Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr (that's Russian for "Peter") was born in Russia on May 7th, 1840. He's considered one of the greatest Russian composers of all time and wrote music in the Romantic style. Although his music was all composed about 150 years ago, we still hear it often today!
Let's start off the month with a "bang!" This is one of the most famous (and noisiest!) pieces of classical music ever, "The 1812 Overture." It is written for full symphony orchestra along with canons! (This recording even has fireworks!) Have you heard this music before? It is often used in fireworks shows, commercials and movies.
Tchaikovsky's parents did not want him to grow up to be a musician; instead they wanted him to get a steady job working for the government. But Tchaikovsky loved music. He studied piano as a child, and started composing his own music by the time he was 14 years old. Despite people not believing in him at first, he would go on to be one of the most famous composers in the world. Although he his most famous for his music for orchestra, he played the piano for his whole life.
Another one of Tchaikovsky's most famous compositions features the piano as a soloist. This video is the opening section of the first Piano Concertos that Tchaikovsky composed, and it is among the most famous of all piano concertos! Remember, a concerto is a piece for orchestra with a featured soloist, and in this concerto the pianist really gets to show off!
Tchaikovsky's life was full of relationships with interesting people. One of the most important friendships in his life was with a woman he never met! It's not easy for composers to earn very much money, but a wealthy woman named Nadezha von Meck decided to help Tchaikovsky by sending him money on one condition: that they never meet in person! These two penpals exchanged letters (and she sent him checks) for 13 years. In exchange for the checks, Tchaikovsky wrote a lot of beautiful music for von Meck to enjoy.
Tchaikovsky dedicated his Fourth Symphony to this interesting woman. This symphony has 4 movements, and the third movement is a "Scherzo" (remember, that means "Joke" in Italian!). Most of this movement features the string instruments from the orchestra playing pizzicato (plucking their strings instead of using their bow). Listen to the exciting sound that creates!
Did you know that Tchaikovsky wrote a piano piece in honor of each month of the year? Listen to "May" and think about the subtitle for this piece: "Starlit Night." Does this music sound like a peaceful Spring night to you?
If you were to compose a song that sounds like the month of May, what kind of music would you write? (Optional Bonus Activity: If you are interested in creating your own music, write a song about the month of May and share it with your teacher!)
Tchaikovsky became famous not only for his symphonies and piano music, but for his music for ballet. A ballet, like an opera, is a long composition that tells a story through music. In both opera and ballet costumes and stage decoration are very important. in opera the story is told through singing but in ballet the story is told through dance!
Tchaikovsky has several very famous ballets, but "The Nutcracker" is performed more than all of them! This ballet is a Christmas story, and our local ballet performs it every December. "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is a well known piece from the ballet.
Have you ever been to see a ballet before? Or have you (or a sibling) taken ballet lessons before?
Did you know that in the year 1889 Tchaikovsky wrote the music for a ballet called "Sleeping Beauty"? This ballet tells the story of the same Princess Aurora as in the 1959 Disney movie "Sleeping Beauty". Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" was so famous that Disney "borrowed" some of Tchaikovsky's music to include in the the movie.
Listen to this "Waltz" performed by a traditional ballet company. Then listen to the song "Once Upon a Dream" that the Disney movie based on the same music! (Also notice how the couple dances a waltz in the middle of the Disney version!)
Tchaikovsky's music often tells a story. Even his music without words or dancing can tell a story. Another one of Tchaikovsky's most famous pieces is a composition based on the story of Romeo and Juliet. This is a long piece, but the most exciting part of the story happens in the section featured in this video.
Romeo and Juliet is a famous love story. Do you think the music for this part of the story is when they first fall in love?!
At the beginning of the month you listened to the beginning of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. We're going to end this month by listening to the "Finale" (or end) of his Violin Concerto. This piece is full of excitement and energy!
This video features the entire "Finale" and shows what it's like to record music in a professional recording studio. Have you ever heard or watched a recording of yourself playing music?
Thanks for listening to Tchaikovsky's music!
Hearing some of the music by this composer was one of the things that got me interested in classical music as a kid. I remember my grandparents taking me to a performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 at the Seattle Symphony; I was captivated by this beautiful music! I hope you enjoyed it, too!