Tchaikovsky in America - In his Own Words February 09 2024

Did you know that Tchaikovsky came to America for the inauguration of Carnegie Hall, in New York, in 1891?. The composer conducted his own music, and visited other American cities during the 4+ weeks he was in the USA. We can follow his trip by reading some extracts from his personal diary.

 Carnegie Hall Poster Inauguration

Festival Poster for the Inauguration of Carnegie Hall 1891

Tchaikovsky recorded in detail his daily trials and triumphs, though the diary was meant only for the eyes of his brother, Modesto Tchaikovsky. The full diary can be read in Modesto´s exhaustive biography to which the adoring Modesto consecrated a good part of his lifetime.


From Le Havre on April 18th, 1891, Tchaikovsky shipped in the S. 8. "La Bretagne,” a luxurious ship that made the journey in nine days.


April 18th. "I sit at a table with an American family— very uncomfortable and wearisome. (Tchaikovsky’s spirits were not elevated by the news that a second class passenger had committed suicide on the first day out.—Ed.)

Tchaikovsky Signed Cabinet Photo 1887

April 19th. "... The tossing began and grew gradually worse until at times I felt horribly nervous. The steward called it 'une merun peu grosse’ (sic). What must 'une mer tintres grosse’ be like? I am very depressed.”


April 21st. "... In the night the ship pitched so that I awoke and had palpitations. A glass of brandy soon picked me up.”

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Maestro Tchaikovsky cabinet photo signed by him in 1887

April 22nd. "... It continued to blow until two o’clock, when it was so terrible that I expected every minute that the ship must go down ... it was like hell let loose. . . . Brandy and coffee are the only nourishments I have taken today.”


April 23rd. ”... the night was horrible.”


April 24th. "... Since yesterday evening I have been a martyr. I suffer as much mentally as physically; simply from fright and anxiety.”


April 25th. "... I am very glad that the voyage is nearing its end. I simply could not bear to remain any longer on board ship."


In America:


April 27th. "... I regretted ever having undertaken this insane journey. ... I was met by four very amiable gentlemen who took me to the Hotel Normandie. After they left, I strode up and down my room and shed many tears . . .afterwards I went for a stroll down Broadway . . . an extraordinary street! Houses of one and two stories alternate with some nine-storied buildings. When I got back I started crying again. . . .”

Tchaikovsky Signed Cabinet Photo 1880

April 27th. "... a reporter appeared . . .many of his questions were very curious. Went on foot to the Music Hall (Carnegie) ... a magnificent building. Damrosch (who was conducting without his coat) appeared very pleasant .. . he made a little speech . . . more ovations from the orchestra, which is excellent . . .visited the interesting Hoffman Bar. ... In the evening Damrosch took me to visit Carnegie, the possessor of 30 million dollars. He has a young and pretty wife . . . went to the Athletic Club, and to another more serious in tone. . .ordered drinks in the serious club.”

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Russian cabinet photo by Fr. de Mezer/Kieff, from around 1880, boldly signed by the star composer


April 28th. "... visited the Hoffman Bar saw Knabe’s warehouse . . . went to a photographer’s studio . . . went to a somewhat tedious concert at the great Opera House . . .an oratorio by an American (sic) composer, Max Wagrich (Vogrich) . . . most wearisome.”


April 29th. "... went to a big dinner in my honor . . . each lady had a little picture of myself in a pretty frame. ... In the middle of the dinner ices were served in little cups to which small slates were attached. ... I had to write my autograph on these. . . . Opposite sat Carnegie, the possessor of forty million dollars.

. .” (The Carnegie fortune was apparently flourishing.’— Ed.)


April 30th. "... went to see the Brooklyn Bridge ... in the evening, to the first rehearsal for my concert . . . after a light supper, I took a little walk, then read over the letters I have received from Russia . . . and, naturally, shed a few tears. ...”


May 1st. "... The houses downtown are simply colossal. ... I cannot understand how anyone can live on the thirteenth floor . . . visited the mint (sub-treasury?) ... I was allowed to hold in my hand a packet of new shining coins worth about 10,000,000 dollars." (A mere matter, approximately, of eighteen tons. What

Tchaikovsky actually did hold has never been revealed.—Ed.) "... dined in the restaurant Hoffman ... as usual, without enjoyment . . .came upon a meeting of Socialists in Red caps. The whole demonstration seemed to me a farce.”

Tchaikovsky Autograph letter Signed 1884  [CLICKABLE IMAGE] Remarkable autograph letter to his friend, famous conductor and fellow composer Eduard Napravnik (1839-1916) that he is unable to attend rehearsals of his opera Mazeppa in St. Petersburg, since he has to stay in Moscow for the rehearsals of the same opera in that city.

May 2nd. "... rehearsal at four . . . before my turn came they sang through a wearisome cantata by Schuetz, 'The Seven Words.' (This of Heinrich Schuetz, the greatest predecessor, in German music, of Bach.—Ed.) "My choruses went very well.”


May 4th. "... a visit from Mr. Romeike, the proprietor of a newspaper clipping bureau.”


May 5th. "... to the Music Hall for the opening concert. . . . National Anthem sung ... a clergyman then made a long and wearisome speech. The Leonore symphony was then beautifully rendered.” (It was the Leonore overture No. 3 of Beethoven.—Ed.) "Berlioz’s Te Deum is somewhat wearisome . . . only

towards the end did I begin to enjoy it thoroughly.”


May 6th. "Second concert . . . Mendelssohn’s Elijah. A splendid work, but rather too long. During the interval I was dragged the round of the boxes of the local magnates.’’


May 7th. "... I am fifty-one today . . .after getting over some painful hours, I stepped to the conductor’s desk . . . and made a sensation, according to the papers. After the suite, I was interviewed by several reporters. . . .Oh! these reporters.”

Piotr Tchaikovsky signed Romeo et Juliette score

May 8th. "... from every part of America I receive letters asking for my autograph . . .these I answer most conscientiously . . . visitors without end, including two Russian ladies to whom I speak the language again ... I made a fool of myself, the tears coming into my eyes, my voice broke, I could not repress my sobs. I fled into the next room.”

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Full orchestral score of the composer's overture Romeo et Juliette, signed boldly by him at the top of the first title page and dated on March 22nd, 1871; inscribed to Germaine de Laroche (1845-1909) who was a Russian music critic, professor, composer, and well-known in Moscow as a close friend of Tchaikovsky

May 9th. "... all the cafes are closed on Sundays. . . . This English puritanism irritated me very much. It is said that the men who brought the law into effect were themselves heavy drinkers.”


May 10th. "... My concerto (No. 1 in B flat minor) went brilliantly, thanks to Aus-der-Ohe’s magnificent interpretation ... it is easy to see that I have taken the Americans by storm.”


May 11th. . . . (His New York appearances concluded, Tchaikovsky was sent on a sightseeing visit to Niagara Falls, before embarking on a tour of several American cities.) " . . .Reached Buffalo about 8:30 . . . went to bed early . . . the roaring of the falls is very audible.” (In Buffalo?—Ed.)


May 13th. "... Back in New York . . . I went to say good-bye to Damrosch, as he is going to Europe. He asked me to take him as a pupil. . . .”


May 14th. "... wandered through the Central Park. Took train for Baltimore.”

Tchaikovsky Autograph Music Quote Signed 1893

May 15th. "... went to rehearsal for the evening’s concert . . . orchestra small, only four first violins, but not bad. Serenade for strings substituted for Third suite, which was out of the question. . . . Conducted in my frock-coat . . .little enthusiasm in comparison with New York.”


May 16th. "... arrived in Washington . . .concert at the Russian embassy . . . delighted to speak Russian again, although this was dimmed by the realization that my 's’, ’sch’ and 'tsch’ are beginning to sound rather indistinct, from age.”

[CLICKABLE IMAGE] Fabulous autograph music quote, signed by the composer and dated in 1893, the year he died. Tchaikovsky writes 5 bars of music from an unidentified piece on the index page of this "Oeuvres Completes pour le Piano", volume 3, edition by P. Jurgenson, Moscow, 1891.


May 18th. "... reached Philadelphia . . . the enormous theatre filled to overflowing.”


May 19th. "... returned to New York . . . the thought of departure tomorrow buoys me up.”


May 20th. "... at eight o’clock I was taken to the Composer’s Club . . . program devoted to me . . . quartet in E flat minor, the trio, some songs, very well sung, but the program too long.” (Even his own music seemed to Tchaikovsky "wearisome.”) ”... at the end I had to speak to a hundred people and distribute a hundred autographs . . . went aboard ship, finally . . . came out of my cabin as we passed the statue of Freedom ...”


(Extracted from an article by American music critic and music historian Irving Kolodin (1908-1988), published in a Carnegie Hall program, 1930s).


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