Tchaikovsky by Harris Freedman

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This Play is the copyright of the Author and must not be Performed, Copied or Sold without the Author’s prior consent


      (AS THE LIGHTS COME UP…we hear the beginning of the FIRST MOVEMENT

      (Sitting room of MODYA’S apartment in St. Petersburg,
      Russia.)(Modeste is the younger brother to Pyotr Tchaikovsky (PETYA))

      (November 1893, midnight.)

      (MODYA and PETYA ENTER.  MODYA is supporting PETYA who has abdominal
      and stomach pain and is weak from nausea and diarrhea.  He is wearing
      a evening robe.  MODYA helps him sit, makes him comfortable, and
      begins to wipe his face with a cloth.)

      (The MUSIC Stops.)

      (PETYA pushes MODYA’S hand away.)

      PETYA:  Modya, you should be at the opera instead of staying here with
      your boring brother.  Nothing you can do will make a difference;
      I’ll never recover.

      MODYA:  Stop talking nonsense, Petya.

      PETYA:  Recently every time I hear my works being performed I feel
      disenchanted with myself.

      (Petya coughs into his handkerchief, then puts his head back and
      closes his eyes.)

      MODYA:  The crowd is growing impatient.  I’m going to speak to them.

      (As MODYA begins to cross DS…)

      (MUSIC: PIANO TRIO plays under the dialogue.)

      (SASHA hugs PETYA from behind, strokes his head, kisses his cheek.)

      (MODYA stops, turns toward SASHA and moves US in her direction so that
      the two of them are behind PETYA.)

      SASHA:  (To Modya) Modichka, read only Dr. Bertensen’s report, don’t
      say anything else.  Promise me.

      MODYA:  I’m must tell them that the rumours are false.

      SASHA:  The people aren’t interested in rumours.  They’ve been waiting
      in the cold for hours to hear about Petya’s condition.  They love

      MODYA:  Not everyone loves Petya.

      SASHA:  This is no time for jealousy.

      MODYA:  I am not jealous.

      SASHA:  Don’t my wishes count anymore?

      MODYA:  No Sasha, not until you break your morfine habit.

      SASHA:  I forbid you to mention the ugly rumours!  Everyone knows that
      Petya would never try to harm himself!  He’ll recover.  I know he
      will.  He must.  God can’t take him from us now.  He’s only 53.
      He will recover!  Who gave you permission to speak for him?  For us!
      It’s his life, his good name, his relationship with his public!
      Just read the medical bulletin, Modichka.

      (SASHA EXITS.)

      (PETYA motions to MODYA to come to him. He does.)

      PETYA:  Modya, never tell Sasha about George Leon.  Promise me.

      MODYA:  Have you forgotten that Sasha died two years ago?

      (PETYA collapses back in his chair and closes his eyes.  MODYA turns
      to the audience.)

      MODYA:  (To the audience) Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Modest Ilyich
      Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich’s brother.  Our family is truly touched by
      your concern.  This is Dr. Bertenson’s report: Peter Ilyich is
      suffering from Asiatic Cholera.  At present there is retention of
      urine and general weakness.  While his spasms continue, the vomiting
      has subsided; at 11:00 p.m. the patient was given a hot bath.

      (1st REPORTER calls out from the crowd.)

      1st REP:      We heard that Peter Ilyich tried to kill himself.

      MODYA:  Vicious lies!

      (2nd REPORTER calls out from the crowd.)

      2nd REP:      Is it true that when Peter Ilyich was accused of sodomy the
      Tsar gave him a choice of exile or suicide?

      MODYA:  Have you no shame?!  You heard the doctor’s diagnosis:  At
      midnight Dr. Bertenson gave Peter Ilyich an injection of camphor,
      which reduced the severity of his spasms.  At ten minutes past
      midnight he was given an injection to stimulate his heart.

      (MODYA EXITS as we hear…)

      (MUSIC, Andantino from the 2nd movement of String Quarter #1, plays
      under PETYA’S monologue.)

      PETYA:  The proudest moment of my life was when I sat next to the great
      Lev Nikoleyevich Tolstoy during a performance of my Andantino and I
      saw the tears streaming down his face.
                      (MUSIC STOPS.)
                Now I’m played out!  Dried up!  Barren!

      (PETYA lays his head back…)


      (PETYA suddenly sits up and begins to hum the melody of the aria…)

      (ALEXSEY ENTERS with his scarf over his head and does a parody of the
      female part of the aria…)

      (PETYA stands, places his robe and the chair on the sidelines, and
      begins to sing the aria—the part of Don Giovanni—with the help of
      the musicians and those offstage.)

      (ALEXSEY, playing a parody of Zerlina, with PETYA playing a parody of
      the male part…)

      (The atmosphere is transformed to a lively party, and ..)

      (PETYA takes the scarf from ALEXSEY, and they switch roles, continuing
      the parody as PETYA sings the female part falsetto helped by the other

      (SCENE 2 - Thirty-three years earlier, ALEXSEY’S Salon, St


      ALL:        (ALL LAUGH.)

      (PETYA and ALEXSEY each pour a glass of vodka as they speak.)

      ALEXSEY:      Petina, my dear, it amazes me how you can remember the music
      having heard “Don Giovanni” last night for the first time.
                      (He lifts his glass and toasts.)
                To Petina!

      PETYA, ALEXSEY & ALL (From the sidelines):    Petina!

      (PETYA and ALEXSEY DRINK and refill their glasses.)

      PETYA:  To Alexsey!

      PETYA, ALEXSEY & ALL (From the sidelines):    Alexsey!


      ALEXSEY:      That civil service job of yours must drive you mad with

      PETYA:  My consolation is that when I have money in my pocket I’m
      happy, but then I squander it all on pleasures.

      ALEXSEY:      The most important things in life are pleasure and love.

      PETYA:  You can say that because you always have money.

      (ALEXSEY now takes the floor and recites his poem with exaggerated
      feeling while PETYA, and ALL the others from their places on the
      sidelines have fun moaning in mock suffering and sighing and calling

      ALEXSEY:      (reciting) All the money in the world could not assuage my


      ALEXSEY:(reciting) I shall tell you how,
      in unexpected melancholy,
      Seeking the boundary of desires,
      I once fell in love —


      ALEXSEY:(reciting) a love so strange

      PETYA & ALL:  (Ghostlike sounds.) OOOWOWOWOWOWOWWOWOWOOO

      ALEXSEY:(reciting) That long I did not dare believe it.
      God knows whether pent up emotions burst relentlessly
      To pour forth suddenly on anyone at all,
      Or imagination was seething with idle force
      Or my breast was breathing sensuality,


      ALEXSEY:(reciting) I only know that in a life of loneliness
      Those were the best years,
      And that so ardently, honestly and deeply
      I shall never love again.


      ALEXSEY: So you see, I am always miserable since I am forever falling
      into unrequited love.

      PETYA:  Unrequited lust!

      ALEXSEY:      Isn’t that what I said?

      PETYA & ALL:  (LAUGH.)

      (PETYA lifts his glass to toast.)

      PETYA:  To lust!

      ALEXSEY & ALL:  To lust!

      (PETYA and ALEXSEY drink.)

      PETYA:  My weakness for pleasure compels me to ignore my debts and
      enjoy myself.

      ALEXSEY:      You echo my most profound convictions Petina my dearest.

      PETYA:  At least you can afford it.

      ALEXSEY:      I want to dance!  Dance!  Dance!  Enjoy!

      (MUSIC — excerpt from the 4th movement of Tchaikovsky’s first
      Symphony.  PETYA and ALEXSEY dance together with gusto, it is a
      Russian folk-dance – MUSIC Stops.)

      (They fill their glasses once again.)

      PETYA:  What’s the use of music if it doesn’t bring pleasure?  To

      ALEXSEY, PETYA & ALL:        Pleasure!

      (PETYA and ALEXSEY drink.)

      (MUSIC: PIANO TRIO FOR 0:09)
      (SASHA ENTERS and goes toward PETYA.)

      (SCENE 3 — Four years later.  ALEXSEY’S Salon St Petersburg.)

      (ALEXSEY intercepts SASHA and kisses her hand.)

      ALEXSEY:      Alessandra Tchaikovskaya.

      SASHA:  Alexsey Nikolaevich.

      (PETYA goes to SASHA.)

      PETYA:  Sasha.

      SASHA:  Petechka!
      (SASHA and PETYA kiss on the cheeks three times.)
                How could you miss your own graduation concert?  I thought something
      happened to you.

      PETYA:  I couldn’t bear to listen to my cantata being played.

      SASHA:  The concert was a great success.

      PETYA:  The critics hated it, I’m a failure as a composer.

      ALEXSEY:      The names of the critics will be lost in the dustbin of
      history while your music will be played all over the world.

      SASHA:  Alexsey is right, Petya.

      PEYA:        I’ve been offered a civil service post; meat inspector at the
      St Petersburg markets.

      ALEXSEY:      (Laughs.) What a fantastic opportunity!  Imagine getting paid
      to inspect meat
      (Aside to PETYA so SASHA doesn’t hear)
                instead of having to buy one of the choice morsels one sees cruising
      along the Nevsky Prospect.

      SASHA:  I thought you resigned from the civil service.

      PETYA:  It’s lucky I didn’t resign, or else I would be penniless.

      ALEXSEY:      A career in meat!

      SASHA:  You’re an artist, not a meat inspector.

      PETYA:  I’m not sure if I’m truly an artist.

      ALEXSEY:      Perhaps inspecting meat will make you fun again.

      PETYA:  I haven’t a rouble to my name, and my debts are growing every

      ALEXSEY:      Then stop giving your money away to every young musician with
      a sob story.

      SASHA:  You’ve always been too kind-hearted and generous, Petya.

      ALEXSEY:      (Aside to PETYA.) Especially to young and handsome male

      PETYA:  Even if I do have some talent I’m too old to seriously
      develop it.

      SASHA:  Nonsense Petya!  You’re still young!  And you’ve been invited
      to teach composition at the Music Conservatory.

      PETYA:  How can I teach composition when my new symphony is driving me
      mad?  I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I’ve lost track of day and

      ALEXSEY:      A day in the life of a typical meat inspector.

      PETYA:  I need to normalise my life somehow!

      SASHA:  What you need is a good woman.

      ALEXSEY:      That would certainly simplify his life.

      SASHA:  Now what’s this I hear about you and an opera singer?

      PETYA:  Desirée Artot.

      ALEXSEY:      Desirée Artot, the famous hot-blooded Diva.

      SASHA:  It would make papa and me so happy to see you finally married.

      (SASHA EXITS.)

      ALEXSEY:      Your sister is right, “What you need is a good woman.”

      PETYA:  Can’t you take anything seriously!?  Desiree’s voice is
      soulful and passionate, magical. . .

      ALEXSEY:      What will you do when your hot-blooded Diva expects you to
      perform in bed?  I can see you and Desiree on your wedding night;
      (ALEXSEY demonstrates, exaggerating.)
                she puts on a sexy negligee and slips into bed steaming with
      passion; you climb into bed trembling with fear, unable to get an
      erection, with no idea of what to do with that passionate female body
      next to you, and suddenly you both launch into an operatic duet.  But
      be careful, most operas end in tragedy.

      PETYA:  Many of our former schoolmates are married, they all seem to
      manage to satisfy their wives.

      ALEXSEY:      Not all from what I hear.  But you’re like me.  You have no

      PETYA:  Marriage would provide me with respectability, then I would be
      free to indulge my natural appetites.

      ALEXSEY:      You’ve never been with a woman.  You can’t change what
      you are.

      PETYA:  I don’t see why I can’t establish a normal lifestyle with a
      wife and family.  I’m only truly happy when I’m staying at Kamenka
      with Sasha and my young nieces, especially with Tatyana.  I love to
      create music, ballets, and dramas for her.

      ALEXSEY:      Married life with the Diva could never be normal in that
      (ALEXSEY notices a letter, picks it up and looks at it.)
          What’s this?
      (PETYA tries to retrieve the letter. ALEXSEY eludes him as he begins
      to read aloud.)
                (Reading) “Dearest Modya . . .”

      (PETYA tries to retrieve the letter, but fails.)

      (MUSIC: Symphony #1 mvmnt 3 – playful.)

      (Throughout the reading, PETYA tries to take the letter from ALEXSEY
      without success.)

      PETYA:  Give it to me!  That’s a private letter to my brother!

      ALEXSEY:      Don’t take yourself so seriously.
                (ALEXSEY READS.)
                Dear Modya, At sixteen you shouldn’t be wasting your time
      pondering what you might do after graduation.  Instead have fun with
      the other boys.
                      (To PETYA)
                Smashing advice, how I envy him.
                      (ALEXSEY READS)
                Don’t forget that barely ten years ago I was your age and in the
      same school.
                      (To PETYA)
                Petya my dear, wasn’t it heavenly to be surrounded day and night
      by luscious young boys?
                      (ALEXSEY READS)
                You and Tolya may be twins by birth, but you couldn’t be more
      different one from the other.
          (To PETYA)
      Modya is like you, Tolya must take after your father.
          (ALEXSEY READS)
                Don’t blame Tolya for nagging you to stop masturbating, it’s my
      fault, I instigated him.
          (To PETYA)
                It could be worse, what if Modya didn’t have any sexual activity
      at all?
                      (ALEXSEY READS.)
                The only way to cure you of this shameful behaviour is to pester
                      (ALEXSEY comments.)
                No wonder you didn’t want me to see this letter you hypocrite

      (ALEXSEY laughs and resumes reading to himself.)

      PETYA:  (To audience) Modya, my dear, masturbation is an abominable
      habit that can become deep-rooted.  If you continue you will ruin
      yourself . . .

          (ALEXSEY looks up at PETYA.)

      ALEXSEY:      What do you expect him to do at night while all the beds
      around him are squeaking in rhythm?

          (ALEXSEY resumes reading to himself.)

      PETYA   (To audience) And I expect you to watch for Tolya’s unbearable
      habit of grimacing.  Drive him crazy until he’s cured of it.  As
      always I smother you both with kisses.

      ALEXSEY:      I’m sure Tolya would stop grimacing if he began to
                      (PETYA LAUGHS.)
                That’s better.  Party time in two hours!

      PETYA:  I thought I’d have peace and quiet.

      ALEXSEY:      You were more sociable and fun loving before you began
      studying at the Music Conservatory.

      PETYA:  Why do you always try to drag me to meaningless parties with
      people who are only concerned with appearances and pleasure?

      LYOLLYA:      Perhaps that career in meat suits you.

      PETYA:  How can you squander your talent for poetry?  Everyone knows
      you’re capable of being the next Pushkin.  Instead you’ve become a
      mere party rhymester and a court jester to those nonentities.

      ALEXSEY:      My early promise as a poet is my affair with myself!  I
      don’t owe you or anyone in Russia an obligation to fulfill a promise
      that I never made and never will make!

      PETAY:  As for me, up until now I was confused.  My music teachers used
      to say that I lacked the talent for a career in music.  But I know
      that I could never be happy without my music.  I’m going to labour
      and struggle only for my music!

      ALEXSEY:      You’ve definitely gone mad.  You’re disappointed in our
      friends and in me, but at the same time you continue to believe like a
      naïve schoolgirl in ‘labour’ and ‘struggle’.  Why should we
      labour?  With whom shall we struggle?  My dear Pepinyerka, labour is
      sometimes a bitter necessity, but an occupation chosen according to
      your own taste and inclination isn’t labour, and musical composition
      is for you the same as stimulating conversations or rhyming are for
      me.  Is it labour when I admire the beauty of some lovely boy?  That
      was the shortest meat inspector’s career on record.

      PETYA:  I didn’t mean to insult you.

      ALEXSEY:      You’re among the few people whom I endure.  Now which will
      it be?  Meat, marriage, parties, love, sex, or music?

      PETYA:  Music, love and sex!

      ALEXSEY:      All at the same time?

      PETYA:  When there’s music everything else follows!



      (Scene 4 — Five years later, SASHA’S Salon, KAMENKA, near Kiev;

      (TATYANA hugs PETYA and looks up at him.)

      TATYANA:      Please uncle Petya, can we do the story about Odette and
      Siegfried?  Please.

      PETYA:  How can I refuse such a tender request?

      (PETYA kisses TATYANA on the forehead.)

          (MUSIC: PIANO TRIO FOR 0:09.)
          (SASHA ENTERS.)

          (TATYANA goes to SASHA.)

      SASHA:  Is this a new theatrical, Petya?

      PETYA:  It’s a little something the girls and I cooked up.

      TATYANA:      It was all uncle Petya’s idea.  We just helped a little.
                (TATYANA dances a pirouette.)
      I’m Odette the leader of the swans.

      PETYA:  But now you also have to play Odile and I’ll play Prince

      (TATYANA takes a bow and tries to look serious.)

      SASHA:  And what role do I play?

      (PETYA goes to SASHA and leads her to centre stage.)

      PETYA:  You will be the Queen, Siegfried’s mother.  You’ll dance
      with us at the grand ball.
      (PETYA bows to SASHA and she dances a solo waltz centre stage, acting
      the queen.)
      (PETYA motions to TATYANA as he speaks.)
      Places everyone!
          (TATYANA runs US and hides.)
      Alexsey will play Rotbart, the evil magician.

[end of extract]

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