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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky was a composer, music critic, conductor, professor at the Moscow Conservatory (the author of a textbook on harmonisation) and one of the most important musicians of the 19th century. Between 1876 and 1890 he was supported by his benefactress Nadejda von Meck. In his works he combined elements of Russian folk music with European classical and Romantic influences. A lyrical subjectivity and national inspiration are characteristic of his style. Stravinsky, a recognised authority, drew attention to Tchaikovsky’s mastery, to his craftsmanship in the composition of melodies and to his ability to arrange compositions. At a time when Tchaikovsky was adored by many but reviled by some as an example of subjective pathos, Stravinsky pointed to him as a master of composition and also praised Tchaikovsky’s ballet works. Tchaikovsky conducted a number of performances of his own works (including some abroad, for example the premiere of Eugene Onegin in Prague in 1888). His works include six symphonies (Symphony No. 6 in B minor, “Pathetique”), stage music and overtures for theatrical dramas (The Tempest, 1812 Overture, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet), three piano concertos (Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor), a violin concerto in D major, suites, operas (Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades, Mazeppa, The Maid of Orleans, Iolanthe), ballets (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker), piano compositions (the Children’s Album and Seasons cycles), chamber music (String Quartet in D major) and vocal music. The ballet The Sleeping Beauty is one of the finest works of 19th century classical ballet. Its premiere took place in 1890 on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The ballet originated upon the initiative of the Director of Imperial Theatres, I. A. Vsevolozhsky, who created the libretto (based on C. Perrault’s fairy tales), as well as the production’s set design. Tchaikovsky’s sublime music and Petipa’s inspired choreography, notable for its ability to render characters by means of movement and sense for stage effect, opened for this title the door to all stages worldwide. Tchaikovsky began working on The Nutcracker in 1891 according to a detailed script by Marius Petipa. Petipa not only specified the story and the actions on stage but also the numbers of bars and the characteristics of the music, including at times its rhythmic values. One year later, the music of The Nutcracker was presented to the public in the form of a concert suite and was duly received with great enthusiasm. The premiere of the ballet took place in St. Petersburg on 6 December1892 together with Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanthe. The work on the staging of the ballet was undertaken by Lev Ivanov after Petipa had fallen ill. The two most celebrated Tchaikovsky operas, Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (1890), originated to the motifs of very intimately toned Pushkin works, replete with subtle details and splendid narrative techniques. A romantic opera must, however, of necessity suppress much of this in favour of its own qualities. Yet this on no account can be taken to mean that the only reason for the frequent returns of Tchaikovsky’s Onegin to the stage is the immense popularity on the part of the audience of several highlights of this opera – be it Tatiana’s excited letter aria, Lensky’s melancholic aria or Prince Gremin’s celebrated aria on love that “flourishes at every age”. Tchaikovsky deliberately did not designate his work as “opera”, but “lyrical scenes”. Concealed beneath the seeming banality of the story of Tatiana’s unrequited love for Onegin is the eternal theme of human loneliness, the conflict between individuality and uniformity, ideals and resignation. All this is imbued with Tchaikovsky’s brilliant, torrential and poignant music.

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