Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky (Chaykovsky), Pyotr (Ilyich)
Few composers are more popular with audiences than Tchaikovsky; the reasons are several and understandable. His music is extremely tuneful, luxuriously and colourfully scored, and filled with emotional fervour directed to the heart rather than to the head (though the notion that Tchaikovsky's syms. are lacking in symphonic thinking and structure does not bear serious consideration). Undoubtedly the emotional temperature of the mus. reflected the man's nature. He was doubly afflicted: by repressed homosexuality (hence his disastrous attempt at marriage) and by the tendency to extreme fluctuations between elation and depression, each success being followed by a period of introspective gloom and melancholy which stemmed from psychological defects rather than from ‘typical Russian melancholy’. This showed itself also in his attitude to his visits abroad. As soon as he left Russia he was ill with homesickness; once back, he was restlessly planning to be off again.
In 19th-cent. Russ. mus., Tchaikovsky stands alone. His Romeo and Juliet was ded. to Balakirev, one of the ‘Five’, but he never identified himself with out-and-out nationalism. He succumbed to the influence of neither Brahms nor Wagner, but greatly admired the Fr. mus. of Bizet and Saint-Saëns. This can be linked with his lifelong passion for Mozart, and many passages in Tchaikovsky's mus. are as delicately detailed and coloured as works by Bizet and Mozart. The other element of his nature, the fate-laden, Byronic, emotional impact of the last 3 syms., is traceable in many episodes in the operas, notably Eugene Onegin. None of his operas was a success on its first appearance, but Onegin and Queen of Spades are now widely perf. and admired, and adventurous cos. have explored the others. The true theatrical Tchaikovsky is to be found in the ballets, a supreme combination of melodic inventiveness, grand sweep, and constant freshness. Nor should the superb songs be forgotten: in them, in miniature, the soul of Tchaikovsky is enshrined as surely as in the great syms., concs., and orch. masterpieces. Prin. works:OPERAS: Voyevoda, Op.3 (Dream on the Volga) (1867–8); Undine (destroyed) (1869); Oprichnik (The Life Guardsman) (1870–2); Vakula the Smith, Op.14 (Kuznets Vakula) (1874, rev. 1885 and 1886 as Cherevichki (The Slippers) or Oxana's Caprice); Eugene Onegin (Evgeny Onyegin), Op.24 (1877–8); The Maid of Orleans (Orleanskaya Deva) (1878–9, rev. 1882); Mazeppa (1881–3); The Sorceress (Charodeyka) (1885–7); Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama), Op.68 (1890); Yolanta, Op.69 (1891).BALLETS: Swan Lake (Lebedinoye ozero), Op.20 (1875–6); The Sleeping Beauty (Spyashchaya krasavitsa), Op.66 (1888–9); Nutcracker (Shchelkunchik), Op.71 (1891–2).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Daydreams) (1866, rev. 1874), No.2 in C minor, Op.17 (Ukrainian or Little Russian) (1872, rev. 1879–80), No.3 in D, Op.29 (Polish) (1875), No.4 in F minor, Op.36 (1877–8), No.5 in E minor, Op.64 (1888), No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathetic) (1893); concertos, etc.: pf.: No.1 in B♭ minor, Op.23 (1874–5), No.2 in G, Op.44 (1879–80, rev. 1893 Ziloti), Concert Fantasy, Op.56 (1884); vn. conc. in D, Op.35 (1878), Sérénade mélancolique, vn., Op.26 (1875), Valse-Scherzo, vn., Op.34 (1877); Variations on a Rococo Theme, vc., Op.33 (1876), Pezzo capriccioso, vc., Op.62 (1887); symphonic fantasies: The Tempest, Op.18 (1873), Francesca da Rimini, Op.32 (1876); Slavonic March, Op.31 (1876); Serenade, str., Op.48 (1880); 1812, Ceremonial Overture, Op.49 (1880); Manfred Symphony, Op.58 (1885); ov., The Storm, Op.76 (1864); sym.-poem Fate, Op.77 (1868); fantasy ovs.: Hamlet, Op.67a (1888), Romeo and Juliet (1869, rev. 1870 and 1880); Italian Caprice, Op.45 (1880); symphonic ballad, Voyevoda, Op.78 (1891); Suites: No.1 in D, Op.43 (1878–9), No.2 in C, Op.53 (1883), No.3 in G, Op.55 (1884, Theme and Variations movt. often perf. separately), No.4 Mozartiana, Op.61 (1887), Nutcracker, Op.71a (1892). (N.B. The ‘Sym. No.7 in E♭’ and the ‘Pf. Conc. No.3 in E♭’ are compilations by other hands. The sym. was begun by Tchaikovsky in 1891–2, but abandoned. He scored 1st movt. as pf. conc., Taneyev later adding andante and finale from sketches of the sym. S. Bogatyryov (1890–1960) prod. perf. version of orig. sym. from same sketches. Taneyev also completed vocal duet version (1893) of part of Romeo and Juliet ov. for sop., ten., and orch.)CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: No.1 in D, Op.11 (contains Andante cantabile often played separately) (1871), No.2 in F, Op.22 (1874), No.3 in E♭ minor, Op.30 (1876); pf. trio in A minor (in memory of a great artist), Op.50 (1881–2); Souvenir de Florence, str. sextet, Op.70 (1887–90, rev. 1891–2).PIANO: Valse Caprice, Op.4 (1868); Capriccio, Op.8 (1870); 3 Pieces, Op.9 (1870); Nocturne and Humoreske, Op.10 (1871); 6 Pieces, Op.19 (1873); 6 Pieces on One Theme, Op.21 (1873); sonata in G, Op.37 (1878); The Seasons, 12 characteristic pieces (1875–6); Children's Album: 24 Pieces, Op.39 (1878); 12 Pieces, Op.40 (1878); 6 Pieces, Op.51 (1882); Dumka, Op.59 (1886); 18 Pieces, Op.72 (1893; the 10th of these, Scherzo-Fantaisie in E♭ minor, exists in orch. sketch of 1891–2 and is presumed to have been intended as scherzo of projected sym. Incorporated by Bogatyryov in ‘7th Sym.’, see above); Sonata in C♯ minor (posth.).CHORAL: Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op.41 (1878); Russian Vesper Service, unacc., Op.52 (1881–2).SONGS: Tchaikovsky's songs were pubd. in the following groups (no. of songs, Op.no. and date): 6, Op.6, 1869; 6, Op.16, 1872; 6, Op.25, 1874; 6, Op.27, 1874; 6, Op.28, 1874; 6, Op.38, 1877; 7, Op.47, 1879; 16 for children, Op.54, 1883; 6, Op.57, 1883; 12, Op.60, 1886; 6, Op.63, 1888; 6, Op.65, 1888; 6, Op.73, 1893. Among the best-known are: Again as before; As they kept on saying; At the ball; Behind the window; Cradle Song; Deception; Don Juan's Serenade; Evening; Exploit; In the early Spring; My spoiled darling; Night; No, only he who has known (None but the lonely heart) (Op.6 No.6); Not a word, my friend; Over the golden cornfields; Reconciliation; To forget so soon; Wait; Why did I dream of you?
Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was one of the most loved of Russian composers. His music is famous for its strong emotion, and his technical skill and strict work habits helped guarantee its lasting appeal.
Born on May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk in the Vyatka district of Russia, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the son of a successful engineer. Peter and his brothers and sister received a sound education from their French governess. His parents sometimes took him to concerts, and after one such evening he complained that he could not fall asleep because of the music stuck in his head. He was devoted to his mother, and at age four he and his sister composed a song for her. Her death when he was fourteen was a huge blow to him.
Tchaikovsky attended law school in St. Petersburg, Russia, and, while studying law and government, he took music lessons, including some composing, from Gabriel Lomakin. Tchaikovsky graduated at the age of nineteen and took a job as a bureau clerk. He worked hard, but he hated the job; by this time he was totally absorbed by music. He soon met the Rubinstein brothers, Anton (1829–1894) and Nikolai (1835–1881), both of whom were composers. Anton was a pianist second only to Franz Liszt (1811–1886) in technical brilliance and fame. In 1862 Anton opened Russia's first conservatory (a school that focuses on teaching the fine arts), under the sponsorship of the Imperial Russian Music Society (IRMS), in St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky was its first composition student.
Tchaikovsky's early works were well made but not memorable. Anton Rubinstein was demanding and critical, and when Tchaikovsky graduated two years later he was still somewhat frightened by Anton's harshness. In 1866 Nikolai Rubinstein invited Tchaikovsky to Moscow, Russia, to live with him and serve as professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, which he had just established. Tchaikovsky's father was now in financial (money-related) trouble, and the composer had to support himself on his meager earnings from the conservatory. The musical poems Fatum and Romeo and Juliet that he wrote in 1869 were the first works to show the style he became famous for. Romeo and Juliet was redone with Mily Balakirev's (1837–1910) help in 1870 and again in 1879.
During the 1870s and later, there was considerable communication between Tchaikovsky and the Rubinsteins on the one hand and the members of the "Mighty Five" Russian composers—Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin (1834–1887), Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881), Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), and César Cui—on the other. It was widely reported that the two groups did not get along, but this was not true. Tchaikovsky worked as an all-around musician in the early 1870s, and, as was expected of a representative of the IRMS, he taught, composed, wrote critical essays, and conducted (although he was not a great conductor). In 1875 he composed what is perhaps his most universally known and loved work, the Piano Concerto No. 1. Anton Rubinstein mocked the piece, although he himself often performed it years later as a concert pianist. Also popular was Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake (1876). It is the most successful ballet ever written if measured in terms of broad audience appeal.
A disastrous marriage
In 1877 Tchaikovsky married the twenty-eight-year-old Antonina Miliukova, his student at the conservatory. It has been suggested that she reminded him of Tatiana, a character in his opera Eugene Onegin. His unfortunate wife, who became mentally ill and died in 1917, not only suffered rejection by her husband but also the vicious criticism of his brother Modeste Tchaikovsky. Modeste, like Peter, was a misogynist (one who hates women). Modeste attacked Antonina in a biography he wrote about Peter. This was an attempt to shield Peter and mask his weaknesses. Later biographers repeated and even exaggerated Modeste's claim that Antonina was cheap and high-strung.
Tchaikovsky never stuck around to find out what she was like. Within a few weeks he had fled Moscow alone for an extended stay abroad. He made arrangements through his relatives to never see his wife again. In his correspondence of this period—indeed through a large part of his career—he was often morbid (gloomy) about his wife, money, his friends, even his music and himself. He often spoke of suicide. This, too, has been reported widely by Tchaikovsky's many biographers. Even during his life critics treated him unkindly because of his open, emotional music. But he never sought to change his style, though he was dissatisfied at one time or another with most of his works. He also never stopped composing.
Arrangement with Madame von Meck
Tchaikovsky became involved in another important relationship at about the same time as his marriage. Through third parties an unusual but helpful arrangement with the immensely wealthy Nadezhda von Meck was made. She was attracted by his music and the possibility of supporting his creative work, and he was interested in her money and what it could provide him. For thirteen years she supported him at a base rate of six thousand rubles a year, plus whatever "bonuses" he could manage to get out of her. He was free to quit the conservatory, and he began a series of travels and stays abroad.
Von Meck and Tchaikovsky purposely never met, except for one or two accidental encounters. In their correspondence Tchaikovsky discusses his music thoughtfully; in letters to his family he complains about her cheapness. He dedicated his Fourth Symphony (1877) to her. Tchaikovsky finished Eugene Onegin in 1879. It is his only opera generally performed outside the Soviet Union. Other works of this period are the Violin Concerto (1881), the Fifth Symphony (1888), and the ballet Sleeping Beauty (1889).
Tchaikovsky's fame and his activity now extended to all of Europe and America. To rest from his public appearances he chose a country retreat in Klin near Moscow. From this he became known as the "Hermit of Klin," although he was never a hermit. In 1890 he finished the opera Queen of Spades, based on a story by the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin (1799–1837). Tchaikovsky was happy when, despite the criticism of "experts," the opera was well received. In late 1890 Von Meck cut him off. He had reached the point where he no longer depended on her money, but he was still upset by her rejection. Even his brother Modeste expressed surprise at his anger. Tchaikovsky had an immensely successful tour in the United States in 1891.
The Sixth Symphony was first heard in October 1893, with the composer conducting. This work, named at Modeste's suggestion Pathétique, was poorly received—very likely because of Tchaikovsky's conducting. Tchaikovsky never knew of its eventual astonishing success, for he contracted cholera (a disease of the small intestine) and died, still complaining about Von Meck, on November 6, 1893.
For More Information
Cencetti, Greta. Tchaikovsky. Columbus, OH: Peter Bedrick Books, 2002.
Holden, Anthony. Tchaikovsky: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1995.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) is one of the most loved of Russian composers. He epitomized the ingenuous opening to the emotions of the romantic era in music, but his product was made durable through sound craftsmanship and rigorous work habits.
Eschewing the intellectual, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was in no sense a technical innovator; moreover, he attracted, and still attracts, the barbed clevernesses of those less trustful of emotional statement. But his work is always hotly defended as each generation discovers him afresh—a process considerably quickened by a massive and ever-growing body of literature about his music and his interesting, often tragic life.
Born on May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk in the Vyatka district, Tchaikovsky was the son of a well-to-do engineer. Peter and his brothers and sister received a sound education from their French governesses. He apparently showed no early signs of unusual musical talent but was duly exposed to the music lessons suffered by all young gentlemen. He later recalled growing up in a place "saturated with the miraculous beauty of Russian folk song" and the effect some music had on him as a child—that of exquisite torture so beautiful that he begged the music be stopped. He often referred to this in his letters as a mature artist.
Tchaikovsky attended a school of jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, and, while studying law and government, he also took music lessons, including some composing, from Gabriel Lomakin. Tchaikovsky graduated at the age of 19 and took a job as a bureau clerk. This was to be the first step of an official career, but he was already hopelessly enamored of music. He soon met the Rubinstein brothers, Anton and Nikolai; both were composers, and Anton was a pianist second only to Franz Liszt in technical brilliance and fame. In 1862 Anton opened Russia's first conservatory, under the sponsorship of the Imperial Russian Music Society (IRMS), in St. Petersburg, and Tchaikovsky was its first composition student.
Tchaikovsky's early works were technically sound but not memorable. Anton Rubinstein was demanding and critical, often unjustly so, and when Tchaikovsky graduated 2 years later he was still somewhat cowed by Anton's harshness. In 1866 Nikolai Rubinstein invited Tchaikovsky to Moscow to live with him and serve as professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, which he had just established. Tchaikovsky's father was now in financial trouble, and the composer had to support himself on the meager earnings from the conservatory. The symphonic poems Fatum and Romeo and Juliet that he wrote in 1869 were the first works to show the style he was thereafter to cultivate. Romeo and Juliet was redone with Mily Balakirev's help in 1870 and again in 1879.
During the seventies and later, there was considerable communication between Tchaikovsky and the Rubinsteins on the one hand and the members of the Mighty Five, Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and César Cui, on the other. The traditional "enmity" between the two groups seems a concoction of romantic biographers. Tchaikovsky functioned as an all-around musician in the early seventies, and, as expected of an IRMS licentiate, he taught, composed, wrote critical essays, and conducted, the last not very well. In 1875 he composed what is perhaps his most universally known and loved work, the Piano Concerto No. 1. Anton Rubinstein was sarcastic in his dislike, although it became one of the most popular items in his own repertoire as a concert pianist. Vying in popularity with the concerto is Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake (1876). It is the most successful ballet ever written if measured in terms of broad audience appeal.
A Disastrous Marriage
In 1877 Tchaikovsky married the 28-year-old Antonina Miliukova, his student at the conservatory; it has been suggested that she remained him of Tatiana, his heroine in his opera-in-process, Eugene Onegin. His unfortunate wife, who died insane in 1917, not only suffered violent rejection by her husband but also the vicious libel of Modeste Tchaikovsky, his brother's biographer. Modeste, like Peter a misogynist, vilified her in the biography in an attempt to shield Peter and mask his weaknesses. Subsequent biographers, uncritically and perhaps with relish, repeated and embroidered upon Modeste's assertion that Antonina was cheap, high-strung, and neurotic.
Tchaikovsky was scarcely to find out her character: within a few weeks he had fled Moscow alone for an extended stay abroad. He made arrangements through relatives never to see his wife again. In his correspondence of this period—indeed through a large part of his career—he was periodically morbid about all aspects of his life: about his wife, money, his friends, even his music and himself. He often spoke of suicide. This, too, is a favorite theme of his many biographers. Even during his life he was treated unkindly by critics who sharpened their sarcastic vocabularies on his open, vulnerable, emotionally based music. But he never sought to change his style, though he was dissatisfied, at one time or another, with most of his works; and he never stopped composing.
Arrangement with Madame von Meck
At about the same time as his abortive marriage, Tchaikovsky entered into a liaison of quite another kind. Through third parties an unusual but fruitful arrangement with the immensely wealthy Nadezhda von Meck was made: she was attracted by his music and the possibility of patronizing him, and he was frank in his interest in her money and what it could provide him. For 13 years she supported him at a base rate of 6, 000 rubles a year, with whatever "bonuses" he could manage to extract. He was free to quit the conservatory, and he began a series of travels and stays abroad.
Von Meck and Tchaikovsky purposely never met, save for one or two accidental encounters. In their voluminous correspondence the composer discusses his music thoughtfully; it is disenchanting to note that in letters to his family he complains cavalierly of her parsimony. He dedicated his Fourth Symphony (1877) to her. Tchaikovsky finished Eugene Onegin in 1879; it is his only opera generally performed outside the Soviet Union. Other works of this period are the Violin Concerto (1881), the Fifth Symphony (1888), and the ballet Sleeping Beauty (1889).
Tchaikovsky's fame and his activity now extended to all of Europe and America. To rest from his public appearances he chose a country retreat in Klin near Moscow. From this was derived the "Hermit of Klin" nickname, though hermit he never was. In 1890 he finished the opera Queen of Spades, based on Aleksandr Pushkin's story. As with many of his other works, Tchaikovsky was highly involved emotionally, and he was gratified when, despite the grousing "experts, " the opera was enthusiastically received. In late 1890 Von Meck cut him off. He was self-sustaining by then, but the rebuff rankled. Even Modeste expressed surprise at his irritation. Tchaikovsky had an immensely successful tour in the United States in 1891.
The Sixth Symphony was first heard in October 1893, with the composer conducting. This work, named at Modeste's suggestion Pathétique, was poorly received, very likely because of the inadequate conducting. Tchaikovsky never knew of its eventual astonishing success, for he contracted cholera and died, muttering abuse of Von Meck, on November 6.
Tchaikovsky's gift was melody—sobbing, singing, exalting melody. Yet, one of his favorite and recurring melodic patterns was a simple five-or six-note minor scale, usually descending, which he enveloped in orchestral color or lush harmonies often electrifying in their piquancy and effectiveness.
Tchaikovsky's story is obscured, first, by the work by his brother Modeste, Life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (3 vols., 1900-1902; English abridgment by Rosa Newmarch, 1906), which, while otherwise authoritative, cloaks vital segments of the composer's life; second, by puritanical attitudes which keep archives in Klin tightly closed; and third, by the opportunistic sensationalism of many writers who perform Freudian acrobatics with the few facts they possess of the composer's life. M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters of Russian Music (1936), is sound, as is Abraham's Tchaikovsky: A Short Biography (1944), derived from the former work. David Brook, Six Great Russian Composers (1946), includes a chapter on Tchaikovsky. John Gee and Elliot Selby, The Triumph of Tchaikovsky (1960), and Lawrence and Elizabeth Hanson, Tchaikovsky: The Man behind the Music (1966), are undistinguished biographies. The Tchaikovsky-Von Meck correspondence was published in Russian (3 vols., 1933-1936), and a one-volume English abridgment is available. Beloved Friend (1937), by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck, is a fictionalized but not inaccurate account based on the aforementioned letters. □
Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich
TCHAIKOVSKY, PETER ILYICH
(1840–1893), Russian composer.
Arguably the most famous Russian composer, Tchaikovsky was the first to achieve renown beyond Russia's borders and establish a place for Russian music in the repertories of Western concert halls and musical theaters. The first professional Russian composer to receive a thorough musical education, the import of Tchaikovsky's achievement owes much to his mastery of the dominant nineteenth-century musical genre: the symphony. Yet Tchaikovsky's enormous range, versatility, and output—he composed in all the major genres, including symphonies, operas, ballets, chamber works, songs, as well as compositions for solo instruments—assure the composer's place among the most popular and prolific European composers of his day.
Tchaikovsky's virtual dominance of the Russian musical scene by the end of his life aroused the envy of the nationalist composers known as the Mighty Handful, yet Tchaikovsky's ability to adapt native folk material to established Western compositional structures proved more successful than their more earnest attempts to craft from those materials a unique native musical language. Four Tchaikovsky masterworks, representing three genres in which Tchaikovsky particularly excelled, were the fruits of an unprecedented final creative flourish: the opera Queen of Spades (1891), the ballets Sleeping Beauty (1889), The Nutcracker (1892), and the Sixth Symphony (1893).
Although Tchaikovsky's music was deemed bourgeois in the relatively radical period following the 1917 Revolution, these criticisms faded in the Josef Stalin era, when the monumental art of the previous century once again found favor, and Tchaikovsky was hailed as a symphonist par excellence—the composer's homosexuality, the perceived melancholy of his music, and his conservative politics notwithstanding. Tchaikovsky died of cholera in St. Petersburg in 1893, though a very active party of mostly Russian researchers allege the composer's death was the result of a suicide brought about by a crisis over his homosexuality.
See also: music
Brown, David. (1978–1992). Tchaikovsky: A Biographical and Critical Study. London: Gollancz.
Poznansky, Alexander. (1991). Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man. New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan.
Poznansky, Alexander, and Brett Langston. (2002). The Tchaikovsky Handbook: A Guide to the Man and His Music, comp. Alexander Poznansky and Brett Langston. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Taruskin, Richard. (1997). Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich