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Honouring a Legend: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

It's Art and Culture month once again on the blog (in case you missed last year), a time when we appreciate the visual and musical wonders of art that our ancestors and contemporaries have given us. 

Now recently, I've developed a thing for classical music and seeing as it was absent last year (unfairly!), it deserves to start at #1 here. Though I'm sure most of you are familiar with the likes of Beethoven and Bach, quite a handful (aside from well-versed classical music enthusiasts) would recall the likes of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the great Russian composer. If you haven't heard of him, I don't blame you. If you haven't heard his works before, you should sit in a corner and think about what you've done.

Short Biography:
(From Wikipedia)

Tchaikovsky
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893) was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, chamber music, and a choral setting of The Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Some of these are among the most popular theatrical music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, which he bolstered with appearances as a guest conductor later in his career in Europe and the United States. One of these appearances was at the inaugural concert of Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1891. Tchaikovsky was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension in the late 1880s.

Although musically precocious, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant. There was scant opportunity for a musical career in Russia at that time, and no system of public music education. When an opportunity for such an education arose, he entered the nascent Saint Petersburg Conservatory, from where he graduated in 1865. The formal Western-oriented teaching he received there set him apart from composers of the contemporary nationalist movement embodied by the Russian composers of The Five, with whom his professional relationship was mixed. Tchaikovsky's training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood. From this reconciliation, he forged a personal but unmistakably Russian style—a task that did not prove easy. The principles that governed melody, harmony and other fundamentals of Russian music ran completely counter to those that governed Western European music; this seemed to defeat the potential for using Russian music in large-scale Western composition or from forming a composite style, and it caused personal antipathies that dented Tchaikovsky's self-confidence. Russian culture exhibited a split personality, with its native and adopted elements having drifted apart increasingly since the time of Peter the Great, and this resulted in uncertainty among the intelligentsia of the country's national identity.

Despite his many popular successes, Tchaikovsky's life was punctuated by personal crises and depression. Contributory factors included his leaving his mother for boarding school, his mother's early death and the collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. His homosexuality, which he kept private, has traditionally also been considered a major factor, but musicologists now play down its importance. His sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera; there is an ongoing debate as to whether it was accidental or self-inflicted.

While his music has remained popular among audiences, critical opinions were initially mixed. Some Russians did not feel it sufficiently representative of native musical values and were suspicious that Europeans accepted it for its Western elements. In apparent reinforcement of the latter claim, some Europeans lauded Tchaikovsky for offering music more substantive than base exoticism, and thus transcending stereotypes of Russian classical music. Tchaikovsky's music was dismissed as "lacking in elevated thought," according to longtime New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg, and its formal workings were derided as deficient for not following Western principles stringently.

Works:
Swan Lake: Scene


The Nutcracker: II March


Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture


Chinese Dance - The Nutcracker


Piano Concerto No. 1:


Nutcracker Trepak (Russian dance): 


Nutcracker: Dance of the Mirlitons


Nutcracker: Waltz of the Flowers


Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy:


1812 Overture:


Bonus clip:
This is an actual recording of Tchaikovsky's voice, recorded in January 1890, by Julius Block on behalf of Thomas Edison.

According to musicologist Leonid Sabaneyev, Tchaikovsky was not comfortable with being recorded for posterity and tried to shy away from it. On an apparently separate visit from the one related above, Block asked the composer to play something on a piano or at least say something. Tchaikovsky refused. He told Block, "I am a bad pianist and my voice is raspy. Why should one eternalize it?"[

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