Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Donald Macleod takes a series of snapshots of a period that lay at the centre of Tchaikovsky's creative life, from 1876 to 1890.

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Donald Macleod explores music from the aftermath of Tchaikovsky's disastrous marriage.

Donald Macleod investigates a little-known 'lost decade' in the middle of Tchaikovsky's life, a period the composer spent aimlessly wandering around Europe writing songs, chamber works and even religious choral music, as he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality - and his calling as a musician.

In 1878, Tchaikovsky was at the pinnacle of the early part of his career.

Over the previous few years, masterpiece after masterpiece had flowed from his pen - including the masterful violin concerto, Fourth Symphony and opera "Eugene Onegin".

Yet.just as he seemed poised to capitalise on this tremendous success, his world fell apart.

Following a sham marriage to a crazed fan - which he had hastily agreed to in the hope of hiding his own homosexuality - Tchaikovsky fled his home, escaped the life he had so carefully established, and wandered as a lost soul around Europe.

For the next decade he would compose nothing in the genres that had made him famous - no ballets, no symphonies (at least none in the conventional sense) - indeed, almost nothing that's regularly played in the concert hall today.

Instead, Tchaikovsky embarked on a little-performed series of songs, piano and chamber works - even dabbling with the genres of oratorio and mass.

He also made a series of bold experiments in form - writing a set of genre-defying orchestral suites, concertante works for soloist and orchestra, and his only programme symphony - 'Manfred' - a work that was to cause him more anguish than any other work.

Yet.on the other hand were written two of Tchaikovsky's most popular - yet much-derided - orchestral 'lollipops'- the Overture "1812" and Capriccio Italien.

In 1888, after a decade of wandering, Tchaikovsky was to return to Russia and embark on his late series of great works - "Sleeping Beauty", "The Nutcracker", and the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.

This week though, Donald Macleod makes a rare excursion into the rich rarities of this lost decade.

We begin the week with the works that followed in the aftermath of the composer's disastrous marriage, including charming, childlike works for violin and piano solo, and one of Tchaikovsky's least known major works - his choral setting of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

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Tchaikovsky once said that his whole life had been a chain of misfortunes because of his sexuality.

Beginning a week-long exploration of the paradoxes and dichotomies behind the composer's life, Donald Macleod examines Tchaikovsky's attitude towards both sexes.

Amid the Din of the Ball, Op 38, No 3

Sergei Leiferkus (baritone)

Semion Skigin (piano)

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Bernard Haitink (conductor)

Six French Songs, Op 65

Julia Varady (soprano)

Aribert Reimann (piano)

The Enchantress Act 1 (Excerpt)

Marina Shaguch

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Neeme Järvi (conductor)

The Nutcracker Scene 14 (Excerpts)

London Symphony Orchestra

Charles Mackerras (conductor).

Tchaikovsky once said that his whole life had been a chain of misfortunes because of his sexuality.

Beginning a week-long exploration of the paradoxes and dichotomies behind the composer's life, Donald Macleod examines Tchaikovsky's attitude towards both sexes.

Amid the Din of the Ball, Op 38, No 3

Sergei Leiferkus (baritone)

Semion Skigin (piano)

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Bernard Haitink (conductor)

Six French Songs, Op 65

Julia Varady (soprano)

Aribert Reimann (piano)

The Enchantress, Act 1 (Excerpt)

Marina Shaguch

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Neeme Järvi (conductor)

The Nutcracker, Scene 14 (Excerpts)

London Symphony Orchestra

Charles Mackerras (conductor).

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He begins with an exploration of music written and performed in 1876, the year before Tchaikovsky's short and catastrophic marriage.

Swan Lake (Act 1 Waltz)

Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Charles Dutoit (conductor)

Decca 436 212-2 CD1, Tr 2

String Quartet No 3 (excerpt, 3rd mvt)

Borodin Quartet

Teldec 4509 90433-3 CD2, Tr 7

Cherevichki (Act 1 Sc 2)

Oskana....Ekaterina Morozova (soprano)

Vakula....Valery Popov (tenor)

Orchestra of the Cagliari Lyric Theatre

Gennady Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

CDS 287/1-3 CD1, Tr 5

Francesca da Rimini

London Symphony Orchestra

Igor Markevitch (conductor)

BBCL 4053-2, Tr 1.

Donald Macleod looks at Tchaikovsky's music written and performed in 1876.

He begins with a look at music written and performed in 1876, the year before Tchaikovsky's short and catastrophic marriage.

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Tchaikovsky, when judging the music of his peers, could dish out some pretty acidic comments, yet he himself dreaded reading reviews of his own works.

Donald Macleod looks at the composer as both the critic and the criticised.

At the Window, In the Shadow, Op 60, No 10

Joan Rodgers (soprano)

Roger Vignoles (piano)

The Fearful Moment, Op 28, No 6

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)

Oleg Boshniakovich (piano)

Meditation for Violin and Orchestra, Op 42, No 1

Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Sir Neville Marriner (conductor)

Theme and Variations, Op 19, No 6

Viktoria Postnikova (piano)

Piano Trio in Am, Op 50 (excerpt)

Borodin Trio.

2/5.

Tchaikovsky, when judging the music of his peers, could dish out some pretty acidic comments, yet he himself dreaded reading reviews of his own works.

Donald Macleod looks at the composer as both the critic and the criticised.

At the Window, In the Shadow, Op 60, No 10

Joan Rodgers (soprano)

Roger Vignoles (piano)

The Fearful Moment, Op 28, No 6

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)

Oleg Boshniakovich (piano)

Meditation for Violin and Orchestra, Op 42, No 1

Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Sir Neville Marriner (conductor)

Theme and Variations, Op 19, No 6

Viktoria Postnikova (piano)

Piano Trio in Am, Op 50 (excerpt)

Borodin Trio.

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Donald Macleod focuses on the year 1881, a troubled period in Tchaikovsky's life.

Even for this rootless 'lost decade', 1881 was a wretched year in the life of the composer - and Russia.

As the nation was riven with domestic turmoil, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, Tchaikovsky also lost one of his greatest champions, the critic Nikolai Rubinstein.

Last - but very much not least - the composer also had to deal with unwanted and relentless attentions of an obsessive young male fan.

In today's episode Donald Macleod presents perhaps Tchaikovsky's greatest chamber work - the Piano Trio, written in memory of his friend and colleague - as well as an excerpt from his glorious "All-Night Vigil", composed for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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In 1877, Tchaikovsky took a sudden decision to get married. He wasn't the first or last homosexual man to do so, but the repercussions were calamitous, and the event triggered a crisis from which some believe Tchaikovsky never fully recovered. However, this was also the year of two superlative pieces of music, both awash with references that listeners have since interpreted as autobiographical.

Eugene Onegin (excerpt from the Introduction)

Orchestre de Paris

Semyon Bychkov (conductor)

Philips 438 235-2 CD1, Tr 1

Eugene Onegin (excerpt from the Letter Scene, Act 1)

Tatyana....Nuccia Focile (soprano)

Philips 438 235-2 CD1, Tr 11

Eugene Onegin (excerpt from Act 1 conclusion)

Eugene Onegin....Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)

St Petersburg Chamber Choir

Philips 438 235-2 CD1, Trs 14-15

Symphony No 4 in F minor (excerpt from 1st mvt)

Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra

Evgeny Mravinsky (conductor)

DG 419 745-2 CD1, Tr 1

Eugene Onegin (excerpt from Act 3 conclusion)

Philips 438 235-2 CD2, Tr 15.

Donald Macleod explores 1877, the year of Tchaikovsky's disastrous marriage.

Donald Macleod takes a series of snapshots of a period that lay at the centre of Tchaikovsky's creative life, from 1876 to 1890.

2/5. In 1877, Tchaikovsky took a sudden decision to get married. He wasn't the first or last homosexual man to do so, but the repercussions were calamitous, and the event triggered a crisis from which some believe Tchaikovsky never fully recovered. However, this was also the year of two superlative pieces of music, both awash with references that listeners have since interpreted as autobiographical.

Semyon Bichkov (conductor)

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Tchaikovsky's state of mind with regard to his work could veer between ecstatic optimism and despairing doubt.

These mood swings often, as Donald Macleod discovers, severely affected the composer's life and music.

It's painful, It's Sweet, Op 6, No 3

Ljuba Kazarnovskaya (soprano)

Ljuba Orfenova (piano)

Marche Slave, Op 31

Berlin Philharmonic

Herbert Von Karajan (conductor)

Suite No 3, Op 55 (excerpt)

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Neeme Järvi (conductor)

The Oprichnik, Act 2 (excerpt)

Prince Vjaz'minskij....Vladimir Ognovenko (baritone)

Andrej Morozov....Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor)

Basmanov....Alexandra Durseneva (alto)

Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Lirico de Cagliari

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

Allegro Brillante - Piano Concerto No 3, Op 75

Mikhail Pletnev (piano)

The Philharmonia

Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor).

Tchaikovsky's state of mind with regard to his work could veer between ecstatic optimism and despairing doubt.

These mood swings often, as Donald Macleod discovers, severely affected the composer's life and music.

It's Painful, It's Sweet, Op 6, No 3

Ljuba Kazarnovskaya (soprano)

Ljuba Orfenova (piano)

Marche Slave, Op 31

Berlin Philharmonic

Herbert Von Karajan (conductor)

Suite No 3, Op 55 (excerpt)

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Neeme Järvi (conductor)

The Oprichnik, Act 2 (excerpt)

Prince Vjaz'minskij....Vladimir Ognovenko (baritone)

Andrej Morozov....Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor)

Basmanov....Alexandra Durseneva (alto)

Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Lirico de Cagliari

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

Allegro Brillante - Piano Concerto No 3, Op 75

Mikhail Pletnev (piano)

The Philharmonia

Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor).

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1877 had been a wretched year for Tchaikovsky. His marriage had gone hideously wrong in a matter of days and had left deep emotional scars. But the following year, things began to look up. He left his job at the Moscow Conservatoire, which had been a millstone around his neck, and correspondence now flourished between Tchaikovsky and his 'best friend', the wealthy widow Nadhezda von Meck. The fact that he was now solvent, owing to a monthly allowance from her, must have helped.

Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (excerpt, The Lord's Prayer)

St Petersburg Chamber Choir

Nikolai Korniev (conductor)

Philips 473 069-2 CD1, Tr 8

Maid of Orleans (excerpt from Act 1 conclusion)

Joan of Arc....Sofia Preobrazhenskaya (soprano)

Orchestra and Chorus of the Kirov

Boris Khaikin (conductor)

MYTO 992.H028 CD1, Trs 8-10

Violin Concerto in D, Op 35

Gidon Kremer (violin)

Berlin Philharmonic

Lorin Maazel (conductor)

DG 459 043-2, Trs 1-3

Amid the din of the ball; It was in the early spring, Op 38

Joan Rodgers (soprano)

Roger Vignoles (piano)

Hyperion CDA 66617, Tr 5.

Donald Macleod explores 1878, which was a happier year for Tchaikovsky.

B Khaikin (conductor)

Violin Concerto in D

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

03Wayward Niece, Favourite Nephew2010101320110504

Donald Macleod explores the difficult events of the year 1883.

Just as he was struggling to cope with his own domestic affairs, in 1883 Tchaikovsky found himself - entirely unwillingly - having to deal with a family crisis, as his wayward, morphine-addled niece Tanya arrived in Paris, heavily pregnant with an illegitimate child.

Uncle Pyotr was called upon to sort out the mess - just as he was falling heavily - self-destructively - in love with Tanya's brother, his own nephew Bob.

Meanwhile, the composer was struggling with what was to become perhaps his favourite opera - though one little performed today: the tale of the Cossack warrior Mazeppa.

Donald Macleod presents excerpts from the opera, as well as a complete performance of Tchaikovsky's Second Suite for Orchestra - as the composer ditched his familiar symphonic form for a daring new exploration of dance, melody and colour.

Donald Macleod explores the difficult events of the year 1883.

Just as he was struggling to cope with his own domestic affairs, in 1883 Tchaikovsky found himself - entirely unwillingly - having to deal with a family crisis, as his wayward, morphine-addled niece Tanya arrived in Paris, heavily pregnant with an illegitimate child.

Uncle Pyotr was called upon to sort out the mess - just as he was falling heavily - self-destructively - in love with Tanya's brother, his own nephew Bob.

Meanwhile, the composer was struggling with what was to become perhaps his favourite opera - though one little performed today: the tale of the Cossack warrior Mazeppa.

Donald Macleod presents excerpts from the opera, as well as a complete performance of Tchaikovsky's Second Suite for Orchestra - as the composer ditched his familiar symphonic form for a daring new exploration of dance, melody and colour.

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Donald Macleod examines the composer's complicated relationship with his native Russia - a land he professed to adore, though he endeavoured to spend a great deal of time abroad.

Spirit My Heart Away

Olga Borodina (mezzo soprano)

Larissa Gergieva (piano)

Scherzo à la Russe, Op 1, No 1

Viktoria Postnikova (piano)

Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op 33

Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)

Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra

Gennady Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

Symphony No 2 in Cm, Op 17 (excerpt)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Bernard Haitink (conductor)

Dumka, Op 58

Xiang-Dong Kong (piano).

04*2007122020090806

'I don't think the piece has any serious merits, and I shan't be the slightest bit surprised or offended if you find it unsuitable for concert performance,' said Tchaikovsky of his 1812 Overture.

Donald considers how the 1880s began for Tchaikovsky, with this outlandish piece of Russian pomp and circumstance - it was brash, vulgar and militaristic, but popular with British audiences, possibly owing to the musical dispatching of Napoleon's armies.

But there were also with more refined masterpieces such as the Serenade for Strings and a look further back into Russian history through his opera Mazeppa.

1812 Overture

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Georg Solti (conductor)

Decca 417 400-2

Serenade for Strings

USSR State Symphony Orchestra

Evgeny Svetlanov (conductor)

Scribendum SC 024 CD5, Trs 5-8

Mazeppa (Mazeppa's aria from Act 2)

Mazeppa....Sergei Leiferkus (baritone)

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Neeme Jarvi (conductor)

DG 439 906-2 CD2, Tr 3.

Donald Macleod considers how the 1880s began for Tchaikovsky, with his 1812 Overture.

'I don't think the piece has any serious merits, and I shan't be the slightest bit surprised or offended if you find it unsuitable for concert performance,' said Tchaikovsky of his 1812 Overture. It's brash, vulgar, militaristic and popular with British audiences, possibly owing to the musical dispatching of Napoleon's armies.

Donald Macleod considers how the 1880s began for Tchaikovsky, with this outlandish piece of Russian pomp and circumstance, but also with more refined masterpieces such as the Serenade for Strings and a look further back into Russian history through his opera Mazeppa.

George Solti (conductor)

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Donald Macleod on the curious Moscow Cantata and the two-movement Concert Fantasia.

Alongside Tchaikovsky's many celebrated compositions, there are a host of rare and obscure works that barely see the concert stage - but surely none as peculiar as the "Moscow Cantata" of 1883, a work composed to order for the coronation of the new Tsar Alexander III.and barely performed since.

Donald Macleod presents the curious tale of one of the strangest works in the great composer's entire output, and introduces another bold experiment from Tchaikovsky's 'lost decade' - his two-movement "Concert Fantasia" for piano and orchestra.

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Donald Macleod looks at the most fundamental dilemma Tchaikovsky faced - whether to live or to die.

Softly the Spirit Flew Up to Heaven, Op 47, No 2

Nina Rautio (soprano)

Semion Skigin (piano)

Symphony No 6 in Bm, Op 74, Pathetique

Leningrad PO

Evgeny Mravinsky (conductor)

None But the Lonely Heart, Op 6, No 6

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)

Oleg Boshniakovich (piano).

05 LAST*2007122120090807

For Tchaikovsky, who was not the most prolific composer, 1890 was an astonishing year. A few days after the premiere of Sleeping Beauty, he set off for Florence, where he completed his opera Queen of Spades at breakneck speed in just 43 days. Donald Macleod dips into the opera and also enjoys Tchaikovsky's other Souvenir of Florence.

Queen of Spades (excerpt from Overture)

Kirov Orchestra, St Petersburg

Valery Gergiev (conductor)

Philips 438 141-2 CD1, Tr 1

Souvenir de Florence

Yuri Yurov (viola)

Mikhail Milman (cello)

Borodin Quartet

Teldec 4509 90422-2 CD1, Trs 6-9

Queen of Spades (Act 3, Sc 2)

Liza....Maria Gulegina (soprano)

Herman....Gegam Grigorian (tenor)

Kirov Chorus and Orchestra, St Petersburg

Philips 438 141-2 CD3, Trs 6-7

Sleeping Beauty (Waltz)

Philharmonia Orchestra

Herbert von Karajan (conductor)

EMI 476 899-2, Tr 8.

Donald Macleod explores 1891 which, for Tchaikovsky, saw the premiere of Sleeping Beauty.

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Donald Macleod re-evaluates Tchaikovsky's controversial Manfred Symphony of 1885.

Donald Macleod ends his week exploring Tchaikovsky's 'lost decade' with the black sheep of his orchestral oeuvre - a symphony that's not really a symphony; a work that the great conductor Leonard Bernstein called 'junk' and refused to perform; and yet one that contains some of the most beautiful and lyrical moments in his entire output.

At first, the composer adored his programmatic "Manfred Symphony" of 1885.

Inspired by Lord Byron's poem, the process of writing the piece took him several anguished months - and yet, just a few months after he'd basked in satisfaction at its premiere, Tchaikovsky was to reject it forever.

"Abominable", he said.

"I loathe it deeply".

Since then, the work's been a pariah - included almost apologetically on box sets of complete Tchaikovsky symphonies.

Time for a re-evaluation; Donald Macleod presents a rare complete performance by the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Mikhail Pletnev.