Tchaikovsky at Cambridge

In 1893, Tchaikovsky was awarded an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University. Charles Villiers Stanford was involved organising the occasion. He recalled:

“In the spring of 1892 we set on foot the organization of the movement to celebrate the Jubilee of the University Musical Society in 1893. The first step taken was the invitation of Verdi and of Brahms to become honoris causa Doctors of the University, and the programme outlined was Verdi’s Requiem and Brahms’s C minor Symphony [No. 1]. It was decided that if either of these composers accepted no other should be included. The answers of both were unfortunately in the negative. Verdi regretfully declined on the score of his age and the illness of his wife, and Brahms’s answer, a most charming and appreciative letter, which is printed in the last volume of Kalbeck’s Life, made it clear that the long journey was hateful to him. We had therefore to consider the claims of the other officers of the musical army, and determined to make the invitation include one leading representative of each nation. The choice was not difficult to make. Saint-Saëns was chosen for France, Max Bruch for Germany, Tschaikowsky (then far less known in England than since his death) for Russia, Boito for Italy, and Grieg for the North. They all accepted and came, with the exception of Grieg, who had, through illness, to postpone his visit to the following year. The programme contained one specimen of each composer, chosen by himself. Saint-Saëns played the solo part in Africa, Bruch conducted the scene of the Phoenicians from Odysseus, Boito the prologue to Mefistofele, Tschaikowsky the symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini, which, as he wrote to me, he considered to be his best work in that style. Grieg was represented in absentia by Peer Gynt. […]

Tschaikowsky stayed with the late F. W. Maitland, who spoke to me with enthusiasm of his culture and grasp of extra-musical subjects. He reminded me, in more ways than one, of his countryman Turgenev, whom I once met at Madame Viardot’s. He had none of the Northern roughness, was as polished as a Frenchman in his manner, and had something of the Italian in his temperament. These international qualities may have been due to a dash of Hebrew blood, for Tschaikowsky means the ‘Son of Jacob’ [sic!]. For all the belief which he had in himself, he was to all appearances the acme of modesty. A very curious conversation took place in the train to Cambridge between him and a musical friend of mine [Herman Klein]. He told my friend of his having written the Pathetic Symphony [sic] (which had not yet been performed); that it originally was designed in three movements, but that after he had finished the third, something compelled him to add a tragic slow movement at the end; and he added that perhaps it was prophetic. It was; for he died the following year [sic], and the cause of his death is to this day as mysterious as his prophesy”

Stanford, Charles Villiers (1914) Pages from an Unwritten Diary. Los Angeles: The University of California Press, p.278-281.