Happy Tchaikovsky's birthday!

Happy Tchaikovsky's birthday!
Tchaikovsky. Source: pdclipart.org

Repeating to repair video reference. The author regrets the error.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s getting all the noise ahead of the 250th anniversary of his birth, and that’s not even until Dec. 16 (as any long reader of “Peanuts” comics knows). Meanwhile, today is the 18oth anniversary of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s birth (in 1840 — I did the arithmetic so you don’t have to.)

He never wrote a cello concerto, but he’s still my favorite composer, or at least in the top three. Getting handed Tchaikovsky music in the school or university orchestra always made a happy morning — we cellists knew there would be something good for us.

Even if you don’t think you know Tchaikovsky’s music, you may know of it. Who gets through December without hearing at least part of “The Nutcracker”? That’s his, even though it’s been reported (in Disney’s “Fantasia,” no less) that it wasn’t a work he liked. Another piece I loved learning in high school and still enjoy hearing is “Serenade for Strings,” which has a waltz that, to me, is a close second to “Waltz of the Flowers” as his best. “Waltz of the Flowers” has a cello melody in it which is what I play to limber up, or when I don’t know what else to play.

When I was in the high school orchestra, Tchaikovsky won my admiration for making even playing scales beautiful. We’ve had a bit on our minds since Christmastime, so here is a reminder of how he did that — the pas de deux from “The Nutcracker.”

My copy of the New Harvard Dictionary of Music reminds me that pas de deux is a dance for two dancers. (“Pas” is a dance step; “faux pas” isn’t just a false step, it’s a false dance step. Ow, my toes.)

I will be celebrating  by listening to plenty of Tchaikovsky on my CD player, my record player, and, yes, my cello. Tchaikovsky didn’t write a concerto among the lovely things he wrote for cello, but he did write “Variations on a Rococo Theme” — which might as well be his concerto; it’s difficult enough. I keep trying to add to the parts of it I can play, but the ones I already know are great comforts, especially the next-to-last variation. (The link is to a YouTube version of my favorite CD recording of the piece.)

So happy Tchaikovsky’s birthday, and happy exploring his music.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. 


Filed under: Music and language


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  • Thank you for reminding us of the birthday. I have to agree with Tchaikovsky that the Nutcracker is not among his best works. Even among his ballet music, Swan Lake with its two wonderful violin solos far surpasses it. Then there is the Pathetique symphony….

    I can see why, as a cellist, you liked Tchaikovsky even if he did not write a concerto for the instrument. The cello is central to his warm-to-tragic string sound.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    You're welcome, jnorto. The rococo variations are close enough to a concerto for me . No offense taken about your preference for "Swan Lake" over "The Nutcracker" -- I certainly don't mind "Swan Lake," I just don't have as long a history with it. The cello solo in "Waltz of the Flowers" (the milkweeds and orange leaves in "Fantasia") is my longtime favorite for cheering myself up and limbering up for playing, so it'll always be precious. If you're looking for "new" Tchaikovsky, I encourage you to try the variations (linked in the post). It has great flute and violin passages along with a challenging and cheerful cello part. Happy listening.

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