Happy Tchaikovsky’s birthday!
today at 10:42 am
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 at the end of the post 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.
Music and language