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Not Enough Esteem to Tchaikovsky

Dear gentlemen

Answering about lesser esteem to Tchaikovsky, Mr Gasparo speaks about lack of nuance and form in Tchaikovsky's works.

However, there are rare composers with richer range of tints and colors, all so different in each piece as if Tchaikovsky had been a thousand masters in one, rich in every opus, and in each part of each opus. And different in each also, but always bearing his personal mark.

About form, form serves creation, and not the opposite, as some believe. If Tchaikovsky had obscured his melodies and harmonies with artificial forms, he would have spoiled them. He had not any need of artificail forms, just the natural form of his spontaneous inspiration. That is not a lack of form, but an abundance of creative power.

Tchaikovsky does not get much credit as he should, precisely because of the acceptance of wide public, a fact that is annoying to some diletantes.

However he has proven so much of his greatness, that snobbery has been obligated to bend to his glory.

Alberto Sáenz Enríquez

It is not my intent to enter in a dispute with Mr. Enriquez but some things need to be qualified. A correspondent asked why are bach and Mozart more esteemed than Tchaikovsky. When I said that Tchaikovsky lacked subtlety and nuance I was not referring to his manner of orchestration which became more subtle in time. I referred to the fact that Tchaikovsky had a problem weaving a composition that was organic and whole...unlike the earlier masters that till today are the paradigm of music, the standard bearers of the pinnacle of music creation. I hardly think that Tchaikovsky could stand as a model for any aspiring composer. The man simply does not know how to develop an idea. His music consists of melodic bits that are glued together hoping for the best. This works best in short dance movements for the ballet, where his gifts are displayed to most advantage. Secondly there is the matter of the quality of the melodic ideas, the originality of harmony that avoids the banal and commonplace to which he is often prone. Also the fact that Tchaikovsky often did not live up to his best. Of his four works for piano and orchestra for example only one has survived the repertoire. His piano music can be dismissed as bland salon works written mostly to bring in extra cash, etc...of his orchestral works, Romeo and Juliet stands out above the rest because it has its ideas more developed than those that did not measure up. He went through a fallow period after the fourth symphony where nothing of comparable force appeared till Manfred, eight years later. And that piece is rarely played. Then we get to a price meal fifth symphony with the usual flaws albeit done in a attractive mode.

I do not get on these forums to idolize anyone. I know this mans limitations.....he is like someone we love in spite of his flaws... to say that Tchaikovsky influenced this one or that one belies the issue..we know who the great innovators of the twentieth century were...Debussy, Bartok, Schoenberg and Stravinsky for example. Originality counts for something.

Much more could be said but let this be for now...bye bye

Al Gasparo

In order to form an accurate picture of Tchaikovsky's achievement, we must avoid the twin pitfalls of blind adulation and critical condescension.

It is true that Tchaikovsky struggled for much of his career with the problems of symphonic form and development, and some have wrongly interpreted this as a sign of technical incompetence. In fact, his numerous experiments with form suggest that he was not satisfied with simply imitating existing models, but rather sought solutions which were original and which gave maximum scope to his melodic and expressive gifts.

It is true that Tchaikovsky's output is uneven in quality, but the same could be said for most of his contemporaries. If not all of Tchaikovsky's works are masterpieces, it is partly because he was a steady, disciplined worker who composed even when his inspiration was flagging. However, his music almost invariably displays professional technique and solid craftsmanship.

I must protest, with all possible vehemence, against the ridiculous notion that Tchaikovsky "does not know how to develop an idea," or that "his music consists of melodic bits that are glued together hoping for the best." Such obtuse critical remarks about Tchaikovsky's music were not uncommon half a century ago, particularly among uninformed critics and scholars who automatically interpret popular approval as a sign of superficiality. Today, we ought to know better.

Anyone who has studied Tchaikovsky's scores seriously will recognize his limitless ingenuity in developing and varying musical materials over a long span of time, particularly in such theatrical maserpieces as Eugene Onegin and The Sleeping Beauty. In his finest instrumental works, he was able to achieve a logical flow of ideas and a perfect marriage of form and content. I would cite Romeo and Juliet and the opening movements of the First Piano Concerto, the Piano Trio, and the Fourth, Sixth, and Manfred Symphonies, as convincing proof that Tchaikovsky was able to construct sonata movements that were original, compelling and cohesive, with regard to both thematic development and tonal organization.

If Tchaikovsky was not always successful in constructing flawlessly cohesive large-scale movements, this should not blind us to those instances where he succeeded brilliantly (such as the Sixth Symphony, which is one of the most seamlessly organic symphonic works of the late 19th century). If not all of Tchaikovsky's tunes are equal to his best, this is merely a reflection of the impossibly high standards of his finest melodic inspirations, which include some of the most moving and powerful melodies ever written.

Nicolas Krusek

I am familiar with the total Tchaikovsky output (thanks to BBC). I was trying to make a point. I have piano arrangements of many of his orchestra scores which I have played through more or less. For myself I enjoy playing the piano sonatas and the 18 piano pieces (in so far as I can). I know wherein his talent lies. Nor would I have brought the subject up if someone had not asked "why is not Tchaikovsky esteemed as much as bach or Mozart". He also asked for suggestions for other works in the Tchaikovsky repertory. There is a difference between bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. And as much as I appreciate the Russian masters works I would never compare them to the lofty masterpieces of the German masters who are to me the non plus ultra of music composition. Listen to bach's 48 preludes and fugues, or the art of the fugue, or his many keyboard and organ works, listen to the scintillating operas of Mozart that have no parallel, or to his piano concertos, the string quartets or quintets. The Requiem. Or to the piano sonatas and quartets of Beethoven or his Missd Solemnis. How does the quality of workmanship of these masters compare with Tchaikovsky's output? There is no snobbery here. I am a layman. I have listened to music for over 60 years. Am I not entitled to have an opinion which is also that of those who know the full greatness of music? As for my credentials as a Tchaikovskyite, my contributions to this web site should suffice. But I do have a problem with undiscriminating adulation and hoped to provide a balance...

Tchaikovsky wrote 10 operas out of which two are in the repertoire today. And of course onegin is far superior of the two. His work is very unequal. There is no need of beg the issue. I am aware of all the arguments pro and contra that surround this figure. I have read over 20 books on the subject of Tchaikovsky. You’ll hardly find one more partisan of his music..but still I know where to draw the line...

Happy Holidays to all,

Al Gasparo

Dear gentlemen

When speaking about Tchaikovsky, aims some times grow high in attack or defence of the master, which testifies the profound trace left by his legacy.

To some, each time less, Tchaikovsky seems vulgar, unequal, unprofessional, banal or hysteric at the best.

But even those, can not deny his wonderful technique as a composer, or that he was a wonderful melodist, and the greatest musical communicologist ever born.

People that love artificiality and annoying complications in music assume the negative position.

Composers as Brahms or bach and even Mozart, would build music from form itself, and in form. Their natural way to compose was formal.

Tchaikovsky s music is rather like a flowing Nile, or Volga, bursting in cascades and torrents with unspeakable force, not in anyway absent of form, (rare composers have had such domain in theme variations, for example ) but never enslaving his creation to a technique that could not fit his spirit.

Mediocrities will never observe genius but through the cliché of wear out judgements, repeated like scratched discs no longer in fashion, and do that all their lives, no matter how long and no matter how experienced.

We can not flatter geniuses above this life, but we can be fair judges , humbly rendering them our admiration.

Alberto Sáenz Enríquez

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013