The Peculiar Reincarnation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Reading Time: 6 minutes
The witching hour is fast approaching.
It is nearing three in the morning when I shut off my computer screen and decide to retire to bed.
The house is motionless save for the slight pulsations of the vents. The curtains are swept slightly ajar. Outside it is dark, so dark that I can only see the faint outlines of my bedroom. It looks like a theater set, a television studio.
I have just made my entrance, and I am standing under its floodlights.
I move slowly—imperceptibly—from the desk across the room to the bed. Each touch of my bare feet is a flurry of sparks littering the ground. I hold my breath carefully; I just need a few more steps until—
A sharp ping! cuts through the air.
“The audacity,” I think angrily. “To text at this hour—”
The most peculiar thing.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky sent you a friend request.
“The name is Pyotr, not Peter,” I mutter. “Mr. Tchaikovsky, not today.”
Yet something piques my attention.
Two hundred twenty three mutual friends.
This is highly unusual.
I click on his profile page. “The man, the myth, the legend himself,” his bio states. “Reincarnated in 2020.”
His profile photo is an art print. The colors blend in a spectacular array of colors; the canvas is facing the viewer’s right side.
I look further down his profile. “Lives in Moscow… from Saint Petersburg… in an open relationship with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy—”
“This imposter has no respect for the true Tchaikovsky,” I think scathingly. “First the very spelling of the name, then the insolence to state such blasphemy… with Mendelssohn, of all composers.”
Herein my investigation commences.
I am a great admirer of Tchaikovsky’s work. His ballets, his operas, his symphonies, and his concertos are timeless.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born—not in Saint Petersburg—but in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia, in 1840. He started piano lessons at the age of five and demonstrated an early disposition toward music. Tchaikovsky’s compositions include 11 operas, seven symphonies, four concertos, three ballets, three string quartets, and numerous other songs, suites, and works. His revered “Piano Concerto No. 1” (1874-5) and “Violin Concerto in D major” (1878) are considered staples in classical repertoire. His three ballets, “Swan Lake” (1877), “The Sleeping Beauty” (1889), and “The Nutcracker Suite” (1892), are among the most famous ballets of all time. His operas, including “Romeo and Juliet” (1867), “Eugene Onegin” (1879), and “The Queen of Spades” (1890), are still performed in opera houses around the world.
Tchaikovsky’s music has a special place in my heart. Emotion defines every contour of his music. His work is dramatic and evocative, calling in vivid images fueled by harmonies imbued with intense passion and thoughtful orchestral touches.
His operas and overtures—including Shakespearean tragedies like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet”—tug your heartstrings for lingering words left unsaid, stolen moments, and broken hearts. His ballets enter another dimension, one of fairy tales and far-away lands, from the Sugar Plum fairy’s dance in “The Nutcracker Suite” to the gorgeous Rose Adage in “The Sleeping Beauty.” Let yourself be whisked away to a fantasy world where good triumphs and evil fails.
His single violin concerto is almost irresistible, combining the likes of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Dvořák in one concerto (you might want to keep these names in mind, by the way). Tchaikovsky wrote the violin concerto at a very difficult time, filled with problems in his personal life. In many of his letters and diaries, Tchaikovsky details his struggles with his sexual orientation.Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova, partly to appease his family and “rid” his homosexual tendencies, in 1877. The marriage was disastrous. Compounded with the truth of his sexuality, it left him with a deep sense of guilt, shame, and despair with the apprehension that Antonina might fully realize and reveal his orientation.
Tchaikovsky’s despair, however, can only be truly understood not through words, but through his music. Violinist Maxim Vengerov in his 2012 masterclass states: “He suffered so much. When I play his music, I suffer like I would be suffering in his place […] he cries in his music. The music was an escape for him. It was an expression of his heart.”
Tchaikovsky’s music is special to me, which is why I have brought it upon myself to investigate this curious revitalization of Facebook composers.
Upon the date of this publication, this “Tchaikovsky” has garnered over 1,000 Facebook friends, the majority of them Stuyvesant students. Unless it is some crude joke initiated by Bronx Science or the like, it is my belief that the individual behind “Tchaikovsky” currently attends Stuyvesant.
Let us examine further.
“Tchaikovsky” first updated his profile picture on February 15. Thus, we can assume that the account was created almost three months ago, prior to the quarantine situation.
“Tchaikovsky” updated his relationship status to “In a Complicated Relationship” on March 22. This, at least to some degree, holds a certain amount of truth. On the same day, the imposter updated his cover photo and profile photo. Both of them are art prints.
Since then, “Tchaikovsky” has plundered through multiple Stuyvesant groups and posts of the like. The imposter seems to hold a deep appreciation for Tchaikovsky’s music, in spite of their major historical inaccuracies (seriously, is it that difficult to get the spelling of “Pyotr” correct?). “Tchaikovsky” has often posted updates on his music, including his violin concerto, the opera “Eugene Onegin,” and the string sextet “Souvenir de Florence.”
From what I have gathered through numerous hours on Facebook, the imposter behind “Tchaikovsky” is 1. a Stuyvesant student; 2. relatively polite, if not a bit arrogant (you will see shortly) 3. terrible at history, and 4. appreciates his music.
There is little to go on, yet the mystery thickens.
Sophomore Clara Shapiro and junior Liam Kronman confessed that they were the individuals behind “Tchaikovsky” on March 25.
“I am Tchaikovsky on Facebook. It’s kind of like my thing—keep it quiet,” Shapiro stated in a recorded confession.
“Clara, I’ve had enough of your persistent budging. If you want the truth—okay. I. Am. ‘Peter’ Ilyich Tchaikovsky,” countered Kronman.
If this wasn’t confusing enough, the following day Shapiro posted another confession complete with a GIF of “Dance of the Little Swans.”
“Yeomen! Serfs! Clergymen!” the post reads. “The muse has visited—Corona has inspired me to change my name to TchaiCOUGHsky. No longer will I pretend to be Tchaikovsky, a Russian Man I am not.”
“Tchaikovsky” publicly countered this post, stating “How dare you use my name in such a manner! I am shocked by how rude and insolent you mortals can be. First you attempt to steal my identity… then you mock my name. This is no way to treat one of the world’s greatest composers.”
A post-apocalyptic world has since ensued.
It started slowly. It was yet another fateful day when Sergei Rachmaninov friend-requested me. Then came Igor Stravinsky. Then Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Next Johann Sebastian Bach. After, Niccolò Paganini. Then came Antonin Dvořák and later Johann (though it should be Johannes...) Brahms. Lastly came Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
Then came Mao Zedong. From where that came, I have no idea.
All of this left me feeling supremely confused and overwhelmed. I could not investigate nine composers (cough Mao Zedong… why are you here) all at once, nor could I wrap my head around this unusual phenomenon.
I took it upon myself to directly message this “Tchaikovsky.”
I approached “Tchaikovsky” with an air of cool professionalism mixed with a fangirl-esque style of flattery.
“Hello, Mr. Tchaikovsky,” I wrote. “My name is Christina Pan. I am a great admirer of your music… I’ve been longing to play your violin concerto from the moment I touched the violin… yes, I’d better get practicing, stop procrastinating (the official-unofficial term to procrastinate practice) you know… my teacher recently said my playing sounded like sour cream… it hurt me deeply... I’ve been wondering who is behind this all and would like to know who you truly are.”
“Tchaikovsky” replied within the hour of my messages.
“Ms. Pan, I am glad that you appreciate my music,” the message read. “To answer your questions; yes, I am a current student at Stuyvesant; yes, I appreciate and love music; yes, I may suck at history; and yes, I do love Tchaikovsky.”
The message was cryptic. It led to only more pathways down infinite, winding loops. In that moment, I was the protagonist; I felt like Sherlock Holmes—analyzing, deconstructing, and pondering.
Whoever you are, “Peter” Ilyich Tchaikovsky…
I’m watching you.