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On Tchaikovsky's Method

It may be of interest to our readers to get an interpretation of Tchaikovsky's methods of composition as per David Brown's four volume study of the composer. In volume four (1992) he goes on to enunciate with some thoroughness the contrast between Russian and German composition techniques. He states that Glinka's Karaminskaya based on Russian folk idiom "does not evolve to make an all embracing point, complete only when the final note is reached, as in the finest western symphonic works; rather it says the same thing over and over again with ever new significances, consolidating rather than expanding the experience. Put simply, it is a decorative, not an organic creation—static rather than dynamic. and having said that, we have put our finger on the very essence of Russian creativity"....and he goes on, "it follows that a musical invention which is by its very nature static and reflective is totally unsuitable for building large scale evolving structures such as are the natural products of the best western organic thought...endowed with a mind of this nature he (Tchaikovsky) was inclined, like his fellow Russian novelists to think most readily in terms of self contained sections. The genius of most nineteenth century Russian composers was above all for melody, and especially for the sort that is designed as a broad, multi phrased structure.....but such melodies however extended they might be, had structures even more enclosed...simply arrived at an end, thus requiring the composer to climb, as it were, a perimeter fence if he wished to move on, perhaps to explore a new melodic field ...this problem of transition was the one of the most vexed the Russian composer faced, greater in many ways than that of development. In the latter he could at least fall back on his flair for ingenuous manipulation within a the development of Russian symphonic works there is rarely lack of ingenuity in manipulating musical materials, but so often its seems a game played according to a well learned method, not the thoughtful, stage by stage uncovering of further positions in a unique and lively musical argument moving logically towards its conclusion...this can rarely produce totally satisfying results"....but he goes on to say.."for TchaIkovsky himself the symphony was "the most lyrical of forms"..but shot through with drama; its momentuum stemmed not so much from continuity of thought as from striking justapostions, and its effect upon the listener came less from a rich and well ordered argument than from taking him to a radically new kind of experiance"...(pages 423 to 426 from volume four)...that would have been TchaIkovsky at his the end is it a satisfying esthetic experiance or not is the issue?...

And having said that one may still not approve of his method or his substance...that is a matter of taste....what is that forms our taste?....our individuality...our limitations...our exposure or not to a diversity of musical experiences...our passion to inquire...our exposure to the myriad works of the many outstanding composers over the centuries..our openness to new experiences....some composers are easy as per example Tchaikovsky, some require more thought and time to penetrate their mysteries...

One may enlarge ones views by reading music history or by the study of harmony, counterpoint etc, or by simply doesn't have to read about how great such luminaries like Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Turner, Dostoevsky or Tolstoy are....just by being exposed to their works one is overpowered by the impact of their great talent...likewise one may listen to the whole plethora of music from Gregorian Chant to say John Adams and get a pretty good idea of what makes a great work of music tic...not all of us on the other hand can grasp the more demanding creations be they in books or the arts or music...some are satisfied with less and dont feel the need to make so many strenuous inquiries...and so we should agree to disagree....we come from many different backgrounds and traditions which colors our gustibus non let it be...Many thanks

Albert Gasparo

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013