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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Great Composers (BBC TV Series)
Excerpts from:
Romeo and Juliet [1869]
Eugene Onegin [1877-8]
Queen of Spades [1890]
Swan Lake [1875-6]
Symphony No. 2 in C minor ‘Little Russian’ [1872]
Symphony No. 4 in F minor [1877-8]
Symphony No. 5 E minor [1888]
Symphony No. 6 in B minor ‘Pathétique’[1893]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor [1874-5]
Violin Concerto in D major [1878]
The Seasons [1875-6]
Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh
Performed by: Evgeny Kissin (piano); Maxim Vengerov (violin); Natalia Makarova (prima ballerina); St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Termirkanov
Contributors include: David Brown; Evgeny Kissin; Maxim Vengerov; Natalia Makerova; Yuri Temirkanov; Graham Vick; Valery Gergiev.
BBC broadcast in January 1998
WARNER MUSIC/NVC ARTS/BBC 50-51011-5451-2 [58:00]

Tchaikovsky had the courage to be open from the bottom of his heart - Yuri Termikanov, Music Director, St Petersburg Philharmonic
Yes, and it is so, implicit in Tchaikovsky’s melodic, dramatic music that speaks directly to our hearts and spirits. It is this appealing directness, appreciated especially when we are starting to learn about classical music, which has led some commentators to dismiss his music as inferior. Not so. As his biographer, David Brown, sagely comments in this documentary:
“I set out to write a one-volume book on Tchaikovsky over four years, I ended up by writing four books over sixteen years: I simply hadn’t realised how great a composer he was.”
David Brown makes a major contribution to this film and yet he is scarcely credited in the wholly inadequate one page sleeve for this DVD. But, enough, I have complained about NVC Arts packaging on too many other occasions!
Much of the film was shot in St Petersburg. The constant close-ups of the Tchaikovsky-loving St Petersburg tram driver is rather disconcerting – one would have liked to see more of the City, exteriors of the Maryinsky theatre and the Conservatoire for instance. But you do see something of many St Petersburg locations, places connected with the composer’s career such as the home of the Imperial Ballet that premiered Tchaikovsky’s ballets like Swan Lake and the School of Jurisprudence where the young Tchaikovsky was sent to study law. It was a hotbed of homosexuality and in all probability nurtured his own orientation in that direction.
Other locations filmed include the house outside Moscow where Tchaikovsky spent the last eighteen months of his life; it has been preserved just as he left it in 1893; and pictures of his childhood home are shown. At this point we are reminded of when he was a small boy complaining of a headache. “It’s the music, the music. Get rid of it for me!” When he was told that there was no music playing he continued, “It’s here in my head. It won’t give me any peace!” Such is the torment of genius and this film does not shrink from discussing the composer’s professional struggles and set-backs and his homosexuality, his tragic marriage of convenience, his strange relationship progressed only through thousands of letters over many years with his benefactor Nadezhda von Meck and the controversy surrounding his death – was it cholera or suicide. No matter; it is the music that counts.
The film has some sublime and telling comments from its contributors: For instance, the lovely and supremely elegant prima ballerina, Natalia Makarova says: “Some people say Tchaikovsky’s music is monotonous and boring – I think it is just the opposite. It is sublime and fulfilling; [to it] somehow my body must sing.” Mikhail Rudy, who plays the Piano Concerto No. 1, explains how Tchaikovsky builds up the music “he constantly changes the music’s accents …he repeats the same pattern of notes, sequences, higher and higher to build up tension…” The great violinist, Maxim Vengerov say that he tries, when playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, to identify with the emotions of the composer’s love for the young male violinist that inspired the work and comments, “Tchaikovsky created something very new, quite revolutionary. He used everything, all the fantastic resources of the violin.” No wonder the work seemed so daunting to violinists at its outset
The musical excerpts are well-chosen and performed with polish and dedication.
An excellent documentary and a splendid introduction to the life and music of a grossly underrated genius.
Ian Lace




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