Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Capriccio Italien, op. 45

            By 1880 Tchaikovsky, at the age of 40, was a mature, successful composer who was achieving wide recognition for his talents.

Marche Slav, op. 31

            The story is depressingly familiar:  In 1876 the Christians and the Muslims were slaughtering each other in a war between the Turks of the Ottoman Empire and the Slavs of Serbia.  Plus ça change.  Naturally, Russia supported its fellow Slavs, and in the general patriotic fervor, Tchaikovsky was commissioned by the director of the Russian Musical Society to contribute a composition to a benefit concert for the Red Cross Society.  By October of that year, his “Serbo-Russian” march was complete.  Tchaikovsky’s own hand on the manuscript refers to the composition’s basis on “Slavonic folk themes.”

Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb Minor, op. 23

          Most probably, no composer other than Beethoven has enjoyed the popularity in this country of that of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  His reputation has been secure since his early maturity, and yet, it is equally true that no other major modern composer has endured the distortions and indignities as that imposed upon his personality and personal life after his death.  A welter of factors have been trotted out to “explain” his art and its personal genesis: his sexuality, politics, religious beliefs, social class.  Every generation of musicologists--radical and otherwise--social commentators, and political ideologues has taken its shots at the man.   And, chief among the negative attitudes simply has been the implication that his music is vulgar, overly emotional, and void of intellectual

Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy

          Even a cursory review of the lives of most of the significant composers of the nineteenth century--from Berlioz to Verdi--shows them to have been fascinated with the timeless art of Shakespeare.  In fact, it is a major trait of Romanticism as an intellectual movement to have plumbed the depths of his work for archetypes of the human condition.  And it is telling that generations of young composers took personal initiative to school themselves so.  Tchaikovsky is representative, and his concert overture, Romeo and Juliet, is typical of the many compositions of the times that drew inspiration from the playwright. 

Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, op. 17 (“Little Russian”)

            Tchaikovsky composed six symphonies, all of which are played today, but the last three are decidedly the most popular.  However, there is much value and enjoyment in the first three, all of which deserve to be heard more frequently.  Tchaikovsky’s second symphony was composed during the summer of 1872, while the composer was vacationing in the Ukraine at his sister’s country home.  While in the Ukraine the composer travelled around the country, and evidently encountered the region’s folksongs.   That being the case, it is no surprise that many of the important tunes and themes in his latest symphony should be based upon native Ukrainian melodies.  In point of fact that is the exact rationale for one of Tchaikovsky’s friends later dubbing the work, “Little Russian.”    While

Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, op. 36

          Tchaikovsky completed six symphonies, of which the last three are concert staples.  The fourth is a product of a particularly tumultuous time in his life, centering around his relationship with two women.   They are the wife of his short, disastrous marriage, and his patroness—whom he never personally met.   He began composition of the symphony in 1877, shortly after he had been “adopted” by Nadezhda von Meck, the wealthy widow of an engineer.  Von Meck had begun generous financial support of Tchaikovsky, and perhaps, more importantly, had entered into a long, personal relationship via correspondence that lasted more than a decade.   They exchanged at least two letters a week in a relationship that probed philosophic and artistic matters.  While remote and superficially formal

Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, op. 64

            Tchaikovsky completed six symphonies during his lifetime, the last three of which have long been concert staples.  The three, while exhibiting both the tangible and intangible characteristics of the composer that endear him to music lovers everywhere, are each unique expressions of his musicianship and personality.  Symphony No. 4 (with good reason associated with “fate”) came out of an especially troubled time in his life with regard to his ill-starred (and short) marriage—among other factors was his attempted suicide.  Symphony No.

Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, op. 74 (“ Pathétique”)

            This symphony is Tchaikovsky’s last work—he died of cholera only nine days after its première—and it is universally hailed as one of his finest.  It exhibits all of the characteristic passion and melodic beauty for which the composer justly is known, and is suffused with a dark and tragic essence.  Tchaikovsky struggled all of his life with his identity, fears of social rejection, and frustrated relationships with others.  By the end of his life these issues had surely come to a head, and the composer freely spoke with his brother of the reflection of his suffering in this final, gripping composition.   There is even a current musicological fight over whether or not he poisoned himself to end his life (under threat of social disgrace), or deliberately drank the un-boiled gla

The Tempest, op. 18

           Most probably, no composer other than Beethoven has enjoyed the popularity in this country of that of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  His reputation has been secure since his early maturity, and yet, it is equally true that no other major modern composer has endured the distortions and indignities as that imposed upon his personality and personal life after his death.  A welter of factors has been trotted out to “explain” his art and its personal genesis: his sexuality, politics, religious beliefs, and social class.  Every generation of musicologists--radical and otherwise--social commentators, and political ideologues has taken its shots at the man.   And it must be said, chief among the negative attitudes simply has been the implication that his music is vulgar, overly emotional, and v

Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35

          Most probably, no composer other than Beethoven has enjoyed the popularity in this country of that of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  His reputation has been secure since his early maturity, and yet, it is equally true that no other major modern composer has endured the distortions and indignities as that imposed upon his personality and personal life after his death.  A welter of factors have been trotted out to “explain” his art and its personal genesis: his sexuality, politics, religious beliefs, social class.  Every generation of musicologists--radical and otherwise, social commentators, and political ideologues has taken its shots at the man.   And it must be said, chief among the negative attitudes simply has been the implication that his music is vulgar, overly emotional, and void