Coronation cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1883).
Written for the coronation of Alexander III.
As early as December 1882, one of the members of the Moscow City Coronation Committee—a certain Korganov—had discussions with Tchaikovsky about commissioning him to write a cantata. Tchaikovsky agreed in principle, and suggested the poets Yakov Polonsky or Apollon Maykov as possible authors of the text. But then no official commission followed.
In February 1883, while staying in Paris, Tchaikovsky received an inquiry from the director Anton Bartsal as to whether the cantata was ready . Concerned by this question, Tchaikovsky asked Pyotr Jurgenson to find out more about this, and just in case, to send him the manuscript of the Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition: "If the worst comes to the worst I might fall back on that for the music, but—words, words? And when should all this be ready? Is it already too late?" .
It was only in early/mid March that Tchaikovsky received the official commission to compose the cantata from the coronation committee. With the letter came the text by Apollon Maykov. The explanation given for the delay was that the committee members had initially approached Anton Rubinstein with the commission, and he "declined, in view of the short time-scale, and suggested my name", Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck . The time available was exceptionally short—by 17/29 April the completed manuscript would have to be in Saint Petersburg . Completing the commission would be a formidable task, since at the same time the composer was also writing a march to be performed at the coronation. The urgency with which both works were required meant that Tchaikovsky had to interrupt the composition of his opera Mazepa, which displeased him greatly.
The first themes for the cantata are dated 5/17 March , and on 21 March/2 April he informed Nadezhda von Meck that he had set about the orchestration . On 24 March/5 April the full score was completed (according to the date on the manuscript), and on 26 March/7 April the cantata, together with the manuscript of the Festival March also written for the City of Moscow, was on its way to Osip Jurgenson in Saint Petersburg, as well as a message announcing their imminent arrival to the chairman of the Coronation Committee, Pyotr Richter .
Tchaikovsky worked with remarkable application in order to deliver both works on time . The cantata was written, in his own words, expediently: "My obligations for the impending coronation festivities are coming along so successfully, that soon I will be completely free of them. My circumstances were certainly helped by the fact that the words of the cantata, written by Maykov, are very beautiful and poetic... the whole piece is so deeply profound and so originally written, and there is a freshness and sincerity of tone that made it possible for me not merely to dash off something stolid and formal, but to invest in my music something of the warmth of Maykov’s wonderful verses" . Tchaikovsky also wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson that he was very pleased with the cantata, and while he hoped that it might be performed in the next season of Russian Musical Society concerts, he did not recommend that it should be published .
In 1890, in a letter to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Regarding Maykov, I remember how it fell to me to write a Coronation Cantata on his text. At the time I was staying in Paris... Suddenly I received a proposal, already declined by A. G. Rubinstein, to write a Coronation Cantata in two weeks... I considered that to carry out such a proposition was impossible within such an outrageously short time scale, and gave vent to my feelings to my brother Modest, who at that time happened to have to hand a book of Maykov’s verses; my admiration for these was such that they involuntarily stirred my inspiration, and so that I would not forget, I wrote on the book in pencil the musical ideas that had come into my head. Had this not happened then there probably have been no Coronation Cantata, but under the spell of this magic the cantata was ready and dispatched in time, and I consider it to be among the best of my compositions" .
The first performance of the cantata took place on 15/27 May 1883 on the day of the coronation of Alexander III in Moscow, in the Granovitsky Palace at a dinner attended by everyone participating in the festivities. The soloists were Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya and Ivan Melnikov, with chorus and orchestra conducted by Eduard Nápravník.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 347–349
This page was last updated on 12 February 2013