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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. Second rate composers would be the ones whose works you hear semi-regularly on programs or who do not have voices that are as distinctive as those of some composers whom we think of as great (think of Balakirev and Cesar Cui in the Mighty Handful or the other four members of Les Six).

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. Sure, it’s beautiful and emotional music and it hits all of the necessary sweet spots, but it’s not the kind of music that makes you think or puts you in a place of sheer awe and wonder.

And that is fine. Not every composer wrote music that was supposed to touch us on some deep human level. Some of them just wrote beautiful music so that we could enjoy it and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

As far as Tchaikovsky’s own music goes, I would say that his last three symphonies are probably the works that I listen to the most because they are the ones that have the most to say and, again, this is just my opinion.
 

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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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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
Strauss was a fin de siècle Nietzschean in several ways. He had ubermensch-like musical capabilities and used them ruthlessly (ruthlessness being another ubermensch-quality) which included making lots of fame and money with his music. I don't know if he personally also had the Nietzschean scorn for the traditional notion of "depth" although the stark emotions of Salome and Elektra show that it was not all only colorful rambling fun-spectacular surface.

[Tchaikovsky's] music also has a feeling that I find to be very "Russian", and filled with a peculiar kind of sadness and soulfulness.
Interestingly, some of his contemporary Russian critics found his music too westernized (which again hurt him deeply, I think).
 

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Interestingly, some of his contemporary Russian critics found his music too westernized (which again hurt him deeply, I think).
Which is odd because he uses at least as much Russian folk music in his work as any of the nationalists.
 

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Tchaikovsky's music is westernized not because of his eschewing folk tunes, but because he realized that the German symphonic model gave him a framework to compose in. The sonata-allegro design of the Leipzig composers was an anathema to the Nationalists. He also stuck with what was essentially a Brahmsian orchestra rather than rely on on the special effects, at least in his symphonic music. He also embraced the German school's chamber music models: quartets, trios, sonatas that the Nationalists avoided. Some of the Nationalists eventually figured out that they were headed into a musical cul-de-sac and adopted his point of view. Some ways back here someone was complaining that the finale of his Second Symphony was bombastic, repetitive, and not very good: but he was doing exactly was Balakirev wanted, inherited from Glinka's Kamarinskaya: to heck with German development - use changing color and repetition to make the music and that's what happened. For better or worse. 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.
 

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Tchaikovsky's music is westernized not because of his eschewing folk tunes, but because he realized that the German symphonic model gave him a framework to compose in. The sonata-allegro design of the Leipzig composers was an anathema to the Nationalists. He also stuck with what was essentially a Brahmsian orchestra rather than rely on on the special effects, at least in his symphonic music. He also embraced the German school's chamber music models: quartets, trios, sonatas that the Nationalists avoided. Some of the Nationalists eventually figured out that they were headed into a musical cul-de-sac and adopted his point of view. Some ways back here someone was complaining that the finale of his Second Symphony was bombastic, repetitive, and not very good: but he was doing exactly was Balakirev wanted, inherited from Glinka's Kamarinskaya: to heck with German development - use changing color and repetition to make the music and that's what happened. For better or worse. 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.
Good post. I'd just add that there were other tensions under the surface of the Nationalist-cosmopolitan dispute: Petersburg vs. Moscow (where Tchaikovsky ended up) and amateur vs. conservatory trained (where R-K ended up;))
 

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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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I'm sorry, but I think consider Tchaikovsky "second rate" by any means. He was a wonderful tunesmith and orchestrator. Sadly, Tchaikovsky, and at times Sibelius, have been denied they rightful status over the years. But, that's all right, I know what I like and, quite frankly, that's all that matters to me.
 

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He isn't...a 2nd rate composer, or he isn't considered a 2nd rate composer?
Though not to the extent of someone like Liszt, I've definitely heard some gentle ridicule of his romantic tendencies over the years and his orchestral works seem to have been eclipsed in prestige as the big Non-Beethoven/Mozart/Brahms symphony guy by first Mahler, then Bruckner.

Not by me though!
 

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I think that the universality of Tchaikovsky hides that he was at heart a "theatrical composer", A lot of his best instrumental music seems also informed by the dramatic or flamboyant gestures (say the openings of the 4th symphony or bflat minor concerto), great melodies and general graceful elegance of ballet. Balanchine even used the 3rd symphony as ballet music and I could imagine the string serenade, souvenir de florence and at least some movements of other symphonies, string quartets or the violin concerto in a similar way. Sure, the 6th symphony might also be in some way a model for Mahler (who reputedly appreciated Tchaikovsky more than was common in late 19th century Vienna) but the 2nd movement or the sentimental second subject of the first movement although sound almost like taken from ballet.
Not sure about Mahler but Bruckner, Brahms, also Schumann and Sibelius (although these two wrote theatre music) seem to be rather "anti-theatrical" in their better works.
 

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I think that the universality of Tchaikovsky hides that he was at heart a "theatrical composer", A lot of his best instrumental music seems also informed by the dramatic or flamboyant gestures (say the openings of the 4th symphony or bflat minor concerto), great melodies and general graceful elegance of ballet. Balanchine even used the 3rd symphony as ballet music and I could imagine the string serenade, souvenir de florence and at least some movements of other symphonies, string quartets or the violin concerto in a similar way. Sure, the 6th symphony might also be in some way a model for Mahler (who reputedly appreciated Tchaikovsky more than was common in late 19th century Vienna) but the 2nd movement or the sentimental second subject of the first movement although sound almost like taken from ballet.
Not sure about Mahler but Bruckner, Brahms, also Schumann and Sibelius (although these two wrote theatre music) seem to be rather "anti-theatrical" in their better works.
In Mahler´s music I have heard a strong influence of Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Bruckner. I just started to read a Mahler biography and it will be interesting to find out whether these feelings of mine hold any truth.
 

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Oh Schumann, now that's someone who might have fallen much further than Tchaikovsky. I hardly ever see any Schumann programmed and everyone just seems to love talking about how awful an orchestrator he was.
 

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Though not to the extent of someone like Liszt, I've definitely heard some gentle ridicule of his romantic tendencies over the years and his orchestral works seem to have been eclipsed in prestige as the big Non-Beethoven/Mozart/Brahms symphony guy by first Mahler, then Bruckner.

Not by me though!
Sorry, I realise the post of mine you responded to was poorly constructed. Please see revised version.
 

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Schumann's symphonies have probably never been as popular as Tchaikovsky's 4-6 but a lot of his piano music and piano concerto were and are core repertoire. In the last 25 years even Schumann's violin concerto (about the only piece where I find the cliché of the waning abilities of the physically and mentally ill composer understandable) seems to have gained some popularity with violinists.
 

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Where Tchaikovsky is "second rate," there must only be about six "first rate" composers in the entire history of western music.

That is the kind of standard by which Dickens is a second-rate novelist and Cézanne is a second-rate painter. Second-rate isn't too bad.
 

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Where Tchaikovsky is "second rate," there must only be about six "first rate" composers in the entire history of western music.

That is the kind of standard by which Dickens is a second-rate novelist and Cézanne is a second-rate painter. Second-rate isn't too bad.
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.
 

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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.
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.
 

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Tchaikovsky Piano Cto 1 was the work that got me hooked on Classical music some 35 years ago. Still love it to this day. The 2nd Concerto is also enjoyable as are all the Symphonies. My favorite genre though is solo piano so Tchaikovsky doesnt get played much by me any more.
 
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