Tchaikovsky, Master of Invention

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (1892), Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest with Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting:

With thanks to David Nice for the alert to this performance and, as a “bonus” holiday class of his Russian Music course, to a splendid close listen to The Nutcracker. In the class, David demonstrated the myriad ways in which Tchaikovsky, in addition to being a master of melody, was a master of invention. If you are not already convinced, listen closely, just as one example, to The Arrival of Mr. Drosselmeyer and distribution of the presents (12:21). As David noted in our class, “all that in five minutes, something like ten generous ideas, variously orchestrated, each dance movement lasting under a minute. That incredible fluency.”

Then listen to the beginning of this:

Then, if you might have missed hearing the resemblance, compare The Nutcracker passage starting at about 17:23. As David continued, “and you think of the [Stravinsky’s] Danse Infernal, how modern, how incredible, this is 1910, but actually Tchaikovsky’s there already in 1891. And the colors and the orchestrations of those later ballets, without them Petrushka would not have been possible, and maybe even not the woodwind writing of The Rite of Spring. So I insist on this incredible connection, you know, that Tchaikovsky is an inventor, certainly in terms of sound, sometimes in terms of rhythm, but of course the melodies tend to overwhelm the fact that he is this great inventor.”

If you are still not convinced, there may be no help for you . . . but you might want to take a cue from Stravinsky himself, who, in 1927, was commissioned to “compose something inspired by Tchaikovsky.”

My well known fondness for the composer, and still more, the fact that November, the time fixed for the performance, would mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of his death, induced me to accept the offer. It would give me an opportunity of paying my heartfelt homage to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful talent. [Igor Stravinsky, An Autobiography, p. 146.]

Happy holidays to all, and to a brighter New Year ahead.

The photographs, of our yard and our cat Nesreen watching the fire, are mine.

7 thoughts on “Tchaikovsky, Master of Invention

  1. David Nice

    Season’s greetings to you and J – I want to be there in your winter wonderland, though our Xmas Day here, though snowless, is bright and cold in a good way. And thanks so much for taking up the Nutcracker strain – I wish we could see you on the 30th for The Sleeping Beauty, but I look forward to your warm and perceptive comments as always…Today we’re going to watch Balanchine’s Nutcracker on YouTube, which, can you believe it, I’ve never seen (his classic version in any shape or form).

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      I also haven’t seen the Balanchine Nutcracker, so will join you from across the miles in a viewing today. The snow has disappeared in an overnight warmed-up weather rainstorm–what a difference a day makes. Season’s greetings to you and your J!

  2. Steve Schwartzman

    Most people probably wouldn’t think of Tchaikovsky as an antecedent to Stravinsky, other than that both were Russian, so I appreciate David’s nice slant on the matter.

    As 21 succeeds 20, may we all have more success in 2021.

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