Murder, madness and stirring melodies

Delusions. © Charles Thibo

“Du blanc, rien que du blanc! Je suis la mariée!”1 Ophelia has lost herself once more in her delusions. The grief over the death of her father Polonius, killed inadvertently by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has driven her crazy. What a tragedy! While Hamlet feigns to be mad to plan in secrecy the death of King Claudius, brother and murderer of Hamlet’s father, Ophelia, the woman he loves, has succumbed to true madness because her father Polonius’s death through Hamlet’s hand. William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” is one of my favourites, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky has composed in January 1891 a wonderful incidental music inspired by the play.

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A song, a dance and the spirit of Russia

© Charles Thibo

Few symphonies have such a characteristic introduction – once you’ve heard it, you will recognize it at once. And from the texture of the introduction you will know the name of the composer: Pyotr Tchaikovsky. I marvel at this symphony’s beauty, at its dynamics, its melodic lines, its lyricism – a song, a dance, all imbued by the spirit of Russia: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.  And I love the recording by the Russian National Orchestra under Mikhail Pletnev.

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Twelve miniatures for a handful of rubles

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December. © Charles Thibo

The passing of the year – quite a number of composers took this as an inspiration. Antonio Vivaldi did it, of course, with his violin concertos known as “Le Quattro Stagioni”, then Fanny Mendelssohn leading us with her piano cycle “Das Jahr” from month to month. Just like Fanny Tchaikovsky leads us through the year in 12 piano pieces grouped in the cycle “The Seasons”, Op. 37. The pieces had been commissioned by the St. Petersburg music journal “Nuvellist” (Нувеллист). Each piece has a title emphasizing an emotion or an event, each is introduced in the original publication by an epitaph and accompanied by an illustration.

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A little Chopin, a little Tchaikovsky

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Dancing in the wind.  © Charles Thibo

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s biggest composition for piano was the last of that type of work. And will you believe it, I was unaware of its existence! Shame on me! At the same time, I considered myself lucky. Daniil Trifonov was expected in town last Saturday night at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg to play a part of it. In April 1873, within a little over two weeks, Tchaikovsky wrote a piano cycle of the name of “18 Pieces” (Op. 72), and Trifonov would have performed “Un poco di Chopin” (nb. 15), a lovely, joyful tune… if he hadn’t fallen ill! The recital was canceled at the last minute. However, Trifonov’s programme had sparked my curiosity, and I bought a recording of the full set performed with Claudio Colombo. And what I got was a highly pleasant surprise. Such light-heartedness music from a notoriously depressed and self-pitying composer!

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