Taking it easy with Tchaikovsky’s caprice

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Summer! © Charles Thibo

Together with the Overture “1812” the Capriccio Italien (Op. 45) is the earliest work of Pyotr Tchaikovsky that I listened to. They were both on the same recording I got as a teenager for Christmas, the third piece being the Marche Slave. Its introduction is impressive enough for a young, ignorant mind. Trumpets! More brass joining the trumpets. And then the strings, a dramatic, earnest gesture, a hint of melancholy…

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 Peak performance by a “Sunday musician”

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Glow. © Charles Thibo

A clever dilettante, huh? That’s what the composer Sergey Taneyev initially thought about his colleague Alexander Borodin. He later revised his judgment and treated Borodin’s compositions with due respect, which is fortunate since I like both composers equally well. In June 2016 I enjoyed the Russian Borodin Quartet performing Borodin’s second string quartet in Luxembourg, a lovely experience that I discussed in the related post, and now it is about time to have a look at his String Quartet No. 1 in A major.

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Musical austerity derived from Bach’s logic

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Morning aesthetics. © Charles Thibo

A disturbing first movement, a gentle second movement – and the rest will remain a mystery for us for ever. The composer did not finish the work, he set it aside and two years later he was dead. Sergei Taneyev worked in November and December 1913 on the first two parts of his String Trio in B minor. It was one of his last compositions and the last piece of chamber music, his preferred genre, the one in which he excelled. Taneyev was a conservative man in questions of music aesthetics. He found endless opportunities for creativity in contrapuntal* technique, and chamber music gave him the means to express this.

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Tonal instability illustrating the vagaries of life

To fear or not to fear? © Charles Thibo

Restlessness. Tension. Suffering. I feel it the moment I write this post. Pyotr Tchaikovsky must have felt the same way. His music depicts a life in disarray, marked by a troubling uncertainty, a deep personal vulnerability. The music triggers those sensations all the more easily since I am myself tense at the moment, restless, quickly irate. And while moments of joy and happiness pop up every now and then in Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No. 2 in F major (Op. 22), I find it hard not to feel miserable.

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