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.