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When we consider how many wonderful melodies are to be found in Tchaikovsky’s music – from The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and the symphonies and operas – it should come as no surprise that Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) also composed a large body of songs, a genre where melody typically reigns supreme. What might be surprising is that these songs generally do not rank as high as his ballets and symphonies. Part of the reason for this in the West is the language barrier, as many young singers in this country are not given training in the Russian language.
But even in Tchaikovsky’s day, his songs were not enthusiastically supported by his contemporaries, who accused his songs of not being “Russian” enough, and complained that, rather than building upon the Russian song tradition or romans, Tchaikovsky appeared to be imitating the German Romantic Lied tradition. Nowadays, this assessment seems a bit misguided, for certainly one reason Tchaikovsky’s songs are not more popular in this country is because they are so Russian, which can be intimidating for a non-Slavic singer to penetrate.
The selection of songs on this program span the length of Tchaikovsky’s career and demonstrate both how far the composer was able to develop his song-writing craft, and how, from the beginning, he used the song to convey a sense of despair and grief. His last song, “Again, as before, I am alone,” besides being one of his most powerful, is an autobiographical depiction of the lonely despair the composer had felt since early in his career; it is this depressed mood can be heard in different guises in many of Tchaikovsky’s songs.
-- Ryan Dorin is currently working towards completion of a Ph.D. in Music Composition at New York University. He is currently composing and drawing an animated opera.