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“The Life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky”

A brother’s view of the Russian composer

Munich, 12/14/2011

The work cannot claim to be a modern biography. The description of the life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky that his brother Modest committed to paper less than 10 years after the composer’s death is incomplete, sometimes partial or even tendentious and often rather too discreet in particulars for that. However, in spite of its flaws, it remains a valuable document. For it cites the testimony not only of members of the composer’s family, but also of his governess, of fellow-students of Tchaikovsky and other contemporary witnesses. In addition, the text lets the composer himself speak, by citing extracts from the hundreds of letters that he wrote. A German translation of an abridged version of the book was prepared, obviously in great haste, by Paul Juon soon after the publication of the Russian original. Now, more than a century later, LMU musicologist Dr. Alexander Erhard and Professor Dr. Thomas Kohlhase of Tübingen University have produced a new annotated edition of this translation in two volumes, which include several indexes as well as portraits, photographs and facsimiles.

“This is a project that we regarded as useful and worthwhile, because it gives us a vibrant picture of Tchaikovsky as a person,” says Erhard. “His strengths and his weaknesses are here, but also his artistic integrity, his emotional depth and the many contradictions in his character.”The biography portrays an individual who had to cope with a series of misfortunes, including the early loss of his mother, and was forced to find his calling on his own – torn between his sense of duty and the demands of his art in what seems to us a very modern type of conflict.

”At dinner there was talk of my musical talent,”the young Peter Ilyich once wrote to his sister.“Father argued that there was still time for me to become an artist. If only that were true! But the point is that my talent, assuming I actually have any,probably cannot be developed much further. They have made a civil servant out of me, but only a mediocre one; I do all I can to be a better one and to perform my duties conscientiously; and then I am expected to study basso continuo on the side?! ....” (suwe)

Das Leben Peter IljitschTschaikowskys.
In two volumes. Illustrated with many photographs, portraits and facsimiles
Modest Tschaikowsky
Translated from the Russian by Paul Juon
Edited by Thomas Kohlhase and Alexander Erhard
Schott Music,1152 pages, 9 November 2011

Dr. Alexander Erhard
Institute of Musicology, LMU Munich
Phone: +49 89 / 2180 – 64 09

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