Life Of Peter Tchaikovsky

.. tended to regard Tchaikovsky-the glibness of whose poor moments indeed give them some excuse-as a featureless eclectic. Some of them, notably Cui, were scarcely civil in the things they said of him. He, on the other hand, describes in his letter their merits as well as their defects with surprising freedom from bias. For example: The young Petersburg composers are very gifted, but impregnated with the most horrible presumptuousness and a purely amateur conviction of their superiority.

Rimsky-Korsakoff (Korsakov) is the only one among them who discovered. . . . that their doctrines had no sound basis, that their denial of authority and of the masterpieces was nothing but ignorance. .

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. . Cui is a gifted amateur. Borodin possesses a great talent, which has come to nothing because fate has led him in to the science laboratories instead of a vital music existence. Moussorgsky’s [Mussorgsky] gifts are perhaps the most remarkable of all, but his nature is narrow and he has no aspirations toward self-perfection.

Besides, his nature is not of the finest quality, and he likes what is coarse, unpolished and ugly. . . . What a sad phenomenon, he sums up.

so many talents from which, whit the exception of Rimsky, we can scarcely dare to hope for anything serious. But all the same, these forces exist. Thus Moussorgsky [Mussorgsky], with all his ugliness, speaks a new idiom. . .

.We may reasonably hope that Russia will one day produce a whole school of strong men who will open new paths in art. The first decade of Tchaikovsky’s life in Moscow was one of much struggle, intensified by several attacks of the nervous depression and morbid self-disgust always dogging him, of first meeting with some of his great contemporaries, such as Turgenev, Tolstoi, Berlioz, Liszt, Saint-Saens, and Wagner, of an abortive love-affair with opera singer Desiree Artot, and above all of a varied production of many kinds of music, of all types from operas to string quartets, which laid the foundation of his skill and fame. Most of the operas, written hastily, uncritically , and sometimes on wretched librettos, were failures, the scores of which in a number of cases he himself destroyed. At the other end of the gamut of musical style are the three String Quartets (1871, ’74, and ’76). All have interest but none quite achieve the reticence and reserved beauty of true quartet style.

The Andante cantabile movement of the first, opus 11, founded on a folk-song the composer heard whistled by a house painter, has become deservedly famous. The third, in E-Flat Minor, contains music of a funereal solemnity and tragic feeling anticipating the Pathetic Symphony. By far the most successful of all these early works are the orchestral ones where Tchaikovsky’s passionate emotion and flair for gorgeous colouring have full away: not perhaps the symphonies (No.2, 1872, and No.3 1875) but more dramatic conceptions like The Tempest (overture, 1873), the tone-poem Francesca da Rimini (1876) and two masterpieces, Romeo and Juliet composed in 1869, and produced and revised a year later, and the magnificent Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor, composed in 1874, at first intended for Nicholas Rubinstein, but owing to his indifference dedicated instead to Hans von Bulow. These works, both by quantity and quality, amply justify the solid and gradually spreading reputation of the middle seventies. Then came a double crisis, involving two women, one of whom, touching Tchaikovsky on his personal and most vulnerable side, nearly wrecked him, and the other, lending timely aid to the impersonal artist in him, the side of him that was truly great, turned his life to new fruitfulness. Antonina Ivanovana Milyukoff hurled herself at his head, declaring in a letter her love for him.

He, though misplaced chivalry, was quixotic enough to marry her, July6, 1877. Within a month he discovered their utter incompatibility and on the 26th wrote that a few more days of such life would have driven him mad. He left her for most of the Summer, but made another attempt in early September to live with her in Moscow. Before the month was out he fled to St. Petersburg, arriving in complete nervous collapse, and was taken to the hotel nearest the station, where he became unconscious for 48 hours and then passed into high fever.

Ordered by the doctors to leave Russia, he gradually regained strength at Clarens, a quiet village on Lake Geneva, where he later did some of his best work. Neither partner to this unfortunate marriage had any blame to give the other. Nadejda Fillaretovna von Meck [also spelled Nadezhda von Meck], the widow of a wealthy railway engineer, had fallen under the spell of Tchaikovsky’s music the year before, had given him several commissions, and had begun the long correspondence with him that reveals for us so much of his inner life. Nine years older than he and living in a socially different world, rich and apparently some what spoiled and autocratic but at any rate sincere in her love for his music, she had the good sense or the good luck (it was hard to tell which) to stipulate from the first that they should have no personal intercourse. They could not be sure to avoid one or two casual meetings at musical events, but it is said they never spoke to each other-they who wrote so inexhaustibly. Nothing could have been better suited to the queer psychology of Tchaikovsky.

Secure from upsetting attacks of his personal privacy, he was provided form 1877 on, not only with an income of 6,000 rouble, which enabled him to give up teaching but with a tireless listener to all his opinions, beliefs, impressions, hopes, despairs, and aspirations. Almost at once he resumed work on the splendid Fourth Symphony which he had begun before the unfortunate marriage; and early in 1878 finished it, and also his most successful opera, Eugene Onegin. That same year he wrote at Clarens the immensely popular Violin Concerto. Manfred followed in 1885; the Fifth Symphony in 1888; another successful opera, Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades), in 1890; the Casse-Noisette Ballet, from which the delightful Suite is drawn, in 1891. In these prosperous years his fame all over the world was rapidly increasing; he visited most of the European capitals for performances of his works; and there even began to be Tchaikovsky Festivals. Under the genial influence of all this sunshine he partially forgot, or put aside, his shyness, and took up the baton again, at first with many qualms, but gradually with so much assurance that in 1888 he made an international conducting tour, appearing in Leipzig, Hamburg, Prague, Paris, and London.

Three years later he even ventured to come across the Atlantic and conduct his own works in New York at the ceremonies of the opening Carnegie Hall, as may be read in his letters in amusing details of his triumph and homesickness. And for the summers there were a series of modest but comfortable country houses in Russia where he could compose in peace, from Maidanova, with which he began to Klin, near Moscow. Only at the end of 1890, three years before his death, came the inevitable rupture with Madame von Meck, and by that time he was financially independent, so the break affected his spirits more than his music. In 1893 he wrote at Klin his most famous work, the Pathetic Symphony, and conducted it at St. Petersburg on Oct. 28.

It was coolly received, and he did not live to witness its success. Only a few days later he drank a glass of unfiltered water, and died of cholera, Nov. 6, 1893. Music Essays.