It’s no secret that Tchaikovsky was a big fan of Mozart. Thanks to his many letters, reviews, essays, and diary entries, we gain insight into his feelings about his predecessors and his contemporaries. Here is just a portion of this wealth he left behind (sourced from www.tchaikovsky-research.net):

Letter 790 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 March 1878:

“Why don’t you love Mozart? With regard to him we clearly disagree with one another, my dear friend. I not only love Mozart – I worship him. For me, the best opera ever written is Don Giovanni. With your fine musical sensitivity, you surely ought to love this ideally pure artist. True, Mozart did expend his energies far too liberally and very often wrote not following his inspiration but out of necessity. However, do read his biography which has been excellently written by Otto Jahn, and you will see that he had no choice but to do so. Besides, Beethoven and Bach, too, wrote lots of weak works which are unworthy of standing alongside their masterpieces. Such was the force of circumstances that they sometimes had to turn their art into a trade. But take Mozart’s operas, two or three of his symphonies, his Requiem, his six string quartets dedicated to Haydn, and the C minor quartet. Do you really not find anything beautiful in all this? True, Mozart does not grip one as profoundly as Beethoven; his sweep is not as broad. Just as in life he was a carefree child to the end of his days, so in his music there is no subjective tragedy of the kind which reveals itself so strongly and powerfully in Beethoven. However, this did not prevent him from creating an objectively tragic figure, indeed the most striking and powerful human figure ever portrayed through music. I mean Donna Anna in Don Giovanni […]

I could go on talking to you forever about this radiant genius for whom I cherish a kind of cult […] Apart from you, I have met a few people before who had a fine understanding of music and loved it passionately, but who at the same time would not acknowledge Mozart. In vain I tried to open their eyes to the beauty of his music, but never before have I so wanted to win over someone to the ranks of Mozart’s admirers as I would like to win you over now. Of course, in our musical sympathies it is very often accidental circumstances which play an important part. The music of Don Giovanni was the first music which produced a tremendous impression on me. It awoke a holy enthusiasm in me, which would later bear fruit. Through this music I entered that world of artistic beauty inhabited only by the greatest geniuses. Before that I had only known Italian opera. It is to Mozart that I am obliged for the fact that I have dedicated my life to music. He gave the first impulse to my musical powers and made me love music more than anything else in the world.”

Letter 2195 to Nadezhda von Meck, 11/23 January 1883:

“I have just returned from the Opéra-Comique, where I have heard Le Mariage de Figaro twice, and if any more performances are scheduled, I will carry on going to them. I know that my veneration for Mozart surprises you, my dear friend. In fact, I, too, am surprised that such a broken, morally and mentally not quite sound person as myself has managed to preserve the ability to enjoy Mozart, who does not have the depth nor the strength of Beethoven, nor the warmth and passion of Schumann, nor the splendour of Myerbeer, Berlioz, Wagner, etc. Perhaps this is because Don Giovanni was the first opera which served as a spur to my musical feeling and opened up before me a whole hitherto unknown horizon of the highest musical beauty? Mozart does not overwhelm or stagger me—instead, he captivates me, gives me joy and warmth. When I listen to his music, it is as if I am doing a good deed. It is difficult to convey what exactly his beneficial influence on me consists of, but it is undoubtedly beneficial, and the longer I live, the closer I get to know him, the more I love him.”

Diary entry for 20 September/2 October 1886, in which Tchaikovsky first considers his attitude to Beethoven:

“I bow before the greatness of some of his works, but I do not love Beethoven. My attitude towards him reminds me of how I felt as a child with regard to God, Lord of Sabaoth. I felt (and even now my feelings have not changed) a sense of amazement before Him, but at the same time also fear. He created heaven and earth, just as He created me, but still, even though I cringe before Him, there is no love. Christ, on the contrary, awakens precisely and exclusively feelings of love. Yes, He was God, but at the same time a man. He suffered like us. We are sorry for Him, we love in Him His ideal human side. And if Beethoven occupies in my heart a place analogous to God, Lord of Sabaoth, then Mozart I love as a musical Christ. Besides, he lived almost like Christ did. I think there is nothing sacrilegious in such a comparison. Mozart was a being so angelical and child-like in his purity, his music is so full of unattainably divine beauty, that if there is someone whom one can mention with the same breath as Christ, then it is he. […] It is my profound conviction that Mozart is the highest, the culminating point which beauty has reached in the sphere of music. Nobody has made me cry and thrill with joy, sensing my proximity to something that we call the ideal, in the way that he has […] In Mozart I love everything because we love everything in a person whom we truly love. Above all I love Don Giovanni, as it was thanks to this work that I found out what music is. Until then (till the age of 17) I had known nothing apart from pleasant Italian semi-music. Of course, whilst I do love everything in Mozart, I won’t claim that every minor work of his is a masterpiece. No! I know that any one of his sonatas, for example, is not a great work, and yet I love every sonata of his precisely because it is his – because this musical Christ touched it with his radiant hand.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, posthumous portrait by Barbara Krafft, 1819 (Wikimedia Commons)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, posthumous portrait by Barbara Krafft, 1819 (Wikimedia Commons)

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“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” Tchaikovsky-Research.net. Last updated on 09 June 2013. Web. 16 October 2013. < https://www.tchaikovsky-research.net/en/people/mozart_wolfgang.html >

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