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May 7 - Birthday Of Tchaikovsky And Brahms

   By coincidence ,  Johannes Brahms and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, two icons of  19th century classical music , were born on May 7th, respectively in 1833 and  1840 .  So I thought it might be interesting to compare both composers , who were very different indeed in  their musical  and aesthetic philosophies . 

   Both composers have long been extremely popular,  and the music of both has  caused considerable controversy .  Neither was very fond of the other's music , although they met a number of times and  got along well .  Both produced  beloved staples of the repertoire ; symphonies, concertos, chamber music , songs,  choral works, music for solo piano etc , but unlike Tchaikovsky , Brahms never wrote any operas .

    The music of both composers is  highly melodious and full of  warmth , but  the music of Brahms is  more austere and  restrained .  Tchaikovsky has been accused by more than a few prominent  critics and musicologists of writing cheap , sentimental  and  even vulgar works intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator, although this is anything but a fair accusation .  On the other hand , Brahms has  been accused of writing  dry , grayish and  labored music , lacking in freshness and  sponaneity , also an unfair accusation .

    Tchaikovsky's music probably has more immediate appeal  to  newcomers to classical music ; it is certainly more colorful  and  superficially exciting to the general public .  The supposed "sentimentality" of  Tchaikovsky's music  is probably  the fault of performers who  are guilty of  exaggerating  the  emotional qualities of his works . 

    Brahms wrote four symphonies ; Tchaikovsky six, although only the last three have been  performed often for some reason .  The German wrote two piano concertos, one for vioilin and one for  violin and cello .  Tchaikovsky completed two ; a third exists in torso form and only the first is  played with any frequency ,although the second deserves to be better known .  Tchaikovsky also wrote one violin concerto .

    Brahms also wrote  two concert overtures , The "Tragic" overture, and the "Academic Festival overture" , which uses  popular German university songs . It was written on the occaision of  the composer being awarded an honorary degree from the University of Breslau, formerly in Germany , but now in  Poland .

    Brahms was a strong believer in  "absolute " music, music with no programmatic  story behind it ; pure ,abstract music , but Tchakovsky wrote such well known  programmatic , descriptive works as the symphonic poems  "Romeo & Juliet,"" Francesca D Rimini ", based on  Dante's Inferno ,  and other orchestral works .  Thye programmatic symphony "Manfred " , based on a  poem of Byron , is not numbered among his six symphonies . 

    Tchaikovsky wrote three  ballet scores which  are frequently performed  in excerpt form at concerts,  the  famous "Nutcracker",  "Swan Lake" and  "Sleeping Beauty . "   His mist famous opera is  "Yevgeny Onegin " (Eugene Onegin ) , based on a long poetic drama by Pushkin about a  cynical bachelor who rejects the love of a  naive y0oung woman ,only to realize later  how much he loved her  now that she is married .  Another  remarkable opera is  Pique Dame ,(Queen of Spades ) also based on a story by Pushkin about a  troubled  soldier and  gambler who is obsessed with finding a  magical formula in gambling in order to win the love of a  beautiful , elusive  young woman of the aristocracy   , with disastrous results . 

    Tchaikovsky's other operas , such as  "The Maid of Orleans ", a fictionalized  opera about  Joan of Arc,  and others , are rarely performed outside of  Russia , and not even that often there . 

    The best known choral work by  Brahms is the "German Requiem ", which does not use the traditional Latin  Requiem text , but familiar passages in Martin Luther's German version on death and dying .  Unlike Verdi's  intensely dramatic ,almost operatic Requiem , the German Requiem is a gentle and reflective work , full of  consolation and resignation .

    Brahms was born to humble parents in a lower class section of Hamburg in 1933 ; his father was a  local musician who played the double bass and encouraged his son to  develope his talents as a budding young pianist and composer , and the young man acheived a considerable reputation as a pianist , attracting the attention of  the great Robert Schumann ( 1810-1856 ), who recognized his great talent .  Brahms moved from  dour maritime Hamburg to glamorous, cosmopolitan  Vienna , where he spent the rest of his life .He never married . 

    Tchaikovsky was the son of  a provincial Russian  government official , born in  the town of Votkinsk , far from Moscow and St.Petersburg ; he came from a fairly well off family and also showed  great talent in his youth ,  but Russia  did not as yet have the  developed and sophisticated  musical life of Germany , and he  studied  law ,  well as studying at the recently opened Moscow conservatoire .  He attracted the attention of a very wealthy woman who was the widow of  a  Russian tycoon, Nadezhda von Meck, who admired his music so much she provided him with generous support so he  would not have to seek employment in another field , as his contempraries Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov had done . 

    Curiously ,  the widow  insisted that the two never meet personally , and they never did .  Tchaikovsky was a gay man , which was hardly  acceptable in polite society at the time , and he   reluctantly entered into a brief sham marriage to a young woman who was infatuated with him .  This nearly drove the sensitive and rather neurotic composer to suicide , and the two were soon divorced .

    The death of Tchaikovsky in 1893 under mysterious circumstances 1893 has long been a  subject of discussion and speculation .  Apparently, he drank contaminated water during a cholera epidemic  and  died .  According to some stories, he was ordered to commit suicide by  certain individuals in  the Russian aristocracy because of an  affair with the nephew of  a prominent member of the Tsar's family, but  this has not  been confirmed .   Brahms died of natural causes in Vienna in 1897 , a year after the death of his close friend  Clara Schumann , widow of Robert and a well known pianist and composer in her own wright .  There has been speculation that the two may have been lovers , but this has not been confirmed .

    Tchaikovsky was prone to depression and  was frequently overcome by  homesickness on his frequent trips to  countries such as France, Italy , Germany etc, and visited  America in  1891 , conducting his music at the opening of Carnegie hall .  Brahms had a reputation of being  gruff and  curt with people , and according to one story which may or may not be true , he once left a party in Vienna  offering his apologies to anyone there he had not insulted !

    If you're new to classical music , there is a huge array of recordngs of  the music of these two  great composers available ,  by  so many great  classical musicians , living and dead , as well as plenty of DVDs .  A good place on the internet to get recommendations for these is . 




Posted: May 07 2014, 06:13 PM by the horn | with no comments
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