November 6, 1893: Cholera Kills Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky's Tomb

Tchaikovsky’s Tomb

November 6, 1893: Death of Tchaikovsky. “On 6 November 1893, nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in Saint Petersburg, at the age of 53. The official cause of death was reported to be cholera, most probably contracted through drinking contaminated water several days earlier. This explanation was accepted by many biographers of the composer. However, even at the time of Tchaikovsky’s death, there were many questions about this diagnosis.

The timeline between Tchaikovsky’s drinking unboiled water and the emergence of symptoms was brought into question. So was the possibility of the composer’s procuring unboiled water in the midst of a cholera epidemic with strict health regulations in effect. Also, while cholera actually attacked all levels of Russian society, it was considered a disease of the lower classes. The resulting stigma from such a demise for as famous a personage as Tchaikovsky was considerable, to the point where its possibility was inconceivable for many people. The accuracy of the medical reports from the two physicians who had treated Tchaikovsky was questioned. The handling of Tchaikovsky’s corpse was also scrutinized as it was reportedly not in accordance with official regulations for victims of cholera.”

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