TCHAIKOVSKY, Pyotr Il'yich (1840-1893). Autograph music manuscript, 'Allegro molto' ['Dance of the jesters and buffoons' from the opera Maid of Orleans, Act II], dated at the end Florence, 27 November 9 December 1878, in full score for orchestra, in ink on 20-stave paper by 'D.T. Éditeur, Paris', mainly on one system per page, 12 pages, oblong folio (270 x 353 mm), on 3 bifolia (only ff.2-3 still conjoined), lacking one bifolium after f.5 (portions of f.1 and f.5 roughly torn off).
Provenance: The editors of the Thematic and Bibliographical Catalogue of P.I. Tchaikovsky's Works refer to the composer's 'rather careless attitude towards his own manuscripts ... Many of them were handed to various people and were later partly lost'. The present manuscript, of a movement which was subsequently incorporated into a larger work, would have been a suitable candidate for presentation. It was most likely acquired from the composer, or shortly afterwards, by a cousin of Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein, Aaron Rubinstein (b.1850), whose direct descendants are the present owners; at some subsequent stage ownership stamps appear to have been roughly removed from the first and fifth leaves.
AN UNKNOWN TCHAIKOVSKY MANUSCRIPT FROM AN EARLY PERIOD IN THE COMPOSITIONAL HISTORY OF THE OPERA THE MAID OF ORLEANS. Although lacking a bifolium (bars 173-233) the manuscript is otherwise complete in orchestration and includes a number of revisions by the composer. An elegant copy, the manuscript nevertheless shows some haste in writing, with corrections to the text, a whole bar crossed through, and other corrections (with a slightly thicker pen nib) made probably on checking through. The text offers a number of minor variants from the received printed full score, chiefly relating to dynamics and slurrings and thus the textures of the orchestration: on pp. 2 and 8 the trombones have been marked much louder than at first intended; in bars 63-64 the cellos are slurred as are the violins in 61-62 and 69-70 and in 90-103 the violin slurs have been cancelled. The middle section in B-flat major does become slurred and more melodious, the cornets in bars 110 and 112 have expression markings particular to the bars and the timpani does not end the movement with a long roll.
The manuscript's dating poses a puzzle in terms of the compositional process for Maid of Orleans: Tchaikovsky was working on the libretto from about 21 November 3 December, though in a letter to Mme von Meck he indicated he did not intend to begin composition until after he had finished work on the orchestral Suite no.1, whose last two movements he completed on 27 November (the same day as the present manuscript); in the event he did not begin work on the composition until 4 December, according to a letter to his brother Anatoli of the following day: 'Last night ... I there and then decided not to lose any time, to start composing the opera from today and I have begun the venture with much efficiency'; at the end of the opera's autograph he writes that it was begun in Florence on 23 December. The present manuscript therefore precedes the accepted dates for the beginning of composition: its finished condition, and the fact that the 'Dance of the jesters' would not represent the most obvious starting point for the opera, may mean that it originally formed part of a separate composition, and the coincidence of dates hints at some association with the Suite no.1 itself, the manuscript of whose initial movements was at this stage thought to have been lost in the post on its way from Russia (it did not reach Tchaikovsky until early in the following year). Interestingly, a fragmentary draft of the 'Dance of the jesters' (bars 233-262) preserved at Klin (one of the few drafts for Maid of Orleans known to survive) is on the same bifolium as some drafts for the Suite no.1.
Tchaikovsky had left home late in 1878 for a trip to Florence and Paris, arriving in Florence on 20 November (coincidentally missing the first performance in St Petersburg of his Fourth Symphony on 25 November). It was there that he started in earnest on a new opera: The Maid of Orleans (Orleanskaia deva), with a libretto by the composer, based on Schiller's Die Jungfrau von Orleans, was completed on 24 February (O.S.) 1879 and first performed (complete) at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on 13 February 1881; in the following year it became the first of Tchaikovsky's operas to be performed outside Russia, with a production in Prague opening on 28 July. AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPTS BY TCHAIKOVSKY ARE EXCEPTIONALLY RARE AT AUCTION; ONLY A SINGLE LEAF HAS BEEN OFFERED FOR SALE IN THE PAST THIRTY YEARS, AND NO SUBSTANTIAL MANUSCRIPT HAS APPEARED SINCE BEFORE THE WAR.