Tchaikovsky's Greatest Fan
Madame von Meck was Tchaikovsky's patron. Her patronage made his immense output possible. Tchaikovsky was an eccentric who lived a life worthy of a fantasy in a child's book. He was extremely neurotic and given to crying fits.
Once, when visiting New York, he checked into a hotel and made himself at home. First he sat down and wept "rather long." He then walked quietly along Broadway, returning to his room where he, "started whimpering again several times." This was for no particular reason, by his own account.
It is likely that much of the voluptuous music Tchaikovsky created would never have been written were it not for Madame von Meck. She was a wealthy Russian heiress who became Tchaikovsky's greatest fan and secret patron.
The Fan Letter
It began when Madame von Meck wrote Tchaikovsky a fan letter, in which she told him of her love for his music. She offered him a generous yearly allowance with the sole proviso that they were never to meet. They followed this rather strange pledge even though they were within sight of each other at concerts and parties in Moscow.
For fourteen years Madame von Meck secretly sent Tchaikovsky a huge yearly stipend, allowing him to write without hindrance the music the world now loves, especially his children's masterpiece, the Nutcracker Suite.
They Wrote But Never Met
They corresponded regularly, if not voluminously, leaving a legacy of personal letter writing rivaled only by that of Mozart. At first she longed to meet him, but with the passing of years decided to experience him only through his music and letters.
Tchaikovsky agreed, telling her that he could never live up to what she might imagine him to be. Yet she was his confidante in their letters, and he poured out his heart to her as he could to few others.
Their Only Meeting Was Brief
They peeked at each other out of the corner of their eyes at concerts, and even met in a hurried encounter in a concert hall corridor. Both blushed deeply, and fumbled in embarrassment.
Finally Tchaikovsky hurriedly raised his hat, and Madame von Meck fluttered away. And that was the only time the woman who financed the Nutcracker Suite ever met the composer. They never saw each other again.