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Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia Fatum (Фатум), in C minor (TH 41 ; ČW 38) was written between September and December 1868. After the first performances the composer destroyed the full score, but after his death it was reconstructed from the surviving orchestral parts and published as "Op. 77".



Tchaikovsky employed a larger orchestral compliment than in any of his previous works: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in B-flat) + 2 bassoons, 4 horns (in F), 3 trumpets (in F), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, tam tam + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos and double basses.


The fantasia is in one movement: Moderato assai—Più mosso, largamante (C minor, 407 bars), lasting around 15 to 20 minutes in performance.


Information on the composition of the fantasia is given in three letters from the composer to Anatoly Tchaikovsky. On 10/22 September 1868: "I've been unable to write anything new, and work has ground to a halt" [1]. On 25 September/6 October 1868: "I'm currently writing something symphonic, entitled Fatum" [2]. On 21 October/2 November 1868: "I've written an orchestral fantasia" [3]. Therefore, sketches for the Fatum were commenced sometime between 10/22 September and 25 September/7 October, and was completed by 21 October/2 November 1868. Tchaikovsky orchestrated the fantasia during December [4].

Before the first performance in February 1869, bars 16–25 were deleted by the composer, on the grounds that they were “ugly both in music and scoring” [5].


The programme for the fantasia is unknown, but the concert bill for its first performance contained an epigraph of verses by Konstantin Batyuskhov:

Knowest thou what the grey-haired Melchizedek,
Said as he bade farewell to life?:
AMan is born a slave,
A slave he goes to his grave,
And even death will scarce reveal to him,
Why he walked this sorrowful vale of tears,
Why he suffered, wept, endured, then vanished!

This epigraph drew harsh criticism from Herman Laroche [6] and Mily Balakirev, and there are two conflicting accounts of its origins. In the first, the epigraph was added without the composer's knowledge [7]. This account of the history of the epigraph was described by Sergey Rachinsky in a letter to Laroche:

As the concert programme was going to press, Nikolay Rubinstein was concerned, as always, with the descriptions given for the Musical Society; in his view the title Fatum was too vague, and he thought it advisable to attach a few simple verses, in order to explain the significance of the title. It so happened that I (not having heard a single note of Mr Tchaikovsky's symphony) went up to Mr Rubinstein and suggested this poem by Batyushkov, which was hitherto unknown to either Mr Rubinstein or Mr Tchaikovsky. Won over by the beautiful melancholy of Batyushkov's verse, Mr Rubinstein agreed with me at once, and added them to the concert programme [8].

The second story, related in Ivan Klimenko's reminiscences of Tchaikovsky [9], attributes the idea for the epigraph to Klimenko himself. After hearing the rehearsals of the fantasia, he stated his opinion that either an epigraph was required to explain the title, or the title should be expunged. He received the support of Sergey Rachinsky who recommended Batyushkov's verses to Tchaikovsky in the capacity of an epigraph. With the composer's agreement, Rachinsky there and then added the verses to the manuscript score.


On 15/27 February 1869 the première of the fantasia took place at the eighth concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. After the concert, Tchaikovsky told his brother Anatoly: "This is, I think, the best thing I have written to date—at least, so others say (a significant success)" [10].

In Saint Petersburg, Fatum was performed on 17/29 March 1869 at the ninth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Mily Balakirev. It was not a success. In the surviving correspondence between Balakirev and Tchaikovsky, some letters dating from February to May 1869 relate to Fatum and its performance. Among them are two letters from Balakirev containing critiques of the work, of which the one with the most unfavourable judgement was not sent to Tchaikovsky [11].

The London première of the work took place in a concert at the Queen's Hall on 16/28 October 1899, conducted by Henry Wood.


Whether under the influence of Balakirev's criticism, or because the composer's attitude to Fatum changed over time, the composer destroyed the manuscript score in the 1870s [12].


After Tchaikovsky's death the score of the fantasia was reconstructed from the orchestral parts used for the first performances by Ivan Shorning, librarian at the Moscow Conservatory. This reconstruction was published by Mitrofan Belyayev in 1896 as Op. 77 [13]. An arrangement of Fatum for piano duet, published at the same time, was made by Nikolay Sokolov.

In 1960 Fatum was published in volume 22 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Irina Iordan.


Fatum was dedicated to Mily Balakirev, who encouraged Tchaikovsky to write the fantasia.

Related Works

The fantasia's lyrical theme in A-flat major (from bar 43) appeared almost unchanged (but in the key of D-flat major) in the second part of the duet for Natalya and Andrey in the opera The Oprichnik (Act IV, No. 16).


See: Fatum: Recordings

Notes and References

  1. Letter 118 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 10/22 September 1868 [back]
  2. Letter 121 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 25 September/7 October 1868 [back]
  3. Letter 122 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 21 October/2 November 1868 [back]
  4. See Letter 124 to Modest Tchaikovsky, mid/late December 1868 [back]
  5. Letter 134 to Mily Balakirev, 13/25 March 1869. This section was retained in Belyayev's posthumous edition [back]
  6. Herman Laroche, Собрание музвкально-критических статей, том 2, часть 2 (1924), pp. 1–5 [back]
  7. Herman Laroche, Собрание музвкально-критических статей, том 2, часть 2 (1924), pp. 5–7 [back]
  8. Herman Laroche, «Концерты Русского музыкального общества 7-й, 8-й и 9-й», Современная летопись, 9 March 1869 [O.S.]  [back]
  9. Ivan Klimenko, Мой воспоминания о Петре Ильиче Чайковском (1908), pp. 11–13. This account is not supported by other documents [back]
  10. Letter 131 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 15/27 February 1869 [back]
  11. See letters 132, 134 and 138 to Mily Balakirev, mid/late February, 13/25 March and 3/15 May 1869; also Balakirev's letters to Tchaikovsky of 11/23 March, 18/30 March, 19/31 March and 31 March/12 April 1869 — Saint Petersburg Public Library [back]
  12. See Letter 996 to Nadezhda von Meck, 2/14 December 1878 [back]
  13. See letters from Mitrofan Belyayev to Modest Tchaikovsky, 18/30 March and 1/13 April 1898, and letter from Mitrofan Belyayev to Sergey Taneyev, 10/22 April 1898 — Klin House-Museum Archive [back]