When Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died of cholera in 1893, he was Russia’s most celebrated composer. Drawing extensively on Tchaikovsky’s uncensored letters and diaries, this richly documented biography explores the composer’s life in the artistic culture of nineteenth-century Russian society, revealing how he became a figure of international renown.
Tchaikovsky was gifted with a prodigious work ethic and a commitment to writing music that was as scrupulously crafted as it was artistically inspired. His music struck audiences as supremely communicative and appealed to wealthy and influential patrons, such as Nadezhda von Meck and Tsar Alexander iii, as well as Russia’s growing audiences for serious classical music. He became the nation’s leading musical celebrity, performing at the opening of New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1891 and receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the summer before his death. Yet such success came at a price, and Tchaikovsky found the social obligations that his fame entailed burdensome.
Setting aside clichés of the composer as a tortured homosexual and naively confessional artist, this engaging biography paints a new and vivid picture of Tchaikovsky that weaves together insights into his music with a sensitive evocation of his inner emotional life. It contains accessible introductions to his key compositions, as well as suggesting less familiar works for readers to explore, making it essential reading for all those who enjoy classical music.
‘Bullock distils a great deal of thought and breadth of knowledge into this slim volume, conjuring up a clear picture of its subject and written in a way that is both stimulating and illuminating.’ – Gramophone
‘This latest volume in Reaktion’s Critical Lives series is concise, comprehensive, clear-sighted and thought-provoking . . . it is refreshing to find an eminently fair and perceptive assessment of Tchaikovsky’s life and works.’ – Classical Music magazine
‘Short introductory lives of the great composers are getting thin on the ground these days, so it’s good to welcome one on Tchaikovsky which can be relied on to get its facts right. Philip Ross Bullock knows his Russian sources, and takes advantage of freedom from censorship to paint a more vivid picture of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality which clarifies how much he was, despite his disastrous marriage, happy in his own skin . . . The illustrations are piquant and well selected’ – BBC Music magazine
‘In his concise but pithy study of the composer, blending biography with a perceptive account of the music itself, Bullock explores the individual characteristics of each of the stage works . . . The account of the life into which the discussion of the works is so skilfully woven is no less considered and thoughtful . . . Bullock looks at the various possibilities, as he does everything else in this surprisingly comprehensive account, with complete expertise as well as fair-mindedness.' – Opera
‘a refreshingly clear-eyed portrait of Tchaikovsky which is both lucid and perceptive.’ – Rosamund Bartlett, author of Tolstoy: A Russian Life and Wagner and Russia
Philip Ross Bullock is Professor of Russian Literature and Music at the University of Oxford, and Fellow and Tutor in Russian at Wadham College, Oxford. His previous books include The Feminine in the Prose of Andrey Platonov (2005), Rosa Newmarch and Russian Music in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century England (2009) and The Correspondence of Jean Sibelius and Rosa Newmarch, 1906-1939 (2011).