as Opus 65. The first, Serenada (Serenade) [2], takes a poem by Edouard Turquéty, Où vas-tu, souffle d’aurore. The second song sets Paul Collin’s Déception, translated as Razocharovanie (Disillusionment) [3]. Here the lover visits again the woods where once he had been happy. This is followed by Collin’s Serenada (Serenade) [4] in which the lover finds his beloved in nature. Puskay zima (Let the winter) [5] translates Collin’s Qu’importe que l’hiver éteigne les clartés, in which the poet knows where to find light and beauty, in spite of the season. Slyozï (Tears) [6], setting a poem by Augustine Malvine Blanchecotte, bids the lover’s tears not to fall and to let him die. The group ends with Charovnitsa (Enchantress) [7], a translation of Collin’s Rondel, praise of the beloved’s power of conquest.

It was with some reluctance that Tchaikovsky, in 1891, turned his attention towards fulfilling an undertaking he had made to Lucien Guitry to provide incidental music for a staging in St Petersburg of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to be given in French translation. For this purpose he adapted some earlier compositions, raiding, in particular, his Hamlet fantasy overture of 1888. Among the seventeen pieces Tchaikovsky set two songs for Ophelia and one for the gravedigger.

The first song [15] is from Ophelia’s first mad scene, after her father’s death, ‘Where is the one who loved me so much? How will I recognise him? / His face will be covered with the hat of a pilgrim’, and the second [16] when she returns, observed now by her brother Laertes, ‘He lay with his face exposed. / We cried, and lowered him into the grave’. The first of the two seems to draw on English folk-song. The third song [17] is from the graveyard scene, where the gravedigger sings, ‘I was a nice chap, chasing girls as much as I could, / And my days and nights were jolly’, an episode of comic relief before the final tragedy.

Keith Anderson


Transliterated sung texts and Enlish translations may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/570438

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