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Tchaikovsky's Last Days: A Documentary Study Hardcover – November 21, 1996


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (November 21, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019816596X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198165965
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,246,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What or who killed the famous Russian composer Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky? Was it cholera, as his doctors recorded at his death in 1893 and most historians have since believed? Or was it self-administered poison, the enforced exit from a scandalous homosexual affair with a member of the Russian royal family? Versions of this latter account, which began as a swirl of rumors immediately after the composer's death, have had a long and curious afterlife, through the Czarist and Soviet periods into the heated sexual-political debates of our own time.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, Alexander Poznansky's Tchaikovsky's Last Days shifts carefully through a wealth of documentary evidence, including Russian archival material formerly inaccessible to scholars. His conclusion comes by way of a fascinating look at the sexual life of 19th-century Russia and a reflected glance at the sexual mythmaking impulses of the present.

From Library Journal

Intended primarily to refute several recent publications (e.g., Anthony Holden's Tchaikovsky: A Biography, LJ 3/1/96) that attribute Tchaikovsky's death to suicide in order to cover up an illicit homosexual liaison, this study concentrates on the last 20 days of the composer's life. To tell his version, Poznansky, librarian at Yale University Library's Slavic and East European Collection, presents numerous quotes from a variety of sources. His analyses, summaries, and conclusions are delivered with occasionally impassioned, sometimes pompous, often pedantic prose, while the documents provide a series of tiny, colorful snapshots of the artistic society in Russia during the late 19th century. Effective, if not overwhelming, the specialized text should be considered only by larger libraries that already possess Holden and other Tchaikovsky biographies.?Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a youngster I read some generic collection of composer's lives that was meant to be inspiring and edifying. Tchaikovsky's story ended with a strange tale of suicide committed by intentionally drinking a disease tainted glass of water in a restaurant. I was only about eleven years old and I distinctly remember thinking that the story was totally unbelievable, ridiculous and outrageous. What an inane theory. Many years later in the Nineteenth Century Music journal I read a brilliant article by Alexander Poznansky. With the thrilling determination and detail of a Grisham mystery thriller, using Petersburg medical statistics and even coroner's reports Poznansky pieces together Tchaikovsky's final weeks and establishes to any jury's satisfaction that the suicide theory is complete fantasy. Over the next few months the magazine was a maelstorm of scholarly discussion with Poznansky always taking the day. Even the new Grove Dictionary supports this suicide by water glass theory this time with a dash of arsenic, which is patently ridiculous on face value, except they add a "top secret" judicial tribunal from Tchaikovsky's high school that supposedly orders his demise. The theory being that Tchaikovsky, a world travelled, rich, renowned, and successful man, was so attached to his high school that even thirty five years later their poor opinion could precipitate his willing suicide. How could Grove's publish such nonsense? So is this book necessary? Absolutely. This book takes those original articles as its kernel with a great deal of expansion and refinement. It is a vital piece of Tchaikovsky scholarship and is a wonderful reading experience. It has a wonderful array of Tchaikovsky photos and documents not available elsewhere. There are not many scholarly books that are page turners, but this one is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Albert Gasparo on March 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I VERY MUCH ENJOYED THIS WORK...IT PROVED TO ME THAT THE RUMORS OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S SUICIDE WERE JUST RUMORS WITHOUT FOUNDATION...MR. POZNANSKY GOES THROUGH THE LAST TWO WEEKS OF THE COMPOSERS LIFE WHICH HE SPENT IN ST PETERSBURG...ALL THE EVIDENCE OF HOW HE SPENT HIS TIME IN THE CAPITAL IS REVIEWED AS WELL AS THE VIEWS OF THOSE WHO HOLD THAT THE COMPOSER WAS TRIED IN A "COURT OF HONOR" WHERE HE WAS TOLD HE WAS TO COMMIT SUICIDE FOR HAVING MADE ADVANCES AT THE NEPHEW OF A COUNT STENBOCK PER THE INSISTANCE OF THE CZAR HIMSELF...AND SO ACCORDING TO THIS VIEW THE COMPOSER WENT OUT AND BOUGHT SOME ARSENIC WHICH HE TOOK AND DIED A FEW DAYS LATER...HIS DEATH FROM CHOLERA BEING A COVER UP...POZNANSKY DEFLATES THESE RUMORS ONE BY ONE BY HIS EXCELLENT SCHOLARSHIP AND THOROUGHNESS....ONE HAS ONLY TO READ TCHAIKOVSKY'S LIFE TO KNOW HOW BELOVED THE COMPOSER WAS AT THIS TIME AND WITH HOW MUCH HONOR HE WAS TREATED BY THIS VERY CZAR WHO SUPPOSEDLY ORDERED THE COMPOSERS DEATH...MR POZNANSKY GAVE A CONVINCING NARRATIVE AS TO WHY THESE SUICIDE RUMORS HAVE NO LEGS AND NO EVIDENCE BEYOND HEAR SAY...AND SO UNTIL THE OPPOSITION COMES FORWARD WITH EVIDENCE COMPARABLE TO POZNANSKY'S IN REFUTING THE AUTHORS WORK I WILL HOLD TO THE VIEWS UPHELD IN THIS BOOK THAT THE COMPOSER DID NOT COMMIT SUICIDE...HE HAD EVERYTHING TO LIVE FOR, HE LOVED LIFE AND LOVED HIS HARD WON FAME AND HE WAS BELOVED BY THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE..AND LOOKED FORWARD TO THE MANY INVITATIONS TO CONDUCT HIS WORKS AS WELL AS CREATE NEW WORKS..HE WAS THE THIRD MOST FAMOUS MAN IN RUSSIA AFTER THE CZAR AND TOLSTOY WHO HAD HAD AN EARLIER START...I HAVE NOTHING BUT TOP PRAISE FOR THIS AUTHOR'S SCHOLARSHIP AND THOROUGHNESS IN PURSUING THIS STUDY..AFTER THE FALL OF THE SOVIET THE ARCHIVES ON THE COMPOSER WERE FINALLY OPENED TO ANYONE WHO WISHED TO EXAMINE THEM...Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cam on July 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Before I bought this book I had read the first reviewer. I recognize I was not sure about the contain of the book due to the comments of the first reviewer.

Now, just finishing of reading and after reading a dozen of books about Tchaikovsky I can give you my opinion:

Mr. Poznansky offers a magnific recopilation of data about the last two weeks of the composer. It is very impresionant the detail which he has collected in him study about the composer.

I encouragely recommend this reading in the case you love strongly the composer becasuse you will feel very near as a man a what is more, you will have enough data to compose your own opinion about the final: suicide or illness.

I think the answer is VERY clear after reading the book.
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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amadeus Salieri on January 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The only reason this author doesnt believe that Tchaikovsky was murdered is because he doesnt believe that such things could happen in the "civilized society" ( no offense intended to those of Russian decent) that Russia was in Tchaikovsky's time.

The author does not adequatlely account for the inconsistencies in the cholera story, which really seems to have been concocted to hide the truth and to avoid the stigma of suicide. Everyone who was at his deathbed gave conflicting accounts of what happened and even one of the doctor's accounts suggests that he died one day sooner than reported.

Pozanansky only dismisses the accounts of Bertenson and others because they were reported orally after their own deaths.

Granted, when each claim is examined on it's own, it is admittedly 'weak', but since all of the accounts confirm one another despite coming from different sources, they all add up to 'strong' evidence; in my opinion and seemingly the opinions of others.

For in November,1993, on the BBC broadcast documentary on the death of Tchaikovsky('Pride or Prejudice') various experts on Russian history concluded largley in favor of the theory that Tchaikovsky had been sentenced to death, ordered to do the right/decent thing.

Even Dr. John Henry of Guy's Hospital, who work in the British National Poison Unit, concluded that all the reported symptoms of Tchaikovsky's illness 'fit very closley to arsenic poisoning', and he suggested that people would have known that acute diarrhoea, dehydration, and kidney failure resembled the manifestaions of cholera which would help them put the death over as a case of cholera.

In the end, its a weak "documentary" that sounds as if it is afraid to even consider the fact that Tchaikovsky was murdered.
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