Tchaikovsky’s Rhythmic Games

For all of its perceived bombast and emotional excess, a unique kind of elegance, lightness, and motion lies at the heart of much of Tchaikovsky’s music. Even when Tchaikovsky was not writing for the ballet, ballet music, with its eternal sense of motion, seemed to be coming out. Tchaikovsky was obsessed with the music of Mozart, perhaps the epitome of classical elegance. He said Mozart’s works were “the highest, most perfect culmination ever attained by beauty in the realm of music.” The Orchestral Suite No. 4 “Mozartiana” is Tchaikovsky’s most overt homage to Mozart’s music.

When I’m playing Tchaikovsky’s music, I love those moments when one small rhythmic addition disrupts what would otherwise be fairly straightforward. For example, listen to this passage from the famous waltz from Swan Lake. For a moment, focus on the melody and pizzicato, which give us an unrelenting sense of the three beats of the waltz. Then let your ear drift to the flutes which superimpose a larger feeling of three. The combination is dizzying…the equivalent of musical vertigo:

Listen to the complete Swan Lake Suite here.


One Response to Tchaikovsky’s Rhythmic Games

  1. Mary McGagh April 6, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    This is absolutely beautiful music. “Swan Lake” is one of my favorite ballets for the music as well as the dancing. On October 30, 2014, Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director of Boston Ballet, presented a new production based on Petipa/Ivanov choreography with additional choreography by Mikko. I will see this production again later this month.

    However, my truly favorite ballet is “Onegin” for its heartrending story, the dance ensembles and the music for which Kurt-Heinz Stolze arranged an entirely new score from selections of Tchaikovsky oeuvre, but not using a single note from Tchaikovsky”s opera “Eugene Onegin.” I saw this exquisite ballet performed by Boston Ballet just this past February. However, my most memorable performance of this glorious gem was at the Vienna State Opera House in October 2006.

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