- A Musician Divided: André Tchaikowsky in his Own Words ed. by Anastasia Belina-Johnson
A Musician Divided has been released amidst a flurry of projects set to kindle interest in André Tchaikowsky (1935–82). Born in Warsaw to a Jewish family as Robert Andrzej Krauthammer, Tchaikowsky survived the Ghetto under the protection of his grandmother (who made the name change) and went on to become one of the most internationally sought-after pianists of the 1960s and 1970s. It is his activities as a composer, however, to which Anastasia Belina-Johnson and David Pountney, among others, have been seeking to draw attention of late. In 2013, Pountney oversaw the world premiere of Tchaikowsky’s only opera, The Merchant of Venice (1968–82), at the Bregenz Festspiele, and Belina-Johnson completed a German-language biography (André Tchaikowsky: Die tägliche Mühe ein Mensch zu sein (Hofheim, 2013)). A full-length documentary is currently in the making and a collection of his letters has just been made available in English for the first time (My Guardian Demon: Letters of André Tchaikowsky and Halina Janowska, 1956–1982 (Huntingdon, 2015)). David Ferré, author of The Other Tchaikowsky (self-published in 1991), has been assiduously detailing these activities on a website (www.andretchaikowsky.com/), which serves as a valuable research tool alongside this inaugural English-language study.
At the heart of Belina-Johnson’s volume are two as yet unseen documents offering new insight into Tchaikowsky’s life and career: a ‘Testimony’ recorded in 1947 of his experience as a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Poland, and his diaries of 1974–82, written once he had settled in England. The diaries are largely complete, we are told, but for entries and passages dropped for legal reasons, and unedited but for corrections of (almost all) grammatical and spelling errors (p. 100). They are also adorned with photographs and ample footnotes identifying the people and works mentioned, and, most interestingly, pointing out moments where Tchaikowsky’s account is unreliable.
Framing these sections are a biographical outline and compositional survey. The chapter on Tchaikowsky’s life draws extensively on reminiscences from those who knew him. Most of these were collected by Ferré between 1985 and 1992, others by Belina-Johnson in 2013. Their presence in conjunction with the diaries allows for a comparison of Tchaikowsky’s public and private behaviour, thus tying in with one of the book’s key themes: the ‘divided’ Tchaikowsky.
The chapter on his music lists his compositional output and offers segments of varying length and content on each of the surviving mature works. Some of these read like programme [End Page 491] notes, with musical description and details on a work’s genesis; sections on those pieces with performance and recording histories are accompanied by extracts from sleeve notes, programmes, and newspaper reviews. By far the most extensive discussion is reserved for The Merchant. Here, where more space is allowed, observations appear that make the prospect of further research by Belina-Johnson on this topic a tantalizing one.
On the whole, these outer chapters are summarial and descriptive. This is partly a result of the volume having been put together, as Belina-Johnson admits in the Preface, in less than a year (p. 13); but it also reflects one of the volume’s main objectives: Belina-Johnson presents the materials and raises questions in order that critical analyses of both writings and works might be taken up by later investigators. The book presents a wealth of materials to that end. In addition to Tchaikowsky’s own writings and the previously unpublished reminiscences by friends and colleagues, the book includes appendices listing recordings of Tchaikowsky’s performances and compositions. One key item that is missing, however, is a bibliography. Any future researchers will need to scan the footnotes and acknowledgements to discern Belina-Johnson’s sources of information.
The primary intention is rather traditional: to inspire studies of Tchaikowsky’s life and works. Belina-Johnson herself suggests publishing...