If you don’t recognize at least one of these, you have been in hiding, I do believe. Everyone, it seems, knows The Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky. Tavener may be a bit more unfamiliar to you, though he is a contemporary composer.
John Tavener is an English composer who was born in 1945. He writes music that is highly influenced by the spirituality of the Russian Orthodox Church. He studied music at the Royal Academy of Music, taking the world by storm with a cantata written in 1968 and titled The Whale. His music is quite original and fuses the peace and beauty of eastern influenced music (long chant passages, clear harmonic tranquility, a stillness to the music) with the more active spirit of western influenced music. Before his death in 2013, he wrote a large amount of choral music, with a fewer number of intrumental pieces. He wrote some music that was used in films but he was still mostly influenced by religious thought, practice, and liturgy. Likely his most famous piece is Song for Athene. It was written not for the goddess, as many suppose, but in memory of a family friend who died. He wrote it combining the text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with the Orthodox funeral service. It was written in 1993, starting very quiet and ending a great deal louder to go from barely noticed to completely overtaking the listener’s attention. The piece is quiet beautiful so it is understandable that is was used during the funeral service of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. It became quite well known after that event.
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky is a Russian composer whose music is known and loved around the world, though it would have come as a surprise to the composer himself and the critics of his time. Tchaikovsky lived from 1840 to 1893 and came to music after a short career as a law clerk. He did study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, developing strong composition techniques. He developed a large output of music, much of which is largely unknown. His commonly acknowledged works include mostly his ballet scores. In the time of Tchaikovsky, writing for a ballet was considered akin to creating what we would likely call “elevator music” or “background music.” Tchaikovsky’s work, though elevated it to the point that it takes almost a starring role with the dancers and the story. This is hard to see, though, when we consider that his first ballets, including Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, were considered a disaster and the music a failure. As we now know, this was not a long-lived opinion and we are able to enjoy these ballets, as well as The Sleeping Beauty.
Tchaikovsky wrote a wide variety of music in addition to the ballets. This included symphonies, operas, suites, piano concertos, a violin concerto, overtures, cantatas, choral works, string quartets, a string sextet, and more than 100 songs and piano pieces. With this large a body of works, it seems strange that we don’t really know a whole lot more of his music. His deep, rich harmonies accompanying the soaring, proud melodies of his music call out to be known. Some say that one reason the critics disliked Tchaikovsky was that people would often leave the concert humming or whistling the melody and that made it not sophisticated enough. Consider listening to The Tempest (based on Shakespeare’s play), Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”), Symphony No. 3, Rococo Varioations or any of his other pieces. Don’t forget to look up his ballet scores, which I am not sharing here because they are quite common. Instead, we’ll look at a couple of other pieces of his that are wonderful to listen to.
1812 Overture was written as a patriotic showcase. It is written for public occasions and while it is not considered his “deepest” work, it is an enjoyable one.
Romeo and Juliet was based off of the Shakespeare play by the same name. It is even based in form on the play, resembling very closely a sonata form. It was originally written in 1870 but was revised several times. This pieces represents some of Tchaikovsky’s genius in that the music is a story, pushing the drama to the forefront of the orchestra’s sound. Even if you don’t recognize the title, you’ll recognize some of the themes, especially as the drama comes to a close (the last 5 minutes or so).
Marche Slave is another of his patriotic pieces that shows his ability to harness melody and harmony to bring about excitement and patriotism. The melodic themes from this piece are so memorable. Enjoy.
Lori, At Home.
Composer ABCs in this series:
A – Leroy Anderson
B – Bernstein, Bizet, Bax
C – Copland
D – Debussy and de Meij
E – Elgar
F – Fauré
G – Grainger and Ginastera
H – Holst
I – Ives
J – Joplin and Janacek
K – Kern
L – Liszt
M – Mussorgsky
N – Nelson
O – Offenbach
P – Palestrina and Prokofiev
Q – Quilter
R – Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Ravel
S – Saint-Saëns, Shostakovich, Still, Smetana, Sibelius
Featured from last week the letter P…
- S is for Sea and S is for States (board games) over at Our Homeschool Notebook
- Science in your Homeschool at Every Bed of Roses
- Letter S Homeschool Tips from Homeschooling Highway
- Discovering the “S” rabbits of the world of the World over At Home Pets.
- Shelving Baby Rabbits and S is for Skating over at A Net in Time.