Skip to page content

About this Piece

Composed: 1877-1878
Length: c. 7 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance

The last vocal music that Tchaikovsky wrote for Eugene Onegin was the duel scene at the end of Act II. He finished the opera (or “lyric scenes,” as he preferred to label the work) in Italy, at the end of a tumultuous eight-month period that also saw his traumatic marriage and the composition of the Fourth Symphony. As in most of the work, in this scene Tchaikovsky and his librettist, Konstantin Shilovsky, relied on the original lines of Pushkin’s famous verse novel for the text.

In the ironic novel, however, the farewell that Lensky sings before the duel is a letter, and a parody at that. Tchaikovsky turns it into an utterly serious, supremely poignant moment of reflection and resignation. Lensky contrasts the happy days of his youth with his current predicament, in a scandal that neither he nor Onegin wanted. Their quarrel was over Onegin’s attentions to Olga, Lensky’s sweetheart, and it is the loss of Olga that Lensky most regrets, now caring little whether he lives or dies in the imminent duel.

— John Henken