Believe it or not, I am wending my way back to vocal music. But it occurred to me that I have posted very little Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. In this post are the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven (the 6th Symphony), and the Pathétique Symphony of Tchaikovsky (the 6th Symphony). I did not like any of the remasterings of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony on youtube. I specifically wanted Felix Weingartner conducting, and I decided to use my own recording of his version of the 6th Symphony. The technology used for this recording is now 20 years old, and the music can sound somewhat dull to modern ears. However, I am asking you to listen through the sound and take notice of the conducting. It is truly remarkable.
Mravinsky was the principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, a post that he held for 50 years. Mravinsky represented the best of the Soviet school of conducting, in which technical precision and ﬁdelity to the music were combined with individual and even Romantic interpretations. He was especially noted for his fine performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas, ballets, and symphonies. Recordings reveal Yevgeny Mravinsky to have an extraordinary technical control over the orchestra, especially over dynamics. He was also a very exciting conductor, frequently changing tempo in order to heighten the musical effect for which he was striving, often making prominent use of brass instrumentation. Surviving videos show that Mravinsky had a sober appearance at the podium, making simple but very clear gestures, often without a baton.
Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (Pastoral) in F major, Op.68
3rd, 4th, and 5th movements, played without pause
Beethoven’s 6th Symphony
Many of Beethoven’s works are titled, yet many of these names came from friends or from those to whom the pieces were dedicated. The Sixth Symphony, however, is one of only two symphonies Beethoven intentionally named. Beethoven’s full title was “Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life.” Although it was composed in the same time period and dedicated to the same people as the Fifth, the works have many differences. The “Pastoral” is known as a “characteristic” symphony. Beethoven publicly declared the piece’s “extramusical” purpose: an expression of nature. His affinity for nature and his love for walks through the country outside Vienna were captured in the Sixth, as well as in the notes scribbled on sketches of the symphony.
The last three movements are played with no stop in between them; that is, one following the other.
Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony in B minor, Op.74
Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony
The Pathétique Symphony, byname of Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 is Tchaikovsky’s final composition. Called the “Passionate Symphony” by the composer, it was mistranslated into French after his death, earning the title by which it became henceforth known, Pathétique (meaning “evoking pity”). The symphony premiered on October 28, 1893, according to the modern calendar, though at the time Russia still used the old form, by which the date was October 16.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is forever associated with the tragedy of his sudden death. In the last year of his life, 1893, the composer began work on a new symphony. Sketches dated from as early as February, but progress was slow. Concert tours to France and England and the awarding of a doctorate of music from Cambridge cut into the time available for composition. Thus, though Tchaikovsky could compose quickly when the muse was with him, it was not until the end of August that he was able to complete the new work. Its premiere, with the composer himself on the podium, was given in St. Petersburg two months later, on October 28.
The work seemed unusually somber, particularly in its finale that, both in tempo and dynamics, fades into nothingness. Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest suggested at the time that the work ought to be called by the French word “pathetique,” [the Russian equivalent is “pateticheskoy”] meaning melancholy, and Tchaikovsky supposedly agreed, but if Modest or anyone else bothered to ask the reason behind the symphony’s gloomy mood, Tchaikovsky’s answer is lost to time. His only remembered comment about the new piece is, “Without exaggeration, I have put my whole soul into this work.”
Felix Weingartner, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony
Paul Felix Weingartner, Edler (a title of nobility in Austria) von Münzberg (June 2, 1863 – May 7, 1942) was an Austrian conductor, composer and pianist. He is considered by many to be the greatest conductor of the 20th century. For many, his tempi were perfect, and his phrasing was simply inspired. When you listen to his conducting, you perceive a tight control over the orchestra, beautiful colorations of sound, and absolutely stunning lines. I know of no conductor better than this one.
Life and career
Weingartner was born in Zadar, Croatia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents were Austrian. The family moved to Graz in 1868, and his father died later that year. In 1881 he went to Leipzig to study philosophy, but soon devoted himself entirely to music, entering the Conservatory in 1883 and studying in Weimar as one of Franz Liszt’s last pupils. The same year, 1884, he assumed the directorship of the Königsberg Opera. From 1885 to 1887 he was Kapellmeister in Danzig, then in Hamburg until 1889, and in Mannheim until 1891. Starting that year, he was Kapellmeister of the Royal Opera and conductor of symphony concerts in Berlin. He eventually resigned from the opera post while continuing to conduct the symphony concerts, and then settled in Munich.
In 1902, at the Mainz Festival, Weingartner conducted all nine Beethoven symphonies. From 1907 to 1910 he was the Director of the Vienna Hofoper, succeeding Gustav Mahler; he retained the conductorship of the Vienna Philharmonic until 1927. From 1912 he was again Kapellmeister in Hamburg but resigned in 1914 and went to Darmstadt as general music director while also often conducting in the U.S. for the Boston Opera Company between 1912-1914. In 1919-20, he was chief conductor of the Vienna Volksoper. In 1920, he became a professor at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. From 1927 to 1934 he was music director of the Basel symphony orchestra. He made many outstanding Beethoven and Brahms symphony recordings in Vienna and London between the mid-1920s and his last recording session with the London Symphony, including an electrifying Brahms Second to complete the historic Beethoven-Brahms symphony cycle he began in the 1920s (see below), on February 29, 1940. He gave his last concert in London that year and died in Winterthur, Switzerland two years later.
Weingartner was the first conductor to make commercial recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies, and the second (to Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia) to record all four Brahms symphonies. His crisp, classical conducting style contrasted with the romantic approach of many of his contemporaries, such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, whose conducting is now considered “subjective” on the basis of tempo fluctuations not called for in the printed scores; while Weingartner was more like Arturo Toscanini in insisting on playing as written.
Like so many Russian musicians, Mravinsky seemed first headed toward a career in the sciences. He studied biology at St. Petersburg University, but had to quit in 1920 after his father’s death. To support himself, he signed on with the Imperial Ballet as a rehearsal pianist. In 1923, he finally enrolled in the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied composition with Vladimir Shcherbachov and conducting with Alexander Gauk and Nikolai Malko. He graduated in 1931, and left his Imperial Ballet job to become a musical assistant and ballet conductor at the Bolshoi Opera from 1931 to 1937, with a stint at the Kirov from 1934. Mravinsky gave up these posts in 1938, after winning first prize in the All-Union Conductors’ Competition in Moscow, to become principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic. He remained there until his death, long ignoring many guest-conducting offers from abroad. Under Mravinsky’s direction the Leningrad Philharmonic came to be regarded as one of the finest orchestras in the world, although the world had comparatively few opportunities to hear it aside from the rare tour (about 30 performances in 25 years, starting in 1956), some dim Soviet recordings, and a very few highly acclaimed records for such Western European companies as Deutsche Grammophon and, in the end, Erato. Mravinsky was made People’s Artist of the U.S.S.R. in 1954, and in 1973, he received the order of Hero of Socialist Labor. But his more lasting international acclaim came for his performances of Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, Wagner, Sibelius, Bartók, Stravinsky, and anything Russian or Soviet. His reputation only rose upon his retirement from the Leningrad Philharmonic, particularly with the posthumous release in 1995 by Melodiya and BMG Classics of 20 CDs surveying Mravinsky’s work from the 1940s into the 1980s.
Mravinsky’s rehearsal manner was said to be autocratic and brutal, and the resulting performances were tightly clenched. Yet they were also technically precise, finely detailed, subtly colored, and highly dramatic — and this not always because he was in the habit of whipping fast finales into a frenzy. His readings had an intensity, concentration, and — despite the arduous rehearsal — spontaneity comparable to those of Wilhelm Furtwängler. In the West, Mravinsky was particularly noted as an interpreter of Shostakovich, whose Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth symphonies he premiered, and of Tchaikovsky. His recordings of the Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies, made in 1960 for Deutsche Grammophon while the orchestra was on tour in London, are touchstones of the Russian repertory.
Taken from https://www.allmusic.com/artist/yevgeny-mravinsky-mn0002197359/biography
by James Reel
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German pianist and composer widely considered to be one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time. His innovative compositions combined vocals and instruments, widening the scope of sonata, symphony, concerto and quartet. He is the crucial transitional figure connecting the Classical and Romantic ages of Western music.
Beethoven’s personal life was marked by a struggle against deafness, and some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he was quite unable to hear. He died at the age of 56.
Beethoven had two younger brothers who survived into adulthood: Caspar, born in 1774, and Johann, born in 1776. Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena van Beethoven, was a slender, genteel, and deeply moralistic woman.
His father, Johann van Beethoven, was a mediocre court singer better known for his alcoholism than any musical ability. However, Beethoven’s grandfather, godfather and namesake, Kapellmeister Ludwig van Beethoven, was Bonn’s most prosperous and eminent musician, a source of endless pride for young Beethoven.
Sometime between the births of his two younger brothers, Beethoven’s father began teaching him music with an extraordinary rigor and brutality that affected him for the rest of his life.
Neighbors provided accounts of the small boy weeping while he played the clavier, standing atop a footstool to reach the keys, his father beating him for each hesitation or mistake.
On a near daily basis, Beethoven was flogged, locked in the cellar and deprived of sleep for extra hours of practice. He studied the violin and clavier with his father as well as taking additional lessons from organists around town. Whether in spite of or because of his father’s draconian methods, Beethoven was a prodigiously talented musician from his earliest days.
Hoping that his young son would be recognized as a musical prodigy à la Wolfgang Mozart, Beethoven’s father arranged his first public recital for March 26, 1778. Billed as a “little son of 6 years,” (Mozart’s age when he debuted for Empress Maria Theresia) although he was in fact 7, Beethoven played impressively, but his recital received no press whatsoever.
Meanwhile, the musical prodigy attended a Latin grade school named Tirocinium, where a classmate said, “Not a sign was to be discovered of that spark of genius which glowed so brilliantly in him afterwards.”
Beethoven, who struggled with sums and spelling his entire life, was at best an average student, and some biographers have hypothesized that he may have had mild dyslexia. As he put it himself, “Music comes to me more readily than words.”
In 1781, at the age of 10, Beethoven withdrew from school to study music full time with Christian Gottlob Neefe, the newly appointed Court Organist, and at the age of 12, Beethoven published his first composition, a set of piano variations on a theme by an obscure classical composer named Dressler.
By 1784, his alcoholism worsening and his voice decaying, Beethoven’s father was no longer able to support his family, and Beethoven formally requested an official appointment as Assistant Court Organist. Despite his youth, his request was accepted, and Beethoven was put on the court payroll with a modest annual salary of 150 florins.
Early Career as a Composer
When the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II died in 1790, a 19-year-old Beethoven received the immense honor of composing a musical memorial in his honor. For reasons that remain unclear, Beethoven’s composition was never performed, and most assumed the young musician had proven unequal to the task.
However, more than a century later, Johannes Brahms discovered that Beethoven had in fact composed a “beautiful and noble” piece of music entitled Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II. It is now considered his earliest masterpiece.
Beethoven and Haydn
In 1792, with French revolutionary forces sweeping across the Rhineland into the Electorate of Cologne, Beethoven decided to leave his hometown for Vienna once again. Mozart had passed away a year earlier, leaving Joseph Haydn as the unquestioned greatest composer alive.
Haydn was living in Vienna at the time, and it was with Haydn that the young Beethoven now intended to study. As his friend and patron Count Waldstein wrote in a farewell letter, “Mozart’s genius mourns and weeps over the death of his disciple. It found refuge, but no release with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him, now, it seeks to unite with another. By means of assiduous labor you will receive the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn.”
In Vienna, Beethoven dedicated himself wholeheartedly to musical study with the most eminent musicians of the age. He studied piano with Haydn, vocal composition with Antonio Salieri and counterpoint with Johann Albrechtsberger. Not yet known as a composer, Beethoven quickly established a reputation as a virtuoso pianist who was especially adept at improvisation.
Beethoven won many patrons among the leading citizens of the Viennese aristocracy, who provided him with lodging and funds, allowing Beethoven, in 1794, to sever ties with the Electorate of Cologne. Beethoven made his long-awaited public debut in Vienna on March 29, 1795.
Although there is considerable debate over which of his early piano concerti he performed that night, most scholars believe he played what is known as his “first” piano concerto in C Major. Shortly thereafter, Beethoven decided to publish a series of three piano trios as his Opus 1, which were an enormous critical and financial success.
In the first spring of the new century, on April 2, 1800, Beethoven debuted his Symphony No. 1 in C major at the Royal Imperial Theater in Vienna. Although Beethoven would grow to detest the piece — “In those days I did not know how to compose,” he later remarked — the graceful and melodious symphony nevertheless established him as one of Europe’s most celebrated composers.
As the new century progressed, Beethoven composed piece after piece that marked him as a masterful composer reaching his musical maturity. His Six String Quartets, published in 1801, demonstrate complete mastery of that most difficult and cherished of Viennese forms developed by Mozart and Haydn.
Beethoven also composed The Creatures of Prometheus in 1801, a wildly popular ballet that received 27 performances at the Imperial Court Theater. It was around the same time that Beethoven discovered he was losing his hearing.
For a variety of reasons that included his crippling shyness and unfortunate physical appearance, Beethoven never married or had children. He was, however, desperately in love with a married woman named Antonie Brentano.
Over the course of two days in July of 1812, Beethoven wrote her a long and beautiful love letter that he never sent. Addressed “to you, my Immortal Beloved,” the letter said in part, “My heart is full of so many things to say to you — ah — there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all — Cheer up — remain my true, my only love, my all as I am yours.”
Despite his extraordinary output of beautiful music, Beethoven was lonely and frequently miserable throughout his adult life. Short-tempered, absent-minded, greedy and suspicious to the point of paranoia, Beethoven feuded with his brothers, his publishers, his housekeepers, his pupils and his patrons.
Was Beethoven Deaf?
At the same time as Beethoven was composing some of his most immortal works, he was struggling to come to terms with a shocking and terrible fact, one that he tried desperately to conceal: he was going deaf.
By the turn of the 19th century, Beethoven struggled to make out the words spoken to him in conversation.
Beethoven revealed in a heart-wrenching 1801 letter to his friend Franz Wegeler, “I must confess that I lead a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity; but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.”
Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, at the age of 56, of post-hepatitic cirrhosis of the liver. The autopsy also provided clues to the origins of his deafness: While his quick temper, chronic diarrhea and deafness are consistent with arterial disease, a competing theory traces Beethoven’s deafness to contracting typhus in the summer of 1796.
Beethoven is widely considered one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, composer of all time. Beethoven’s body of musical compositions stands with William Shakespeare’s plays at the outer limits of human brilliance.
And the fact Beethoven composed his most beautiful and extraordinary music while deaf is an almost superhuman feat of creative genius, perhaps only paralleled in the history of artistic achievement by John Milton writing Paradise Lost while blind.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky also spelled Chaikovsky, Chaikovskii, or Tschaikowsky, name in full Anglicized as Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, (born April 25 [May 7, New Style], 1840, Votkinsk, Russia—died October 25 [November 6], 1893, St. Petersburg), the most popular Russian composer of all time. His music has always had great appeal for the general public in virtue of its tuneful, open-hearted melodies, impressive harmonies, and colorful, picturesque orchestration, all of which evoke a profound emotional response. His oeuvre includes 7 symphonies, 11 operas, 3 ballets, 5 suites, 3 piano concertos, a violin concerto, 11 overtures (strictly speaking, 3 overtures and 8 single movement programmatic orchestral works), 4 cantatas, 20 choral works, 3 string quartets, a string sextet, and more than 100 songs and piano pieces.
Tchaikovsky was the second of six surviving children of Ilya Tchaikovsky, a manager of the Kamsko-Votkinsk metal works, and Alexandra Assier, a descendant of French émigrés. He manifested a clear interest in music from childhood, and his earliest musical impressions came from an orchestrina in the family home. At age four he made his first recorded attempt at composition, a song written with his younger sister Alexandra. In 1845 he began taking piano lessons with a local tutor, through which he became familiar with Frédéric Chopin’s mazurkas and the piano pieces of Friedrich Kalkbrenner. Since music education was not available in Russian institutions at that time, Tchaikovsky’s parents had not considered that their son might pursue a musical career. Instead, they chose to prepare the high-strung and sensitive boy for a career in the civil service.
In 1850 Tchaikovsky entered the prestigious Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, a boarding institution for young boys, where he spent nine years. He proved a diligent and successful student who was popular among his peers. At the same time Tchaikovsky formed in this all-male environment intense emotional ties with several of his schoolmates.
In 1854 his mother fell victim to cholera and died. During the boy’s last years at the school, Tchaikovsky’s father finally came to realize his son’s vocation and invited the professional teacher Rudolph Kündinger to give him piano lessons. At age 17 Tchaikovsky came under the influence of the Italian singing instructor Luigi Piccioli, the first person to appreciate his musical talents, and thereafter Tchaikovsky developed a lifelong passion for Italian music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni proved another revelation that deeply affected his musical taste. In the summer of 1861 he traveled outside Russia for the first time, visiting Germany, France, and England, and in October of that year he began attending music classes offered by the recently founded Russian Musical Society. When St. Petersburg Conservatory opened the following fall, Tchaikovsky was among its first students. After making the decision to dedicate his life to music, he resigned from the Ministry of Justice, where he had been employed as a clerk.
Tchaikovsky spent nearly three years at St. Petersburg Conservatory, studying harmony and counterpoint with Nikolay Zaremba and composition and instrumentation with Anton Rubinstein. Among his earliest orchestral works was an overture entitled The Storm (composed 1864), a mature attempt at dramatic program music. The first public performance of any of his works took place in August 1865, when Johann Strauss the Younger conducted Tchaikovsky’s Characteristic Dances at a concert in Pavlovsk, near St. Petersburg.
After graduating in December 1865, Tchaikovsky moved to Moscow to teach music theory at the Russian Musical Society, soon thereafter renamed the Moscow Conservatory. He found teaching difficult, but his friendship with the director, Nikolay Rubinstein, who had offered him the position in the first place, helped make it bearable. Within five years Tchaikovsky had produced his first symphony, Symphony No. 1 in G Minor (composed 1866; Winter Daydreams), and his first opera, The Voyevoda (1868).
In 1868 Tchaikovsky met a Belgian mezzo-soprano named Désirée Artôt, with whom he fleetingly contemplated a marriage, but their engagement ended in failure. The opera The Voyevoda was well received, even by the The Five, an influential group of nationalistic Russian composers who never appreciated the cosmopolitanism of Tchaikovsky’s music. In 1869 Tchaikovsky completed Romeo and Juliet, an overture in which he subtly adapted sonata form to mirror the dramatic structure of Shakespeare’s play. Nikolay Rubinstein conducted a successful performance of this work the following year, and it became the first of Tchaikovsky’s compositions eventually to enter the standard international classical repertoire.
Tchaikovsky was reserved for a significant portion of his life. He only became a more social person following his reception of the Order of St. Vladimir by the Russian czar, an award that sparked his fame.
Years Of Fame
At the very end of 1875, Tchaikovsky left Russia to travel in Europe. He was powerfully impressed by a performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique in Paris; in contrast, the production of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, which he attended in Bayreuth, Germany, during the summer of 1876, left him cold. In November 1876 he put the final touches on his symphonic fantasia Francesca da Rimini, a work with which he felt particularly pleased. Earlier that year, Tchaikovsky had completed the composition of Swan Lake, which was the first in his famed trilogy of ballets. The ballet’s premiere took place on February 20, 1877, but it was not a success owing to poor staging and choreography, and it was soon dropped from the repertoire.
The growing popularity of Tchaikovsky’s music both within and outside of Russia inevitably resulted in public interest in him and his personal life. Although homosexuality was officially illegal in Russia, the authorities tolerated it among the upper classes. But social and familial pressures, as well as his discomfort with the fact that his younger brother Modest was exhibiting the same sexual tendencies, led to Tchaikovsky’s hasty decision in the summer of 1877 to marry Antonina Milyukova, a young and naive music student who had declared her love for him. Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality, combined with an almost complete lack of compatibility between the couple, resulted in matrimonial disaster—within weeks he fled abroad, never again to live with his wife. This experience forced Tchaikovsky to recognize that he could not find respectability through social conventions and that his sexual orientation could not be changed. On February 13, 1878, he wrote his brother Anatoly from Florence: “Only now, especially after the tale of my marriage, have I finally begun to understand that there is nothing more fruitless than not wanting to be that which I am by nature.”
The year 1876 saw the beginning of the extraordinary relationship that developed between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a wealthy railroad tycoon; it became an important component of their lives for the next 14 years. A great admirer of his work, she chose to become his patroness and eventually arranged for him a regular monthly allowance; this enabled him in 1878 to resign from the conservatory and devote his efforts to writing music. Thereafter he could afford to spend the winters in Europe and return to Russia each summer. Although he and his benefactor agreed never to meet, they engaged in a voluminous correspondence that constitutes a remarkable historical and literary record. In the course of it they frankly exchanged their views on a broad spectrum of issues, starting with politics or ideology and ending with such topics as the psychology of creativity, religious faith, and the nature of love.
The period after Tchaikovsky’s departure from Moscow proved creatively very productive. Early in 1878 he finished several of his most famous compositions—the opera Eugene Onegin, the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, and the Violin Concerto in D Major. From December 1878 to August 1879 he worked on the opera The Maid of Orleans, which was not particularly well received. Over the next 10 years Tchaikovsky produced his operas Mazepa (1883; based on Aleksandr Pushkin’s Poltava) and The Enchantress (1887), as well as the masterly symphonies Manfred (1885) and Symphony No. 5 in E Minor (1888). His other major achievements of this period include Serenade for Strings in C Major, Opus 48 (1880), Capriccio italien (1880), and the 1812 Overture (1880).
In 1890, Tchaikovsky was informed by Nadezhda von Meck that she was close to ruin and could not continue his allowance. This was followed by the cessation of their correspondence, a circumstance that caused Tchaikovsky considerable anguish.
In the spring of 1891 Tchaikovsky was invited to visit the United States on the occasion of the inauguration of Carnegie Hall in New York City. He conducted before enthusiastic audiences in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Upon his return to Russia, he completed his last two compositions for the stage—the one-act opera Iolanta (1891) and a two-act ballet Nutcracker (1892). In February 1893 he began working on his Symphony No. 6 in B Minor (Pathétique), which was destined to become his most celebrated masterpiece. He dedicated it to his nephew Vladimir (Bob) Davydov, who in Tchaikovsky’s late years became increasingly an object of his passionate love. His world stature was confirmed by his triumphant European and American tours and his acceptance in June 1893 of an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge.
On October 16 Tchaikovsky conducted his new symphony’s premiere in St. Petersburg. The mixed reaction of the audience, however, did not affect the composer’s belief that the symphony belonged among his best work. On October 21 he suddenly became ill and was diagnosed with cholera, an epidemic that was sweeping through St. Petersburg. Despite all medical efforts to save him, he died four days later from complications arising from the disease. Wild rumours circulated among his contemporaries concerning his possible suicide, which were revived in the late 20th century by some of his biographers, but these allegations cannot be supported by documentary evidence.
Tchaikovsky was the leading exponent of Romanticism in its characteristically Russian mold, which owes as much to the French and Italian musical traditions as it does to the German. Although not as ostentatiously as the nationalist composers, such as Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky was clearly inspired by Russian folk music. In the words of the Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky, “Tchaikovsky drew unconsciously from the true, popular sources of our race.”
The first great Russian symphonist, he exhibited a particular gift for melody and orchestration. In his best work, the powerful tunes underlining musical themes are harmonized into magnificent, formally innovative compositions. His resourceful use of instruments allows easy identification of most of his works by their characteristic sonority. Tchaikovsky excelled primarily as a master of instrumental music; his operas, often eclectic in subject matter and style, do not find much appreciation in the West, with the exception of Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades. Whereas most of his operas met with limited success, Tchaikovsky nonetheless proved eminently successful in transforming ballet, then a grand decorative gesture, into a staged musical drama, and thus he revolutionized the genre.
Moreover, Tchaikovsky brought an integrity of design that elevated ballet to the level of symphonic music. To this end, he employed a symphonist’s sense of large-scale structure, organizing successive dances through the use of keys to create a cumulative feeling of purpose, in distinction to the more random or decorative layout in the ballets of his predecessors. His special sense of how melody can engender the dance gave his ballets a unique place in the world’s theatres. The influence of his experimentation is evident in the ballets of Sergey Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian.
Tchaikovsky steered an unlikely path between the Russian nationalist tendencies so prominent in the work of his rivals in The Five and the cosmopolitan stance encouraged by his conservatory training. He was both a Russian nationalist and a Westernizer of polished technical skill. He put his personal stamp on the late-19th-century symphony with his last three symphonies; they demonstrate a heightened subjectivity that would influence Gustav Mahler, Sergey Rachmaninoff, and Dmitry Shostakovich and encourage the genre to pass with renewed vigor into the 20th century.