Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich
Composer of The Nutcrackerby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“Truly there would be no reason to go mad were it not for music.” - Tchaikovsky in the Late Romantic Movement
At the end of the Romantic Movement in classical music (late 1700s to early 1900s) there was a handful of composers who saw the world’s truths falling with none to replace them. The pessimism that engulfed this era finds its expression in the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky was born in Votinsk, the son of a government official. According to the wishes of his family, Tchaikovsky graduated from the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersberg at nineteen and began working in the Ministry of Justice. At age twenty three, however, he resigned his post and began studying music at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg. After completing the course there he began teaching at the Moscow Conservatory, where he spent twelve years.
During his time at the Moscow Conservatory Tchaikovsky wrote some of his most successful works including: the First (1866), Second (1872), and Third (1875) Symphonies. He suffered from numerous attacks of depression, which some say were brought on by his guilt over his homosexuality. In the summer of 1877 he married a student of his, Antonina Milyukova, only to have the marriage dissolve in three months. After a suicide attempt, Tchaikovsky moved to Switzerland and later to Italy to recover his health.
In his most desperate hour of unhappiness with a woman, another woman came into his life and saved him. Madame Nadezhda von Meck became his patroness, giving him an allowance that allowed him to devote all his time to composing. He dedicated his Fourth Symphony to her. They never met but their lengthy correspondence reveals much about Tchaikovsky’s life, works, and mind. By this time, he had become one of the most popular composers in Russia. In 1888 and 1889 he toured Germany, France and England as a conductor. 1890 saw the production of The Sleeping Beauty ballet and The Queen of Spades opera. At this time his sponsorship from Madame von Meck ended and though he no longer relied on her support, it was a dreadful blow to his self esteem from which he never fully recovered.
A tour of the United States in 1891 culminated in Tchaikovsky’s appearance at the opening of Carnegie Hall. The following year The Nutcracker ballet premiered. In 1893 he received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Cambridge University and also finished the Sixth (Pathetique) Symphony. Although he believed it to be his best work the critics did not agree, and following its lukewarm reception he died several weeks after its premier.
Tchaikovsky’s moody nature shines through in much of his music. The Pathetique Symphony in particular displays his sensitive and passionate nature. However, Tchaikovsky’s most natural affinity was for ballet. Many of his works contain dances, particularly waltzes, thus setting the stage for his almost reinvention of the ballet. His three ballets were not immediately popular with the dancers who claimed they were too complex to be danced to. However, their opinion soon changed, and the ballets quickly became standards in the Russian repertory.
His music was harshly criticized by most of his contemporaries, most notably “The Five”, composed of Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. However, despite the criticism, Tchaikovsky’s music has become more popular that any of “The Five”’s. Like many composers his music was not appreciated in his lifetime as it has been since. Yet, through the years it has grown more classic and enduring as has his work of what is arguably the most popular ballet in existence, The Nutcracker.
Machlis, Joseph and Forney, Kristine The Enjoyment of Music 8th Edition copyright 1999
http://www.balletmet.org/Notes/Tchaikovsky.html copyright 1998
Lamb, Gretchen http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/5648/Tchaikovsky.htm copyright 1998-1999
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