Tchaikovsky's Struggle to Turn Song Into Symphony

Click here for my notes on the Tchaikovsky Symphony #1

I inspired mild controversy last weekend with my UpBeat Live talks on the Tchaikovsky first symphony. After reading for years about Tchaikovsky's struggles to meld his melodies to symphonic form, I wanted to explore for myself some structurally weak moments in his first symphony. A few people were upset, feeling it diminished their enjoyment of the music. For me, this investigation made the music even more interesting. But you know how we often stumble on parallels in life seemingly by accident? Well, just yesterday I stumbled on this shocking but fascinating paragraph written years ago for the Atlantic Monthly about another composer with superb melodic gifts who also struggled with symphonic form—none other than George Gershwin and his Rhapsody in Blue:

"The Rhapsody is not a composition at all. It's a string of separate paragraphs stuck together. The themes are terrific – inspired, God-given. I don't think there has been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Tchaikovksy.  But if you want to speak of a composer, that's another matter. Your Rhapsody in Blue is not a real composition in the sense that whatever happens in it must seem inevitable. You can cut parts of it without affecting the whole. You can remove any of these stuck-together sections and the piece still goes on as bravely as before. It can be a five-minute piece or a twelve-minute piece. And in fact, all these things are being done to it every day. And it's still the Rhapsody in Blue."

This paragraph was written by none other than Leonard Bernstein!


Click here to read my blog entry on the Brahms Piano Concerto #2

My talks on this Brahms piano concerto focused on my favorite moment in the piece: the passage where time seems to stand still with the piano accompanying two clarinets in the slow movement. I finally understand how this section relates with the rest of the piece.