Quoted in Hans Gal, The Musician's World (1965)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky quotes
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Birthdate: 25. April 1840
Date of death: 25. October 1893
Other names: Petr I. Čajkovskij, Петр Ильич Чайковский
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the Romantic period. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. He was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension.
Although musically precocious, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant. There was scant opportunity for a musical career in Russia at that time and no system of public music education. When an opportunity for such an education arose, he entered the nascent Saint Petersburg Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1865. The formal Western-oriented teaching he received there set him apart from composers of the contemporary nationalist movement embodied by the Russian composers of The Five, with whom his professional relationship was mixed. Tchaikovsky's training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood. From this reconciliation he forged a personal but unmistakably Russian style—a task that did not prove easy. The principles that governed melody, harmony and other fundamentals of Russian music ran completely counter to those that governed Western European music; this seemed to defeat the potential for using Russian music in large-scale Western composition or for forming a composite style, and it caused personal antipathies that dented Tchaikovsky's self-confidence. Russian culture exhibited a split personality, with its native and adopted elements having drifted apart increasingly since the time of Peter the Great. This resulted in uncertainty among the intelligentsia about the country's national identity—an ambiguity mirrored in Tchaikovsky's career.
Despite his many popular successes, Tchaikovsky's life was punctuated by personal crises and depression. Contributory factors included his early separation from his mother for boarding school followed by his mother's early death, the death of his close friend and colleague Nikolai Rubinstein, and the collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, which was his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck who was his patron even though they never actually met each other. His homosexuality, which he kept private, has traditionally also been considered a major factor, though some musicologists now downplay its importance. Tchaikovsky's sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera; there is an ongoing debate as to whether cholera was indeed the cause of death, and whether his death was accidental or self-inflicted.
While his music has remained popular among audiences, critical opinions were initially mixed. Some Russians did not feel it was sufficiently representative of native musical values and expressed suspicion that Europeans accepted the music for its Western elements. In an apparent reinforcement of the latter claim, some Europeans lauded Tchaikovsky for offering music more substantive than base exoticism and said he transcended stereotypes of Russian classical music. Others dismissed Tchaikovsky's music as "lacking in elevated thought", according to longtime New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg, and derided its formal workings as deficient because they did not stringently follow Western principles.
Quotes Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
„What I need is to believe in myself again— for my faith has been greatly undermined; it seems to me my role is over.“
Letter to a nephew (9 February 1893) Just prior to composing his "Pathetique" Symphony (No. 6)
„Just as I was starting on my journey the idea came to me for a new symphony, this time with a program, but a program which will remain an enigma to all— let them guess it who can. It will be called "A Programmatic Symphony" (No. 6). During my trip, while composing in my mind, I frequently shed tears. When I got home I settled down to sketch it, and the work went so furiously that I had the first movement completely ready in less than four days and the remaining movements are already clearly outlined in my head. Half the third movement is already done. There will be much innovation of form in this symphony— and incidentally, the finale will not be a noisy allegro but, on the contrary, a long drawn-out adagio. You can't imagine what bliss I feel, being convinced that my time is not yet passed and I can still work. Perhaps, of course, I'm mistaken, but I don't think so.“
Letter to a nephew (late February 1893)
„I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard! It annoys me that this self-inflated mediocrity is hailed as a genius.“
Diary entry for October 9, 1886, quoted in Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective (1953), p. 73.