Saturday, May 7, 2011
Reason to Go Mad
Time for another music homage. Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky was born of this date in 1840. For me, among the great composers, Tchaikovsky is the great storyteller, the master of narrative music. His compositions develop a premise, regardless of compositional structure: ballet, concerto, symphony, or tone poem. When you listen to his music, there is a progression of conflict and resolution, an intensification of emotion leading to catharsis.
This goes beyond mere program music. In the case of such music, the narrative is made explicit. Yeah, Tchaikovsky does this too, see the 1812 Overture or Romeo and Juliet.
His influence is still with us, in the form of modern movie scores and soundtracks. And that's why he is so accessible to the contemporary ear. For many modern listeners, the music of Bach, Chopin, Mozart, and Schubert requires some mental focus to appreciate, a effort that many are not willing to expend. But because of its lyric narrative, Tchaikovsky's music sneaks up on the listener. The stories that they tell are timeless and universal.
I can go on and on with the importance of narrative, but I'll let the music speak for itself. In each of these pieces, asks what is this music "about"? They are arranged in increasing order of abstraction.
Alright, Swan Lake is an gimme. But listen again but with your eyes closed? Does the narrative change?
1812 tells a clear tale of battle and triumph. That's obvious, but take note of how the music tells the story.
This one's a bit tougher. There is no clearly stated "plot" focus, but there is a "setting" clue, a Rococo theme upon which variations are played. So, what is it "about"?
Yeah, it's called Souvenir de Florence, but is that related to its narrative? If not, what is the it about???
Anyways, we could play this game all day long and then some. But I encourage you to give Tchaikovsky some time. There is a lot to explore. There is much to learn. And there is a great deal of Beauty to enjoy.
Here's Tchaikovsky's Wikipedia page.
Here's a link to the American Ballet Theatre.