Friday, May 7, 2010


Today is the composer Tchaikovsky's 170th birthday! (once again, thanks to Google icons for the reminder.) Since he is a pretty big figure in the world of fairy tales being made into ballets, and I have birthdays on the mind since my own was yesterday, I thought I'd do a little tribute to him. (Heidi of Surlalune also has a birthday this weekend. Quite the weekend! Good enough excuse as any to eat cake.)

Tchaikovsky, born on THIS VERY DATE in 1840, was an incredibly sensitive and weepy child. His nurse referred to him as a "child of glass." To this I can relate-I was also oversensitive as a child and my mother (who doubled as my piano teacher) wrote a little piece for me to play at a piano recital called "My China Doll." However, bearing similarities to Tchaikovsky isn't exactly something to be proud of.

Tchaikovksy started out in law and started music relatively later in life (at 21). He was horrible with money (he had to borrow money from his servant) and had a paranoia that his head would fall off while conducting, so he conducted with one hand and held his head with another. Like many great composers, critics hated his music at first. As far as his love life goes, he had an infatuation with soprano Desiree Artot, who married someone else. He was later married to Antonina Miliukova for a whopping nine weeks (bad even by celebrity marriage standards), but not surprising considering he was a closet homosexual. The marriage resulted in his attempted suicide, and she eventually ended up in an asylum.

However, his career started improving with the comission of Swan Lake in 1894. Below is an excerpt from the score:

The premiere was not well received, due to several non-music related factors, but including the fact that the Russians did not approve of the German fairy tale being used as the basis for the ballet. But with new choreography in 1895, and the introduction of the same dancer dancing both Odette and the enchanted Black Swan Odile, it has become a standard in the ballet repertoire. The excerpt below is Odile's part-note the famous 32 fouettes starting at about 10 minutes.

The original version ended in the death of Odette, as consequence from Seigfried's unwittingly professing love to the wrong woman (Odile). Other versions have added on a true love conquers all ending (If Disney ever created a Swan Lake, we all know which ending they'd choose. But it could hardly be worse than the Barbie Swan Lake, right?).

Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty premiered in 1890, and The Nutcracker was created later. Tchaikovsky himself didn't like his music for Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, which are now both greatly admired. Again, critics were harsh at the premiers, but shows how much critics know- The Nutcracker is the most performed ballet of the Western world.

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