Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Explained

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky[1] (Russian: Пётр Ильич Чайковский)  -) was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. He wrote some of the most popular concert and theatrical music in the current classical repertoire, including the ballets Swan Lake and Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, his First Piano Concerto, several symphonies, and the opera Eugene Onegin.

Born into a middle-class family, Tchaikovsky's education prepared him for a career as a civil servant, despite the musical precocity he had demonstrated from an early age. Against the wishes of his family he chose to pursue a musical career, and in 1862 entered the St Petersburg Conservatory, graduating in 1865. This formal, Western-oriented training set him apart, musically, from the contemporary nationalistic movement embodied by the group of young Russian composers known as "The Five", with whom Tchaikovsky sustained a mixed professional relationship throughout his career.

As his style developed, Tchaikovsky wrote music across a range of genres, including symphony, opera, ballet, instrumental, chamber and song. Although he enjoyed many popular successes, he was never emotionally secure, and his life was punctuated by personal crises and periods of depression. Contributory factors were his suppressed homosexuality and fear of exposure, his disastrous marriage, and the sudden collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. Amid private turmoil Tchaikovsky's public reputation grew; he was honoured by the Tsar, awarded a lifetime pension and lauded in the concert halls of the world. His sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera, but some attribute it to suicide.[2]

Although enduringly popular with concert audiences across the world, Tchaikovsky has at times been judged harshly by critics, musicians and composers. However, his reputation as a significant composer is now generally regarded as secure,[3] the disdain with which Western critics in the early–to mid-20th century dismissed his music as vulgar and lacking in elevated thought having largely dissipated.



Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a small town in present-day Udmurtia, formerly the Imperial Russian province of Vyatka. His father, Ilya Petrovich, was the son of a government mining engineer of Ukrainian descent. His mother, Alexandra, was of partial French ancestry and was the second of Ilya's three wives. Pyotr was the elder brother (by some ten years) of the dramatist, librettist, and translator Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky.[4]

In 1843 Tchaikovsky's parents hired a French governess, Fanny Dürbach. Her love and affection for her charge is said to have provided a counter to Alexandra, who is described by one biographer as a cold, unhappy, distant parent not given to displays of physical affection.[5] However, other writers claim that Alexandra doted on her son.[6]

Tchaikovsky began piano lessons at the age of four. A precocious pupil, he could read music as well as his teacher within three years. However, his parents' passion for his musical talent soon cooled. In 1850, to counter their feelings of social inferiority arising from their relatively humble origins, the family decided to send Tchaikovsky to the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg. This establishment mainly served the lesser nobility or gentry, and would prepare him for a career as a civil servant. As the minimum age for acceptance was 12, Tchaikovsky would have to spend two years boarding at the School of Jurisprudence's preparatory school, 800miles from his family.[7] Once those two years had passed, Tchaikovsky transferred to the School of Jurisprudence to begin a seven-year course of studies.[8]

Adolescent years

On June 25, 1854 Tchaikovsky suffered the shock of his mother Alexandra's death from cholera. He was so affected that he felt unable to inform Fanny Dürbach until a further two years had passed.[9] However, within a month of her death he was making his first serious efforts at composition, a waltz in her memory. Several writers have claimed that the loss of his mother was formative to Tchaikovsky's sexual development, along with his experience of the allegedly widespread same-sex practices among students at the School of Jurisprudence.[10] Whatever the truth of this, some friendships with fellow students, such as those with Aleksey Apukhtin and Vladimir Gerard, were intense enough to last the rest of his life.[11] Music was not considered a high priority at the School,[12] but Tchaikovsky regularly attended the theater and the opera with other students.[13] . He was fond of works by Rossini, Bellini, Verdi and Mozart. Piano manufacturer Franz Becker made occasional visits to the School as a token music teacher, and gave lessons. This was the only formal music instruction Tchaikovsky received there. From 1855 Ilya Tchaikovsky funded private lessons with Rudolph Kündinger, a well-known piano teacher from Nuremberg. Ilya also questioned Kündinger about a musical career for his son. Kündinger replied that nothing suggested a potential composer or even a fine performer. Tchaikovsky was told to finish his course and then try for a post in the Ministry of Justice.[14]

Tchaikovsky graduated on May 25, 1859 with the rank of titular counselor, the lowest rung on the civil service ladder. On June 15, he was appointed to the Ministry of Justice. Six months later he became a junior assistant and two months after that, a senior assistant. There Tchaikovsky remained for the rest of his three-year civil service career.[15]

In 1861, he attended classes in music theory organized by the Russian Musical Society (RMS) and taught by Nikolai Zaremba. A year later he followed Zaremba to the new St Petersburg Conservatory. Tchaikovsky would not give up his Ministry post "until I am quite certain that I am destined to be a musician rather than a civil servant."[16] From 1862 to 1865 he studied harmony, counterpoint and fugue with Zaremba, while Anton Rubinstein, director and founder of the Conservatory, taught him instrumentation and composition.[17] In 1863 he abandoned his civil service career and studied music full-time, graduating in December 1865. Rubinstein was impressed by Tchaikovsky's musical talent, but this did not stop either him or Zaremba from later clashes with the young composer over his First Symphony, written after his graduation, when he submitted it to them for their perusal. The symphony was given its first complete performance in February 1868, where it was well received.[18]

Relationship with The Five

See also: Tchaikovsky and the Five. As Tchaikovsky became Rubinstein's best known student, he was initially considered by association as a natural target for attack by the nationalistic music group known as The Five, especially as fodder for César Cui's criticism.[19] This attitude changed slightly when Rubinstein left the St. Petersburg musical scene in 1867. In 1869 Tchaikovsky entered into a working relationship with composer Mily Balakirev, leader of The Five; the result was Tchaikovsky's first recognised masterpiece, the fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, a work which The Five wholeheartedly embraced.[20] He remained friendly but never intimate with most of The Five, ambivalent about their music; their goals and aesthetics did not match his.[21] He took pains to ensure his musical independence from them as well as from the conservative faction at the Conservatory—a course of action facilitated by his acceptance of a professorship at the Moscow Conservatory offered to him by Nikolai Rubinstein.[22]

Mature composer

After his graduation from the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1865, Tchaikovsky was asked by Anton Rubinstein's younger brother Nikolai to become professor of harmony, composition, and the history of music at the Moscow Conservatory.[23] Tchaikovsky gladly accepted this position,[24] combining his duties with music criticism[25] and continuing to compose. Some of his best-known works from this period include the First Piano Concerto, the Variations on a Rococo Theme for violoncello and orchestra, the Little Russian Symphony and the ballet Swan Lake. The First Piano Concerto suffered an initial rejection by its intended dedicatee, Nikolai Rubinstein, as recounted three years later by the composer.[26] The work was subsequently offered to pianist Hans von Bülow, whose playing had impressed Tchaikovsky during an appearance in Moscow in March 1874. Bülow premiered the work in Boston in October 1875; Rubinstein eventually championed the work himself.[27]

Turmoil in life and music

See also: Désirée Artôt and Antonina Miliukova. The writer Alexander Poznansky showed through his research that Tchaikovsky had homosexual tendencies and that some of the composer's closest relationships were with persons of the same sex. After reading all Tchaikovsky's letters (including unpublished ones), Poznansky concludes that the composer "eventually came to see his sexual peculiarities as an insurmountable and even natural part of his personality ... without experiencing any serious psychological damage." [28] Relevant portions of his brother Modest's autobiography, where he tells of his brother's sexual orientation, have also been published.[29] Some previously suppressed letters, where Tchaikovsky openly speaks out about his homosexuality, have been published in Russian.[30]

In 1868, Tchaikovsky met the Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt, then on a tour of Russia. They became infatuated, and were engaged to be married,[31] [32] [33] although there was no formal announcement. It seems plausible that Tchaikovsky was more captivated by her as a singer and actor than as a romantic interest — in 1888 he would describe her as "the greatest among the great"[34] — and had difficulty in separating the artist from the person.[35] He dedicated his Romance in F minor for piano, Op. 5, to her. However, on September 15, 1869, without any communication with Tchaikovsky (as the social conventions of the time would have demanded), Artôt married a member of her company, the Spanish baritone Mariano Padilla y Ramos. The general view has been that Tchaikovsky got over the affair fairly quickly. It has, however, been postulated that he coded her name into the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, the tone-poem Fatum, the Symphony No. 3, and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture.[36] They met on a handful of later occasions, and in October 1888 he wrote Six French Songs, Op. 65, for her, in response to her request for a single song. Tchaikovsky later claimed she was the only woman he ever loved.[37]

In April 1877 Tchaikovsky's favorite pupil, Vladimir Shilovsky, had married suddenly.[38] [39] Shilovsky's wedding may, in turn, have spurred Tchaikovsky to consider such a step himself.[40] He declared his intention to marry in a letter to his brother;[41] There followed Tchaikovsky's ill-starred marriage to one of his former composition students, Antonina Miliukova. The brief time with his wife drove him to an emotional crisis, which was followed by a stay in Clarens, Switzerland, for rest and recovery.[42]

The strain of the marriage may have actually enhanced Tchaikovsky's creativity. The Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin, arguably two of his finest compositions,[43] could be considered proof of this.[43] He finished both these works in the six months between his engagement and the completion of the rest cure following his marriage breakdown. While in Clarens he also composed his Violin Concerto, with the technical assistance of one of his former students, violinist Yosif Kotek, who would later help establish contact between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a railway magnate. She would later become the composer's patron and confidante.[44] Like the First Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto was rejected initially by its intended dedicatee, in this case the noted virtuoso and pedagogue Leopold Auer. It was premiered by another soloist (Adolph Brodsky), and while the work would eventually enjoy public success, the audience hissed at its premiere in Vienna,[45] and it was denigrated by music critic Eduard Hanslick:

The Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely no ordinary talent, but rather, an inflated one, obsessed with posturing as a man of genius, and lacking all discrimination and taste.... the same can be said for his new, long, and ambitious Violin Concerto. For a while it proceeds soberly, musically, and not mindlessly, but soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and dominates until the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played: it is tugged about, torn, beaten black and blue.... The Adagio is well on the way to reconciling us and winning us over when, all too soon, it breaks off to make way for a finale that transports us to the brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian church festival. We see a host of gross and savage faces, hear crude curses, and smell the booze. In the course of a discussion of obscener illustrations, Friedrich Vischer once maintained that there were pictures whose stink one could see. Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto confronts us for the first time with the hideous idea that there may be musical compositions whose stink one can hear.[46]

Auer belatedly accepted the concerto, and eventually played it to great public success. In future years he would teach this work to his pupils, including Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. Auer later said that Hanslick's comment that "the last movement was redolent of vodka [...] did credit neither to his good judgment nor to his reputation as a critic."[47]

The intensity of personal emotion now flowing through Tchaikovsky's works was entirely new to Russian music. It prompted some Russian commentators to place his name alongside that of novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Like Dostoyevsky's characters, they felt the musical hero in Tchaikovsky's music persisted in exploring the meaning of life while trapped in a fatal love-death-faith triangle.[48] The critic Osoovski wrote of Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky: "With a hidden passion they both stop at moments of horror, total spiritual collapse, and finding acute sweetness in the cold trepidation of the heart before the abyss, they both force the reader to experience those feelings, too."[49]

Tchaikovsky's fame among concert audiences began to expand outside Russia, and continued to grow within it. Hans von Bülow had become a fervent champion of the composer's work after hearing some of it in a Moscow concert during Lent of 1874. In a German newspaper later that year, he praised the First String Quartet, Romeo and Juliet and other works, and he would later take up many other Tchaikovsky works both as pianist and conductor. In France, Camille Benoit began introducing Tchaikovsky's music to readers of the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris. The music also received significant exposure during the 1878 International Exhibition in Paris. While Tchaikovsky's reputation as a composer grew, a corresponding increase in performances of his works did not occur until he began conducting them himself, starting in the mid-1880s.[50] Nevertheless, by 1880, all of the operas Tchaikovsky had completed up that point had been staged, and his orchestral works had been given performances that allowed them to be sympathetically received.[51]

Mme. von Meck

See also: Nadezhda von Meck.

Nadezhda von Meck was the wealthy widow of a Russian railway tycoon and an influential patron of the arts. Having heard of Tchaikovsky, possibly through Kotek, she wished to commission some chamber pieces from him. Her support became an important element in Tchaikovsky's life; she eventually paid him an annual subsidy of 6,000 rubles, which made it possible for him to resign from the Moscow Conservatory in October 1878 and concentrate on composition.[52] With von Meck's patronage came a relationship that, at her insistence, was mainly epistolary  - she stipulated they were never to meet face to face. They exchanged well over 1,000 letters between 1877 and 1890. In these letters Tchaikovsky was more open about much of his life and his creative processes than he had been to any other person.[53]

As well as being a dedicated supporter of Tchaikovsky's musical works, von Meck became a vital enabler in his day-to-day existence.[54] As he explained to her,

There is something so special about our relationship that it often stops me in my tracks with amazement. I have told you more than once, I believe, that you have come to seem to me the hand of Fate itself, watching over me and protecting me. The very fact that I do not know you personally, while feeling so close to you, accords you in my eyes the special status of an unseen but benevolent presence, like a benign Providence.[55]

In 1884 Tchaikovsky and von Meck became related by marriage when one of her sons, Nikolay, married Tchaikovsky's niece Anna Davydova.[56] However, in 1890 von Meck suddenly ended the relationship. She was suffering from health problems that made writing difficult; there were family pressures, and also financial difficulties arising from the mismanagement of her estate by her son Vladimir.[57] The break with Tchaikovsky was announced in a letter delivered by a trusted servant, rather than by the usual postal service. It contained a request that he not forget her, and was accompanied by a year's subsidy in advance. She claimed bankruptcy, which, if not literally true, was evidently a real threat at the time.[58]

Tchaikovsky may have been aware for nearly a year of his patroness's financial difficulties. This did not stop him from continuing to take his allowance for granted (with regular protestations of his eternal gratitude), nor did he offer to return the advance he had received with the farewell letter. Despite his growing celebrity throughout Europe, von Meck's allowance still made up a third of the composer's income.[59] While he may have no longer needed her money as much as in the past, the loss of her friendship and encouragement was devastating; he remained bewildered and resentful about her abrupt disappearance for the remaining three years of his life.[60]

Later career

Tchaikovsky returned to Moscow Conservatory in the autumn of 1879, having been away from Russia for a year after the disintegration of his marriage. However, he quickly resigned, settling in Kamenka yet travelling incessantly. During these years, assured of a regular income from von Meck, he wandered around Europe and rural Russia, never staying long in any one place and living mainly alone, avoiding social contact whenever possible.[61] This may have been due in part to troubles with Antonina, who would alternately agree to, then refuse, divorce, at one point exacerbating matters by moving into an apartment directly above her husband's. Tchaikovsky listed Antonina's accusations to him in detail to Modest: "I am a deceiver who married her in order to hide my true nature ... I insulted her every day, her sufferings at my hands were great ... she is appalled by my shameful vice, etc., etc." It is possible that he lived the rest of his life in dread of Antonina's power to expose publicly his sexual leanings.[62] These factors may explain why, except for the piano trio which he wrote upon the death of Nikolai Rubinstein, his best work from this period is found in genres which did not depend heavily on personal expression.[63]

While Tchaikovsky's reputation grew rapidly outside Russia, it was, as Alexandre Benois wrote in his memoirs, "considered obligatory [in progressive musical circles in Russia] to treat Tchaikovsky as a renegade, a master overly dependent on the West." In 1880 this assessment changed, practically overnight. During commemoration ceremonies for the Pushkin Monument in Moscow, Fyodor Dostoyevsky charged that the poet had given a prophetic call to Russia for "universal unity" with the West.[64] An unprecedented acclaim for Dostoyevsky's message spread throughout Russia, and disdain for Tchaikovsky's music dissipated. He even drew a cult following among the young intelligentsia of St. Petersburg, including Benois, Léon Bakst and Sergei Diaghilev.[65]

During 1884 Tchaikovsky began to shed his unsociability and restlessness. In March of that year Tsar Alexander III conferred upon him the Order of St. Vladimir (fourth class), which carried with it hereditary nobility. The tsar's decoration was a visible seal of official approval, that helped Tchaikovsky's social rehabilitation.[66] This rehabilitation may have been cemented in the composer's mind with the extreme success of his Third Orchestral Suite at its January 1885 premiere in St. Petersburg, under Hans von Bülow's direction. Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I have never seen such a triumph. I saw the whole audience was moved, and grateful to me. These moments are the finest adornments of an artist's life. Thanks to these it is worth living and laboring."[67] The press was likewise unanimously favorable.[68]

In 1885, Tchaikovsky resettled in Russia. The Tsar asked personally for a new production of Eugene Onegin to be staged in St. Petersburg. The opera had previously been seen only in Moscow, produced by a student ensemble from the Conservatory. Though critical reception to the St. Petersburg production of Onegin was negative, the opera drew full houses every night; 15 years later the composer's brother Modest identified this as the moment Tchaikovsky became known and appreciated by the masses, achieving the greatest degree of popularity ever accorded to a Russian composer. News of the opera's success spread, and the work was produced by opera houses throughout Russia and abroad.[69]

A feature of the St. Petersburg production of Onegin was that Alexander III requested that the opera be staged not at the Mariyinsky Theater but at the Bolshoi Kamennïy Theater. This served notice that Tchaikovsky's music was replacing Italian opera as the official imperial art. In addition, thanks to Ivan Vsevolozhsky, Director of the Imperial Theaters and a patron of the composer, Tchaikovsky was awarded a lifetime pension of 3,000 rubles per year from the Tsar. This essentially made him the premier court composer, in practice if not in actual title.[70]

January 1887 marked Tchaikovsky's debut as a guest conductor, substituting at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on short notice for the first three performances of his opera Cherevichki.[71] Within a year he was in considerable demand throughout Europe and Russia, which helped him overcome a life-long stage fright and boosted his self-assurance.[72] He wrote to von Meck, "Would you now recognize in this Russian musician traveling across Europe that man who, only a few years ago, had absconded from life in society and lived in seclusion abroad or in the country!!!"[73] In 1888 he conducted the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in St. Petersburg, repeating the work a week later with the premiere of his tone poem Hamlet. While both works were received with extreme enthusiasm by audiences, critics proved hostile, with César Cui calling the symphony "routine" and "meretricious."[74] Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky continued to conduct the symphony in Russia and Europe.[75] Conducting brought him to America in 1891, where he led the New York Music Society's orchestra in his Marche Slave[76] at the inaugural concert of New York's Carnegie Hall.

In 1893, the University of Cambridge in Britain awarded Tchaikovsky an honorary Doctor of Music degree.[77]


See also: Death of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893, nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique. Because of its formal innovation plus the overwhelming emotional content of its outer movements, the work was received by the public with silent incomprehension.[78] The second performance, under conductor Eduard Nápravník, took place 20 days later at a memorial concert[79] and was much more favorably received.[80] The Pathétique has since become one of Tchaikovsky's best known works.

Tchaikovsky's death has traditionally been attributed to cholera, most probably contracted through drinking contaminated water several days earlier.[81] However, some have theorized that his death was suicide. According to one variation of the theory, a sentence of suicide was imposed in a "court of honor" by Tchaikovsky's fellow alumni of the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence, as a censure of the composer's homosexuality. This theory was first broached publicly by Russian musicologist Alexandra Orlova in 1979, when she emigrated to the West.[82]


See also: List of compositions by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Symphonies by Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky wrote many works which are popular with the classical music public. Examples are Romeo and Juliet, the 1812 Overture, his three ballets (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty) and Marche Slave. These, along with two of his four concertos, three of his six numbered symphonies and, of his 10 operas, The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin, are probably among his most familiar works. Almost as popular are the Manfred Symphony, Francesca da Rimini, the Capriccio Italien and the Serenade for Strings. His three string quartets and piano trio all contain beautiful passages, while recitalists still perform some of his 106 songs.[83] Tchaikovsky also wrote over a hundred piano works, covering the entire span of his creative life. David brown has asserted that "while some of these can be challenging technically, they are mostly charming, unpretentious compositions intended for amateur pianists."[84] He adds, however, that "there is more attractive and resourceful music in some of these pieces than one might be inclined to expect."[85]

Creative range

Tchaikovsky's formal conservatory training allowed him to write works with Western-oriented attitudes and techniques. His music showcases a wide range and breadth of technique, from a poised "Classical" form simulating 18th century Rococo elegance, to a style more characteristic of Russian nationalists, or (according to Tchaikovsky writer and expert Dr. David Brown) a musical idiom expressly to channel his own overwrought emotions.[86] Despite his reputation as a "weeping machine,"[87] self-expression was not a central principle for Tchaikovsky. In a letter to von Meck dated December 5, 1878, he explained there were two kinds of inspiration for a symphonic composer, a subjective and an objective one, and that program music could and should exist, just as it was impossible to demand that literature make do without the epic element and limit itself to lyricism alone. Correspondingly, the large scale orchestral works Tchaikovsky composed can be divided into two categories—symphonies in one category, and other works such as symphonic poems in the other.[88] According to musicologist Francis Maes, program music such as Francesca da Rimini or the Manfred Symphony was as much a part of the composer's artistic credo as the expression of his "lyric ego."[89] Maes also identifies a group of compositions which fall outside the dichotomy of program music versus "lyrical ego," where he hearkens toward pre-Romantic aesthetics. Works in this group include the four orchestral suites, Capriccio Italien, the Violin Concerto and the Serenade for Strings.[90]

Reception and reputation

Although Tchaikovsky's music has always been popular with audiences, it has at times been judged harshly by musicians and composers. However, his reputation as a significant composer is now generally regarded as secure.[91] His music has won a significant following among concert audiences in the United States, Great Britain and many other countries that is second only to the music of Beethoven.[92] Thanks in large part to what Harold C. Schonberg terms "a sweet, inexhaustible, supersensuous fund of melody ... touched with neuroticism, as emotional as a scream from a window on a dark night."[93] According to Wiley, this combination of supercharged melody and surcharged emotion polarized listeners, with popular appeal of Tchaikovsky's music counterbalanced by critical disdain of it as vulgar and lacking in elevated thought or philosophy.[92] More recently, Tchaikovsky's music has received a professional reevaluation, with musicians reacting more favorably to its tunefulness and craftsmanship.[94]

Public considerations

Tchaikovsky believed that his professionalism in combining skill and high standards in his musical works separated him from his contemporaries in The Five. He shared several of their ideals, including an emphasis on national character in music. His aim, however, was to link those ideals to a standard high enough to satisfy Western European criteria. His professionalism also fueled his desire to reach a broad public, not just nationally but internationally, which he would eventually do.[95]

He may also have been influenced by the almost "eighteenth-century" patronage prevalent in Russia at the time, which was still strongly influenced by its aristocracy. In this style of patronage, the patron and the artist often met on equal terms. Dedications of works to patrons were not gestures of humble gratitude but expressions of artistic partnership. The dedication of the Fourth Symphony to von Meck is known to be a seal on their friendship. Tchaikovsky's relationship with Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich bore creative fruit in the Six Songs, Op. 63, for which the grand duke wrote the words.[96] Tchaikovsky found no aesthetic conflict in playing to the tastes of his audiences, though it was never established that he satisfied any other tastes but his own. The patriotic themes and stylization of 18th-century melodies in his works lined up with the values of the Russian aristocracy.[97]

Compositional style

According to Dr. David Brown in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Tchaikovsky's melodies ranged "from Western style to folksong stylizations and occasionally folksongs themselves."[98] His use of repetitions within these melodies generally reflect the sequential style of Western practices, which he sometimes extended at immense length, building "into an emotional experience of almost unbearable intensity."[98] He experimented occasionally with unusual meters, although more usually, as in his dance tunes, he employed a firm, essentially regular meter that "sometimes becomes the main expressive agent in some movements due to its vigorous use."[98] Tchaikovsky also practiced a wide range of harmony, from the Western harmonic and textural practices of his first two string quartets to the use of the whole tone scale in the center of the finale of the Second Symphony; the latter was a practice more typically used by The Five.[98] Since Tchaikovsky wrote most of his music for the orchestra, his musical textures became increasingly conditioned by the orchestral colors he employed, especially after the Second Orchestral Suite. Brown maintains that while the composer was grounded in Western orchestral practices, he "preferred bright and sharply differentiated orchestral coloring in the tradition established by Glinka."[98] He tends to exploit primarily the treble instruments for their "fleet delicacy,"[98] though he balances this tendency with "a matching exploration of the darker, even gloomy sounds of the bass instruments."[98]


In the second edition of the New Grove (2001), Roland John Wiley cites Tchaikovsky as "the first composer of a new Russian type, fully professional, who fully ascimilated traditions of Western European symphonic mastery; in a deeply original, personal and national style he unified the symphonic thought of Beethoven and Schumann with the works of Glinka, and transformed Liszt's and Berlioz's achievements in depictive-programmatic music into matters of Shakespearian elevation and psychological import."[99] Tchaikovsky felt his professionalism in combining skill and high standards in his musical works separated him from his colleagues in "The Five." He shared several of their ideals, including an emphasis on national character in music. His aim, however, was linking those ideals with a professional standard high enough to satsify European criteria. His professionalism also fueled his desire to reach a broad public, not just nationally but also internationally. This he would eventually do.[100]

As biographer Anthony Holden maintains, no indigenous Russian classical music on a professional basis existed before Tchaikovsky's birth in 1840 other than folk tunes and a cappella music for the Russian Orthodox Church. Tchaikovsky thought well enough of Glinka, of course, to perform the opening bars of the Ruslan i Lyudmila overture on the piano of a conservatory as it was inaugurated; also Alexander Alyabyev (Siberian), Dmytro Bortniansky (Ukrainian), Alexander Dargomyzhsky (Russian) and others, fairly well-known outside of connoisseur circles at the time. Nevertheless, Glinka and Dargomyzhsky were considered dillitantes, not professionals; so, at least at the outset, were The Five. Tchaikovsky was the first legitimate professional Russian composer; Anton Rubinstein was far better known as a pianist than as a composer. Holden continues, "Twenty years after Tchaikovsky's death, in 1913, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring erupted onto the musical scene, signalling Russia's arrival into 20th century music. Between these two very different worlds Tchaikovsky's music became the sole bridge."[101]

Russian musicologist Solomon Volkov maintains that Tchaikovsky was also perhaps the first Russian composer to think seriously about his country's place in European musical culture.[102] As the composer wrote to von Meck from Paris, "How pleasant it is to be convinced firsthand of the success of our literature in France. Every book étalage displays translations of Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky.... The newspapers are constantly printing rapturous articles about one or another of these writers. Perhaps such a time will come for Russian music as well!"[103]

Tchaikovsky became the first Russian composer to personally acquaint foreign audiences with his own works, as well as those of other Russian composers, after conquering an initial fear of conducting.[104] He also formed close business and personal ties with many of the leading musicians of Europe and the United States. For Russians, Volkov asserts, this was all something new and unusual.[103]


Brown asserts in Grove that while the Five's contributions were important in their own right in developing an independent Russian voice and consciousness in classical music, Tchaikovsky "became a dominant figure in 19th century Russian music and known both in and outside Russia" as a great musical talent. [105] Even with his diversity of approach compositionally, "Tchaikovsky's essential outlook musically remained Russian, both in his use of native folk song and his deep absorption in Russian life and ways of thought. This Russianness of mindset ensured that he would not become a mere imitator of Western technique."[106] He adds that Tchaikovsky's "natural gift for melody, based mainly on themes of tremendous eloquence and emotive power and supported by matching resources in harmony and orchestration, has always made his music appealing to the public. However, his hard-won professional technique and an ability to harness it to express his emotional life gave Tchaikovsky the ability to realize his potential more fully than any other Russian composer of his time."[107]

See also


Further reading

Vol. 1. Thematic Catalogue of Works, Catalogue of Photographs, Autobiography. ISBN 0-253-33921-9.

Vol. 2. Catalogue of Letters, Genealogy, Bibliography. ISBN 0-253-33947-2.

External links

Public domain sheet music

Notes and References

  1. Note: His names are also transliterated Piotr, Petr, or Peter; Ilitsch, Ilich, Il'ich or Illyich; and Tschaikowski, Tschaikowsky, Chajkovskij and Chaikovsky (and other versions; Russian transliteration can vary between languages)
  2. Brown, Man and Music, 431-5; Holden, 373-400.
  3. Brown, New Grove (1980), 18:628-9.
  4. Holden, 6, 13; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 18.
  5. Holden, Anthony, Tchaikovsky: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1995), 6.
  6. Poznansky, 5.
  7. Holdem, 14; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 26.
  8. Holden, 20.
  9. Brown, Tchaikovsky: The Early Years, 1840-1874 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978, 47; Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music (New York: Pegasus Books, 2007), 12.; Holden, 23.; Tchaikovsky, P., Polnoye sobraniye sochinery: literaturnïye proizvedeniya i perepiska [Complete edition: literary works and correspondence] In progress (Moscow, 1953-present), 5:56-57.; Warrack, 29.
  10. Holden, 22, 26.; Poznansky, 32-37.; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 30
  11. Holden, 23.
  12. Holden, 24.
  13. Holden, 24; Poznansky, 26
  14. Holden, 24-5; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 31.
  15. Brown, Man and Music, 14.
  16. As quoted in Holden, 38-9.
  17. Brown, Man and Music, 20; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 36-8.
  18. Brown, New Grove, 18:608.
  19. Holden, 52.
  20. Brown, Tchaikovsky: Man and Music, 49.
  21. Maes, 49.
  22. Holden, 64.
  23. Holden, 47; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 42.
  24. Holden, 40.
  25. Holden, 83; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 61.
  26. Steinberg, Concerto, 474-5.
  27. Steinberg, Concerto, 476.
  28. See his books Tchaikovsky and his World (ed. Leslie Kearney)(Princeton University Press, 1998), and his documentary study Tchaikovsky's Last Days (Oxford, 1996)
  29. See Tchaikovsky through others' eyes, ed. Poznansky (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1999)
  30. P.I. Chaikovskii. Al'manakh, vypusk 1, (Moscow, 1995).
  31. Tchaikovsky
  32. Encyclopedia Britannica
  33. Don Michael Randel, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music
  34. Tchaikovsky
  35. Holden, 67.
  36. Web site: Gauldin. Robert. Tragic Love and Musical Memory. The Society for Musical Theory. 21 February. dmy.
  37. Web site: Artôt, Désirée (1835 - 1907). Schubertiade music. 21 February 2009. dmy.
  38. Poznansky, 204.Pioznansky also asserts that Shilovsky was homosexual, and that he and Tchaikovsky had shared a mutual bond of affection for just over a decade.(Poznansky, 95, 126).
  39. Tchaikovsky, M.I., Zhizn' Petra Il'icha Chaikovskoyo [Life of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky], 3 vols. (Moscow and Leipzig, 1900-1902), 1:258-259.
  40. Poznansky, 204.
  41. Letter to Modest Tchaikovsky, August 31, 1876. As quoted in Holden, 113.
  42. Holden,126, 145, 148, 150.
  43. Brown, Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, 143.
  44. Steinberg, Concerto, 484-5.
  45. Steinberg, 487.
  46. Hanslick, Eduard, Music Criticisms 1850-1900, ed. and trans. Henry Pleasants (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963). As quoted in Steinberg, Concerto, 487.
  47. As quoted in Steinberg, 486.
  48. Volkov, 115.
  49. Osoovskii, A.V., Muzykal'no-kritcvheskie stat'i, 1894-1912 (Musical Criticism articles, 189401912) (Leningrad, 1971), 171. As quoted in Volkov, 116.
  50. Wiley, New Grove (2001), 25:161.
  51. Warrack, Tchaikovsky Symphonies and Concertos, 28.
  52. Brown, Man and Music, 171—172.
  53. Brown, Man and Music, 134; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 108, 130-3.
  54. Brown, Man and Music, 134.
  55. Letter to von Meck, January 21, 1878. As quoted in Holden, 159.
  56. Holden, 231-2.
  57. Holden, 289
  58. Brown, Man and Music, 384-6; Holden, 289; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 241.
  59. Holden, 292.
  60. Brown, Tchaikovsky: The Final Years, 1885-1893 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), 287-289; Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, 385-386.: Chaikovskii, P.I., Perepiska s N.F. fon Meck (1876-1890) [Correspondence with N.F. von Meck], ed. Zhdanov, Vladimir and Zhegin, Nikolai, 3 vols. (Moscow and Lenningrad, 1980), 3:611. : Holden, 293 : Poznansky, 521, 526 : Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 242.
  61. Brown, Man and Music, 219.
  62. Holden, 155
  63. Brown, New Grove, 18:619.
  64. Volkov, 126.
  65. Volkov, St. Petersburg, 122-123.
  66. Brown, New Grove, 18:621.
  67. As quoted in Brown, Man and Music, 275.
  68. Brown, Man and Music, 275.
  69. Brown, Man and Music, 282.
  70. Maes, 140.
  71. Holden, 261; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 197.
  72. Holden, 266; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 232.
  73. As quoted in Brown, Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, 329.
  74. Holden, 272.
  75. Holden, 273.
  76. So identified by the New York press. According to Carnegie Hall archivist Gino Francesconi, Tchaikovsky may have actually conducted his Festival Coronation March.
  77. Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 264.
  78. Holden, 351.
  79. Steinberg, 635.
  80. Holden, 371.
  81. Brown, Man and Music, 431-2; Holden, 371; Warrack, Tchaikovsky, 269-270.
  82. Brown, Man and Music, 431-5; Holden, 373-400.
  83. Schonberg, 367.
  84. Brown, Man and Music, 118.
  85. Brown, The Final Years, 408.
  86. Brown, New Grove, 18:606.
  87. Schonberg, 367.
  88. Wood, 75.
  89. Maes, 154.
  90. Maes, 154-155.
  91. Brown, New Grove (1980), 18:628-9.
  92. Wiley, New Grove (2001), 25:169.
  93. Schonberg, 366.
  94. Schonberg, 367.
  95. Maes (2002), 73.
  96. Maes, 139-141.
  97. Maes, 137.
  98. Brown, New Grove (1980), 18:628.
  99. Wiley, New Grove (2001), 25:144.
  100. Maes, Francis, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of Ca.ilfornia Press, 2002), 73.
  101. Holden, Anthony, Tchaikovsky: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1995), xxi)
  102. Volkov, Solomon, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History (New York: The Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1995)126.
  103. Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. Literaturnye proizvedeniia i perepiska (Complete Collected Works. Literary Works and Correspondence), vol 13 (Moscow, 1971), 349. As quoted in Volkov, 126.
  104. Warrack, 209
  105. Brown, New Grove (1980), 18:606.
  106. Brown, New Grove (1980), 18:606—7.
  107. Brown, New Grove (1980), 628.