Classical Chat: Is Tchaikovsky's music the soul of Russia?


For many people, Tchaikovsky’s lush and unapologetically romantic and emotional music represents something deeply and inextricably Russian.

This is actually quite curious because of the whole group of Russian composers active in the mid to late 1800s, Tchaikovsky was the one who was no straightforward nationalist.

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Instead he combined the music and culture he was brought up in with lashings of influence from Europe, whether in the Italian touches of his operas or the classic western literature he based his tone poems on.

It was this that led to much of the terrible heartbreak and critical savaging he suffered.

Here are some of the best places to take the plunge into the whirlpool of Tchaikovsky’s music:

Swan Lake: Quite simply Swan Lake revolutionised ballet and it’s still a brilliant score, whether in the doomstruck edge of its best-known music or the charmingly baroque March of the Little Swans.

The Nutcracker Suite: Probably his most famous work, this combines irresistible tunes and energy with the sprinkling of magic and fairy dust in its lighter moments.

Symphony No.4: This is an immediate attention-grabber, with a blaring fate-depicting horn motif. From this, it heads through a disturbing third movement of manic plucking to a crushing finale.

Symphony No.5: An even bigger work if anything, this builds momentum from a fairly desolate opening march to the pulse-pounding Russian big tunes, via some of the his cleverest structures.

Piano Concerto No.1: Yes, it’s the piano concerto with THAT opening, with the famous splashy chords over the keyboard’s entire range. Forget about the logical inconsistencies and curious layout and just surrender to it as the 1800s’ ultimate musical thrill ride.