Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The curious case of Andre Tchaikowsky's skull

The past week or so, various newspapers have carried one of the most startling you-couldn't-make-this-up stories of the season: that the Royal Shakespeare Company has decided not to use the skull of the pianist Andre Tchaikowsky in its forthcoming run of Hamlet, starring David 'Dr Who' Tennant, in London next week.

So why would they have used it? Because the great Polish pianist, who died of cancer aged 46 in 1982, bequeathed his body to science and his skull to the RSC for theatrical use. The skull has already been used in performances in Stratford-on-Avon.

Alas, poor Andre - I knew him, dear readers, at least on the concert platform. I heard him play a recital at the QEH only two years or so before his untimely death and even now I remember the tenderness of his tone, the absolute love with which he infused every note he played, but especially Chopin. As it was his last wish that his skull should be put to theatrical use in Hamlet, it seems a little churlish of the RSC not to carry on, but they seem to think that using a real skull would be too 'distracting' for their poor attention-challenged audiences (so having arguably the best-ever Dr Who play Hamlet isn't 'distracting'?? OK, he's a great actor, but still...).

There is, however, an excellent Andre Tchaikowsky website, on which you can read in PDF format an entire book about him by David A. Ferre. His life was as extraordinary as it was short and this is well worth a read. (The creators apparently thought it would 'find its own way' to a publisher or, OMG, the which we can only add the words 'blimey' and 'oy vay').

"A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." And according to Stephen Kovacevich, "the best musician of them all."