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"UNBRIDLED EMOTION" would perhaps best describe the music of Tchaikovsky. His deep-sensitivity saturated his music producing lush melodies that have enamored listeners for over a century.

Yet Tchaikovsky's personal life was in turmoil from the very beginning. As a youth, Tchaikovsky faced the hardship of losing his mother at age 14 and was forced to deal with the cold atmosphere of a military boarding school. As such, young Peter shied away from the harsh and cold world and found solace in music. It was upon hearing Mozart's Don Giovanni that Tchaikovsky decided to dedicate his life to music.

Abandoning his civil service position, Tchaikovsky entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study under Anton Rubinstein. Fortunately Tchaikovsky's father, who although disapproved of Peter's decision for a musical career, didn't interfere with his son's wishes. As a student, Tchaikovsky wrote The Storm 1864 and later in 1868, under the direction of Mily Balakirev, he composed Fatum. This work pleased Tchaikovsky but not Balakirev- the leader of the "Mighty Five." His mentor bluntly criticized the work for its lack of continuity and natural flow and pointed to Franz Liszt's Les Préludes as a successful model. Respecting Balakirev's judgment, Tchaikovsky discarded the work. The famous tone poem Romeo & Juliet would follow within a year's time, and once again, under the nurturing counsel of Mily Balakirev.

On a deeper and more personal level, Tchaikovsky's neuroses, which in part stemmed from his homosexuality, often lead him to be depressed and insecure in the presence of people. Perhaps to allay rumors of his homosexuality, Tchaikovsky married a young student in 1877. It naturally proved disastrous. Whether it was to appease his overly infatuated wife or conceal his secret all that Tchaikovsky was left with after nine short weeks of marriage was a suicide attempt and nervous breakdown.

As fate would have it, another woman, Nadejda von Meck, would enter his life, but this time exclusively as a pen pal. Her wish was to subsidize him without ever meeting. A better arrangement couldn't be made for one such as Tchaikovsky, as their mysterious relationship lasted for fourteen years. This offered Tchaikovsky some piece of mind, as his brother Modest recalled years later,"The Tchaikovsky of 1885 seemed a new man compared with the nervous and misanthropic Tchaikovsky of 1878."

Tchaikovsky's music was marked by a sensuously rhythmic pulse and an innate melodic flow that enabled him to create some of the world's greatest ballet music; music that shows a mixture of playful classicism and romantic verve. That he should incorporate such melodies into his symphonies prompted some critics to attack. Tchaikovsky's quick defense was simple, ballet music was by no means inferior to any other form of music. This inevitably would be affirmed by the millions of people who still rally behind his symphonies in praise, however, haughty critics still deride Tchaikovsky of his just rewards.

Tchaikovsky's inner conflicts perhaps give a clue to his music, for he openly adored the style and grace of Mozart, yet gravitated to the revolutionary innovations of Franz Liszt and the Romantics. Although he could escape and find peace and consolation in Mozart, his inner turmoil and the tempestuous times in which he lived forced him to ingest and release stirringly Romantic creations. With constant input by Balakirev and the influence of the avant-garde, Tchaikovsky would release more works that reflected his true and inescapable reality than his escapist wishes, the latter attempted in his Mozartiana. With works like; Romeo & Juliet, Fatum, Manfred, Hamlet, or the first Piano concerto the influence of Franz Liszt and the modernists is clearly evident.

He was quite bewildered yet motivated by the works of Richard Wagner, as he stated after seeing The Ring, "I came away in doubt about the validity of Wagner's view of opera; I came away exhausted, but at the same time wishing to continue my study of this music."

Henceforth, although the Dionysian aspects of Romanticism intimidated him, Tchaikovsky felt somehow captivated and drawn in by its dynamic and emotional power.

Having written a broad spectrum of works- ranging from piano solo pieces & chamber works to concertos, symphonies, and operas -Tchaikovsky has undoubtedly made his mark as one of the greatest masters of the late Romantic era.

Composer Collectibles

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Recommended Recordings             top

Piano Concerto No.1 Violin Concerto/Capriccio Italien/Francesca da Rimini etc. (Horacio Gutierrez, piano/ Andre Previn-cond./Seiji Ozawa-cond./others) (2 CD's) (Seraphim,EMI)
The Piano concerto is beautifully played by Horacio and Andre in a solid performance of great virtuosity and feeling. Many recordings of this popular piece make choosing a favorite a difficult task, as Van Cliburn and others come to mind. Yet these 2 CD's offer a nice selection of works at a very reasonable price.

Manfred Symphony (Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly) (London)
Under some prodding by Balakirev, Tchaikovsky took up Byron's subject of Manfred to compose a masterpiece in sound. This recording is full-bodied and nicely paced, as each movement carries significance to the underlying theme of Manfred's psychological torments and adventures. Something Tchaikovsky could easily identify with. Here is a work that clearly dispels the haughty critics who said, and some still say, Tchaikovsky could only write trite ballet music. A powerful and moving work.

Symphony 5 / Hamlet (Orchestre symphonique de Montreal/Charles Dutoit-cond.) (London)
The fifth symphony develops a recurring fate theme that somberly echoes throughout the symphony. A reprieve in the second movement summons up a tender love melody that doesn't exactly find peace, as it is interrupted twice by fate. The symphony does however end triumphantly, though somewhat dubious. Hamlet is a fine piece of music that depicts the moods and actions of the play with good results. Although Franz Liszt's Hamlet is a superior work, and this work's predecessor and possible inspiration, it should be heard more in the concert hall. A splendid CD.

Symphony 6 "Pathetique"(Chicago Symphony Orchestra/James Levine-cond) (RCA)
This piece delighted Tchaikovsky more than any other work. Oddly enough, it was to be his last, for he died nine days after it's premiere. The music is intensely moving and revolves around the universal theme of LIFE and DEATH. A solid performance by Levine and the Chicago Symphony.

Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty suites (Philadelphia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti) (EMI)
For those seeking only the suites or (carefully selected excerpts) this recording offers both popular ballets each performed with panache.

Romeo & Juliet / Nutcracker Suite (Cleveland Orchestra/ Lorin Maazel) (Telarc)
A great recording of two beloved favorites. A listening pleasure to delight the
whole family.


Tchaikovsky Midi Files
Franz Liszt Site The web's premiere resource on the Hungarian pianist/composer Franz Liszt.
Everything Tchaikovsky - on Classical TV a virtual concert hall and the biggest searchable collection of classical music on the Internet


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Art & text Rich DiSilvio