Did Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky commit suicide?

Last evening, Vee and I were guests of the BBC at one of the last of this season’s Promenade Concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

The programme commenced with the ‘Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs” by the contemporary Polish composer Henryk Gorecki. This is a piece i know well; long and slow but utterly haunting.

Next up was the world premiere of “Four Last Songs” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. To be honest, if I never heard it again, I would not mind at all.

Finally we heard Tchaikvosky’s Symphony No 6 known as the “Pathetiue”. Ever since I was introduced to classical music 47 years ago, this has been one of many favourite pieces. ┬áIt is so unusual in that the third movement sounds as if it should be the last, but it is in fact followed by a gut-wrenchingly mournful finale. The Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska did not allow any interval between the third and fourth movements but effectively ran them together.

The Sixth Symphony was the last thing that Tchaikovsky wrote. Nine days after its first performance – not particularly well-received – the composer died at the age of just 53. Allegedly he had drunk a glass of unboiled water and contracted cholera.

There have long been suggestions that Tchaikovsky committed suicide. If he deliberately drank the water unboiled then, in cholera-ravaged Saint Petersburg, that would have been tantamount to suicide.

You can find a discussion of Tchaikovsky’s death here.


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