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Tchaikovsky's Choral Works and Songs

St. John Chrysostom
Key works
  • Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41
  • 'None but the lonely heart', romance, Op. 6 No. 6
  • Lullaby, Op. 16 No. 1
  • 'Again, as before, alone', romance, Op. 73 No. 6

Occasional music came easily to Tchaikovsky, and he was reasonably pleased with the Moscow Cantata, the third of his exercises in the form, composed for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III in 1883. His most distinguished work for chorus, however, was a setting of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom composed with the aim, as he put it, of being in harmony with 'the Byzantine style of the architecture and the icons, with the whole structure of the orthodox service'. His treatment of the All Night Vigil, which followed three years later in 1881, has not caught the public imagination in the same way as the magnificent homage known as the Vespers by his disciple Sergey Rachmaninov.

It is curious that although several of Tchaikovsky's many songs feature regularly in recital programmes, only one has achieved widespread recognition. It comes from his first, 1869 set of romantsy, as Russians call the art-form, of 1869, and is a yearning setting of Goethe as translated into Russian by Lev Mey, known in English as 'None but the lonely heart'. Tchaikovsky knew personally many of the Russian poets whose texts he set, from his schoolmate Alexey Apukhtin to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov. Bittersweet nostalgia is the essence of the most successful songs, including the tender Lullaby later transcribed for solo piano by Rachmaninov, though Tchaikovsky signed off on a note of characteristic despair in his last song, 'Again, as before, alone'.

Notes © BBC/David Nice

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