Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky

Synopsis

A giant in the pantheon of 19th century composers, Tchaikovsky continues to enthrall audiences today. From the Nutcracker --arguably the most popular ballet currently on the boards-- Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty, to Eugene Onegin and Pique Dame, to the Symphony Pathetique and the always rousing, canon-blasting 1812 Overture --this prolific and beloved composer's works are perennial favorites. Now, John Wiley, a renowned Tchaikovsky scholar, provides a fresh biography aimed in classic Master Musicians style at the student and music lover. Wiley deftly draws on documents from imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet era sources, providing a more balanced look at recent controversies surrounding the marriage, death, and sexuality of the composer. The author dovetails the biographical material with separate chapters that treat the music thoroughly and fully, work-by-work, with more substantial explorations of Tchaikovsky's most familiar compositions. These analyses present new, even iconoclastic perspectives on the music and the composer's intent and expression. Several informative appendices, in the Master Musicians format, include an exhaustive list of works and bibliography.

Excerpt

More than a hundred years after his death and after dozens of biographies, why another book about Tchaikovsky? There are at least three reasons: the continuing popularity of his music warrants periodic reassessment; changing political and cultural mores; and, not least, reconsideration of someone who has suffered at the hands of biographers. In the years around 1990–1993—anniversaries of his birth and death—it was clear that the easy comprehension of his work was fatal to understanding. “Tchaikovsky’s music is not at all as simple and guileless as many propose,” Gennady Shokhman wrote [344], and I. I. Skvortsova commented: “That of which one is fully aware, and therefore senses superficially, stands as a barrier to the deep layers of his thought” [361, 40]. Familiar data are outdated, including the academic edition of his music, which was published in Moscow and Leningrad from 1940 to 1990 and imaginatively edited to say the least. But flawed data reach back to the wellsprings of Tchaikovsky’s biography. And that is where this story begins, with The Life of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky [75; 76], three volumes of materials assembled and elaborated by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest and definitively published in 1901–1903. Modest’s work is fundamental to scholarship on Pyotr, yet, for all its author’s authority as a sibling, it is not faultless. To alert the reader to problems in The Life is one aim of the present study.

Modest Tchaikovsky has been described as a whimpering sycophant, “a frustrated lover, a frustrated rival, a frustrated collaborator, and a frustrated biographer” [303, 233]. He was nevertheless a man of parts: a dramatist of six plays; a belletrist; a poet of short verses and a substantial “mystery,” Catherine of Siena; a translator from Italian, French, and English into Russian (including Shakespeare’s sonnets and Richard II) and of Chekhov from Russian into Italian; a journalist and occasional music critic; a librettist of opera for his brother and others and of ballet. He was, moreover, a recognized pedagogue of deaf mutes. In his brother’s memory, Modest made a museum of Tchaikovsky’s home at Klin, a town near Moscow; solicited . . .

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