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Modest Tchaikovsky

Biography

The Russian playwright, critic and librettist Modest Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1850–1916) wrote the librettos for his brother Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s operas The Queen of Spades and Iolanta, in both cases working in close collaboration with his brother.

Modest Il’yich Tchaikovsky studied law at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg. He spent five years working in the civil service, then decided to devote the rest of his career to literature. He worked as tutor to a deaf-mute boy called Kolya Konradi (whom he taught to read and write in three languages and to speak), and during the 1870s worked as an anonymous music and theatre critic. He made his debut as a playwright in 1881 with the comedy The Benefactor. Over the next decade he produced several more popular plays. His final work for the theatre was a translation of Corneille’s tragedy Horace (1894). After Pyotr Il’yich’s death in 1893 Modest devoted much of the rest of his life to his brother’s memory. He wrote a three-volume biography, later translated into English by Rosa Newmarch as The Life and Letters of Tchaikovsky, and founded the Tchaikovsky Museum in Klin.

In addition to his collaborations with his brother, Modest Il’yich Tchaikovsky wrote librettos for several other composers. These include Nal’ I Damayanty (1904, based on the Mahabharata) for Anton Arensky, and Francesca da Rimini (1904) for Sergei Rachmaninoff.