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Did Tchaikovsky Have Perfect Pitch?

Dear all,

I wonder if Tchaikovsky had perfect pitch. There are some controversies on internet about it. These two articles claim he had:

"The boy, very likely taught piano by his mother, showed the perfect pitch and remarkable musical memory."

"Though it is well-known that Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt had absolute pitch, so did Tchaikovsky despite opinions to the contrary."

Here we learn he did not:

"Nor does absolute pitch appear to correlate with other musical skills. Composers with tone-AP (e.g. Mozart,Skryabin, Messiaen, Boulez) have not written indisputably better or worse music than composers without it ( e.g. Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Stravinsky: see Slonimsky,1988).";

"The list of great musicians who did not have perfect pitch — among them Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Furtwangler, Bernstein..."

Where is the true?

Thank you.

Marcel Takac

In the article on absolute pitch on my website that was linked to from here, I wrote that Tchaikovsky did have it because of what I read elsewhere. I can vouch for what I wrote about Bernstein because he told me (and the others including the violinist Tossy Spivakovsky, and Roger and John Sessions.) in no uncertain terms that he "never had it".

There is always the possibility that Tchaikovsky had it as a child and, like Mahler, lost it later in life. I've known several people of whom this is true.

Alas, books and the internet are not only filled with much information but an awful lot of misinformation as well and both are passed rapidly from one place to another!

Edward Gold

I have always thought that contributors to this Forum are dedicated to study of the vast musical legacy left by Peter Tchaikovsky.

I notice however from time to time some contributions that pick on personal features of the great man and are totally oblivious of the fact that P. Tchaikovsky is one of the world's greatest musical minds.

When people reach that level of fame, their personal features and their characters fade into insignificance in comparison with their contribution to the human culture.

Any attempts to highlight individual features as human being (or more specifically put some critical slur or gossipy style allegations against them) is shallow and pathetic.

Of course all great men and women as human beings had their unique characters, their strengths and weaknesses etc.

However we remember them and pay homage to them for their works and impact on the human civilization.

I suggest therefore that we concern ourselves with study and discussions of Tchaikovsky's music, which is right in front of us, rather than dealing with unimportant and unproven allegations.

A. Geidelberg

I am a new student at McGill University in the Honors Music History program, and I am about to dedicate a good deal of time to the life and times of Tchaikovsky. I personally believe that the discussion of Tchaikovsky's perfect pitch is perhaps one of the most relative things to Tchaik research.

Think about how absolute pitch changes a way that a person composes. Saint-Saens, a composer with perfect pitch, almost always composed standing up, without a piano, while Leonard Bernstein, who didn't have perfect pitch, always had a piano with him when he composed. Perfect pitch can also dramatically effect how a person's musicianship develops.

Simply because many people are interested in the details of Tchaikovsky's every day life and pick through 'personal features of the great man', doesn't mean that we are discounting his greatness. If anything, our fascination with the greater detail of his life should show how great he actually is.

So, please before you go dismissing this forum for 'dealing with unimportant and unproven allegations', please consider that some people have an attention to detail and find this character trait of Tchaikovsky relevant and pertinent to this website. Thank you.

John A. Miller

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013