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It is impossible to measure Tchaikovsky’s — or anyone’s — degree of happiness, but, from the evidence, it seems safe to say that no work of his gave him more pleasure in the writing than the opera Eugene Onegin. The extent of the moody and frequently depressed composer’s Onegin elation is reflected in a letter to his brother Modest (June 1877): “I am in love with the image of Tatyana,” he wrote. “I am under the spell of Pushkin’s poetry, and am compelled to compose the music as if by irresistible attraction.”

The score of Eugene Onegin is pervaded by shades of lyricism, from quiet melancholy to breathless passion (but hardly any “glitter”), punctuated now and then by music of a purely — but appropriately — decorative nature. One example of the latter occurs in the ball scene at the beginning of the third act, when a dashing Polonaise is danced. For the festivities, Tchaikovsky provided music with exactly the right aristocratic pomp and ceremony.

— Orrin Howard