Trying to escape convention and banality

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Orchestral or chamber music? © Charles Thibo

“It does seem to me, though, that if you insist, with relentless consistency, in sticking to the same compositional techniques when writing symphonies, string quartets, and operas, the results will hardly be as successful. However, I truly do not know. All I know is that you have a great talent, a lot of intelligence, and a whole sea of hatred for everything that is conventional, banal, and to be had cheaply, and that as a result of this we must sooner or later expect to see rich fruits.” Thus the master spoke. Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote on April 14, 1884, in a letter to Sergei Taneyev, his former pupil, what he thought of Taneyev’s latest work, a cantata. Taneyev was fascinated by counterpoint technique and naturally applied it to his multiple choral works.

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Tchaikovsky finds inspiration in Lalo’s work

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Awkwardly beautiful. © Charles Thibo

Do you know Lalo? Of course you do, you have met him in a post two weeks ago! Edouard Lalo composed a piece called “Symphonie Espagnole” (Spanish Symphony) which inspired Pyotr Tchaikovsky to write his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. “Do you know the “Symphonie Espagnole” of the French composer Lalo?”, Tchaikovsky asks in a letter his patron Nadezhda von Meck in March 1878. “I liked this work very much. A lot of freshness, spiking rhythms, beautiful melodies with remarkable harmonies.” All this can be said about Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.

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Travelling and dreaming with the poet-warrior

Antar ibn Shaddad
Antar ibn Shaddad, poet and warrior.

I have sailed through the Street of Hormuz with Sindbad in an earlier post, today I will cross the Iraqi desert and dream of the beautiful palaces of Palmyra recently vandalized by extremists supposedly inspired by Islam. On the road then with Antar ibn Shaddad, an Arab pre-islamic poet and warrior (525-615 AC) of the tribe of the Beni ‘Abs. His history has been narrated by the 19th century fantasy writer Osip Senkovsky, which in turn has been set to music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1867/68 in his Symphony No. 2, Op. 9.

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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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