David Brown – Tchaikovsky
A Biographical and Critical Study
Vol. 2, The Crisis Years (1874-1878)
Victor Gollancz Ldt, 1982
As I promised in the review of the first volume of David Brown’s monumental biography on Tchaikovsky, I add a new chapter about the second part of this four-volume study: The Crisis Years, 1874-1878.
As you may notice, the book focuses on a little lapse of time, five years in all, but these years are crucial in the composer’s life in many respects: these are the years of the creation of two masterpieces such as The Swan Lake and Eugene Onegin, of the Fourth Symphony, which marks many important innovations in Tchaikovsky’s style, of the Slavonic March, which testifies the composer’s patriotic involvement in events of his times (in this case, the war against the Turks), but these are also the years of his fatal and hopeless marriage, ended abruptly after only some months, and of the beginning of the correspondence with Nadezhda von Meck, who was to finance him for almost twelve years and who incredibly he never met, by mutual agreement.
Music and incidents are described by Brown with the attention to which he accustomed us in the first volume, with the support of many documents and direct testimonies (with full quotes from the Tchaikovsky-von Meck correspondence and other letters, revealing portion of text which had been suppressed by the Soviet censors), and, on the musical side, with an analytic account of birth, development and influences of many compositions and the reaction of the contemporaries to them. I have just mentioned the “influences” of other composers over Tchaikovsky’s works and I would like to remember the extraordinary influence of Richard Wagner, who Tchaikovsky abhorred, over the symphony Francesca da Rimini, which the Russian composer wrote after attending some performances at the just opened theatre of Bayreuth. As for Onegin, Brown’s account is one of the best devoted to this opera, of which he examines especially the thematic elements and their recurrences, stressing their importance and effects in the opera itself.
In this way, Brown reconstructs the facts which established Tchaikovsky as one of the most important composers of his age and to his self-destruction as a human being. As the previous volume, The Crisis Years is a remarkable source, highly recommended to anyone who is interested in Tchaikovsky’s life and music.