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Tchaikovsky is NOT 2nd rate. Tchaikovsky has been at the heart of the repertoire for over 100 years. Futwangler, Toscanini, Monteux, Munch, Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Karajan, Ormandy, Szell, Reiner, Stokowski, Mravinsky, Ozawa, Heifetz, Stern, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yo-Yo Ma, all recorded Tchaikovsky many times over and now the likes of Gustavo "The Dude" Dudamel, Lang Lang, and Yuja Wang, are still revisiting Tchaikovsky. I'm not going to argue against all that.
 

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For me, Tchaikovsky is not on the same plane as Richard Strauss, Beethoven, or Mozart, but I do think that he is very high up there. I wouldn’t call him a second rate composer...Having said this, I think that many people don’t like Tchaikovsky’s music simply because they might find that it has nothing to say. If you listen to Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, or any other composer who has a lot of deep ideas and thoughts, Tchaikovsky might fall a little flat...
I have a different view. I'm fine with placing Beethoven and Mozart at the top of the hierarchy, but to say that Tchaikovsky "falls a little flat" compared to the "deep ideas and thoughts" of Richard Strauss, Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler, is not the way i see it.

Richard Strauss of all composers was first and foremost in it for the money. That doesn't mean that Strauss didn't have imagination or skill. Strauss' tone poems have a lot of color and vivid imagery. Also Sprach Zarathustra is a loud, rambling, fun-spectacular, Ein Heldenlieben, Alpine Symphony, Till Eulenspiegel, Death and Transfiguration, and Don Quixote the same; but I don't hear anything really heart-felt and sincere in Strauss until we get to the very end when in an age of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Boulez; Strauss goes back to the spirit of Schubert and Schumann with the lovely Four Last Songs.

Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler, all dealt with life and art in very bloated and overblown terms. Wagner's passion, Bruckner's religious fanaticism, and Mahler's neurosis and existential angst, come out in the music but it's also very redundant and sometimes it gets tiresome. At least Tchaikovsky tried to be a good craftsman and his favorite composer was Mozart who Tchaikovsky called a "Musical Christ". Tchaikovsky's ideal was to do like Mozart did and weave his beautiful melodies into a seamless whole, and I think he did that as much or even more than Strauss, Wagner, Bruckner, or Mahler. And Tchaikovsky's emotional element is as sincere. Yes it can be sentimental and syrupy, but I think it is also sincere. It's clear that Tchaikovsky was anxious, depressed, phobic, sensitive, as well as an alcoholic. He was gay in a time when such matters weren't discussed, understood, or accepted. His music also has a feeling that I find to be very "Russian", and filled with a peculiar kind of sadness and soulfulness. I find this same feeling in Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, as a feeling that speaks for the long-time suffering of the Russian people.
 

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Near the end of his life Rimsky-Korsakov said that looking back over the last 30 years, since the Mighty Five started, that is was all in vain. There were no followers and their school of composition was at a dead end. Tchaikovsky had the right idea all along.
Athoughtful post, but I think that Mussorgsky was on something. Of all "The Five" he was most original and urgent. If anyone could have created a Russian school completely different from the German models it was Mussorgsky, almost analogous to Ives in the USA. Too bad that Mussorgsky's alcoholism and lack the discipline made it so that he could not follow through. The "Rimskyfication" of Boris Godunov and Bald Mountain make the music sound more rich and lyrical which is fine, but Mussorgsky's original and unedited versions reveal a unique musical vision in full form.
 

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The point is well taken but I'm not sure I could name 6 "first rate" novelists I'd rank above Dickens. Hell, Tolstoy may be the only one I'd definitively put ahead of Dickens.
If we're going to bring Tolstoy into the conversation than I should probably mention that I once read in the liner notes of an old LP I once had of Tchaikovsky and Verdi String Quartets (Guarneri) that when Tolstoy was present at a recital of the Tchaikovsky Quartet that there were tears steaming down his face during the beautiful "Antante Cantabile"

Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy:

Tchaikovsky - A Beginners Guide
Leo Tolstoy - Books, Quotes & War and Peace - Biography
 

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Dickens might actually be a good comparison because the literary analysis kind of people don't care for him as much. More beloved than admired.
It's really difficult to find a parallel analogy in literature, cinema, or art, that compares to Tchaikovsky. In poetry you might have someone like Edgar Guest who was very popular at one time, and mostly with casual and unsophisticated readers of poetry, but was never considered by literary critics to be on the high station as the likes of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Frost, Ginsburg, etc. In art you might have an artist such as Thomas Kinkade whose paintings adorn every waiting room across America and are sincerely admired in many homes as well, is almost always considered to be garbage by art critics.

Though Tchaikovsky is loved by little children who dance to the Nutcracker, and by many casual listeners who have just a few classical recordings in their music collection; I sense a great deal more integrity in Tchaikovsky's music than I detect in Guest's or Kinkade's artistic output. And that's not a slam against Guest or Kinkade; just that Tchaikovsky is a very special or even a unique kind of artist that at once manages to be both "high brow" and "low brow"; "Populist" but still "Sophisticated"; thoroughly Russian but also universal in appeal. Any snob worth his or her metal would scorn the programming of a "Star Wars Suite" or "Victory at Sea Suite" by a major orchestra, but even among honest-to-goodness snobs, Tchaikovsky remains a matter of dispute.
 
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