On this day - 7th May 1840: Tchaikovsky born

Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky was born on this day in 1840. 

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

By Charles Reutlinger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Composer of such well known family favourites as the Swan Lake the Nutcracker Ballets, Tchaikovsky was also the first ever full time Russian career composer. Patronage from a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Meck, gave his the freedom to compose and he devoted and majority of his life to his works leaving behind a rich legacy that is popular world over. Interestingly it was not appreciated by all Russians, many of whom felt that he had succumbed too strongly to Western influences and neglected to emphasis his Russian musical heritage. Conversely a great many Westerners did not enjoy his music feeling that it was all too Russian for their tastes. He had melded together two very different worlds and sadly for him, at the time, much of his efforts went un-applauded. This left him in a very lonely position. Trapped between two worlds and finding little solace in between. 

Nutcracker Scene from Act I -Sergei Legat as Nutcracker 1892 cropped

Photo of 1892 production of The Nutcracker in St Petersburg
By Unknown 19th century Russian photographer (Mariinsky Theatre Archives)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He continued, throughout his life, a horribly lonely person. The tortured artist is a phrase often used to describe countless creatives who have blessed the world with their brilliance whilst being sadly unable to fully enjoy it themselves. Tchaikovsky was certainly in this ilk. Brilliant he may have been but happy he was not. Unable to find real musical recognition, he was perpetually viewed as the ‘other’ both by his Russian compatriots and by Western audiences. His loneliness became profound, heightened no doubt by his homosexuality which, of course, could never be made public. Although he had several affairs with men, he also married a woman, possibly to keep up a pretence for his family and it ended in total disaster. His saving grace was the close bond he formed with Nadezhda von Meck who was one of Tchaikovsky’s only real friends. 

Tchaikovsky with wife Antonina Miliukova

Tchaikovsky and his wife, Antonina Milikova, during their brief and disasterous marriage 
Ivan Grigoryevich Dyagovchenko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It seems astonishing to us now, listening to his beautiful music, to imagine that these masterpieces came from anything other that tranquility and unashamed happiness however, if you look closely, all the clues to his misery are apparently woven neatly into the notes. People much cleverer than me have spent years studying his music and the general theory is that his music is quite littered with expressions of his heartfelt pain. It feels Sherlock Holmes. Clues to the past written in musical code to be deciphered by deer stalker donning academics decades later. Love it! 

Peter Tschaikowski

By: Nikolai Dimitriyevich Kuznetsov (1850 - 1929) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I asked a musical gifted friend to explain Tchaikovsky to me she told me that it was all in the Sixth Symphony and if I listened to that I would understand him. I duly listened and to be honest I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about but then she is far more intelligent that I am. After receiving more Tchaikovsky instruction however, I was armed and ready to know what to look for and I think I sort of got it. There is a real expression of loneliness in amongst his music and you can feel a longing there for something he didn’t have. A forbidden love, musical recognition, the ability to really fit in. These were all things he was desperate for and music was his only way of expressing that. It is tragic that today we get so much enjoyment from something that caused him so much pain but it is a reminder to us all that all around us everyday there are people feeling lonely. People without anyone to turn to. Not everyone can be a Tchaikovsky but everyone has the ability to feel lost in this world and it doesn’t cost us anything to welcome them with a smile, reach out a hand to someone in trouble, share a momentary laugh with a stranger. There are a million ways to make the world a better place. Sharing happiness seems a pretty good start to me. 

Tchaikovksy's signature

Tchaikovsky’s signature
By Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

© Isla Robertson 2017