Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: Tchaikovsky



The Nutcracker Suite
Is not the only thing that
Tchaikovsky composed.

Sure, the 1812;
But dig deeper and you’ll find
Lustrous, stunning gems.

Every Christmastime, the music of Tchaikovsky rings out again, as ballet dancers charm onlookers in the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies and other dance confections.

But there is more to Tchaikovsky than The Nutcracker.  Or the 1812 Overture (turn down your volume before clicking).  Or Swan Lake.

There is the wondrous Violin Concerto in D Major.  And then there are the late symphonies.

Symphonies 4-6 explore the concept of fate, and whether one masters it or yields to it. Tchaikovsky called fate “that tragic power which prevents the yearning for happiness from reaching its goal.”1  Wow.

In his Symphony No. 6, also called the Pathétique, Tchaikovsky breaks the mold of the symphony form.  His first and last movements are slow, which is unusual.  Also unconventional is that the waltz movement is not in standard 3/4 time, but 5/4, making it sound just a little off.  The third movement, the Scherzo, too seems to go a little awry.  In its final movement, the symphony does not end with a flourish, but rather, it fades away.  The symphony ends with repeated muffled bass notes, which then just stop.  To me, this sounds like the final beats of a heart.

Tchaikovsky died nine days after the premiere of the sixth symphony.

There are many fine recordings of the late symphonies.  Conductors whose names kept popping up in my reading were Mravinsky and Karajan.  Mravinsky’s interpretation is deemed intense; Karajan’s, a benchmark.  Other performances by Russian orchestras that I found interesting were conducted by Pletnev and Rostopovich.  Choose your favorite, and get ready for an unforgettable experience.

If you want to hear Tchaikovsky’s voice, fortunately, we have a small snippet.

If you want to read more about Tchaikovsky, here are two free books that are available online.  First, The Life and Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, by Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modeste. Second, Tchaikovsky by Edwin Evans, available free via Google Books or Internet Archive.  Also see the Tchaikovsky Research webpageIf you can read Russian, you can find a number of Tchaikovsky’s manuscripts here.


  1. Libbey, Ted. The NPR Guide To Building a Classical CD Collection. New York: Workman Press, 1994, p. 188, 189-192.
  2. Kozinn, Allan, The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music. New York: Times Books, 2004, pp 147-150.


Image attribution: Photograph of Tchaikovsky [public domain] from book Tchaikovsky by Edwin Evans.  London:  J.M. Dent & Co., New York:E.P. Dutton & Co., 1906


2 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: Tchaikovsky

  1. The Mravinsky is spectacular. Thanks for bringing that today!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pleasure–I thought so too. He pulled out all the stops without being cloying. I’m really hoping to get some time to compare and contrast.


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