Tschaikowsky, Peter Iljitch


The national music of Russia, which during the last quarter of a century has made such marvelous progress, may be divided into two great classes: the music of those composers who assert a passionate nationalism in their work, such as Moszkowski, Balakirev, Cui, Moussorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazounov; and the music of those who, employing Russian themes and motifs, treat them according to rules of composition and harmony of the classicists of other nations. Of this latter class Tschaikowsky is the greatest representative. His writings are full of the wild melancholy, the morbidness and passion so characteristic of his cultured but primitively emotional nation, yet they display a masterly use of musical technique.

Tschaikowsky was born on May 7, 1840, at Votinsk, in Vaitka, a province of the Ural District, where his father served as engineer at the Imperial mines % In 1850, when the elder Tschaikowsky assumed the directorship of the Technological Institute, he moved his family to St. Petersburg and placed his son in the School of Jurisprudence, where he finished his training, then obtained an appointment in the Ministry of Justice when only nineteen. Two years later the Conservatory of Music was established and he began attending classes in harmony. In 1862 he had fully determined to become a musician, and, resigning his government position, he entered the Conservatory as a regular music student, studying composition under Anton Rubinstein, and counterpoint and harmony under Professor Zaremba, until 1865, when he received the prize medal for a cantata on Schiller's Ode to Joy, and was graduated from the school. In 1866 Nicolai Rubinstein offered him the position of professor of harmony of the Conservatory of Moscow, which he had founded two years before and at which institution Tschaikowsky was a successful teacher during twelve years. In 1871 he went abroad, and in 1872 he published his Text-Book on Harmony and began acting as critic on two Moscovite papers, journalistic work which he continued to do until 1876. In 1877 his chivalrous nature led him into a most unhappy marriage with a young woman who had declared her love for him, thus working upon his pity and tenderness. Although he was separated from his wife almost immediately after his marriage, the experience made a deep impression upon his sensitive temperament and he wrote to a friend, " On the whole, I am robust but, as regards my soul, there is a wound there that will never heal. I think I am homme fini." Finding it impossible to remain in Moscow, he resigned his post at the Conservatory and from that time forward devoted himself to composition. He sought to forget his unhappiness in travel, going to Venice and spending some time in southern Italy and Switzerland. He lived at St. Petersburg and Kiew until 1885, then he took a country-house at Klin and made his home there during the remainder of his life. He made a long concert tour through Germany during 1888 and conducted his Serenade for stringed orchestra at a London Philharmonic concert on March 22 of that year, and in 1891 came to America and, at the dedication of the new Carnegie Music Hall, conducted his own compositions. In 1893 he went to England, where he played at a Philharmonic concert and received the degree of Doctor of Music from Cambridge University, on which occasion he directed the initial English performance of his Francesca da Rimini. Soon after his return to Russia he contracted cholera from drinking unfiltered Neva water, and died on Oct. 12, 1893.

He was a man of peculiarly sensitive temperament, quiet, gentle and inclined to melancholy, but withal manly  and firm. One feels that his music is an unusually true expression of the thoughts and emotions of its composer. His genius finds its best means of expression in orchestral music, in which division of composition he has written six symphonies; six orchestral suites; his Serenade and Elegy in memory of Samarin for string orchestra; six or seven overtures; and a number of orchestral pieces for special occasions, among them the well-known 1812 Overture. His symphonies may be divided into two periods: the first three belonging to the earlier, and the latter three to the maturer period of his work. The first three, written on Russian motifs, are. interesting and original, full of the strongly marked rhythm and unusual harmonies of the national folk-songs. Indeed the Second Symphony is usually considered the most thoroughly national of all Tschaikowsky's music. The latter three symphonies are among his greatest compositions, and do much toward establishing him among great musicians. Tremendous in conception, masterly in treatment, they bear witness to the passionateness and morbidness of the master's nature and portray graphically the struggles of the deeply wounded and sensitive soul. Indeed the Sixth or Pathetique Symphony has come to be the epitome of melancholy. Of the other orchestral music, the Third Orchestral Suite in G major is famous for its beautiful air and variations, and the composer himself seems tO| have been partial to this piece of' music. The Fourth Orchestral Suite, or Mozartiana, has for the themes of its movements a gigue, a  minuet, a prayer and air with variations from Mozart, whom Tschaikowsky greatly admired. The Casse Noisette Suite is another exceedingly popular composition and is charmingly fantastic and graceful, with a fairy lightness and gracefulness which shows the composer in a happy mood. In descriptive music Tschaikowsky has written three excellent overtures, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, and Francesca da Rimini, all of them rich in originality and displaying wonderful handling of orchestral effects. The Italian Capriccio shows the composer's versatility and power of assimilating and composing in a foreign style, and is full of joyousness and melody. The 1812 Overture with its tremendous orchestra and various outside aids of bells and cannon, seems a departure from good taste and true musicianship.

All hjs life Tschaikowsky was interested in dramatic composition, although his works in this line are few and little known. Of the ten operas he wrote, Undine was lost, and on its recovery several years later, was burnt by its author, and of Voievoda only the overture remains in its original form. The Oprichnik, Eugene Onegin and Mazeppa, all written to Russian librettos, have probably endured longest. In 1892 Eugene Onegin was performed at the Olympic Theatre in London. In the composition of chamber-music or music for solo instruments, Tschaikowsky worked along lines most uncongenial to him. He constantly demanded of his instruments more variety of tone-quality than they were capable of producing. In spite of this, however, he wrote three string quartets; a string sextet; a trio for piano, violin and violoncello; and the piano sonata in G major so often played in concert; about ten piano and violin concertos and solos, of which the piano concerto in B flat minor and the violin concerto in D major are often played. Tschaikowsky wrote much other piano-music, usually in sets of several pieces, but much of this is too trivial to deserve special notice. The set entitled The Seasons is well known, and in the set for children there are some charming little pieces. There are also the sonata for piano and the Dumka, op. 59, both serious and carefully written compositions. Tschaikowsky wrote many songs, some of which are of unusual worth, being the perfect expression of mood or feeling. They cover the greatest variety of subjects and range from passionate love-songs to the terrible Woe Is Me, and to cradle-songs of infinite beauty and tenderness. He has chosen his lyrics from the poetry of Goethe, Heine, Tolstoi, Grekoff and Plechtcheeff, and others and in many cases has written admirable settings to the words. Tschaikowsky entered into many branches of composition and achieved some notable work along several lines. In spite of the profound and sometimes tempestuous melancholy of his writings, there is a dignity about them, a control and self-respect which place them thoroughly within the realm of true music.