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Album for the Young

By Flor de Liz Fierro

Album for the Young Op. 39

Tchaikovsky composed this album during the summer of 1878, during his briefly visit in Kamenka with his nephew’s family. The composer was inspired by the delightful environment of the town, as well as the nice company of his family, and was during this time, that he began composing this album as a desperate need to provide music for Russian children. 

Tchaikovsky is considered the first Russian composer who wrote artistic pieces for children’s education. In some letters, Tchaikovsky has shown his interest in the subject wrote:

“Childhood is exceptionally important in everybody’s life, those artistic delights that we have received in our youth are going to be remembered during the whole life”

The twenty-four easy pieces conted in this album, have titles that describes many subjects in children’s lives like games, toys, travel stories and pranks. Most of them have a playful character. The tittles are very descriptive, like “The Little Horseman”, “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, “The New Dolly”, “The Nurse’s Tale”, “The Witch”, among others. 

The album is dedicated to his little nephew, Volodya Davydov of seven years old, who showed great interest in piano at that time.

Tchaikovsky was doing the Nutcracker ballet while he was composing this cycle of pieces. For that reason, some of the pieces contain musical elements very similar to the Nutcracker music. 

It is interesting to know the pedagogical, technical and musical perspectives that Tchaikovsky had on the pieces in the album. I am going to analyze the pieces No. 5 “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, No. 19 “The Nurse’s Tale”, and No. 22 “Song of the Lark.”

No. 5 “March of the Wooden Soldiers” 

This piece is written in D major, in a march style. With 2/4 meter and with strict rhythmical figures that help to create an image of wooden and stiffness. It is in a ternary form (ABA). It has a lively and humorous character, and alludes a scene of a toy’s procession. 

The technical difficulties are the dotted rhythms in both hands, and keeping the characteristic march style. The tenor harmonizes a third below the soprano, and the dotted eight-note is used frequently. These elements need to be emphasized and held for a full duration to acquire the character of the piece. To develop the rhythmic accuracy, it is important to focus on the sixteenth rests and articulating the sixteenth notes on the upbeat. To make the playful and stiff character, the student could play staccato. 

In measure 8, the repeated notes imitate the sound of a drum, and the soldier’s steps. Here, it is recommended to the student to change the fingering (4321).

No. 19 “The Nurse’s Tale”

Composed in C major, this piece represents a magical fairy tale told by a nurse. Contains many accidentals and also tritones that creates a strange, mysterious and at the same time, a magical world. In measures 25-29 depicts scared children due to the constant C that creates an environment of tension. The piece is in ABA form. The frequent chord changes, could be hard for students at first time, as well as highlighting the voicing and dynamics. The staccatos provide a playful character. It could be good for the student to imagine the antics and humor that the story tells, and also that they are helping the nurse tell the story. That will arouse their curiosity and they will be excited to play the piece.

No. 22 “Song of the Lark”

This piece represents the lark, which is a symbol of spring. It is also one of the favorite elements used by Russian composers. It is in G major, and Tchaikovsky uses the triplets and grace notes in the first section to portray larks flying and singing in the sky. This piece is in ABA form with a little coda at the end. It has a lively and mellow character. In general, the piece provides a bright texture, but in the middle of  piece, the texture changes and the melody sounds more mysterious and sad. The technical difficulties in this piece are the triplets and the grace notes. These triplets need to be played very quickly and fluently, as an imitation of the lark’s movement. The phrases usually end with staccato eighth notes, and could be played by just bouncing off the keys. 

The grace notes could be played rapidly and lightly, to create that delicate, bright, and shiny sound. 

This piece has the same rhythmic elements as the March “Song of the lark” in Tchaikovsky’s Seasons. It is evident that the composer relied his first work to create this major mode version of the March. 

Even though Tchaikovsky’s piano music is not very well known, it is evident that this music is valuable in musical and pedagogical elements that can help with the introduction of classical music to children, as well as promoting better and easy understanding of the musical style of the composer, which can be applied from elementary, intermediate and late intermediate level. 


Hao, Chenyang. “A Pedagogical Guide for Tchaikovsky’s “Album for the Young”, Op. 39.” PhD diss., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 2015. ProQuest (10012789).

Minina, Yuliya, “Russian Piano Music for Children Written from 1878 to 1917.” PhD diss., University of Washington, 2012. ProQuest 3552828. 

Maria, Pisarenko, “Cultural Influences upon Soviet-Era Programmatic Piano Music for Children.” PhD diss., University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017. ProQuest 10602894.

(Mis?)Interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony “Pathétique”

by Preston Griffith

Just days before his death on November 6, 1893, Tchaikovsky premiered his Sixth Symphony “Pathétique” in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This symphony would become known as his greatest, yet most pessimistic work, and the composer himself stated that he loved the Sixth Symphony “as I have never loved any of my other musical offspring.” Tchaikovsky’s death provoked wide speculation about the symphony and its “autobiographical” nature, namely raising questions about his nephew Vladimir Davidov, to whom the symphony was dedicated. The public knew of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality, and scholars such as Dr. Timothy Jackson have brought forth compelling evidence to suggest that Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony was about a forbidden love between the composer and his nephew Vladimir, also known as “Bob.” However, Tchaikovsky never confirmed these claims and said of the symphony, “let them guess…The programme itself will be suffused with subjectivity.”

Jackson hypothesizes that the Sixth Symphony is about Tchaikovsky’s incurable homosexual disease, and that this homosexuality is a sin that will be punished with eternal damnation. Tchaikovsky fell in love with his nephew Bob Davydov when Bob was a child and played with him constantly whenever he spent time with family. In the nineteenth century, prepubescent children were considered pure and angelic beings and seen as androgynous. With this idea in mind, people were more accepting of a love for such a being, although in the current age this would be considered pedophilia. Jackson wrote that many musical ideas within Tchaikovsky’s symphony pointed out this pure, lighthearted relationship that Tchaikovsky felt towards his nephew Bob Davidov.

Tchaikovsky’s Christianity influenced his view of homosexuality and created great suffering for the feelings he had regarding Bob. The chaotic aspects of Tchaikovsky’s symphony depict the condemnation he and Bob experience in hell for their homosexual relationship. Jackson even mentions that Tchaikovsky arranges notes in such a way as to represent the cross, and he and Bob are crucified and unredeemed for their sins. Chord resolution represents an embrace with Bob. High and low registers blending together could also represent an embrace, but an embrace of the damned because the notes continue to descend together once they meet.  The militaristic March represents homosexual nonconformism, and the Adagio Lamentoso represents a punishment such as death for their homosexual crimes. There are also motives that sound like audible sighs that express Tchaikovsky’s anguish that he feels.

Forbidden love was a common theme in many works such as Bizet’s “Carmen” and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony no. 1. The forbidden love in these works referred to interracial relationships that were taboo at the time. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6 had this same kind of theme, but audiences knew this forbidden love to be homosexual in nature. That is, Tchaikovsky’s love for his nephew Bob Davidov. Tchaikovky’s death shortly after the premier, his dedication to Bob, as well as the overall tragic sound of the symphony contributed to the idea that this was the case. 

One critic and scholar, Poznansky, believed that Tchaikovsky was a happy person and that the homosexual narrative was wrong. David Brown in his book “Tchaikovsky, The Man and his Music” thought that the Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6 was “his most tragic and, in the end, most pessimistic work”, but he also agreed with Poznansky and said that Tchaikovsky could be thought of as a happy person.  Indeed, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck years before that “In a happy situation I can produce a piece that is imbued with the most gloomy and hopeless feelings.” Therefore, although the symphony has a tragic character, one could argue that Tchaikovsky was not necessarily a pessimistic man himself.

TCHAIKOVSKY – Symphony no. 6 (Pathétique) – Herbert von Karajan & Wiener Philharmonic

Whereas Jackson describes Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony in terms of his homosexual relationship with Bob, David Brown takes a neutral perspective. For the first movement of the symphony, marked Adagio, he described it as “unobtrusive” and “contrasted, yet not inappropriately lightweight.”  The music gains power and energy and reaches a “cataclysmic climax” that leads to a ffff chord and then quickly fades to pp. In an especially memorable quote, Brown says that “the symphony’s opening idea is converted into a solemn, measured theme beneath which Fate stalks on pizzicato strings.”

The second movement, Allegro con grazia, could be interpreted as a ‘Valse’, but different from the normal kind. Instead of three beats to a bar, this movement has five, which feels like 2+3. Brown calls it a “limping waltz”, but the continuous flow and beautiful legato theme can convince the listener otherwise. The form seems to be modeled after the classical minuet and trio, as in the symphonies of Mozart who Tchaikovsky idolized. The third movement, Allegro molto vivace, is a fast and inventive movement where audiences might expect to hear a slow movement. Brown states that this movement has an “unbroken consistency of style and absence of easily recognizable ‘punctuation points.’ Perhaps in Jackson’s view this movement could be said to be a futile escape from homosexuality. The militaristic march is contained within this movement and gives it added force and momentum. Jackson would agree with Brown who states that the movement contains “an ending that suggests not resignation, but only oblivion.”

The fourth movement Finale Adagio Lamentoso, has beginning material that Brown says shows “the active side of grief, the shock and despair.”  The accented but beautiful strings that quickly fade away sound like cries of anguish filled with strong emotion. Brown describes the opening: “This music is seemingly poised and controlled, no longer manifesting the pang of an initial shock but, instead, the ache that lingers and lingers…”  The music continues to swell to a climax and then seems to spiral out of control with an abrupt silence. It then returns to the beginning material and the movement continues as before with another crescendo and a descending passage, but this time becoming faster and then dragging as if to illustrate a truly weary and hopeless man in despair. Brown says that at the end, “the final bars are founded on what I have called the music of inner apprehension.”

In conclusion, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6, one of his true masterpieces, has been popularly described as an autobiographical work about the composers forbidden homosexual relationship with his nephew Bob Davidov. Tchaikovsky’s death shortly after the first public performance, his dedication to Bob, and the obviously emotional and tragic sound of the symphony seem to confirm this claim. Jackson upholds this view, but David Brown has a more neutral view of the work. Jackson’s perspective, although popular, could be said to be a biological fallacy, because Tchaikovsky was never able to explain the symphony’s program and purposely kept it a mystery. Ultimately, in this author’s opinion, Brown put it best with this quote:

“It is the experience, as each of us individually hears it, that matters.  And do we need the programme (even Tchaikovsky’s programme?) to enjoy this musically? I think not. Only functional music dutifully written to a set scenario (most film music, for instance) requires such knowledge.”

 Perhaps it is best to “guess” like Tchaikovsky originally said.


Brown, David. Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music. New York: Pegasus Books, 2007.

Jackson, Timothy L. Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 6 (Pathétique). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Tchaikovsky Research contributors. Symphony No. 6 [Internet]. Tchaikovsky Research, 2020 Jan 8, 19:04 UTC [cited 2020 Apr 30]. Available from:

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky with his nephew V . L . Davidov in 1892 . Russian composer 1840-1893

It has been said that Tchaikovsky’s personal life was not reflected in many of his works and the contrasting characteristics in his music simply reflected his creativity. His music was a perfect combination of both emotion and intellect. However, towards the end of his life his works -particularly Symphonies- started to reflect a more autobiographical aspect. His Fourth Symphony is described by Timothy Jackson as the “turning point” or “crisis” in his career as a symphonist.

The Sixth Symphony was dedicated to his favorite nephew, Bob, as a token of deep appreciation. Although this was not the first time Tchaikovsky dedicated any of his compositions to a man, this time was set to be quite different.  As Jackson argues, The Pathétique was, in fact, autobiographical. It is fair to say the program revolves around the last chapter of his life’s situations. Anything and everything can be expected of a Tchaikovsky Symphony, and the Sixth was, of course, no exception. Composers and scholars have argued about form and how Tchaikovsky managed to handle technical difficulties. The form of the Sixth Symphony is innovative and unique.

Let us dive into the first movement, which happens to be the longest of all four. This perhaps has to do with the information it stores within. Is the Adagio an introduction for the Symphony? Or is it perhaps a preface or outline that draws upon the first theme in the Allegro non troppo? What is very clear to me is the emotional content of the opening material in the D Major Adagio has to be one of the most honest, sincere and heart-breaking declarations of unrequited love we will ever hear. After nearly 50 letters in correspondence to his nephew Bob and many references of articles and book chapters, the final piece of the puzzle is within Don Jose’s lines:

Car tu n’avais eu qu’à paraître, qu’à jeter un regard sur moi, pour t’emparer de tout mon être…”
Which means: “For all you needed was to be there, to share one glance with you to long for you with all my being…”

It is not sufficient to think of this as a sexual and race metaphor as Jackson mentions. We must take into consideration the unique empathy that Tchaikovsky felt towards Don Jose’s despair when he realizes that love had poisoned him into madness. Nevertheless, to love and to be loved in return is one of the most powerful feelings a human can experience. Love brings us hope and that same hope is represented in this melody. Tchaikovsky rearranged the harmonic language of Don Jose’s motif and placed it in the Allegro vivo, then again as closing section in the Andante come primo of his first movement (just to show how important was for him). The second movement reflects a much more joyful spirit (if may call it that) presenting a clever contrast after the first one. The third is very celebrational and dynamic without doubt, and the fourth movement seems again tragic -similar to the first. In the later years of his life there is no event that would give him material for this type of composition, but what about his lifelong struggle with his homosexuality? He had to face the fact that it was something he could not outrun and there was no way to win this battle. Adagio Lamentoso might give a hint about something to regret if you imagine a 53-year-old romantically involved with somebody who is barely 20 years old. To be that young means wanting something very different each day at a time, but to be 50 something means that true love is fueled by very different reasons. Forbidden indeed.

Not many would understand what Tchaikovsky was going through, and if we take into consideration the historical context then we must say that no one would ever understand his feelings. But after we listen to his Sixth Symphony who can disagree about placing it at the pinnacle of Tchaikovsky’s achievement? Honesty was his sin. 

Jackson, Timothy L. Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 6 (Pathétique). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Poznansky, Alexander. “Tchaikovsky: A Life Reconsidered.” In Tchaikovsky and His World, 3-54. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Opinion of the “Not-So-Secret” Program: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 – Pathétique

Andrea Davis

Tchaikovsky composed his last symphony in February and March of 1893, finishing the orchestration in late August. Tchaikovsky declared it one of his “best” and “most sincere” works, and stated that he loved the 6th Symphony, “as I have never loved any of my other musical offspring.” It is generally accepted as one of Tchaikovsky’s best works. It also garners the most speculation, largely due to the enigmatic comments made by the composer himself about a secret program. The question becomes, then, how much of the “secret” can one claim to understand?

In a letter to his nephew, Vladimir (Bob) Davidov, Tchaikovsky wrote, “…I had the idea for another symphony, this time with a programme, but such a programme that will remain an enigma to everyone—let them guess…The programme itself will be suffused with subjectivity.” Tchaikovsky’s own words make it perfectly clear that he composed the 6th Symphony with specific ideas in mind. However, his words make it equally clear that the program itself was not going to be explicit or definitive. According to Dr. Timothy Jackson, witnesses have testified that Tchaikovsky described the symphony as having a “not-so-secret” program, and that it had “autobiographical” implications. While Tchaikovsky’s remarks certainly open the door for speculation, any analysis of the 6th Symphony is just that: speculation.

Dr. Jackson, Research Professor of Music Theory at the University of North Texas, and author of Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), believes that the “not-so-secret” program of Tchaikovsky’s symphony would have been intuitively and implicitly understood by 19th-century audiences. Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality was widely known, and any interpretation of the “autobiographical” references to his life would carry overtones of his sexuality. Tchaikovsky’s friends also knew of his relationship with Bob Davidov; the dedication of the Pathétique to his nephew undoubtedly pointed listeners toward a more personal interpretation. With this understanding, Jackson hypothesizes that the music of Symphony No. 6 depicts the love between Tchaikovsky and Bob Davidov, and constructs a narrative of homosexuality being an incurable disease that would lead to the lovers’ destruction and eternal damnation.

Jackson makes a thorough analysis of the 6th Symphony, and suggests that Tchaikovsky uses musical topoi that can be clearly understood in a homosexual context—especially when looking to other works that employ similar gestures. Jackson interprets the lighthearted motives, changing registers, military gestures, diminished seventh chords, and tritonality as mechanisms that combine to illustrate Tchaikovsky’s difficult view of his own homosexuality and the “forbidden” relationship he shared with Davidov. Jackson believes the final Adagio lamentoso signifies the destruction of the protagonists (Tchaikovsky and Davidov), and that death is the punishment for their homosexual “sins.”

While Jackson’s analysis is compelling, and his theoretical and historical background far exceed my own, I can not agree that there is anything so straightforward in the Pathétique to draw such definitive conclusions. Tchaikovsky’s sexuality seems to be an inescapable lens through which his works are viewed, and the dedication of the 6th Symphony to Davidov lends credibility to homosexual interpretations. However, I do not believe pinpointing specific elements in the music can or should communicate distinct messages about Tchaikovsky’s view of his homosexuality.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is expressive and beautiful. It is innovative in its formal structure. It has characteristics ranging from happiness to heartbreak, and communicates a wide range of human emotion. Historical and autobiographical details surrounding both Tchiakovsky and his Pathétique might give listeners a better understanding of the composer and his symphony, but one cannot interpret every note and musical gesture as a statement on Tchaikovsky’s thoughts and feelings. Indeed, I believe Tchaikovsky meant it when he said, “let them guess.” Perhaps that is both the challenge and the attraction of Tchaikovsky’s pinnacle composition.


Jackson, Timothy L. Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 6 (Pathétique). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Tchaikovsky Research contributors. Symphony No. 6 [Internet]. Tchaikovsky Research, 2020 Jan 8, 19:04 UTC [cited 2020 Apr 30]. Available from:

Wiley, Roland John. “Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il′yich.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 30 Apr. 2020.

“Self-Indictment” versus “Homosexual” Interpretations

With each piece of media, especially music, there is always room for interpretation. Each interpretation will be different from the others. Upon seeing one’s interpretation, some people will agree with it, while others may not see it that way. In this case, there have been quite a number of interpretations regarding Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, also known as the Pathetique. In his book, Jackson brings up the “self-indictment and requiem” interpretation and the “homosexual” interpretation. Though there was not much information on the “self-indictment” interpretation in the book, I found that one to be much more convincing than the “homosexual” interpretation.

When this symphony first premiered, the audience reception was ambivalent. Some people, including the performers, did not care for the music while some liked it and believed others would as well with time. After Tchaikovsky’s death, this piece was then seen as a masterpiece. It was seen as a masterpiece only after Tchaikovsky had been labeled as an unhappy homosexual and this symphony was seen as a self-indictment. This formed the “Self-indictment and Requiem” interpretation. This interpretation has persisted through time and has a basis in the music. The requiem part is supported by the quotation of the Russian Orthodox Requiem in the first movement. George Balanchine addresses this, explaining that “Repose the Soul” is a burial hymn and is sung only when someone has died. He explains that in the finale, there is a chorale in which the melody goes down and dies out as if a man is going into the grave. Robert Craft reported that as Stravinsky lay dying while listening to a recording of Pathetique, Madame Stravinsky begged to turn it off upon hearing the first movement since it predicted death. The idea of death is present in the music, and it is also present in the program. The “Life” program, which was originally going to be used in the abandoned Eb symphony, starts off with life and ends with death.

Some people believe that the Pathetique Symphony was dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s nephew, Bob. To support this interpretation. Jackson brings up how the Pathetique has musical gestures, which symbolize different things. One of the musical gestures is found in the scherzo, and this gesture paints prepubescent kids as pure and angelic. Also in the scherzo is another musical gesture that paints this image that Bob was seductive. I feel like that is a contradiction. If Bob was indeed one of the pure prepubescent kids, he would, in no way, try to manipulate someone like that, especially his uncle. It seems like Tchaikovsky was just looking for any made-up excuse for this relationship to become a real thing and for society to see it as pure, acceptable love. Another gesture in the music is about Christianity’s views on homosexuality as a sin and how this has negatively impacted Tchaikovsky. Based on how this is portrayed, this gesture is also a contradiction. Throughout this semester, we learn that Tchaikovsky has talked to other men with sexual and romantic interests and has even been with some men. If he truly viewed homosexuality as a sin that is punishable by eternal damnnation, wouldn’t he have tried not to act upon it?

In his book, Jackson brings up these two different interpretations regarding Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony, and he supports the “homosexuality” interpretation. Even though he brings up quite a bit of info on why this interpretation should be accepted, I could not find it plausible. Those musical gestures, as well as knowing about Tchaikovsky’s life, contradict what the interpretation is about. Meanwhile, Jackson also brings up the “self-indictment and requiem” interpretation. Everything, from the music, the program, and other’s thoughts and feelings of the music supports this interpretation more, and I found it to be much more convincing than the other interpretation.

Omar A. Cordova


Jackson, Timothy L. Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 6 (Pathétique). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Iolanta, Tchaikovsky’s Last Opera.


Tchaikovsky’s Last Opera.

In 1892 Tchaikovsky was approached to write a double-bill spectacle for a Russian audience, a one act-opera and a two-act ballet. He immediately imagined a drama that had caught his attention years back from the Danish writer René Hertz. It was the story of the French Princess Yolande de Lorraine, (‘Iolante’ in Tchaikovsky’s opera). The story tells the misfortune fate of a blind woman. Her father would always make sure she did not know about her own illness, or the fact that she was a princess, until one day a man came the castle to meet her. This man, Vaudémont, let her know the truth, which evoked new situations in everyone’s lives around them. 

Tchaikovsky divided this opera in only 4 scenes. I the first one, we meet Iolanta in her beautiful garden, which is always guarded by Bertrand and Martha, who have taken care of her, and to whom Iolanta confesses her habitual sadness. She feels there is something missing in her life. The second scene revolves around a Doctor that presumably could heal her illness, but the King is afraid it might not work. The third scene is where ‘love’ comes along and Iolanta meets Vaudémont. They fall in love at first encounter. We hear a great love duet between them and Vaudémont finds out she is blind. He explains her situation and she face, for the first time, her life’s reality. In the last scene the King finds the couple confessing their love to one another and that Iolanta is aware of her illness. This is the precise moment to give her the treatment she refused. The King uses this in his favor and threatens to kill Vaudémont. Iolanta is left with no choice but to take the treatment. The story ends up ‘Happily ever after’.

Tchaikovsky based the whole opera in one specific moment from the third scene, which is the duet between Iolanta and Vaudémont, and from there he decided to write music before and after. It is fair to say that this is the real climax of the opera in both music and text. This is the moment when reality hits both characters and they decide that Love will overcome the obstacles. The libretto was written by his brother Modest, who had been also in charge of ‘The Queen of Spades’ libretto and had done a remarkable job with it, Tchaikovsky himself wrote “your libretto is quite perfect” in a letter on April 15, 1981.

Tchaikovsky was not thrilled he started working on “The Nutcracker” in 1890 before his departure to America and left “Iolanta” for last. He wanted to get the ballet out of the way and eventually focus on the opera, but at the same time he felt he was repeating himself and would consistently compare “Iolanta” to his previous opera “The Enchantress”. He also expressed he was afraid that after his last one, “Queen of Spades”, he would not be able to exceed both his own and people’s expectations about his work.  

I found the Introduction of the Opera to be particularly interesting, considering the fact that he only used a portion of the orchestra.The orchestration for ‘Iolanta’ is traditional and within the expectations of any opera towards the end of the nineteenth century (perhaps the only thing extra is that it requires two harps). However, in the Introduction there are only wind instruments playing (including of course horns), there is nothing written for strings and percussion. 

The Introduction’s (Overture’s?) chromatic leitmotiv makes it hard to identify which key we are in, but if we take it further we can say that the whole introduction is, in fact, a preface to Iolanta’s first appearance.The last chord sets the perfect entrance for the first scene. Spanish Scholar Ramón Tener talks about this ‘leitmotiv’ being associated with Iolanta’s sadness and that the portion of the orchestra that is not playing may represent what Iolanta has but cannot use: her eyes. This first scene holds the argument in which Iolanta is set with two ladies always looking after her and we also understand she’s blind. The music is straight-forward using the harps like a ‘romanza’-type  atmosphere. After this conversation Tchaikovsky presents Iolanta’s first Aria, in which she describes many of the things she can only hear day-to-day (when there’s light and the sun’s out) and how she feels a void in her life, all of these in the key of G minor.

Then there is a great contrast in the modulation  to G major (now talking about the night’s beautiful sounds) that embraces a much fuller sound coming from pianissimo to double forte. Dynamics play a very important role in the setting of specific aspects and in this Aria the way he uses ‘ff’ for the night and a major setting contrasting with the ‘pp’ and minor for day gives an incredible musical output.  

I know it’s very vague to say that certain type of music is ‘beautiful,’ and I fear making myself even more vague, I do honestly think that Tchaikovsky had nothing much to prove to any other composers or even to himself and that Iolanta’s music is just very beautiful. The overall musical direction goes to ‘Love’ (if I may) and the way the composer envisioned it. I understand that for many people it can be boring, Korsakov himself said that this proved to be one of Tchaikovsky’s weakest compositions of all time, but I, for one, think it is a very honest opera with a surprisingly non-tragic end.

Tchaikovsky was in love with ‘Iolanta’ and I guess he felt identified with her. Think of it this way —he had an overprotective father who tried to do his best to take care of his child’s problems. But same as Iolanda, ever since he was little Tchaikovsky felt the same habitual sadness of something that was not clear in his life. Both King René and Petróvich guarded their children from the rest of the world not to ever find out what they were: one blind and the other homosexual.

Lloyd-Jones, David. “A background to Iolanta”. The Musical Times, Vol. 109, No. 1501 (Mar., 1968), pp. 225-226. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Tchaikovsky Research. “Iolanta”. Iolanta. Last modified on 20 February 2020, at 18:31.

Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 “Mozartiana”

by Preston Griffith

Mozart and Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky first had the idea of composing a suite from the works of Mozart in 1884 while he was working on the recitatives and translation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. He was enamored with Mozart’s compositions and played them on the keyboard in his free time.  After a few years, he still held on to the idea and began work on the piece after choosing selected pieces by Mozart in Jurgenson’s store in 1886.  The pieces each came from Mozart’s compositions for keyboard.  In the summer of 1887, he completed the Suite No. 4, and Jurgenson convinced him to name it Mozartiana.  The first performance was conducted in November of that year in Moscow at the second symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society.

               The Suite is scored for a full orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat, C), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in B-flat), 3 timpani, cymbals, glockenspiel, harp, violins I, violins II, cellos, and double basses. Each section (Strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion) had a different role within the piece in terms of the instruments range in relation to the ranges written originally by Mozart for keyboard.  In general, there are few spots where the full orchestra plays together.  Most of the piece features these instrumental sections trading off the melodic line so that it may be played higher, lower, or with a different timbre.

               As stated previously, Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 was based off of different compositions by Mozart.  In fact, Tchaikovsky wrote a short foreward in his score that states his intentions for the piece concisely:

“A large number of Mozart’s outstanding short pieces are, for some incomprehensible reason, little known not only to the public, but even to many musicians. The author who has arranged this Suite entitled “Mozartiana” wished to provide a new impetus for the more frequent performance of these gems of musical art, unpretentious in form, but containing incomparable beauties” — Moscow, 5 October 1887. P. Tchaikovsky.

The first movement of the suite, Gigue, was arranged from Mozart’s Eine kleine Gigue for keyboard (KV 574). 

Mozart: Kleine Gigue in G, K.574 · Mitsuko Uchida
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland recording of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4

The first link above is the original piece Tchaikovsky arranged for his first movement.  The performance is Mozart’s Kleine Gigue in G, K.574, played by Mitsuko Uchida for a comparison. The second link is Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.  The first movement, Gigue, is in G Major and very short.  The entire movement is only about 2 minutes in length, and is in 6/8 time with an Allegro tempo.  Instruments enter and fade out based on their range relative to the piano as one can surmise from watching just the first minute of each video. For instance, violin I and flute enter and have material together, clarinet and violin II are paired, bassoon and viola, and cello and bass.  The brass instruments are much less involved in this movement.  Notes are clipped and played with a short staccato articulation to emulate the piano and held notes and chords only sound as long as a piano would be able to hold them.

Mozart’s Minuet for keyboard (KV 355/567b)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland recording of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4

Tchaikovsky’s second movement, Menuet, is played at a Moderato tempo and is in D major.  This movement can be found at minute 2:08 in the above recording.  It was arranged from Mozart’s Minuet for keyboard (KV 355/567b), which can be heard in the first of the two links above with a performance by Luc Devos.  Suite No. 4’s Menuet is written in ¾ time with much more chromaticism.  One can hear a chromatic ascent in the lower part that comes out in a loud forte.  In comparison to Tchaikovsky’s Menuet, Mozart’s Minuet for Keyboard has a sharper contrast in dynamics. Mozart’s composition contains terrace dynamics with either forte or piano written mostly.  In comparison to the original keyboard part, the strings are able to cover a broader range of dynamics and swell within held notes. Tchaikovsky’s orchestral arrangement has a more majestic legato tone, and the texture is much thicker with multiple instruments able to take over the different parts that normally would limit a pianist to a smaller dynamic range.

Moscow Conservatory performance of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus KV 618
Liszt – A la Chapelle Sixtine (Allegri-Mozart), Valerie Tryon
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland recording of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4

Pregheira, Suite No. 4’s third movement, is written Andante non tanto in B-flat major and starts at 6:25 in the recording.  This movement is unique because it is actually an arrangement of an arrangement.  Tchaikovsky arranged his Pregheira from Franz Liszt’s piece À la Chapelle Sixtine, S.461 (1862), which itself was a solo piano transcription of Mozart’s motet Ave verum corpus.  Mozart’s composition was originally written for voices, strings and organ, K.618 (1791), and can be heard in the first of the three recordings above.

The main melody of Tchaikovsky’s third movement was taken from the Andante con pleta piu tosto Lento section of List’s piece, heard at minute 5:00 in the second video.  The movement starts with a rising progression from the woodwinds that blends nicely into the main melody played by the strings.  A beautiful, lush melody is played by the strings with a continuously swelling dynamic with winds mostly playing the harmony part.  The flutes, however, play the melody along with violins whenever they enter together. Towards the end, the woodwinds echo the melody part heard previously by the strings.  Finally, the movement finishes with the high strings playing in their upper register and slowly fading away, creating a heavenly effect.

Mozart: Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint”, K. 455, Andrew Brownell
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland recording of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4

The fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 is entitled Thème et variations and begins at 9:47 in the recording. The tempo is labeled Allegro giusto and there are ten variations of the theme within this long movement.  The last movement takes up more than half of the piece and was arranged from Mozart’s Variations on the theme “Unser dummel Pöbel meint.” Tchaikovsky’s orchestral arrangement was taken more directly from the original composition as you can hear from the recordings above.

In the first variation, the first phrase played by the strings is answered by the woodwinds in the second phrase and this interplay between strings and winds continues throughout.  Percussion embellishes the music of the second movement, and this is a key difference between the original and Tchaikovsky’s arrangement.  There is also a call and response between the horns and violins in the second half of this variation. At minute 12:02, the Third variation is short and features a flute solo taking the melody with the rest of the orchestra accompanying.  This is the first solo of the movement.

At 12:46 in the video, the fourth variation is a larger section with the whole orchestra.  The conversation between instruments is now between the lower instruments and higher instruments. The fifth variation is located at 13:32 and is in a minor key.  This variation is played with much smoother articulation, longer connected notes, and provides a nice difference from the other movements. The sixth variation at 14:38 features just the woodwinds back in a major key with lots of trills in the lower woodwinds and a lively melody in the upper woodwinds. At 15:27, The seventh variation is much slower and played with a broad, majestic quality by the string section. The eighth variation afterward at 16:43 is played with very fast doubled note string accompaniment.  The melody is in the percussion playing glockenspiel.

As a violinist, my favorite variation comes next. At minute 17:37, the nineth variation starts with a violin cadenza and continues with a solo and string accompaniment.  At 18:33 the variation continues with the violin solo containing very virtuosic scaler passages spanning a large range and some trill embellishments. The accompaniment from the orchestra is very sparse. The orchestra enters with a thicker texture for a short span at 20:05, and then the solo violin plays some very fast 2 note clipped slurs to even higher parts of the instrument not previous played.  The scaler passages are like before, just with different style and articulation while being in a higher range.

Finally, at minute 21:38, the tenth and final variation begins with the orchestra taking back the melody and the high strings staying in the middle register mostly.  The brass have a prominent role in this variation with some held chords giving stability to the faster notes being played in the strings. About midway through the tenth variation at 22:36, a famous clarinet cadenza and solo occurs. The movement ends with the orchestra playing fast scaler passages.

Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 4 is a beautiful piece that is different from his other compositions as he is focusing on the works of Mozart.  After reading the foreword written in the score, I believe that Tchaikovsky accomplished his goal of introducing the public to some wonderful shorter works by Mozart in an orchestral form rather than on keyboard.  His orchestration translates well to a symphony and is very enjoyable to listen to.  As a violinist, I am thankful for the opportunity to play such works.


Tchaikovsky Research contributors, “Suite No. 4,” Tchaikovsky Research, (accessed April 13, 2020).

Wiley, Roland John. “Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il′yich.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 13 Apr. 2020.

The Sleeping Beauty: Valse No. 6

Photography Credit: Salt Lake Tribune, Ballet West

Andrea Davis

In January of 1889, just before Tchaikovsky departed on his second foreign tour, he began composing The Sleeping Beauty. Working throughout the year, and in collaboration with Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa, the ballet was completed in approximately forty days total. The Sleeping Beauty premiered in January of 1890; while critical reception was unenthusiastic, Tchaikovsky himself was pleased with his work.

The Valse is the first set piece in the ballet, and it opens Act 1. It is danced by peasants who have just been pardoned from a prison sentence while the King and Queen look on. The lighthearted tone of the Valse contributes to the celebratory nature of the pardon, and prepares the stage and atmosphere for Princess Aurora’s arrival.

The Valse begins with an exciting introduction that has a sweeping motive that moves sequentially upward with an almost frenetic energy. The entire introduction is played over an F major dominant pedal point that makes the arrival of the main waltz theme in B flat major especially pleasant. I would argue that the Valse is in ternary form. Following the introduction, the A section of the Valse consists of the main theme, a second theme, and a return of the main theme. A quick modulatory transition takes us from the A section into the B section. The A section then returns as expected.

Theme 1 – Theme 2 – Theme 1 Theme 3 Theme 1 – Theme 2 – Theme 1
|_____________A_______________| |___B____| |_______________A______________|

Theme 1 has a singing melody played by the strings. Typical waltz accompaniment in the orchestra supports the melody. Theme 2 is bright and lively, with a running melody again played by the strings. Each phrase ends with a syncopated and elided cadence that is punctuated by the brass and timpani. When theme 1 returns, the melody is accompanied with a light and leaping figure played by the flutes and clarinets. The overall feel of the A section is happy and charming.

The B section, and theme 3, is in the key of E flat major, but half cadences (in B flat major) and a cadence in G minor (flat III) give this section a less stable harmonic feel. The melody has a lilting and sweet quality that is enhanced by the glockenspiel playing in unison with the flutes and oboes. As the phrases of theme 3 repeat, the anticipated cadence in G minor is replaced by an almost abrupt shift to an F dominant 7 chord (and half cadence in our original key of B flat major.)

The quick shift back into B flat major moves us into the return of the A section. This is a literal repeat of the previous A section material, and the familiarity of the melodies and themes serves to enhance the happy and contented mood of the Valse. As the A section draws to a close, the Valse ends with a big finish that is punctuated by quickly moving chords and a prolonged perfect authentic cadence that bounces between I and V for the last 7 measures of the piece. Exuberant and exciting, the Valse succeeds in creating a delightful and charming atmosphere.

The music of The Sleeping Beauty is beautiful and refined, and a more mature Tchaikovsky is apparent in its composition. The Valse is not considered the pinnacle of the ballet, but its attractive and elegant melodies make it an enduring piece in its own right. Despite the lukewarm critical reception at its debut, Tchaikovsky was happy with his accomplishment. He said, “…the music from this ballet will be amongst my best works. The subject is so poetical, it is so suited for music, that in composing it I was utterly absorbed, and wrote with a fervor and passion which always results in work of merit.” His passion is apparent, and the music of The Sleeping Beauty could, indeed, be counted among Tchaikovsky’s greatest works.


Brown, David. Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music. New York: Pegasus Books, 2007.

Tchaikovsky Research contributors, “The Sleeping Beauty,” Tchaikovsky Research, (accessed April 14, 2020).

Wiley, Roland John. “Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il′yich.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.

Hamlet Overture, Op. 67

Between June and October of 1888, Tchaikovsky composed Hamlet, an overture-fantasia in F minor. It’s opus number is Op. 67, and it is based on the Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1599-1601). This overture-fantasia is written for symphony orchestra, and it is one movement long. It is Lento lugubre- Allegro vivace, it is 435 measures long, and a performance of this piece lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. This overture-fantasia is dedicated to Edvard Grieg.

In 1876, Modest had written to Tchaikovsky, offering suggestions for symphonic poems. One of those suggestions was Hamlet, and he mentioned how it could be organized into the three following sections: Elsinore and Hamlet before the ghost’s appearance, Polonius and Ophelia, and Hamlet after the ghost’s appearance, following with his death and Fortinbras. Tchaikovsky had thought of doing Hamlet, but thought it was very difficult. He didn’t start the composition until 1888, but he noted down thoughts and sketches before then. Tchaikovsky had also been suggested to write Hamlet by Lucien Guitry, a French actor. Grand Duchess Mariya Pavlovna was planning on having a charity concert, and she wanted Act III of the play to be staged with Guitry as the titular character and with an overture from Tchaikovsky. This eventually got Tchaikovsky to start the composition process. Even when the production was cancelled, Tchaikovsky kept going with the sketches. It has no written program so the music is not as obvious in indicating what parts of the play or which characters the music is representing at the moment. In the sketches, Tchaikovsky had to warn himself to not make the beginning sound too similar to Manfred. He worked on a rough draft in June and July of 1888 in Frolovskoye after sketching the Fifth Symphony. Then, he started orchestration in September, and he finished the composition process in October. Hamlet was first performed in St. Petersburg for a Russian Musical Society concert in November, and it was conducted by Tchaikovsky. The piece was then published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1890. 

The piece does not follow a classical pattern. Rather, it attempts to demonstrate contrasting themes in various keys, which are all oddly articulated. The slow introduction starts off with violas and cellos. The dynamics, with the exception of the sforzando tutti entrances, is kept mostly in the mezzoforte area to lure the listener in. This slow introduction then leads into alternating fast and slow sections. What’s interesting about the fast sections is that with the strings playing an ascending passage in 32nd notes, this gives the false impression that the piece is now fast. The clarinets compliment this  impression with triplet sixteenth notes. It is not until much later that the tempo does actually get faster, and with this, the instrumentation and dynamics build up as well to lead into something dramatic. With a grand pause, we are back to the original tempo with muted horn initiating chords in the wind instruments while strings play arpeggios that move like waves. This is all pianissimo, like a quick breather from the action. It’s amazing that it starts off slow and then once again picks up in tempo and dynamics. It also goes from this polyphonic material to homorhythmic chords. 

After the fermata to end the previous themes and statements, the music continues with an allegro vivace. When I looked at the score for this section, I noticed something about the key signature that caught my interest. The tonality of the piece is in F minor, but the key signature does not demonstrate this until this section of the music. When the music gets to this section, the key signature finally confirms that the piece is indeed in the key pf F minor. The allegro vivace introduces the theme of sequential dotted rising intervals. The dynamics are at fortissimo, this is enforced with the homorhythmic chords These dotted, rising intervals then get interrupted by bassoon, with its rising sixteenth notes. The bassoon would then spread this to the other woodwinds and to the strings for a moment before dying down and heading back to the previous idea of the dotted rising intervals.

When the Andante section begins, we are introduced to another key change. This time, it’s in the key of B minor, and the oboe solo helps establish this new tonality. This section is mostly a woodwind choir (with the exception of flutes). The strings provide pizzicato notes. There are quite a bit of dynamic alterations, and each woodwind voice is doing their own thing. Measure 208 shows the return to the dotted rising intervals theme. This time, the bassoon does not interrupt the rising dotted intervals idea, and other instruments are more involved than last time. For example, the trombones and tubas had this call-and-response figure with each other with triplets. At m. 259, the oboe melody theme returns, but in Bb minor. One thing that stands out from this return is the strings being more active than they were last time.

The moderato con moto como sopra at m. 303 presents the theme of flowing, wide intervals, and this is in the key of Db major. The melody starts off in the woodwinds, and the melody is slurred and the intervals are wider than presented before. Even the rhythmic accompaniment from violas and cellos have wide intervals. The sound here is espressivo, with soft dynamics. Eventually, the roles switch with strings playing the melody and the woodwinds playing the rhythmic accompaniment.

The Allegro vivace at m. 359 starts off the militaristic march in the key of C. The dynamics start off pianissimo with just a few instruments playing, but it gradually gets louder as more instruments enter. The main rhythmic figures of this section were the triplet eighth notes and dotted eighth-sixteenth notes. To give it that militaristic feel, the brass plays chord changes at fff starting at measure 381, with flutes and upper strings playing triplet arpeggios as the rhythmic accompaniment. As the section progresses, it gets more polyphonic and chaotic with its rhythmic movement. It’s not until m. 400 when the ensemble sustains what seems to be a Db7 chord that gradually gets softer that the music now has a chance to stop and unwind. Measure 401 shows the return of the theme of the ascending 32nd notes from the strings and the woodwind compliment before finishing off with the slow introduction material. 

The idea of conflict is consistent within this piece. Even in the lyrical sections of the piece, there is always something underneath that creates tension. Also, most of the time, any section of the piece will always find itself fast-paced and chaotic as it approaches its end and is about to begin another idea or theme. My one problem with this piece (and it’s not a major problem) is that since it’s based on Hamlet, it should have some sort of program. I have not had the chance to read Hamlet yet, so on the surface, while I enjoyed the music, I feel like I am missing out on its true intentions. I am sure that others who are familiar with the story will be able to connect with this overture far better than I could and what each theme and section of this music is supposed to represent. If there was a program, I’m sure I could have a better understanding of what Tchaikovsky was trying to demonstrate. However, this is just a nitpick of mine and in no way takes away from my experience with this piece.

Omar A. Cordova


“Hamlet (Overture-Fantasia).” n.d. Hamlet (Overture-Fantasia) – Tchaikovsky Research. Accessed April 5, 2020.

“Hamlet (Overture-Fantasia), Op.67 (Tchaikovsky, Pyotr).” IMSLP. Accessed April 5, 2020.,_Op.67_(Tchaikovsky,_Pyotr).

“Tchaikovsky A Shakespeare W The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra Of Venezuela.” Gustavo Dudamel. Accessed April 6, 2020.

Wiley, Roland John. “Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il′yich.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 28 Mar. 2020.

Tchaikovsky’s simple life.

Aníbal Acevedo

How many composers have been influenced by Tchaikovsky’s Works? It is perhaps a silly question to ask, knowing it may have no accurate answer, but  think about all performers who  had spent time with his music:  singers staging his operas, pianists playing sonatas, conductors with those amazing symphonies, and pretty much every one that has heard about ballet can point out a ‘Tchaikovsky’ for sure. But what, exactly, is it that a listener thinks about Tchaikovsky’s mind when ‘Nutcracker’ is played around christmas time, or when a musician tries to get into those shoes and be true to the composer’s desires? The more people think about these ‘mighty’ heroes the more we get them away from the fact that they are just human beings like the rest of the people in the world. 

Throughout past few months I’ve been given the opportunity to study many of Tchaikovsky’s major works, having been exposed to amazing and incredible music (with my particular interest in opera). One starts to wonder what kind of personal and public life Tchaikovsky led over the years. Many times, the easy answer is to dive into the composer’s music, but in Tchaikovsky’s case we have a real clear treasure; the great number of letters he wrote over the years to close friends: his benefactor/best female friend, and other composers. These facts are ‘supercharged’ with many answers to questions that might seem implausible, but really were much simpler and honest than all the popular beliefs about to Tchaikovsky’s life.

Letters written around 1884 when a more mature 40-year old Tchaikovsky was working on ‘Mazeppa,’ which is in the Top 3 Best Tchaikovsky Operas of all time gives us an insight of his daily routine. ‘4 May 1884’ Tchaikovsky found himself reading some letter at home, finding some time in the day to play piano for his own amusement, having a festive dinner and having time for his everyday walk, no matter the weather. He was a playing one of his favorite operas at the piano: Mozart’s Magic Flute. It seems like a very boring day in a composer’s life, but more than that… it was real. How can something so simple in his day-to-day life give birth to such amazing music? The answer is very simple:  Tchaikovsky was a man true to himself.

‘May 9 and May 20’ “…Was at church, was late to the church…” Tchaikovsky’s own words about one activity he always enjoyed, and we know for a fact that he was not a very religious man, but he was a simply man that enjoyed simple pleasures and simple activities that anchored him to the real world. He was a man who got sick like the rest and suffered with finding himself in a world that could have hung him if he took his sexual orientation public. I value and treasure the diaries published as I think any scholar would, and perhaps I even value more the ones we would never get to read, because in all of that  information about a simple (and perhaps cranky) man can be found and used to step into his shoes. How can a man who led a simple life without much luxury focus on activities that gave rest to his mind and soul was able to come up with magical, ethereal and out-of-this-world music?

I, for one, have been trying to understand his thoughts about Eugene Onegin’s Tenor Aria, but after countless attempts I’m left with nothing. I guess being always near the tools to create and be ready by the time and idea hit his mind was a simple but effective strategy, but the way his brain was connected is something we might get from listening to his music. Maybe when I get older, I could understand all of which I don’t right now. The way he separated his personal life and kept it on a leash to hand out true musical creations that only few times reflect just tiny moments of his personal life is more than other composers have done.

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr. “Diary Three: April 1884-June 1884.” Chapter 3 in The Diaries of Tchaikovsky. Trans. Wladimir Lakond. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1973.

White, Craig. “The Biographical Fallacy and How to Think Your Way Out of It.” University of Houston Clear Lake: Craig White’s Literature Courses. Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.