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Moonkyung Lee

moonkyung

Some weeks ago now I was contacted by Victoria Mattinson from the wildkat-pr-logo agency here in London.  She was very keen for me to listen to a new recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto by the extraordinarily talented young Korean violinist,  Moonkyung Lee.  I was overwhelmed by this very dedicated young musician’s artistry and of her very apparent love of the work. 

With a huge amount of assistance of Victoria, Moonkyung offered to write something for my site and very kindly agreed to answer some follow-up questions about her experiences with this most lovely of concertos.  Here is what Moonkyung had to say…

Many years ago, I visited Moscow for rehearsals with Kirill Rodin and Andrey Pisarev (both professors at the Moscow Conservatory) as we were to perform the Beethoven Triple Concerto. I was staying at a house just across from the conservatory where a very nice Russian lady hosted me. One day, she offered me a bowl of soup, which was very tasty, but it was the greasiest soup I’ve ever had! One can never imagine just how much butter was poured into that soup, and that’s when I realized, “This is Russian music!”

Back in school, when my friends and I heard some Russian music that overflowed with emotions, we used to say it sounded like “bad Tchaikovsky.” Sure there is an abundance of emotions and sentiments in his music too, but in my opinion, Tchaikovsky himself got away with the characteristics typically ascribed to the Russian music by becoming the spearhead and producing so many followers.
I don’t know about other pieces by Tchaikovsky but certainly for the violin concerto, it’s got some power to draw in the minds of every violinist in the world. When I won a concerto competition in New York in 2007 with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, many violinists around me directed their attention to the fact I get to perform the Tchaikovsky concerto with an orchestra rather than the fact that I won the competition. It is that kind of music for violinists.

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i) Did you choose to play the violin or did you start with a ‘push’, perhaps from a parent?
My parents are not musical at all, and I was probably five or six when I was enchanted by the looks of the violin.
(ii) Do you remember when you first heard the Tchaikovsky concerto? Were you immediately attracted to it?
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the first time I heard the Tchaikovsky concerto, but I do remember the first time I was really impressed by this concerto. I think it was either 2006 or 2007 when I went to see Vadim Repin play Tchaikovsky with the New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Center. Every sound he produced convinced me that this was how the violin and the Tchaikovsky are supposed to sound!
(iii) Do you think the Tchaikovsky concerto bears comparison with the Brahms, written at much the same time?
Yes. I think the main differences between them is that the music of Tchaikovsky is more extroverted as opposed to the music of Brahms where it is more introverted. Many parts of theTchaikovsky concerto sound to me like a man who’s not afraid of expressing his emotions who would actually serenade a love song to his beloved whereas in Brahms concerto, it always reminds me of a man who would rather keep it to himself than showing his feelings who would eventually turn back after much consideration whether he should leave his love letter in a mailbox of his beloved or not.
(iv) Which is your favourite concerto and why?
Tchaikovsky!  [Right answer ~ Ed!)
(v) How highly do the people of your country regard Tchaikovsky’s music as a whole?
Just like the other side of the globe, his music is always very popular. For example, you can very easily find performances of the Nutcracker around the end of year.
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I am so grateful that Moonkyung found time to write this article and answer a few questions from me.  The life of a concert violinist is hectic so I so appreciate her efforts on our behalf.
(Please don’t forget to look at my Stephen Hough interview (under Interviews, funnily enough!) about the complete piano concertos.
Here is the link to Moonkyung Lee’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. First, on Amazon…
…and on iTunes…
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You can keep up to date with Moonkyung’s activities via her website: www.moonkyunglee.com, and if you are interested in finding out more about WildKat’s other clients, you can do so here: www.wildkatpr.com
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Second Piano Concerto: G Major

Again, I am immensely grateful to the French Tchaikovsky scholar, Gerard Pellerin, for making this outstanding contribution to the site.  Here, he discusses the many versions available today, right from the first performance to present-day recordings.

I would just add a personal note:  the second movement (or slow movement) of this piece is one of Tchaikovsky’s most beautiful creations.  It sounds (or should sound!) like a triple concerto for violin, cello and piano.  Although the first version is much harder to get hold of, it is well worth the effort and I think Steven Hough’s CD (identifed in the article about the 1st concerto) is admirable.

I stress again that this article is the work of Gerard Pellerin.  I have made very minor surgical incisions to the puntuation only when clarity is threatened.

 

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is one of the most beloved and oft-performed of the whole literature. Its success is due to the irresistible melodic appeal, coupled with a real sense for drama and virtuosity that Tchaikovsky brilliantly accomplished despite his lack of experience as a performer.  However, Tchaikovsky wrote two other piano concertos and the Concert Fantasia which are, in my opinion, unjustly neglected, especially the sumptuous Second Piano Concerto, different in mood and shape from the First (though there are some similarities) but worth listening to.
Tchaikovsky wrote his Second Piano Concerto, in G major Opus 44, specifically with Nikolai Rubinstein in mind. By 1879 the First Piano Concerto was becoming increasingly popular. Nikolai Rubinstein had likewise made amends with the composer (after his initial harsh criticism) by learning and performing the work, which added to its popularity. Tchaikovsky felt compelled to reciprocate. He started composing a new piano concerto in October while staying with his sister in Kamenka. He wrote to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, “I have begun to compose a piano concerto. I will work without hurrying, straining, or tiring myself in any way. I want to dedicate it to N. G. Rubinstein in recognition of his magnificent playing of my First Concerto and of my Sonata, which left me in utter rapture after he performed it for me in Moscow.”
By the following March, Tchaikovsky had completed the concerto and orchestrated it. Still, he was concerned about Rubinstein’s reaction (his earlier experience with the First Piano Concerto was most certainly in his mind). Writing again to Mme von Meck, “I tremble at the thought of the criticisms I may again hear from Nikolai Grigoryevich, to whom this concerto is dedicated. Still, even if once more he does criticise yet nevertheless goes on to perform it brilliantly as with the First Concerto, I won’t mind. It would be nice, though, if on this occasion the period between the criticism and the performance were shorter. In the meantime I am very pleased and self-satisfied about this concerto, but what lies ahead…I cannot say.”
This time the response was more benevolent. In a letter to his publisher Pyotr Jurgenson, dated August 12, 1880, Tchaikovsky wrote: “In the spring I sent Rubinstein the concerto and asked him to give me his comments after he had played it and to let Taneyev change as many details of the piano part as he wished without touching the essentials of which, no matter how much I was advised, I would not change a single bar. Taneyev wrote and told me that there was absolutely nothing to be changed. In other words, this was Rubinstein’s opinion, so now we only have to wait until he has learned it. When is he going to do this ?”
The composer need not have worried. Rubinstein’s reaction was this time understandably cautious. Rubinstein replied to Tchaikovsky on September 18, 1880: “As to your Concerto, I cannot say anything as yet. I played it through with Taneyev the other day and I would only say that it seemed, at first sight, strange to me that the piano part is so episodic and mostly in dialogue with the orchestra, and not enough in the foreground over the accompaniment of the orchestra. But as I say all this having scarcely played the concerto once through, perhaps I am wrong”.
Tchaikovsky commented to Mme Von Meck in a letter ten days later: “Nikolai Grigorevich has given me his opinion of my concerto that it seems the piano parts too episodic and not sufficiently separated from the orchestra. I think he is wrong. However, he only knows it from a superficial run-through and I hope that on closer acquaintance with it his opinion will alter. In general, Rubinstein tends too often to be unjust in his assessment of a new piece which he has not yet learned. I can think of many cases when he has hurt me deeply with his hostile attitude to some new work or other and then, after a year or two, has radically altered his judgment. I hope that such is the case this time, for if he is right I shall feel very annoyed as I took particular care to make the solo instrument stand out in as much relief as possible from the orchestral background”.
The premiere of the concerto was scheduled in Moscow with Nikolai Rubinstein at the piano, but due to his sudden death on March 11, 1881, this was further delayed. In fact, the Second Concerto received its premiere not in Russia, but in New York City on November 11, 1881, with Madeleine Schiller and conductor Theodore Thomas. The Russian premiere took place on May 18, 1882, in Moscow with Sergei Taneyev at the piano and Nikolai Rubinstein’s brother Anton on the podium.
Taneyev’s opinion of the work was conveyed to Tchaikovsky on June 18, 1882: “Opinions about it are quite diverse, but they all agree that the first and second movements are too long. I have heard comments like this: that it is one of the most beautiful concertos and that in performance it sounds brilliant; but there were also comments on how the First Concerto should be given preference over the second, etc. There are few who approve of the violin and cello solos in the second movement. Instead, people are saying that the piano is superfluous in that movement, and this is something with which I think one cannot but agree: the balance is far too skewed towards these other two instruments. The overall feeling, though, is that this is a concerto which can most definitely be played in public.”
Tchaikovsky’s facetiously pointed response to Taneyev on July 11 was: “Most grateful for your performance of the concerto. I will freely admit that it suffers from being too long and regret that those people to whom critical examination of the work was entrusted two years ago did not point to this deficiency at the time. In doing so they would have rendered me a great service, greater even, perhaps, than performing this concerto so magnificently in its present imperfect state. All the same, merci, merci, merci”.
Taneyev also recorded his feelings about the massive cadenza in the first movement: “I find really awkward four pages in the cadenza where the hands have alternating chords. They are very difficult to play, though this is not apparent in performance. I think the audience will get slightly bored by the end of the second page, and by the end of the fourth, will begin to lose patience”.
Following the first performances Tchaikovsky was upset by the concerto’s relative lack of popularity, as he considered it to be among his best works, and one with which he had worked with pleasure. In the late 1880s, he made some alterations and cuts, as many pianists considered the concerto to be too long. For the St. Petersburg premiere in 1888 with Vassily Sapellnikov as soloist, Tchaikovsky authorised three cuts (bars 319-342 in the first movement; bars 247-281 and 320-326 in the second movement), but the piano writing was left unchanged.
That same year his publisher Jurgenson was planning to issue a second edition of Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto, so Tchaikovsky asked pianist Alexander Siloti, who was a successful player of the First Concerto, for his ideas about improving the piano writing. Alexander Siloti proposed to Tchaikovsky a number of fundamental changes to the first and second movements. Tchaikovsky did not agree with these, and decided only to make changes to the piano part: “I absolutely cannot agree to your cuts, and especially those in respect of the first movement… my author’s sensibilities strongly riled by your displacements and changes, and it is impossible for me to agree to them. I want the Second Concerto in the form I had Sapellnikov play it, and I have marked your copy accordingly… your idea of transferring the cadenza to the end left a bitter taste, and made my hair stand on end”. The concerto was not reprinted in the 1880s.
In 1891 Tchaikovsky returned to the idea of reprinting the concerto. In a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of March 30, 1891, he wrote: “The Second Concerto is also impossible in its current form. I recall that you wanted to reprint it—but I don’t know your position now. It contains many blunders of mine, but the number of mistakes in the parts is, in a word, disgraceful. I have endured many torments with this concerto at rehearsals”.
However, it was not until 1893 that Alexander Siloti began to prepare the concerto in a revised edition, with the agreement of the author. Under intense pressure from Siloti, Tchaikovsky agreed to some changes, while being careful to preserve its overall form and protect his original concept.
In his letter to Siloti dated July 26, 1893: “No, my dear Sasha, I’m not completely happy with your projected changes in the Andante. You would have it that the melody occurs twice, and then for no rhyme nor reason an inexplicably long coda at the end. This structure seems somehow very odd and curtailed! ” And Tchaikovsky continues explaining what could be cut and what must be retained.
He did not agree also for the small changes in the other movements. He pointed in particular the modification of the piano part, bars 50 to 71 in the first movement, where Siloti changed the fifths by octaves or single notes:”Such fifths, taken with the 2nd and 5th fingers, are, in the first place, not difficult, and secondly, they sound so pleasant. I feel the same way in relation to your other alterations. But I completely accept that you’re right to think that it’s more convenient. So let all your corrections appear in the form of ossia, i.e. as one chooses.”
He also added  “Cuts are unnecessary in the 1st movement, and if you have your way then it would turn out as something terribly odd and incomplete in form. The repeat of the main section after the recapitulation is absolutely essential in sonata form—otherwise the listener might not catch on, and will be surprised and confused that the end has come so abruptly”.
However, Tchaikovsky was grateful to Siloti for the time he spent trying to “improve” the concerto, even if he did not completely agree with him about the changes and cuts : “thank you for your interest and attention to this unfortunate second concerto, which, however, I like far more than the first”.
Again in his letter to Siloti dated August 8, 1893, he was steadfast: “Everything that you advise me to do is probably highly practical, but a foolish author’s feeling in me revolts against radical changes. I will definitely not allow the cadenza to be changed: it would have to be composed anew. The cadenza somehow suggested itself just at this point and in order to place it elsewhere I should have to completely re-arrange the whole work”. And Tchaikovsky goes on saying that to change details is possible but not to recompose again long ago things already put to the public. He also insisted that the Andante should be as he already mentioned in his previous letter.
With finality. Tchaikovsky wrote to Jurgenson, August 20, 1893: “I have agreed to certain of Siloti’s changes, others I quite definitely cannot accept. He is overdoing it in his desire to make this concerto easy and wants me to literally mutilate it for the sake of simplicity. The concessions I have already made and the cuts which both he and I have introduced are quite sufficient … I am exceedingly grateful to you for your readiness to re-publish this concerto. There will be no great changes… it will be a matter of cuts only.”
Tchaikovsky died in November 1893 before the republication of the Second Concerto took place. Notwithstanding the fact that Tchaikovsky rejected many of the proposed changes, Alexander Siloti significantly altered the concerto, introducing cuts and transpositions to which the author had not given his consent. Much to his discredit, Jurgenson eventually published the score in 1897 with Siloti’s unauthorised alterations and bearing the shameless title: Nouvelle Edition, revue et diminuée d’après les indications de l’auteur par A. Siloti (New Edition, reviewed and reduced according to the indications of the author by A. Siloti).
In 1955 the original version of the concerto was published in volumes 28 and 46 of Tchaikovsky’s Complete Collected Works, edited by Alexander Goldenweiser, in which the author’s text was reproduced from the autograph full score and arrangement for two pianos.
In the shorter version by Siloti, the third movement (Allegro con fuoco), has no cut (just the piano is silent during four bars near the end when it accompanies the orchestral tutti in the original), but has many changes in the piano writing (notably many places where the two hands play together semi-quaver single notes, replaced by alternated right-hand octaves with left-hand single notes).
The first movement (Allegro brillante in the original and Allegro brillante e molto vivace in Siloti’s version), has one cut (bars 319-342) and also many changes in the piano writing (and not in ossia !). But the cadenza is left unchanged.
The great difference between the two versions is the second movement (Andante non troppo). Here Siloti did large cuts and also transposed great parts of the solo violin to the piano. The result is a much shorter second movement with the piano on the foreground. Needless to say that the original in its form of a triple concerto for piano, violin and cello and without cut is musically far superior.
However, despite Siloti’s efforts to make the Second Concerto shorter and the piano more prominent in the Andante, it never reached the fame of the First Piano Concerto.
Concerning the argument that the concerto was too long, we can note that there was already piano concertos as long if not longer. Brahms Piano Concerto n° 1 and Anton Rubinstein’s Piano Concerto n° 5 come to mind. And Taneyev made his debut as a concert pianist in Moscow playing Brahms First Piano Concerto! (But maybe the Russian public at that time considered Brahms Concerto too long).
So why this concerto has so little success, whichever version?
It is remarkable that among the great pianists who are considered as the best exponents of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, only Emil Gilels recorded the Second Piano Concerto (in Siloti’s version, unfortunately). No recording from Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Martha Argerich or Harvey van Cliburn. And if we extend to other famous pianists who recorded the First Concerto with various success, many of them did not record the Second Concerto : Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Solomon Cutner, Géza Anda, Jorge Bolet, Clifford Curzon, Lazar Berman, György Cziffra, Byron Janis, Alexis Weissenberg, Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Ogdon, Daniel Barenboin, Nelson Freire, Andras Schiff, Andrey Gavrilov, Evgeny Kissin, …
Among the great pianists who recorded the Second Concerto in addition to the First, the large majority is Russian : Shura Cherkassky, Nikita Magaloff, Igor Zhukov, Tatyana Nikolayeva, Viktoriya Postnikova, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Mikhail Pletnev, Denis Matsuev, Boris Berezovsky,… or if not Russian, winners of the Tchaikovsky piano competition : Peter Donohoe, Barry Douglas, John Lill. Garrick Ohlsson, Stephen Hough and a few others are exceptions.
The first movement is probably what could rebuff both pianists and listeners. Allegro brillante said Tchaikovsky, and indeed it is very brilliant ! There is a kind of exuberance in the virtuoso writing of the piano which can seem excessive, as an endless succession of scales and arpeggios with octaves and rapid alternated chords to show off. But you can see also this exuberance as part of the musical language. The mood of this movement is both conquering and highly impassioned; an intense, feverish passion, expressed by these outbursts of virtuoso passages. Now if the pianist plays straightforward with flashy virtuosity this movement can become quickly boring, but if he plays with subtlety and imagination (Cherkassky for instance) it is very exciting.
To note the similarity with the First Concerto for the first cadenza with the repeated notes of the theme. In the First Concerto the four notes of the theme are followed by rapid ascending arpeggios (bars 40 and following), in the Second Concerto the five notes of the theme are followed by rapid descending scales (bars 267 and following)

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Concerning the big cadenza, I find strange Taneyev’s remarks. The pages he mentioned contain one of the most fascinating virtuoso passage (bars 427-478) you can find in a cadenza. Prestissimo, martellato and pianissimo wrote Tchaikovsky (Prestissimo, legierrissimo and pppp! on Siloti’s edition). This is an impressive breathless race, truly difficult to play but winsome and certainly not boring.
The second movement in its original form is very beautiful. Slightly melancholic and full of passion, with dramatic climax. It is thrilling. And what a beautiful tune played by the solo instruments!
The third movement is joyous, rhythmic and full of impulse, always witty and resolutely optimistic.
However, the Second Concerto is not readily attractive like the First Concerto. It is less epic and the opening is less impressive. The martial theme at the beginning is certainly not as seductive as the famous lyrical theme of the First Concerto. The first movement lacks the dramatic struggle so present in the First Concerto, and the third movement is more commonplace, without the grand majestic ending, even if the very ending is quite similar. But if you listen to this concerto carefully you will see that there is a lot to admire. Maybe it is not such a masterpiece as the First Concerto, nevertheless, it is a beautiful work, full of passion with plenty of good tunes and thrilling moments.

(c)  Gerard Pellerin 2017

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A Visit to the Tchaikovsky museum at Klin

A delightful contribution by Nicholas Ryan about his visit to the great man’s final and only home at Klin.   Many thanks to Nicholas for sharing these wonderful memories…

The Tchaikovsky’s Museum is housed in what was Tchaikovsky’s final home for the last year of his life.  It is in the town of Klin, between Moscow and St  Petersburg.  Tchaikovsky rented the home (he never owned one) but on his death his brother, Modest, managed to secure sufficient funds to  buy it from the landlord and turn it into a museum to commemorate the life and works of the composer.

I had read about Tchaikovsky’s home in Professor David Brown’s excellent biography, and expected it to be in the middle of the forest, so was a little surprised that the bus dropped me in the middle of a residential area. I got off the bus, and discovered a park, which I correctly assumed must be the grounds of the museum.
After buying a ticket, I walked through the garden towards the main house. It’s an old, grey painted wooden structure with a tin roof. It’s reasonably large, although not on the same scale as the mansions that rock stars enjoy.

At the front of house is a veranda – I could imagine Tchaikovsky sitting here on a summer evening, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the birds singing, and perhaps getting some inspiration for his final compositions.

Since I was visiting on a weekday in October, I had the house to myself, apart from the museum staff. The house is largely as it would have been when Tchaikovsky lived there. Dark polished floorboards, wooden furniture. There are many souvenirs of his life; costumes used in the first performances of Yevgeny Onegin, music scores of great composers, particularly Mozart, photographs and letters.

Walking through his house, seeing the furniture that he had used, or the grand piano that he had played many of his pieces on, I felt very close to the great man – I almost expected him to come walking back into the room.

Tchaikovsky left the house for the last time in October 1883, when he travelled to St Petersburg for the premiere of the sixth symphony. He did not return, but died in St Petersburg a few days later. So my visit in October 2013 was 130 years after Tchaikovsky had last been in the house. Not such a long time.

The highlight of the visit for me was in a room overlooking the garden. My audio guide told me that Tchaikovsky used to sit at the table by the window here, composing. As if to add some authenticity, some pages of manuscript lay on the table. They were sketches of his ideas for the six symphony. I was very moved by this – I could see on these pages where that wonderful work had first been conceived. They were hand written, with staves for each of the instruments of the orchestra.

After leaving the house, I wandered through the garden. There is a garden bench on which sits a statue of the man, looking very peaceful. I sat next to him, and thanked him for the pleasure his wonderful music has given me.

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Violin Concerto: Judith Harris

I said right from the outset that I wanted this site to be collaborative.  Here are Judith Harris’s thoughts on the joyful Violin Concerto…

One of the best known Violin Concertos and one of the most difficult for the violin.

The concerto was composed between March and April, 1878. Tchaikovsky composed it following a long period of depression after his disastrous marriage to a former student, Antonina Milyukova.  She had written to him and declared her undying love for him and threatened suicide if Tchaikovsky spurned her advances.  Their sham marriage lasted only three months (although much of that time was spent apart) and he quickly grew to despise her; so much so that the composer made a half hearted suicide attempt by wading waist-deep in the Moscow River, hoping to contract pneumonia.  Through composing this concerto, he once again regained confidence in his abilities.

A personal favourite of mine, because it reminds me of my first classical music concert in Llandudno, Wales, over twenty years ago.  And who better to perform this amazing concerto it than my favourite violinist, Joshua Bell with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo.  It was the centrepiece of the Nobel Prize concert in 2010 in honour of the Nobel Laureates.  It was performed with such intensity and emotion that I am moved every time I hear it.

Judith Harris

How lovely to hear Judith’s recollections.  My own article on the concerto will follow soon but Judith reminds us that we take so much of Tchaikovsky’s music for granted.  This concerto is so often played and most often either badly or routinely that we loose sight of what a beautiful and witty work it is.  Try listening to it again now, perhaps with Joshua as the soloist (or my own favourite Janine Jansens) and just imagine you’ve never heard it before.  And if you haven’t heard it before. what a treat awaits you!

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A Guide to Sonata Form

Tchaikovsky: His Life and Works Michael Paul Smith

Now don’t go running away…!  In order to write about much of Tchaikovsky’s music I have to let you know something about how large scale works are built up.  I promise you, if you understand sonata form, it will greatly enhance your enjoyment of many pieces of classical music.

And, as an added bonus, I shall try to tell what the difference is between a sonata, a concerto and a symphony.  It’s not difficult, I promise you…

A symphony is for orchestra, usually in four movements (fast-slow-very fast-fast, at its most basic level).  That was the pattern established by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and continued to be used by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Grieg, among many others; so we really are talking about a huge range of music here.

A concerto is music for orchestra with a solo instrument or instruments showing off in the foreground.  A piano concerto…

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The Tchaikovsky Problem

Any Tchaikovsky scholar is bound to know the work of British musicologist Dr David Brown.  He wrote a 4-volume study of the life and work of Tchaikovsky which took him sixteen years to complete.  It was seminal and nobody had ever undertaken anything like it before;  even the Russians said, “We have nothing like it.”

So, Dr Brown must have been a big Tchaikovsky fan?  Well, actually no – not at first.  David had been asked to write a single volume study of the composer before but had turned it down.  Then he was asked to write the Tchaikovsky entry in the prestigious Grove’s Dictionary of Music, and the temptation was too great.  So Dr Brown, who previously had thought of Tchaikovsky as only a gifted tune-smith with a talent for orchestral colour, set about researching his subject and his music.  And the most remarkable thing happened – the more he knew about the composer himself and the more he came to understand just how great a craftsman Tchaikovsky really was, Dr Brown became intrigued.  So much so that when he next spoke to his publisher, he said he would write a single volume after all.  Well, that single volume became four, and the two years he had asked to write it became sixteen.  The work is still unsurpassed in detail and ambition.  I think it superb.

I have gone into some detail in this story (perhaps too much so) to press home a point:  That Dr Brown’s initial view on Tchaikovsky was, and in some cases still is, the dominant view of high academia.  When I was growing up it was perfectly possible to say you liked Tchaikovsky but only in the sense of a guilty pleasure – the way one might admit to enjoying the music of ABBA.

I recently wrote a review of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto which I had seen on YouTube.  In it, I used the expression, ‘this much underrated concerto’ and as soon as I had posted it the YouTube brigade shot me down.  ‘It’s one of the most popular in the world!’ one person yelled at me.  Similar comments followed.  But the point I was making wasn’t that it wasn’t popular, but that it was underrated, still, by many performers and musicians alike.  ‘It’s just a string of pretty tunes’, some might say.  It is but it’s so much more than that.  It is an artfully crafted piece just as much as it is tuneful.  I will write about it at length in time but for anyone impatient to hear this marvellous music, you won’t find better advocates than Janine Jansen and Paavo Jarvi on this YouTube clip.  If you don’t fall in love with this, then you and I could never be friends…!

More to follow on this topic…

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A Brief Chronology (ii) 1877-1893

Now events move much more quickly, so it will be necessary to be very precise about dates.  1877 is often said to be his year of crisis where two women enter his life…

1877  He begins work on the Fourth Symphony in F minor, after a successful premier of Francesca da Rimini.  The Slavonic March (also known as Marche Slave) also receives an overwhelming ovation.

7 April  He receives his first letter from Antonina Milyukova, a former student of his at the Comservatory (whom Tchaikovsky cannot remember), expressing her love for him.

May  He begins to write what will become his most famous opera, Yevgeny Onegin (often spelled as Eugene Onegin.)

1 June  He meets Antonina for the first time.

4 June  Without telling his closest friends, he proposes marriage to Antonina.  He informs his brother Modest and his close friends of the news as a fait accompli.

18 July  He marries Antonina in Moscow.

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July The ‘happy couple’ spend their honeymoon in St Petersburg.

July 26  They return to live in Moscow but Tchaikovsky attempts suicide.

August  Tchaikovsky visits his sister’s family in Kamenka without his new wife.  He returns in September.

October  He leaves Antonina and is taken off to Europe to recover by his brother Anatoly.

He is granted a leave of absence by the Conservatory and starts to receive a monthly allowance from Nadezhda von Meck, a rich widow to whom he has been writing ever more intimately.  The money gives him some stability but is only given on the condition that the two never meet.

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December  The Rococo Variations receives its premier in Moscow by the cellist Wilhelm Fitzhagen, under the baton of Nicholay Rubinstein.

1878  In January, he retreats to San Remo to finish the Fourth Symphony and Yevgeny Onegin.

March-April sees him in Clarens with Iosef Kotek to write the Violin Concerto.

September  He returns to Moscow to resume his teaching duties but is forced to resign two months later because of ill health.

December  He goes to Florence, Italy, to begin work on a new opera, The Maid of Orleans.

1879  In March he returns to Moscow for the triumphant opening night of Yevgeny Onegin.

During the summer he takes a break from composition but starts his Second Piano Concerto in October.  December sees the premier of his First Suite and another revision of his Second Symphony.

1880  He composes the Serenade for Strings largely at Kamenka and von Meck’s estate at Brailov.  In complete contrast to the delicate and lovely serenade, he also writes his now infamous 1812 Overture.  In December he attends the first performance of his Capriccio Italien.

1881  In February, the final version of the Second Symphony in St Petersburg, followed by the premier of The Maid of Orleans.  He learns of the death of Nicholay Rubinstein in Paris, and travels there for the funeral.

In December the Violin Concerto finally wins its first performance in Vienna by his friend the concerto’s dedicate, Adolph Brodsky.  The critic Hanslick delivers a devastating review.

In honour of Nicholay Rubinstien, Tchaikovsky begins to sketch the Piano Trio.  He is offered the now vacant post of Head of the Moscow Conservatory (such was his esteem by this time in Russia) but Tchaikovsky turns the offer down.

1882  In June the Second Piano Concerto is premiered in Moscow by his great friend and fellow composer, Sergey Taneyev.

In September and back at Kamenka, he completes a new opera, Mazepa.  In August the 1812 Overture receives its first extended ovation and in October the Piano Trio is premièred.

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1883  Between January and May, Tchaikovsky takes care of his niece, Tatyana, in Paris.  She has become pregnant illegitimately.  He is able to work on the final revision of his First Symphony, of which he continues to be very fond:  “A sin of my sweet youth!”  A performance of this early work is a great success.

In Kamenka during the summer months, he works on his Second Suite.

1884  February sees the premier of Mazepa.  While in Paris, he receives a summons to see the Tzar and to receive a prize from him.  Tchaikovsky sees this the as final word on his acceptance back to Russian society after the scandal of his marriage.  He is awarded the Order of St Vladimir.

In April he begins work on the Third Suite, keeping a fascinating diary of his daily work and social life.

Yevgeny Onegin is revived in St Petersburg with enormous public and critical success.

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1885  In January, Tchaikovsky is overwhelmed by the public response to the Third Suite.  In March comes the premier of the Concert Fantasy for piano and orchestra on which he had worked virtually in tandem with the Third Suite.  

In February/March he is busy revising the opera in which he has so much faith, Vakula the Smith, now reborn as Cherevikchki.

Between April and September he composes the Manfred Symphony, another piece, like Romeo and Juliet, suggested by Balakirev.

Still keen to work, he starts another new opera, The Enchantress.  

1886  Manfred  is premiered in Moscow.

In Paris he meets, and is delighted by, Gabrile Faure.

The summer is spent with his brother Anatole in Tiflis.  In August the sketches for The Enchantress are completed.

1887  Tchaikovsky finally overcomes his stage fright to conduct the first performance of Cherevichki.  This will start his career as a composer/conductor.

He completes the opera The Enchantress and conducts the premier in November.  By the end of the year he has completed and conducted his Fourth Suite in premiers both in St Peterburg and Moscow and is now ready to embark on his first tour as a conductor.

1888  His tour begins in Leipzig where he is delighted to meet Greig and also meets Brahms.  In Prague he enjoys the company of Dvorak, whom he invites to conduct in Russia.

Buoyed by the success of the tour and seeing how well known he is Europe, he returns to Russia and in May, begins to write the Fifth Symphony.  

He conducts in Britain for the first time at St James Hall.

In October he begins to sketch The Sleeping Beauty and returns to Prague in December to conduct Yevgeny Onegin.

Tchaikovsky again takes his increasingly confident baton to give the first performance of the Fifth Symphony in Moscow.

1889  In February he embarks on another European tour, becoming a great ambassador for Russian music wherever he goes.  He receives another boost to his finances when the Tzar settles a generous annuity on him.

In August he completes the score of The Sleeping Beauty.

In September he conducts another revival of Yevegny Onegin in Moscow with riotous success.

1890  In January, The Sleeping Beauty is premiered in St Petersburg.

T hands in pockets ca 1885

He starts to sketch a new opera, The Queen of Spades, which he will conduct with great success before the end of the year.

Nadezhda von Meck, after 13 years of continuous and intimate contact with the composer, suddenly withdraws her allowance and says that, although she loves him dearly, would write to him no more.  Tchaikovsky can live without the money but, despite his entreaties to her, he will never hear from her again.

In September he visits his brother, Anatoly, who now works permanently in Tiflis. Tchaikovsky is fond of his brother and his wife and he gives a concert of his own music there.

1891  In February, Tchaikovsky starts work on his last ballet, The Nutcracker,  a world away from his other two, being only two acts; the second set in the kingdom of sweets.

A concert in Paris is a success but while he waits there to set off on his first trip to the USA, he learns from  a Russian language paper that his sister, Sasha, is dead.  He contacts Modest immediately, who already knew but didn’t want to scupper Tchaikovsky’s tour.  He is devastated but, having already spent a large part of the advance, decided to see it through.

He is on conducting duties for the opening night of Carnegie Hall but also gives concerts in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.  He is amazed by how well known he is over there and how often his pieces are performed.  “I’m better known here than in Russia,” he teases Modest.  “I’m a celebrity here!”  The press and the public are unanimous in their praise but many are surprised by his elegant manners and conservative attire.  “He looks like a Wall Street banker” wrote one.  And all of them guessed his age wrong;  “A man of about 60,” said one critic.  He was 52.

Back to Russia by June and starts to work on the companion piece for The Nutcracker, a similarly short opera called Iolanta.

In November comes the Moscow opening of The Queen of Spades, like Yevgeny Onegin, based on a story by Pushkin.

After conducting the premier of another orchestral ballad, The Voyevoda, he tries to destroy the score.

1892  January brings an early success with an all Tchaikovsky concert in Warsaw.  In Hamburg, he is impressed by a performance of Yevegny Onegin, conducted by Gustav Mahler.  Mahler described him as an elderly man, but very nice.

With work now completed on the Nutcracker, he compiles a suite of dances which Tchaikovsky himself premiers in St Petersburg in March.  Almost all the dances are encored.

In May, he settles into his last (and only real) home at Klin, about sixty miles north of Moscow.  Here he develops a meticulous attention to habits, like walking for exactly one hour every day.  He routinely walks much more and falls in love with the area.

There he begins sketching a Symphony in E flat major, which will never see the light of day in that form.

In December, Iolante and The Nutcracker are presented as a double bill.

He ends the year with a warm but unsentimental trip to see his old governess, Fanny Durbach. He promises to return. He never will.

1893  The year starts again with an all Tchaikovsky concert in Brussels.  He has his portrait painted by Nicholay Kuznyetsov.

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In February, he starts to work on his final symphony, the Sixth Symphony in B minor.

June 1  He conducts the 4th Symphony in London.  Struggling with his English and trying to exhort the players to be less staid, he shouts, “More vodka!  More vodka!” at them.

June 12  He conducts Francesca da Rimini in Cambridge.

June 13  He receives an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University.  Among his fellows are the composer Saint Saëns, whom he is pleased to see again, but Grieg is too ill to attend.

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July 30  sees him back at Klin, trying to work the now abandoned E flat symphony into a third piano concerto.

After travelling to Hamburg to see a production of Iolante, he returns to St Petersburg to stay with his brother Modest.

October 28  He conducts the first performance of the Sixth Symphony (Pathetique)  which is warmly but not overwhelmingly received.

November 1  Tchaikovsky dines out with friends at Leiners Restaurant.

The events of the next few days are hotly disputed,  Modest recalls that at breakfast the next morning Tchaikovsky drinks a glass of unboiled water during an epidemic of cholera.  Yuri Davidov, present at Leiners the night before, insists that the glass of unboiled water was drunk there.

November 6 (5?)  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky dies, apparently from cholera.  His death certificate will confirm that he died of renal failure, brought on by cholera.

November 9  Tchaikovsky’s funeral takes place at Kazan catherdral St, Petersburg.  There is room for 6000 people;  60,000 apply for seats.

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Thousands more turn out and line the streets.

A few days later, Eduard Napravnik. a close friend of Tchaikovsky’s, is seen to weep as he gives the Moscow premier of the last symphony.

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