Life Of Peter Tchaikovsky The Life of Peter Tchaikovsky Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, also spelled Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was born in Votkinsk, in the city of Vyatka, Russia, May 7, 1840. Second in a family of five sons and one daughter, to whom he was extremely devoted. Once in his early teens when he was in school at St. Petersburg and his mother started to drive to another city, he had to be held back while she got into the carriage, and the moment he was free ran and tried to hold the wheels. There is an anecdote of Tchaikovsky’s earliest years that gives us a clue to the paradox of his personality.
Passionately kissing the map of Russia and then, one regrets to state, spitting on the other countries, he was reminded by his nurse that she herself was French. Yes, he said, accepting her criticism with perfect sweetness and affectionate docility, I covered France with my hand. The child is father of the man; here we have already Tchaikovsky’s strange two-sidedness: on one hand his intense emotionality in all personal matters, his headstrong impetuosity, leaping first and looking afterwards; on the other his candor and modesty, his intelligent acceptance of criticism, even his carefulness and good workmanship-he had covered France with his hand! If he had only been able to reconcile that lifelong feud between his over-personal heart and his magnanimous mind, he would have been saved endless suffering. But he was not: in his music his self-criticism, as on of his best biographers, Edwin Evans, has remarked, came after and not during composition-he destroyed score after score. And in daily life he never learned to apply the advice of a wit tot he victim of a temperament like his: less remorse and more reform. As a youth he reluctantly studied law, as much bore by it as Schumann had been, and even became a petty clerk in the Ministry of Justice.
But in his early twenties he rebelled, and against his family’s wishes had the courage to throw himself into the study of music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He was a ready improviser, playing well for dancing and had a naturally rich sense of harmony, but was so little schooled as to be astonished when a cousin told him it was possible to modulate form any key to another. He went frequently to the Italian operas which at that time almost monopolized the Russian stage, and laid the foundation of his lifelong love for Mozart; but he had no acquaintance with Schumann, and at 21 did not even know how many symphonies Beethoven had composed. He was an ardent worker nevertheless, and once when Anton Rubinstein, his teacher of composition, asked for variations, he sat up all night and brought in two hundred. Is not that already the very picture of a facility almost fatal?–a facility which in even so fine a work as the Trio transforms an unoffending Russian folk tune into a waltz, a mazurka, and even a fugue, like a conjurer drawing rabbits out of the hat! Early in 1866 he removed permanently to Moscow, with which all his later musical fortunes are associated, accepting a teaching post in the new conservatory just established by Rubinstein’s brother Nicholas.
His early attempts at composition, largely because of that same fatal facility, had displeased himself as well as his friends; on one of them, with that same impersonal candour always flashing out from him, he had scribbled the words: dreadful muck. Yet now he had the courage to attempt his first symphony, Winter Dreams. Musically it is not of great importance, any more than are indeed the second and third, one strongly folk and the other rather featureless, in spite of a beautiful slow movement. But the First Symphony is interesting biographically for two reasons. Over it, to begin with , its composer worked his too-delicate nerves into a state of almost pathological strain that was to recur at intervals all his life.
he suffers from insomnia, a sensation of hammering in the head, and even hallucinations; and so painful was the whole experience that he never again composed at night. Of more importance is the vivid example his symphony give us of the contrast between his passionately narrow attitude in personal relations and his magnanimity and candour whenever he could get away from that stifling atmosphere into the free air of impersonal art. His eager wish for a performance of the symphony in St. Petersburg, where his works had so far been badly received, was peremptorily refused by his old teacher, Anton Rubinstein. Here was the kind of slight that any composer finds hard, but above all a morbidly shy man like Peter Ilyich, which his easily hurt pride. This was the last straw, writes Evans-he never forgave Anton Rubinstein-he included din his dislike of the Directors of the Music Society, the Press and even St.
Petersburg public. It was the last time he asked to have a work performed there. And no doubt this complex, as a psychologist would be justified in calling it, was intensified by the great success of the symphony, a year later, in Moscow, when the young composer was called unexpectedly to the stage-terribly nervous, carelessly dressed, holding his hat in his hand, and making clumsy bows. So much for the personal side. Now for the impersonal. Decades later, hardly more than a year before his death, he was asked for his memories of Rubinstein.
In him, he wrote in answer, I adore not only a great pianist and composer but a man of rare nobility, frank, loyal, generous, incapable of petty and vulgar sentiments . . . a man who towered far above the common herd. .
. . I took him an overture,The Storm, guilty of all kinds of whims of form and orchestration. He was hurt, and said that it was not for the development of imbeciles that he took the trouble to teach composition. I left the Conservatory full of gratitude for my professor. Those who patronizingly regard Tchaikovsky as a neurotic will do well to ask themselves how many artists there have ever been who would be capable of such a disinterested detachment.
But he goes further. I have always regarded him, he continues, as the greatest of artists and the noblest of men, but I shall never become his friend. . . .
It would be difficult to explain the reason. I think my amour propre as a composer has a great deal to do with it. in my youth I was impatient to make my way. . .
. Painful as it is, I must confess that he did nothing, absolutely nothing, to forward my plans. The most probably explanation of this mortifying luke-warmness is that Rubinstein does not care for my music, that my musical temperament is antipathetic to him. [ Tchaikovsky’s own italics.] I still see him from time to time, ends the letter, and always with pleasure. At the time of his jubilee I had the happiness of going through much trouble and fatigue for him.
. . . If I have told too little it is not my fault, nor that of Anton, but of fatality. Another letter equally lovable in its magnanimity is the long one-to long to quote here-of Jan.
5 1878, to his benefactress, Nadejda von Meck, about the Russian Nationalists or Kutschka (literally Bunch) of St. Petersburg, placed by circumstances and to some extent by tastes in opposition to himself and his Moscow fellows, but always treated with consideration by him. The essence of the opposition was that of Kutschka-Balakireff [sometimes spelled as Balakirev], Rimsky-Korsakoff, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Cesar Cui-were fanatical Nationalists, believed that music began and ended with folk song, were all, except Rimsky, rather amateurish in technique, and …