To celebrate NYFOS’s 30th Anniversary Season, Song of the Day is featuring some recordings from our archives, along with excerpts from program notes that accompanied them. (If the recording does not appear below in your email, please click on the title above to play the song on our website.)
Снова, как прежде, один (“Again, as before, I am alone”) op. 73, no. 6 (1893)
Music by Tchaikovsky; poem by Ratgauz
Sung by Alexey Lavrov in Pyotr the Great (2017)
Again, as before, I am alone.
Once more I am filled with deep sadness.
A poplar is standing outside the window
Bathed in moonlight.
A poplar is standing outside the window,
Its leaves whispering of something.
The sky is filled with burning stars…
Where, my beloved, are you now?
I cannot describe to you
All that is happening within me…
My friend, please pray to God for me,
As I am praying for you.
From the Program Notes by Steven Blier:
Tchaikovsky’s early death at age 53 was a tragedy—and a mystery. The stated cause was cholera, contracted either through unboiled water (the official version) or sexual contact (a privately rumored story). But there are enough alternate explanations and differing testimonies to fill several books. Several of them lie on my table as I write these words, with analyses that can get unpleasantly graphic. One theory is that the composer chose to end his life because of his overwhelming, impossible love for his nephew, Bob Davidov, to whom he dedicated the Pathétique Symphony. Another is that his suicide was ordered by the Tsar after the composer had seduced the wrong fifteen-year old boy. The most convincing, and the most chilling, is that he acceded to a sentence of suicide handed down by a hastily assembled “court of honor” composed of fellow alumni from his old law school. It seems that a certain Duke Stenbok-Fermor was disturbed by the attentions Tchaikovsky was lavishing on his nephew, and wrote a letter of accusation to the Tsar. Nicolai Jacobi, the man appointed to deliver the letter, decided to give it instead to his colleagues at the School of Jurisprudence, in order to avoid the possibility of scandal and exile for Tchaikovsky. Their grim verdict was that the composer should take his own life. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning are very similar to those of cholera. There is some strong evidence that this is true—stemming from a decades-old confession, passed through several generations, from Nicolai Jacobi’s widow.
We’ll never know the truth absolutely—whether it be cholera, depression, suicide, or decades of cigarettes and alcohol. What I do know is this: Tchaikovsky’s last symphony was his most tragic piece of music, seen at its premiere as a memento mori, a requiem. There is a strange moment in the first movement when a theme emerges in the trombones, bearing no relationship to the music surrounding it. It is a quote from the Russian Orthodox Mass for the Dead: “And may his soul rest with the souls of all the saints.”
From his earliest songs to his final ones, Tchaikovsky returned again and again to the subject of death, often offering comfort to those left behind to mourn. But his last song is his most desolate, a fitting companion to the Pathétique Symphony: “Again, as before, I am alone.” He knew the game was over.