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Half-Remembered Essay

I wonder if anyone can help me locating a book I have memory of and may be of interest to Tchaikovskians. The book was a series of essays on ‘The Symphony’. The author of the Tchaikovsky section wrote more perceptively and positively about the symphonies than anyone else I have read. I just can’t remember his name. It must be 20 years since I last saw it. I do remember some of the things he said such as, ‘The Fourth, is in my opinion, the greatest’ and ‘Tchaikovsky was a deep and fruitful admirer of Mozart’. He argued that the return of the fanfare in the finale of the Fourth employed the idea of cadenza and that the movement was fascinating hybrid of rondo and sonata. He thought the First symphony the weakest and that the polonaise of the Third’s finale was an important innovation. Does anybody else recall anything about this book?

Norman Armstrong

I think you are referring to the 'Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky' chapter that Hans Keller contributed to Vol. I of'The Symphony, ed. Robert Simpson (Harmondsworth, 1966).

If this is correct, then I agree that it's a splendidly perceptive discussion, and a great piece of advocacy from a time when it was all too easy for critics to talk about Tchaikovsky's symphonies in a dismissive manner. If you can get hold of a copy of the book, do let us know if you still like what Keller says!

Mark Doran

Yes, Hans Keller, I remember now. I also seem to remember that he devoted most of the essay to the Fourth Symphony, giving surprisingly little space to the 6th. I don't think its necessarily true though that the critical climate has improved in recent years. David Brown's work demonstrates great scholarship but there is ultimately a lack of empathy and while he sheds a vivid light on some work, especially the 2nd Symphony and Vakula, there is a strange lack of psychological understanding or other works the Trio Op 50. For Brown most of Tchaikovsky's works end in sad failure, a view I don't share at all. I think you just have to have been there, that is, in a similar state of mind, or have basically a similar temperament; a touch of bipolar helps. Otherwise the "bombastic" finales are just going to do nothing for you.

Norman Armstrong

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