Friday, December 9, 2011

Tchaikovsky - Marche Slav

An artist is above all a human being, perhaps a human being to the nth degree. Tchaikovsky was such a human. His music can be passionate, emotional, sometimes completely over the top. He is a composer that was emotionally very vulnerable, and his great 'secret' of homosexuality made him all the more vulnerable emotionally and in other ways as well. Indeed, modern scholarship has refuted the 'official' cause of his death to drinking unboiled water during a cholera epidemic,  to suicide ordered by a 'court of honor'  because of his homosexual encounter with a member of the nobility.  That the court of honor would have exposed his secret was probably more than Tchaikovsky could have handled.

When Tchaikovsky's politics are considered, it makes for an interesting comparison with his outlook on his art. Politically, he was an ultra-conservative that was even against the freeing of the serfs in 1861, and was adamantly pro-Czar in his sympathies. His music and compositions were far from conservative, were progressive and in some instances revolutionary. But as with all human beings, Tchaikovsky could be an enigma on occasion.  Adamant about his outlook on his art, just as adamant on his outlook on politics and society, even if they are polar opposites.

Perhaps that is why such an emotional, heart-on-his-sleeve composer such as Tchaikovsky could write a piece such as the 1812 Overture and Marche Slav.  Both are patriotic pieces, and both even share some musical material. Marche Slav was commissioned by the Russian Music Society for a Red Cross benefit for Serbian soldiers that were fighting in a war against The Ottoman Empire.  Russia was an ally of Serbia and eventually did enter the war on the side of the Serbs.  Tchaikovsky wrote it using Serbian tunes and the Russian National Anthem of the time,  'God Save The Czar'. The Russian anthem is used to depict whe n the Russians entered the war and 'rescued' the Serbs.

Make no mistake, this music is a potboiler no matter how it's looked at. A piece of patriotism, written for money by a great composer to help pay the bills, but also because Tchaikovsky perhaps looked at it as a 'patriotic' thing to do. But all of that is no matter, in the final analysis. I've liked this piece from the first time I heard it, and after over thirty years of music listening, I still like it.  All of that probably says more about my taste in music than anything,  but I also think it shows that a great composer can catch your ear even when they write a potboiler.


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