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200 × 130 × 13 mm
224 pages
40 illustrations
01 Jul 2016
Critical Lives

Pyotr Tchaikovsky Philip Ross Bullock

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.

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 its 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 Tchaikovskys 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

‘Following Jonathan Cross's Stravinsky, another Oxford scholar, Philip Ross Bullock, has produced a no less fine study Pyotr Tchaikovsky to grace the Reaktion Books series of Critical Lives. Indeed, I realised all the more the value of the strict discipline posed by this brief format – succinct and concentrated as it is, penetrating to the essence of its subject’ — The Musical Times

‘Philip Ross Bullock’s biography of Tchaikovsky is a welcome addition to Reaktion’s reputable “Critical Lives” series. Although brief, it is not only packed with diverse factual material . . . A scholar of both music and literature, Bullock expertly handles Tchaikovsky’s nearly equal musical and verbal dexterousness. This is perhaps his most distinctive contribution here, making the book a fascinating read not only for the musically literate but also for everyone interested in Tchaikovsky, Russia, or the effective constitution of self.’ — The Russian Review

‘Bullock’s lucid and factually reliable account of both Tchaikovsky’s personal and artistic lives is written with style and elegance. It contains a wealth of historical and musical detail, and will surely prompt many of its readers to hear the composer’s music afresh’ — Journal of European Studies

‘This is an engaging read, a good length, and light enough to travel with. As an account of Chaikovskii’s life unencumbered by technical language, it is ideal. There are judicious re-evaluations of works: Queen of Spades receives an insightful discussion, the First and Sixth Symphonies are well situated (deciding to write the First was an ‘audacious choice’), and Eugene Onegin is read in terms of Chaikovskii’s personal foibles and occasional confusion between life and art. One of the book’s best features is its extensive use of Chaikovskii’s correspondence’ — Slavic and Eastern European Review

‘This small study may have been written for interested music-lovers, but it is based on the most recent research. It also avoids bias. Life, work, sexuality and the context of the composer’s life are presented in such a way that no one aspect dominates and distorts the picture. As a Slavist, cultural historian, literary scholarly and musicologist Bullock possesses a wide-ranging command of the material and illuminates the theme of his study from various perspectives, which allows him deal appropriately with the context. The interconnections between all of these aspects and the avoidance of biographical speculation allows us to understand Tchaikovsky’s creativity’ — Die Tonkunst

‘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

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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).

Editorial Note

Introduction: ‘The Intimate World of My Feelings and Thoughts’

‘I Will Make Something of Myself’‘The Only Hope for Our Musical Future’For the Sake of Qu’en-dira-t-on’‘I am a Free Man’‘Where is My Home to Be?’Conclusion: ‘Some Kind of Banal, Stupid Joke’


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