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The Mighty Five

I of course refer to Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Borodin.

Presently, I am pondering this group and why en masse, they seemed to have strongly (perhaps wrong word-- “vehemently” might be more accurate)-- opposed Tchaikovsky. I am confused as to their motive(s). And as far as I can see/read, no one has really nailed it down.

1) Was it Tchaikovsky’s style that so offended them? (“Not Russian enough!”) I think that was the impetus for his Symphony No. 2. After all, it is called, “The Little Russian.”

2) Pure artistic jealousy? Were they jealous of the man’s obvious and ample genius? (This does happen.)

3) His popularity with the students at the Conservatoire? Antonina Milukova being the most prominent, of course, but let’s not forget the “Fourth Suite.” (“Fourth Concerto?” You know-- the flock of young men who always appeared to be in his entourage. Correct me somebody!)

4) Homophobia? (We can go hours on that one!)

Or was it a combination of all of the above, (and maybe even more).

Maybe I’m trying to over-simplify and put it down to ONE and ONE reason only. But the sheer contempt, disgust and snobbism of the Mighty Five to our man-- cannot be dismissed.

Although in one of those silly movies, (I know! “Been there, done that, George! (Hahahahahah!)) They had Cesar Cui, (I think it was) going around singing Tchaikovsky’s praises to all who would listen, esp., von Meck!

I would very much like to read forum contributor’s thoughts on this subject.

And am I correct in thinking that Cui, (despite movie mentioned above) was Tchaikovsky’s worst enemy?

(Privately I call him “Pit Bull Cesar!” (Hahahahahah!) Nice dog!))

I know he skewered him in several reviews. But then again, as they say, if you can’t “do”--


And if you can’t “teach,”-- become a “critic.”

Cui was both, (I think! (Hahahahahah!)).

In any event, regards to all and hope you can lend a hand/thought to this inquiry,

George Boyd
Montreal, Canada
11/02/2013 11:38

P.S.: Just shows you how strong-willed and secure, (no “mincing” here) Tchaikovsky was in taking on these old battle-axes. Which one, (of “The Five”) told him Piano Concerto No. 1 was “vulgar” and had to be totally re-written? There’s a word for people like these, but censorship and good taste prevail.

George, it doesn't look like you've read the articles on those five composers in our People section, which might change your views a little! You're quite right about Cui, he was Tchaikovsky's fiercest critic, but on the other hand Balakirev was one of his biggest champions, encouraging him to write Romeo and Juliet, and the Manfred symphony.

Rimsky-Korsakov's early career was helped by Tchaikovsky's favourable newspaper article reviews, although there was undoubtedly some jealousy on R-K's part.

And as for the fierce critic of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto — this was Nikolay Rubinstein, one of his best friends, and nothing to do with "The Five" at all! 

Brett Langston
14/02/2013 09:28

Tchaikovsky had a classical western education in music..he was influenced by composers like Schumann, Liszt, Berlioz, Wagner and of course his idol Mozart and those of more light weight. Not to speak of the melodic invention of the Bel Canto....The mighty five wanted to break away from the western tradition of musical and sonata form and go out on a different tangent...So they critisized Tchaikovsky for being too westernized..they wanted a purely Russian sound and wished to break away from western norms..they wanted to emphasize the Russian folk element...Tchaikovsky himself used many Russian folk motifs at least in his early music....Cui indeed was the most critical and least talented of the bunch but he did have a good relationship with Balakirev...he was closest to Rimsky Korsakov whom he helped in mastering counterpoint via the their objectives were dissimilar..nor was his relationship with Borodin negative.Tchaikovsky himself didn't have much use for the five considering them musically ignorant...he admired somewhat Musorgsky for his originality yet saw something ugly and primitive in his expression..let us not forget that he learned French at an early age as most upper class Russians...that he himself on his mother's side was in part French and in that alone he was pretty much Europeanized....that pretty much sums up the Five and Tchaikovsky.....

Best Wishes,

Albert Gasparo
15/02/2013 00:02

I would also like emphasize the matter of living in different cities...after 1865 Tchaikovsky no longer lived in Petersburg,,,,,the home base of the five...and so from that perspective alone these two factions were distanced...Tchaikovsky living and earning his living in Moscow at least until 1877...thereafter he only paid occasional visits to the in the country side or traveling to foreign countries,,,so these two factions had little contact with each other in terms of influencing one another...

Albert Gasparo
15/02/2013 00:32

Thanks for your instruction...

As usual, I found Monsieur Gasparo's insight and intelligence-- very useful.

As for Monsieur Langston's corrections-- thanks.

Now I really know who the a__hole was!!


Some friend!

George Boyd
Montreal, Canada
19/02/2013 18:56

Nickolai Rubinstein was a noted pianist and well as being the founder of the Moscow Conservatory as well as the junior brother of more famous Anton Rubinstein the founder of the St Petersburg was he who invited Tchaikovsky to teach Harmony at Moscow no sooner had the composer graduated from the Petersburg Conservatory in he must have been aware of the composers nascent talents...Nickolai also helped him find living quarters and contributed clothing for the money poor composer..more importantly as long as he lived he was an ardent supporter of the growing fame of Tchaikovsky and did a lot in giving the premiers of what ever the composer produced in those early years as long as he lived...he died in 1881 at age his death Tchaikovsky lost a valuable patron not to be replaced....the Piano Trio is dedicated to his memory...

As for the other thing where Tchaikovsky asked for Rubinstein's opinion of his First Piano Concerto in December of 1974,,,it is true that Nickolai was at first critical of the concerto perhaps with reason..remember that the version we hear now is the revised one made in 1889....but he later retracted his views and was one of the concerto's chief was a temporary break in their relationship and nothing more..and the Second Piano Concerto is dedicated to him....later Nickolai was to conduct the premiere of Oneigin...he also did a lot to advance the cause of the Russian Five even if he disagreed with his brother over the in retrospect Nickolai Rubinstein did much to advance Tchaikovsky's career......

Albert Gasparo
21/02/2013 16:29

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