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Radio Series on Tchaikovsky

My weekly radio series, Tchaikovsky – the Music and the Man is starting on Sunday 6th October at 10:00 am South African time (GMT + 2) with a repeat of each episode at 04:00 am the next Sunday. There will be a total of 13 episodes and even if one cannot understand the Afrikaans language about 35 – 40 minutes of each 50 minute programme will be devoted to music alone.

The website for this programme is  and for direct listening one has to click on LUISTER NOU (Listen now)

Episode one: (6 October) Tchaikovsky in a nutshell

In this episode I challenge music snobs who label Tchaikovsky’s music as being kitsch. Maybe the reason would be that Tchaikovsky has become too popular a composer to be taken seriously by the uninformed.

For this reason, in the first programme I play quite a few short sections of some of his music which has been played to death as well as his lesser known works as illustration.

Music in the first episode:

  • The Italian caprice
  • String quartet no. 2 (2nd movement)
  • Piano Trio
  • The orchestrion – the sophisticated music box which was his first introduction to music.
  • Tchaikovsky’s voice (recorded in 1891)
  • Piano concerto no. 1 (1st movement)
  • 1812 overture (finale)
  • Barcarolle from The Seasons
  • None but the Lonely Heart (Hvorostovsky)
  • Swan Lake theme
  • Lullaby from Iolanta
  • Pathetique symphony (2nd movement)
  • Adagio from Sleeping Beauty (pianist Mikael Pletnev)

Philip de Vos
Cape Town – South Africa
28/09/2013 17:24

Should anybody care to listen to the music on Sunday the 6th – the actual Tchaikovsky episode starts at about 4 – 5 minutes after 10:00 am as there is first a very short news bulletin.

Philip de Vos
Cape Town – South Africa
04/10/2013 10:26

Tchaikovsky episode 2: The Early Years

This is a short summary of the second episode of the Tchaikovsky series and the music.

Tchaikovsky discovers music by listening to the orchestrion

  • The orchestrion

He is charmed by the music of Mozart’s Don Giovanni

  • Zerlina’s aria

(The following music clips are from his Children’s Album played by Michael Ponti all illustrating scenes from Tchaikovsky’s childhood years)

  • Mama

The governess Fanny Dürbach is welcomed at the Tchaikovsky home

  • Hobby horse

Fanny reports how he could already read French and German at age 6

  • French folk song

One evening the family plays musical games

  • March of the wooden soldiers.

Tchaikovsky complains that he cannot get rid of the music in his head

  • The governess’s story

His mother takes him to his first opera

  • Glinka – Life for the Tsar

He attends his first ballet performance

  • Giselle – waltz

A traumatic experience – saying good-bye to his mother

  • Baba yaga (from the Children’s Album)

His first composition at age 14

  • The Anastasie waltz

His mother’s favourite song

  • The Nightingale

His mother’s death

  • Death of a doll (from his Children’s album)

His first song;

  • My muse, my angel, my friend (sung by Alexis Vassiliev.)

Tchaikovsky meets Anton Rubinstein who started the Russian Musical Society

  • Melody in F (A. Rubinstein)

Tchaikovsky studies music by playing piano transcriptions of other composers’ music.

  • Beethoven 6th – Liszt transcription

He hears Wagner in St Petersburg

  • Extract from Gotterdämmerung

Tchaikovsky’s first published song

  • Mezzanotte (Ljuba Kazarnovskaya)

Philip de Vos
Cape Town – South Africa
08/10/2013 19:09


My weekly radio series, Tchaikovsky – the Music and the Man is broadcast every Sunday at 10:00 am South African time (GMT + 2) with a repeat of each episode at 04:00 am the next Sunday. There are 13 episodes.

Even if one cannot understand the Afrikaans language, about 35 – 40 minutes of each 50 minute programme will be devoted to music alone.

The website for this programme is and for direct listening one has to click on LUISTER NOU (Listen now)

The following is a summary of the third episode and although it is inadequate it should hopefully give a vague idea:

The Student Years (episode 3)

Tchaikovsky travels Europe as interpreter with Vasili Pisarev.

In Berlin he sees Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld which he hates:

  • Fly Duet

Back in St Petersburg he writes a

  • Piano sonata in G minor

He befriends Hermann Laroche and during weekends they often play piano transcriptions of symohonies:

  • Beethoven symphony no 5

He practises for many hours - pieces which according to his brother Modest sounded very unmelodic

  • Scarlatti sonata K1 in D minor

At the Music Conservatoire where Anton Rubinstein is the head, Tchaikovsky accompanies the choir and plays the flute and timpani in the orchestra

  • Rubinstein Piano concerto no 4

Tchaikovsky tells Laroche that he will never compose for piano combined with other instruments, yet in later years he writes the following work:

  • Piano trio (first movement)

One of his early compositions evokes Rubinstein’s wrath

  • The Storm

He uses one of the themes from The Storm for his next work which Rubinstein also calls rubbish:

  • Overture in C minor

Tchaikovsky’s next work is conducted by Johann Strauss Jnr:

  • Characteristic Dances

He has to set Schiller’s Ode to Joy to music as student assignment. César Cui gives it a scathing review while it is praised by Laroche:

  • Ode to joy

Although he fears conducting , he has to conduct his own work:

  • Overture in F

Many of his earlier works were destroyed or had themes that were later used in other compositions:

  • String quartet no 1

The allegro section is later used in his

  • Scherzo a la Russe

Philip de Vos
Cape Town – South Africa
17/10/2013 07:09

The website for this programme is and for direct listening one has to click on LUISTER NOU (Listen now)

Each broadcast is at 10:00 am South African time (GMT + 2) with a repeat of each episode at 04:00 am the next Sunday (GMT + 2)

35 – 40 minutes of each 50 minute programme will be devoted to music alone while the txt is in the Afrikaans language

EPISODE 4 The Moscow years 1866 – 1870

Tchaikovsky leaves St Petersburg where he becomes a lecturer at the Moscow Music Conservatoire and lodges with Anton Rubinstein. A performance is given of his:

  • Overture in F

He receives a commission to write a work based on the Danish national anthem for the wedding of the son of the Tsarevich and his bride:

  • Danish Overture

Tchaikovsky suffers bouts of depression and a nervous breakdown while writing his next work:

  • Symphony no 1 (second movement)

While working on his first opera The Voyevoda his cousin Vera Davydova falls in love with him. He writes her a work which she cherishes for the rest of her life:

  • Chant sans paroles

Balakirev enters Tchaikovsky’s life and Tchaikovsky asks his opinion hoping that he will accept one his compositions at a concert:

  • Characteristic dances

Tchaikovsky falls in love with the singer Désirée Artôt and dedicates a work to her:

  • Romance for Piano in F minor

She marries a Spanish baritone and when Tchaikovsky afterwards attends one of her performances, tears run down his eyes:

  • Marguerite’s aria from Faust (sung by Sumi Jo)

Tchaikovsky writes a symphonic poem which he tries to destroy but which is later reconstructed and performed after his death:

  • Fatum

Tchaikovsky writes an opera which he also destroys except for one or two numbers:

  • Undina (duet)

Later on he uses the main theme of this duet for:

  • Swan Lake (pas de deux)

His first great composition is based on the Shakespeare play. Some believe it is inspired by his love for Désirée Artôt but more probaby for a young man Eduard Zak whom he loved and who committed suicide at age 19:

  • Romeo and Juliet (feud between the Capulet and Montague families )
  • Romeo and Juliet (love theme)

Philip de Vos
Cape Town – South Africa
23/10/2013 08:45

A correction...Tchaikovsky did not share lodgings with Anton Rubinstein while in Moscow but with his brother Nicolas Rubinstein who was one of the founders of the Moscow Conservatory and did much to further Tchaikovsky's career..Anton Rubinstein was founder and director of the St Petersburg Conservatory...and stayed at his post..the personalities of the two brothers was quite different..Anton the more famous of the two and of a more imperious disposition his views on Tchaikovsky's music were of a much cooler nature...

Albert Gasparo
26/10/2013 12:51

Dear Mr Gasparo

The fourth episode of my series was broadcast this morning South African time and in my English summary on the Tchaikovsky page I unfortunately made a mistake while in the actual broadcast I had the correct facts.

Here is my Afrikaans text followed by the English translation:

In 1868 op ouderdom 28 verlaat Tchaikovsky St Petersburg en vertrek hy na Moskou waar hy aangestel word as lektor in musiekteorie van die nuutgestigte Moskou Konserwatorium met Anton Rubinstein se broer Nikolai as direkteur. En skaars 24 uur na sy aankoms neem Nikolai Rubinstein Tchaikovsky in as gasloseerder in sy eie huis waar hy ‘n klein kamertjie langs dié van sy gasheer kry, met ‘n muur so dun dat Tchaikovsky bang was dat die geritsel van sy pen Rubinstein sou wakkermaak.

In 1868 at age 28 Tchaikovsky left St Petersburg for Moscow where he was appointed as lecturer in music theory at the newly established Moscow Conservatoire of Music with Anton Rubinstein’s brother Nikolai as director. And merely 24 hours after his arrival Tchaikovsky became a lodger at the home of Nikolai Rubinstein, where he stayed in a room next to that of his host, with so thin a wall, that he was scared that the scratching sound of his pen might wake Rubinstein.

Apologies for my unintentional mistake in the English summary and thank you for pointing it out.

Philip de Vos
27/10/2013 11:51

Sunday 3 November 2013


  • Romeo and Juliet overture

This work was not originally a success so Tchaikovsky started concentrating on smaller works among which was his song None but the Lonely Heart.

These words by Goethe had already been set previously to music by:

  • Beethoven

also by:

  • Franz Schubert

but Tchaikovsky’s became the most famous

  • Tchaikovsky’s None but the Lonely Heart (Hvorostovsky)

A concert organized by Nikolai Rubinstein needed a new work:

  • String Quartet number 1 (Andante)

This work moved Tolstoy to tears.

Tchaikovsky wrote new opera which was popular with the public, but Tchaikovsky believed it to be so bad that he fled from a rehearsal

  • Oprichnik (dance)

He thought of writing a next opera (Mandragora) but only retained one number

  • Insect choir from (Mandragora)

He wrote a Second Symphony – using Russian folk songs

  • Second Symphony (last movement)

His next work was also, like the Romeo and Juliet Overture, based on Shakespeare:

  • Tempest – the beginning section depicting the sea in motion

Prospero conjured up:

  • A storm

After Eduard Zack’s death there was a period of depression and loneliness and Tchaikovsky composed his:

  • Second String Quartet (andante)

He wrote a new opera Vakula the Smith, later known as Cherevichki or The Tsarina’s Slippers

  • Cherevichki (dance)

He wrote his first piano concerto. Nikolay Rubinstein called worthless, but Tchaikovsky refused to change a single note

  • First movement (extract)
  • Second Movement (Mikael Pletnev)

Phliip de Vos
31/10/2013 08:24

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013