week20: tchaikovsky; lang lang; martin sexton


Borodin? Greatly talented, but he is already fifty . . .  and cannot write a line without somebody’s help … Cui? his music is elegant, coquettish and meticulous but what can you expect of a Professor or Fortification? … Mussorgsky … revels in crudeness for its own sake, flaunts his musical ignorance and boasts that his genius is richer because he has refused training … Yet he has flashes of real talent, not without originality … Balakirev is the greatest personality of the circle. Unfortunately he stopped before accomplishing much … In spite of his great gifts he has done much harm. He ruined Rimsky-Korsakov by assuring him that study was harmful… “” tchaiovsky in a letter to his benefactress nadezhda von meck

one has waded through a dense novela of musical ideas by the end of this piano concerto; which begins with a proclamation on horns reminiscent of the introductory theme on trumpets of the fourth symphony, though with a more subdued and less ‘fateful’ cadence. so too is the transition (Molto meno mosso – Allegro vivo) within the third movement reminiscent of the jarring contrast between the 3rd and 4th movements of tchaikovsky’s monumental fourth symphony…—and the broad romantic gestures throughout the third movement exist in the same dream sequence that engenders the lyricism of his Swan Lake Ballet Suite. these same gestures animate the liquid undulating contours described by segments of the string section in the first movement; which give way to the soft and understated power of the second movement.

aside for brief and passing accents in the third movement, there isn’t much in this symphony that is emblematic of russian lyricism as prescribed by tchaikovsky the bellwether. it would be more accurate to describe it as a result of the emulsification of more obtuse (therefore more interesting) indigenous folk melodies, into a rotund and, incidentally, westernized musical character.

Although he considers himself deficient in the specifically symphonic art of ‘developing’ a single idea, yet the cumulative effect of his artfully varied repetitions and quasi-repetitions is unquestionably symphonic. His handling of dance rhythms, which play a large part in his music, reveals a strength of instinctive animal vitality astonishing in a man so tortured nervously. “” program notes for funk&wagnalls recording of sixth symphony.

what i’ve realized in the last month is that there is very little of an angle to tchaikovsky (despite his much celebrated nervous disposition)… i mean sharp edges, an eccentric musical signature to latch on to…. i guess that’s the concomitant trait of being a bellwether: that you are, above all, a summary of the past before you… a baton to be passed unto posterity. in comparison to a sibelius, for example, who is at once a culmination and an exception.



Now, however, in the middle of the 20th century—when music has been opened to huge new audiences composed of people with no tradition of emotional reticence—Tchaikovsky has achieved a huge popularity such as he could never have enjoyed in his lifetime. “” program notes for funk&wagnalls recording of sixth symphony.

Bravo Records Recording. Printed in the U.S.A. // Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) // Piano Concerto No.1

Hamburg Festival Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by Amleto Toscali;

Piano Concerto No.1

  • Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito (quick, not too quick—lively with spirit)

  • Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I (slightly slow, simple — very fast)

  • Allegro con fuoco – Molto meno mosso – Allegro vivo (hit em’ with that fire — much less movement — very lively)

In fact this Turgenev exterior concealing a Dostoevsky-like interior world of emotional instability and nervous illness give Tchaikovsky’s music its particular charm. “” robert jacobson, program notes for funk&wagnalls recording of sixth symphony

(that’s the year)———

‘Man and Pool’ john singer sargent, 1917

‘Man and Pool’ john singer sargent, 1917

‘Know who you are and do it on purpose.’—said dolly parton, at least according to a friend with whom i was speaking this week when the conversation turned towards eccentric sartorial expression. so apt was that quote that we knew instinctively to end the conversation on that note. she was two years ago a member of the Emerging Arts Critic program that i am now a part of, and that has been the crowning achievement of this blog. and that’s what this blog has been, doing on purpose what accident and hazard has crafted for me: what business, for example, do i have chit-chatting about music made by dead white men from the last century and beyond? especially in our uber-woke age of 2018?——yet here we are, and i love this shit.  

‘Gratitude pours forth continually, as if the  unexpected had just happened—the gratitude of a convalescent—for convalescence was unexpected’. —of course, of course that was our dear Nietzsche… who knew more than him the joys of convalescence?… or that joy is always a kind of convalescence? by that estimate i might need a whole year to recover from the joys of this one.

‘If you’re going to do it at all, then do it daily.’— what we’d learn most this year here? that if our beasts are of the quotidian kind, so too must our pleasures be: quotidian!

Song of the day 11.10.2017: Better luck tomorrow…

—and finally, it’s more apparent at the end of this year than at the beginning that there’s something to the raw material of the feeling i encapsulated as: it’s not the divine in the music but the musical of the divine, that was most compelling. of the innumerable survey of artistic experiences, music is the most spiritual, ‘the language of the will’ according to musicologist jan swafford (whose book of that title has been a tremendous gift this year)—and crucially: a spirituality divorced from all the dubious subterranean crumminess of the religious experience from which i first learned this fact. i was looking instinctively for the genre that took that fact seriously—and with classical music, one is sure that seriousness is the presupposition. and that i’ve undertaken a general survey of this genre through this abbreviated catalog is the kind the doing it on purpose i’d like to end this year with;

happy new year e.t.c.