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Tchaikovsky's Proven Greatness

It's very easy and common to affirm or deny greatness to big names in art, but very few cases have a proven argument of their superiority.

Tchaikovsky has been tested more thoroughly than any other composer. Hundreds of critics during decades have attacked his art as feeble, superficial, hysterical, malforned and so on... and the public, orchestras, conductors and great soloists all over the world have kept him alive, and very much alive.

If Brahms or Bruckner or Mahler or Haydn or Mozart would have received such comments nobody would care for them any more. In many ways their art is held strongly by literature in their favor.

Only Tchaikovsky stands by his music's own qualities.

No wander Balanchine, a sincere Tchaikovsky admirer, in his ballet "Jewels" with music of various authors representing gems: rubies, sapphires, etc., calls for "diamonds" entering the Tchaikovsky pieces, because diamonds are unscratchable, and they are so because of the superiority of their precious nature.

To trespass the boundaries of three centuries "unscratched" even if attacked with all kinds of weapons is a definite proof of greatness, not only a subjective consideration.

I once heard this comparison: "His critics have proven to be the immense shade projected by his colossal altitude".

Professor Alberto Saenz Enriquez

Prof. A. S. Enriquez is absolutely right. To criticise Tchaikovsky is as ludicrous as criticise other World's great: Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Confucius, Einstein, Verdi, Copernicus and so on.

If those who dare to criticise UP. Tchaikovsky genuinely believe that they deserve recognition, I can suggest to them a simple test: write a greater music.

Alexander Geidelberg

I agree with Prof. Enriquez in that Tchaikovsky's greatness has been tested greatly in the past century plus. But it serves to remind you, that those composers that you mentioned—Brahms, Bruckner, Mozart, Haydn and Mahler, all have been and will be regarded in the same realm as Tchaikovsky, as all of their music is fantastic, and all of it has been similarly tested- whether by the public eye, by their friends and colleagues, or by themselves (specifically in Bruckner's case).

However, I am willing to be and will continue to be critical of Tchaikovsky's music and life for the pure sake of academic discourse. I am not willing to accept, with a blind faith, the purity and strength of his music, although in my heart I feel as if his music is some of the best ever written. I am not willing to accept it because if you asked me why his music is so great, I could not give you an adequate or detail-supported answer. So please forgive me Prof. Enriquez for finding your logic a bit fallacious, and please allow me to remain the devil's advocate. Thank you.

John A. Miller

I have noticed that in his reply to Prof. A. Enriquez ' statement on how great Tchaikovsky's music is, John Miller carefully avoids dealing with a challenge I have issued to him as well as to any other "critics" of the composer : write a greater music.

The vast majority of Tchaikovsky "critics" abuse the situation that the composed is in another world and unable to give all of them a fitting reply. There is nothing new about this socio-psychological anomaly. Back in ancient Greece there lived a man, named Herostratus. His main occupation was to be good for nothing. He had however an insatiable crave for fame. And the only way he in his primitive mind could satisfy his ambitions was a destruction of a temple.

Even in our days, it does not take a great mind to cause a destruction. So as those who can not build, often destroy. Modern days critics, particularly those who have no scruples to pick on mighty genius, remind me that ill-famous individual with hypertrophic ambition, but with inability to do anything useful.

Alexander Geidelber

Mr. Geildelberg,

I'm reminded of the old joke- "Those who can't do, teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym". You're absolutely right in that I did not face your challenge. I didn't for a simple reason- I can't. I'll never be able to create a music such as Tchaikovsky's. I feel as you do in that Tchaikovsky's music is of such elegance, beauty and passion that it should be treated with a great deal of respect and frankly, a great deal of honor and reverence.

Although I feel that this discussion might digress from this forums focus on Tchaikovsky and to something broader, I wish to make this point more clear. I'm a young man who is still learning about who Tchaikovsky is as a composer, as a musician, as a friend, as a lover, as a man and so on. I feel that if I approach Tchaikovsky's life from a 'ne'er-do-wrong' point of view, where Tchaikovsky's music is the quintessential staple of classical music-completely flawless in form and fashion, I will never completely and truly understand who he was.

So, in defense of myself- I, as a researcher, always strive for the utmost objectivity and unbiased view of Tchaikovsky. Using your Herostratus analogy, I am not aiming to destroy the temple of Tchaikovsky, I'm aiming to understand it's structure, design and context. So, please forgive me if my opinions in this forum maybe a bit unfounded or unstable- I present criticisms of Tchaikovsky as a scientist changes variables in an experiment. I test to see what is supported factually, and what seems to be historically unsound. A perfect example- studying Tchaikovsky's scores, it is very evident that Tchaikovsky was quite possibly the most gifted melodist of the 19th century- or perhaps in all of classical music's history. However, Tchaikovsky admits to having poor skills in melodic development.

By pointing out Tchaikovsky's characteristics- flaws and talents- music historians find the holistic picture of the man. So to, when we read the response of critics to his music, whether it be from a professional critic who wrote a review of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto ("We see plainly the savage vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell vodka... Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear." Why is this (fabulous) piece a staple of violin literature today?), to one of his contemporaries who were famous for ripping him a new one like Leopold Auer or Anton Rubinstein, to a 'critic' on this site, the responses offer up either a question to be answered, a comment to turn over in your head, or a piece to a puzzle.

So, it's not only important to question and challenge Tchaikovsky's 'proven' greatness so that we can fully understand just how great it is, but it is important to question and challenge Tchaikovsky's 'proven' greatness to convey to young people such as myself, and uninformed people, such as myself, the facts, the legends, the myths and the questions that many people have towards the great man-Tchaikovsky.

But in conclusion, allow me to ask you a question. It would be narrow of me to think that you were even the slightest bit interested in the life or times of Tchaikovsky. So when you listen to the Tchaikovsky's music, what do you think about? What do you sense?

I apologize for not being able to produce a greater music. I wouldn't want to. I'm very satisfied with that which I have been listening to :-). Aren't you? Remember my question please.

John A. Miller

Mr Geidelberg's arguments that if you cannot write greater music than Tchaikovsky you have no right to an opinion is specious and irrelevant.. A critic and an artist are not the same. Just because I cannot write a bar of music doesn't mean I dont know claptrap when I see it. What ever became of discriminating listening. Such attitudes are more suited to school boys who lack the knowledge of the greater world and wish to gain an easy victory by arguing nonsense..I heartedly concur with Mr Miller when he says we have the right and obligation to be good listeners and be able to decide between the great and less great. As for Tchaikovsky's music it is very uneven even by his own standards. There are those moreover who don't even consider him to be a great composer. Some people should study music history to get a glimmer of how those guided by the craft of musicology grade this composer. I have never seen Tchaikovsky rated along side people like Bach, Mozart or Beethoven...or even the lesser Schubert and Schumann...or the other great lights like Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms or Mahler...etc and you know there are musicians who do not even play Tchaikovsky's works. And while I agree that everyone is entitled to his opinion no one has a right to his facts.. We here at the forum should respect each others views without having the feeling he or she alone has the right and only answers. This also applies to Mr Enriquez's specious views of undiluted adulation. So I ask you to be more generous to the standpoints of others and not be so eager for the attack.. Have a good day everyone...

Albert Gasparo

Thanks to all for their contributions. However, I think we have taken this discussion to its limit, and this topic is now closed.

P. Davydov

This discussion is closed and has been archived, but you are welcome to try our new forum at:

This page was last updated on 05 November 2013