Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Tao Te King to Telegraphy >> Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky

music, world, russian, songs, symphonies, symphony, conservatory, suicide, life and friends

TCHAIKOVSKY, chi-lcorsIcE, Peter. Ilich, the grdatest of Russian composers: b. Votinsk, government of Viatka, 7 May (not 25 Dec.) 1840; d. Saint Petersburgh, 6 Nov. 1893, of cholera. His father, a mining engineer, had no intention of making a musician of him, but had him educated at the Technological In stitute in Saint Petersburg, after leaving which he obtained a post in the Ministry of Justice. But Peter was a gifted amatettr, whose playing in social circles was much appreciated. In 1861 he wrote to his sister: °I told you I was studying the theory of music with considerable success. It is generally agreed that with my uncommon talents (I hope you will not take this for mere boasting) it would be a pity not to try my luck in this career." Shortly there after he entered the Conservatory, where he soon attracted the attention of Anton Rubin stein, who relates that once he gave the young man a theme and asked him to write a set of variations on it. He expected about a dozen, but Tchaikovsky brought hint over 200! From Rubinstein he also took lessons in orchestra tion; the instruments on which he practised were the piano and the organ; also the flute, of which he afterward made such admirable use in his 'Nutcracker Suite" and other works. His talent was ere long generally appreciated; in 1865 Laroche, afterward an eminent critic, referred to him as "the future star of Russian music"; this led to his being sent to Moscow in 1866 to teach the theory of music at the newly opened Conservatory. Although he disliked giving lessons, he proved a conscientious and useful teacher. Thenceforth he devoted most of his spare time to composing; but although he had "an almost feminine craving for ap proval and encouragement," his experiences were little more than a series of disappoint ments. His wordly prospects nevertheless steadily improved and in 1877 he married, to the surprise of his friends. The hasty mar riage had a tragic sequel. The union was not a happy one, and the pair soon separated. The composer was so despondent that he attempted to commit suicide in such a way as to avoid scandal standing up to his chest in the icy river one night, in the hope of catching a deadly cold. In the following year another woman influenced his life, in a happier way. He did not know her, and she preferred to keep her identity concealed, but she put aside for his benefit a sum of money which made it possible for him to give up his Conservatory classes and save his energy for his creative work. Many master-works now came from his pen. He had never cared for society and de tested city life, so his friends were not sur prised when in 1885, he took a house near the village of Klin, where he was isolated as com pletely from the world as was Wagner when he wrote his 'Meistersinger' score in his villa near Lucerne. He became known as "the Hermit of Kiln," and refused to see any one but friends and such musicians as he chose now and the:i to invite for a party. By constitution he was strong, wiry and not easily fatigued; he was fond of outdoor exercise and many of his musical ideas came to him on his walks. He aged much as he neared his 50's; his scant hair grew white and his face lined. In May 1891 he visited America and gave concerts in New York and other cities. Two years later he conducted some of his works at Oxford and received the degree of doctor of music from the university. In the autumn of 1893 the world was startled by the news of his death. He succumbed to an attack of cholera,

after a short illness. There were rumors of his having committed suicide, but his friend and biographer Kashkin discountenances them.

The suicide rumors were strengthened by the character of his last symphony, which is now known throughout the world as the 'Pathetic,' the most lugubrious of all syrn works. A more heart-rending wail of grief than its adagio lamentoso has never been heard; and as this slow movement, contrary to all precedent, closes the symphony, it seemed like an intentional farewell to the world. "This music," says Huneker, "is a page torn from Ecclesiastes; it is the cosmos in crape." Schubert once said that the world liked best those of his songs which were born of sorrow. It was the doleful sixth symphony that made Tchaikovsky famous. Seldom has a work so great and deep won so instantaneous a success — a success so remarkable as to unduly over shadow his other five symphonies except, to some extent, the fifth, which resembles the sixth in mood and music. Like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky is greatest in his orchestral works, which include, beside the six symphonies, seven symphonic poems: 'The Tempest' ; 'Francesca da Rimini' ; 'Manfred'; 'Romeo and Juliet' ; 'Hamlet' ; 'Faturn' ; 'Le Voyevode.' In these, which contain some of his best and most mature music, he manifests his sympathy with Liszt and modern program music. Among his other orchestral works the three that have become most famous are the '1812' overture, the 'Marche Slave' and the 'Nutcracker Suite,' which contains the best musical numbers of one of his three ballets. His 11 operas are much less modern in spirit and structure than his symphonic works and the only one of them that has attracted much attention outside of Russia is the fourth, 'Eugene It has been said of his operas that "just as the gra cious beauty of Italian melody seemed doomed to pass away under a new dispensation, it was reincarnated in the works of this northern composer." There is much beautiful melody also iri some of his 100 lyric songs; the best known of them are the 'Spanish Serenade,' 'None but a Lonely Heart.' 'Why so Pale are the Roses.' Not a few of the songs are pot boilers and the same is true of many of his pianoforte pieces, the best of which, however, deserve to be better known. Pianists neglect them because of their awkward technique. Three pianoforte concertos, a violin concerto, a string sextet and other pieces of chamber music must be added to the list of his com positions. His work as a whole is characterized by a remarkable variety; now it is classical, even old-fashioned, now ultra-modern; now Russian, now cosmopolitan. German critics have described his symphonies as rough, patchy, barbarous, nihilistic; but music lovers the world over are showing a keener insight and are learning to love this Russian music as they learned to love the Polish music of Chopin, the Hungarian of Liszt, the Norwegian of Greig. The authoritative life of Tchaikovsky has been written by his brother Modest. A shorter volu-ne (in English) by Rosa New march, includes extracts from his critical writings and diaries. Consult also Kashkin, 'Reminiscences'; Huneker, • Riemann, 'Geschichte der Musik seit Beethoven.' A 'Catalogue Them atique' of the compositions is issued by Jur genson, Moscow.