I wonder if any contributor to the forum with sharper psychological
insights than mine could suggest a possible motivation for Tchaikovsky's
two-faced attitude towards so many of his musical contemporaries, praising
them to the skies in one breath, and rubbishing their entire output in the
next?.He often did this publicly. His inconsistent responses to Saint-Saëns
and to Verdi are perhaps the most extreme examples of this tendency of his.
I hardly think he could have felt himself inferior to them in any way, or
that he resented their success. He achieved world fame himself, and from the
very outset of his career he had known his own worth, as when he wrote on
the title page of the autograph score of his Overture in C minor; "Overture,
written in Moscow in January 1866 and played nowhere (a frightful
Could this early humiliation have damaged him psychologically, do any of
(Incidentally, for anyone who doesn't know the remarkable overture, it
can be found on Amazon, performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted
by Sergei Skripka and priced at £6.99. This might seem quite a lot to pay
for a single track lasting just 13 ninutes, but the recording is high
quality, and if you download it, I can assure you that for the price of a
cheap bottle of wine you'll have bought youself a treasure to delight you
for the rest of your life.)
Firstly I would challenge the premise that Tchaikovsky's was
psychologiclly "damaged" to any greater extent than the rest of us! He was,
contrary to popular fiction, a well-rounded individual with a good sense of
humour and plenty of tolerance for other people's foibles (contrast and
compare with Wagner, Brahms, etc.). I think the the articles and letters
published on this website demonstrate this, but they need to be taken in
context as well.
So bear in mind that his praise for Verdi came some 20 years after his
initial criticism, and his attitude to Saint-Saëns was coloured by
disappointment over a failure by the Frenchman to uphold his promise to
promote Tchaikovsky's works in Paris. And the comment on the Overture in C
minor (probably written decades after he'd been a student) seems to me a
good demonstration of Tchaikovsky's self-deprecating sense of humour,
looking back over an immature work which quite justly hadn't been considered
worthy of performance. The overture does have a lovely theme in its middle
section (which he salvaged for the opera The Oprichnik a few years
later), and it's a much better piece than the student Overture in F major
written around the same time.
Thank you, Brett! I'm happy to stand corrected, because I like the idea
of Tchaikovsky's having been a confident well-adjusted individual who
enjoyed life. I've been listening to his music since the 1940's, and reading
everything I could find about him, so you can well imagine how often it has
been drummed into me that he was a man of sorrows, an outcast, a neurotic
tormented by self-loathing and so on. "If you repeat a lie often enough,
people will start to believe it." (Joseph Goebbels} I never bought that
LUDICROUS story about a court of honour ordering him to shoot himself,
though. And it always puzzled me that the 'Man of Sorrows' had written works
like the Second Piano Concerto. the Violin Concerto, the Concert Fantasia,
the Second Symphony and the Souvenir de Florence, none of which could
possibly be interpreted as a howl of anguish.
I'm learning more about the real Tchaikovsky every day on this remarkable
site, and I'm loving it. Sorry for having posted an ill-informed topic on
the forum - but no harm done, I don't think.
(I don't care what you say, I LIKE that overture!)
I agree with Mr. Langston, but I understand and agree with Michael Porter
(as elsewhere in the Forum, Al Gaspar) what he wrote on the subject.
Tchaikovsky was a serious musician capable of making judgments
objectives. Unfortunately it was also a man of a thousand passions. And as
such, in life and his art-often-oscillating between opposites.
As written by Michael Hofmann:
"We call on his life and his works to explain."
(Hofmann, Michel-Rotislav, Tchaikovsky, Edition du Seuil, Paris, 1959,