Between Two Worlds

Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works

Written by David Ogilvie

Photo: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo


Despite being one of the most well-documented composers in history, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is arguably one of the most misunderstood. Invariably popular with the general public, largely because of his more emotional works, the almost hypnotic effect that he was able to induce led to serious questioning of his true musical quality. As a result, his reputation has fluctuated greatly owing to changes in musical schools of thought, social mores, under- and over-evaluation, and even political regimes.

Two major interwoven strands stand out in Tchaikovsky’s life and works: his sensitive, initially sexually confused, inner life, and the conflict between his ‘Russianness’ — the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood — and the European principles and musical forms of the St Petersburg Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1865. We can see more clearly now that Tchaikovsky’s great achievement was not only writing much wonderful music, but the reconciliation of these two stylistic universes, paving the way for other Russian composers to build their own individual styles.

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