Composers Datebook®

Two Tchaikovskys, one skull

Peter Tchaikovsky: Hamlet-Fantasy Overture – Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, cond.

Composer's Datebook - Nov. 24, 2022


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November 24, 2022


On today’s date in 1888, Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky premiered his new Overture-Fantasy Hamlet. He had been asked to write an overture for a gala charity benefit staging of Act III of Shakespeare’s famous play at the Mariinsky Theatre. Alas, the charity was, as Hamlet might say, “not to be.” But Tchaikovsky so liked the idea of a piece inspired by the mood and characters of Hamlet that wrote the overture anyway.

As Hamlet said, “the time is out of joint,” and we fast forward our story almost 100 years to 1982 and another Tchaikovsky – André Tchaikovsky (no relation to Peter Ilyich). André Tchaikovsky was a Polish composer who was also a virtuoso pianist of some note and a wanna-be actor to boot. When André Tchaikovsky died in 1982, he’d asked that his skull be donated to the Royal Shakespeare Company, hoping it would be used for the skull of Yorick in their productions of Hamlet. André Tchaikovsky got his wish in 2008, when his skull was finally held aloft by David Tennant in a series of performances of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon, a production that proved so famous that an image of Tennant as Hamlet holding Tchaikovsky’s skull ended up on a British postage stamp.

Music Played in Today's Program

Peter Tchaikovsky: Hamlet-Fantasy Overture – Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, cond. (DG 477670)

On This Day


  • 1897 - American jazz pianist and composer Willie ("The Lion") Smith, in Goshen, N.Y.;

  • 1911 - Finnish composer Erik Bergman, in Uusikaarlepyy;

  • 1927 - American composer Emma Lou Diemer, in Kansas City, Missouri;

  • 1934 - Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, in Engels, near Saratov;

  • 1953 - American composer, conductor and cellist Tod Machover, in New York City;

  • 1960 - American composer and double-bass virtuoso, Edgar Meyer;


  • 1726 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 52 ("Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht") performed on the 23rd Sunday after Trinity as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);

  • 1839 - Berlioz: dramatic symphony, "Romeo and Juliet," at the Paris Conservatory;

  • 1874 - Dvorák: opera "King and Collier," in Prague;

  • 1876 - Tchaikovsky: opera “Vakula the Blacksmith,” in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Dec. 6);

  • 1886 - Brahms: Cello Sonata No. 2 in F, Op. 99, in Vienna;

  • 1888 - Tchaikovsky: symphonic fantasy overture “Hamlet” (after Shakespeare), in Moscow (see Julian date: Nov. 12);

  • 1932 - Hilding Rosenberg: opera "Voyage to America," in Stockholm;

  • 1944 - David Diamond: "Rounds" for string orchestra, by the Minneapolis Symphony, Dimtri Mitropoulos conducting;

  • 1945 - Elie Siegmeister: "Western Suite," by the NBC Symphony, Arturo Toscanini conducting;

  • 1949 - Carl Ruggles: "Organum" for large orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1984 - Christopher Rouse: “The Surma Ritornelli “ for chamber ensemble, by the Syracuse (N.Y.) Society for New Music;

  • 1987 - Michael Torke: “Adjustable Wrench” for chamber ensemble, at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival by the Lontano ensemble, Odaline de la Martinez conducting;


  • 1859 - The legendary American soprano Adelina Patti makes her operatic debut at age 16 in New York City, singing in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor";

  • 1963 - Leonard Bernstein conducts New York Philharmonic in Mahler's Symphony No. 2 as JFK Memorial Concert telecast on CBS-TV;