CHILL WITH TCHAIKOVSKY (Naxos: 8.556785)
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At first glance Tchaikovsky does not seem easily to fit the\Chill" bill. He is known for pieces such as the 1812 Overture, music which isimpassioned and animated in distinctly Russian style, often fiery, evenballistic, and infused with darker moments inspired by the composer's personalturmoil. However he also wrote some of the most beautiful, fragile and etherealballet music that has ever been choreographed, as well as lyrical slowsymphonic movements and haunting songs. His unique talent lay in his inspiredand inventive use of melody, seen at its best in works such as the Nutcrackerwith its myriad infectious tunes. Many of Tchaikovsky's melodies are based onfolksongs he collected, predominantly Russian and Ukrainian but also Polish,Italian, Spanish and French (this last seen in the Piano Concerto No. 1, inthis collection).
Tchaikovsky is a troubled figure in the list of greatcomposers, perhaps more so than most. He was a highly sensitive child, prone toshyness and anxiousness, and the death of his beloved mother when he was 14further compounded these traits. His later life brought public accusations ofhomosexuality, leading him to enter hastily into marriage with an admirer ofhis music whom he barely knew, a marriage which failed almost immediately whenthe composer found himself physically repulsed by his wife. The stress of thisepisode, coupled with his lifelong attempts to conceal his homosexuality, ledto several nervous breakdowns and an attempt at suicide. However a moreconstructive platonic relationship soon followed in the form of Nadezhda vonMeck, a wealthy benefactress whose patronage of Tchaikovsky allowed thecomposer to abandon his teaching and concentrate exclusively on composition.
Her only stipulation: that the two never met, and accordingly they correspondedintimately by letter from 1876 until 1890, a relationship which provided amuch-needed stability and emotional support for the neurotic composer.
Although music allowed him an outlet for his emotions, as acomposer Tchaikovsky found himself somewhat out of place with hiscontemporaries: the group of Russian composers known as the "Mighty Handful"(Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, Balakirev and Mussorgsky) often fiercelycriticised Tchaikovsky and his music for its lack of nationalism. While theywere proudly self-taught and set great store by use of Russian folksong inpurely Russian idioms, Tchaikovsky chose to use Russian influences but inWestern forms, learned during his time at the St Petersburg conservatory.
Ironically, Stravinsky later called him "the most Russian of us all", and formany Tchaikovsky remains the Russian composer, leaving a legacy of incomparablybeautiful and powerful music with Russian nationalism at its very heart.
The Sleeping Beauty Op. 66: Entrance of the Good Fairies
Despite Swan Lake's rather lukewarm reception eleven yearsbefore, when Tchaikovsky was asked by the Director of the Imperial Theatres inSt Petersburg to provide the music for a ballet based on the Perrault fairytaleLa belle au bois dormant he was immediately enthusiastic, writing: "Itsuits me perfectly, and I couldn't ask for anything better than to compose themusic for it." The Tsar attended the dress rehearsal and damned it withfaint praise, calling it "very nice", yet Sleeping Beauty was aninstant success with the public and has often been described as the greatestballet score ever written.
Tohear The Sleeping Beauty in its entirety, try:
8.550490-492 TheSleeping Beauty (3 CDs)
Czecho-SlovakState Philharmonic Orchestra
Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. 19, No. 4
The Nocturne was written in 1873 and was originally intendedfor piano, although Tchaikovsky himself arranged it in the version we hear herefor cello and orchestra, probably as a result of his meeting in Paris with ayoung Russian cellist, Anatoly Brandukov whom he greatly admired. This is oneof many pieces Tchaikovsky wrote to aid children learning the piano.
Tohear the Nocturne in C sharp minor in its original arrangement for piano, try:
8.553330 PianoMusic, Vol. 2
Tracks 3, 4, 5 and 13
Nutcracker: Danse Arabe / Danse Chinoise / Danse desmirlitons / Danse de la fee
Nutcracker was written to a text by E.T.A. Hoffmann (acelebrated writer of grotesque horror stories) and concerns a little girl,Clara, who is given a toy nutcracker in the shape of a soldier for Christmas bya mysterious guest at her parents' party. The Nutcracker comes alive during thenight along with the other toys and leads a battle against an army of mice.
Clara saves the Nutcracker as he is about to be defeated by the Mouse King andwitnesses his transformation into a handsome prince. In gratitude the Princetransports Clara to his kingdom, Confiturenburg, a magical land of sweets.
Nutcracker was not an immediate success, but has sincebecome one of Tchaikovsky's best-known works and a perennial Christmasfavourite. The two pieces included here are both taken from the NutcrackerSuite, a collection of eight of the most popular short pieces from the ballet,compiled to enable them to be performed as concert pieces without a full balletproduction. Danse arabe has an elegant swaying 3/4 rhythm with muted stringsand soft woodwind providing an vivid picture of an exotic Arabian dance, whilethe dainty Dance de la fee(Danceof the Sugar-Plum Fairy) employs the celeste as its principal instrument, aninstrument which had only recently been invented at the time and whichTchaikovsky had heard while on a trip to Paris.
Tohear the Nutcracker Suite along with another of Tchaikovsky's ballets, SwanLake, try:
8.553271 Nutcracker(Highlights); Swan Lake (Highlights)
SlovakPhilharmonic Orchestra, Slovak Symphony Orchestra
OndrejLenard / Michael Halasz
Fora narrated version of Nutcracker, try:
8.555342 Nutcracker(paired with Rimsky-Korsakov: Christmas Ev