Saturday, December 10, 2005


Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky was born May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Ural district, Russia. Like Schumann, with whom Tchaikovsky has many qualities in common, he was expected to study law, and did so for a while, also entering the service of the government. In time, however, his strong musical inclination prevailed, and he turned to its serious cultivation. In 1862 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory (founded shortly before by Anton Rubinstein), as a pupil of Zaremba in composition and of Rubinstein in piano. In 1866 he became a teacher of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, established by Nicholas Rubinstein, remaining in that capacity until 1877, after which he devoted himself exclusively to his own creative activity, producing a large number of works that have made him justly renowned as foremost among the eminent exponents of Russian music, and, at the same time, as one of the most serious, scholarly, most spontaneous and richly endowed masters of legitimate art in music history---romantic in expression, but solidly grounded in the principles of classic structure (the first heir to Mozart). In 1887 he began to visit many European cities as conductor of his own works, and in 1891 came to New York City on the same artistic errand. Death overtook him with tragic suddenness on November 6, 1893.

Tchaikovsky was of a highly sensitive, poetic nature; and his musical utterances were inclined to oscillate between strongly contrasted moods, though with a somewhat pronounced bent toward melancholic expression. He differed from the majority of great composers in his very strong predilection for the theoretical side of his art; he wrote and published two remarkable Manuals of Harmony, besides translating into Russian Gevaert's famous Instrumentation and Lobe's Katechismus der Musik. This throws light upon the sources of the meticulousness and perfection of his musical craftmanship, and the refinement and invariable effectiveness of his orchestration.

The development of Tchaikovsky's musical genius was thoroughly normal and steady. Each succeeding work appears to excel its forerunners in maturity, command of structure, eloquence of melody, and in accuracy and intensity of expression. His first Symphony, in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Storms), was composed in 1868; his second, in C minor, Op.17 (Little Russia), in 1873; the third, in D, Op.29 (Polish), in 1875. These first three all manifest many traits of superior beauty and originality, and confirm the earnestness with which he pursued his serious artistic ideals and aims. But they scarcely succeeded in passing beyond the frontiers of Russia, and, wherever they are known, they are overshadowed by the splendor of his other three, the fourth, fifth, and sixth Symphonies, in which his genius is proclaimed in tones that resound throughout the civilized musical world.


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