Important People in Tchaikovsky's Life. Russian Emperors
P.I. Tchaikovsky
Festival Overture to the Danish National Anthem
Autographed score
Moscow, November 1866

Russian National Museum of Music
Out of all people who influenced Tchaikovsky, we should first mention the Russian rulers during whose reign Tchaikovsky lived. The composer was born in the days of Nicholas I, lived through the reign of Alexander I and passed away in the days of Alexander III, missing only the emperor's last year on the throne.

We cannot say that Tchaikovsky had some personal attitude to Nicholas I, because when the emperor died, the future composer had not yet turned 15 years old. In a letter to his parents, the 10-years-old Tchaikovsky said he had seen the Emperor in April 1851 on the occasion on the birth of his heir, the Grand Duke Alexander Nikolaevich. Apperently, this was the only time they ever met.

However, the composer's relations with Alexander II and Alexander III were much more profound than that. From documents, we know about his vivid sympathy and deep thoughts regarding these outstanding people.

Only one work from Tchaikovsky's legacy is connected to Alexander II, and we talked about it in another text for this project. Let us remind you that it is the composer's music for the tableau vivant Montenegro at the Moment When Russia's War Manifesto Came Out made to order at early 1880 for a performance on the occasion of 25 years of the Emperor's reign. The show did not happen because of yet another attempted assassination of Alexander II.

Never-ending attempts to kill the Emperor that had been shaking the Russian society since the mid-1860s created the atmosphere of tension and anxiety. Tchaikovsky believed that to a large part, the root of the problem was in the way Alexander II ruled the empire. However, anything he ever said about this topic was expressed in a highly delicate and sympathetic manner in regard to the Emperor. Tchaikovsky was truly shocked when he heard of the Emperor's murder on 1 March 1881: 'I almost went crazy with anger and rage when I received news of another attempted assassination of our Emperor. I do not know what surprises me more: the insolence and power of this disgusting band of killers or the impotence demonstrated by the police and everyone in charge of protecting our Emperor. You cannot help but ask yourself: how is it going to end?—and I am failing to find an answer. All of it is unbearably painful and sad.' In part, this tragedy and the death of N. G. Rubinstein that followed a few days later was the reason for the composer's crisis and a decrease in creative activity over the course of many months in the year 1881.
P.I. Tchaikovsky
The Moscow cantata
Autographed score
Paris, March–April 1883

Russian National Museum of Music
Tchaikovsky felt profound sympathy to Alexander II even before he ascended to the throne, as we can see in the composer's letters. In November 1866, Tchaikovsky wrote the Festival Overture to the Danish National Anthem on the occasion of the newly-wed Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich and Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna (Princess Dagmar of Denmark). Unofficially, he dedicated his work to the future Emperor.

However, Tchaikovsky was rather sceptical of the new ruler in his first years of reign and even allowed himself to express harsh criticism: 'Oh, how good it would be if we had a tsar of a strong mind a spirit on the throne, the one with clearly defined intentions and a well-thought plan! But alas! We are under a kind, nice person, hardly gifted with a good mind, poorly educated, in a word, he cannot hold the debilitated mechanism of our state in his weak hands.' Interestingly, it was written after Alexander III expressed his benevolence to the composer and helped him with a grant of 3,000 rubles in a hard financial situation in the summer of 1881.

However, any even remotely negative paragraphs regarding Alexander III soon disappeared from all Tchaikovsky's documents. In March 1883, the composer was greatly honoured to write a cantata and an orchestra march for the coronation ceremony in Moscow. On the same occasion, a special edition of M. Glinka's chorus Slavsya! (Glory!) was written. Tchaikovsky took up the work reluctantly because the schedule was tight, he was busy writing the opera Mazeppa, and due to an unfavourable situation at home. Nevertheless, later he was very happy that he had been chosen to become the author of the music for such an important historic event. He was pleased to hear that the Moscow cantata and the Festival Coronation March were a success and that Alexander III enjoyed his music as a whole.
P.I. Tchaikovsky
Twelve Romances Op. 60
An original copy of the first printed edition
Moscow, Pyotr Jurgenson, 1886

Russian National Museum of Music
In the next few years, the Emperor paid special attention to the composer. In February 1884, Alexander III attended the premiere night of Tchaikovsky's new opera Mazeppa in Saint Petersburg and personally inquired about the composer. Two weeks later, the Emperor awarded Tchaikovsky with the Order of St. Vladimir of the 4th degree.

On 7 March 1884, Tchaikovsky was officially introduced to His Imperial Majesty and his wife. This is how the composer described their meeting three days later: 'I was allowed to see only the Emperor, but Vladimir Obolensky insisted that I visited the Empress as well, since on more occasion than one she expressed the desire to meet me. It was arranged immediately, and I met the Empress first, and after that—His Majesty. Both of them were incredibly kind and nice. I think that everyone who has ever seen His Majesty in person becomes his passionate fan, for I cannot say how pleasant he and his manners are. And Her Majesty is charming, too.'

Apart from the 'official' side of it, Tchaikovsky's meeting with the Emperor had a practical bearing for the composer: soon after, he was ordered to stage the tsar's favourite opera Eugene Onegin at the Mariinsky Theatre, using the best actors and theatre workers out there. While talking to Tchaikovsky, the Emperor touched upon the topic of church music and recommended him to write something in this genre. In response, the composer created three Cherubic Hymns in November 1884, that were later included in the collection Nine Sacred Pieces.

For a long time after, we can see the echoes of meeting the Emperor in Tchaikovsky's letters. We know that he wanted to dedicate his opera The Enchantress to Alexander III, but it did not happen for a number of reasons. In 1886, he paid homage to the Emperor's spouse and dedicated Twelve Romances Op. 60 to Maria Fyodorovna.
P.I. Tchaikovsky
Twelve Romances Op. 60
An original copy of the first printed edition
Moscow, Pyotr Jurgenson, 1886

Russian National Museum of Music
The benevolence of supreme rulers allowed Tchaikovsky to ask them certain favours. For example, in 1887 Alexander donated money to finish the construction of the opera house in Tiflis, to a large extent thanks to Tchaikovsky's pleading.

In 1888, Tchaikovsky was granted a truly royal gift—a lifetime pension of 3,000 rubles a year. In May of the same year, Tchaikovsky was again introduced to the Emperor's court. Although later Tchaikovsky wrote that the tone of the meeting was official and dry, his concerns were groundless. The composer heard that His Majesty was interested in his works and it served as a great inspiration. When it became known that the Emperor asked about the composer, Tchaikovsky made a very important decision: 'I terribly want to write a grandiose symphony that would mark the end of my artistic career—and dedicate it to His Majesty.'

Alexander III and his family especially liked Tchaikovsky's later works for the music theatres and always attended dress rehearsals before the opening night. His Majesty loved the Sleeping Beauty ballet while The Queen of Spades left him mostly indifferent which caused the composer to doubt it was worth working for the Mariinsky Theatre. However, convinced by the director of Imperial Theatres I. A. Vsevolzhsky, Tchaikovsky wrote the opera Iolanta and the ballet Nutcracker. And Emperor Alexander III in fact enjoyed them: 'The opera and the ballet were a big success yesterday. Everyone especially liked the opera. The day before the Emperor watched the dress rehearsal. He was in awe, invited us to his box and said many kind words. Both performances are majestic, even too majestic in case of ballet—my eyes are tired from all this luxury.'

The sign of Alexander's utmost respect and love to Tchaikovsky was that he attended the composer's funeral and paid all the expenses for this grand-scale event.

Tchaikovsky's attitude towards the supreme rulers of his country is an amazing example of an almost son-and-father relationship between a citizen and his monarch and the desire to use his talent to serve His Majesty.
Senior Researcher
Russian National Museum of Music
PhD (Candidate of Art History)
Alexander Komarov
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