Get to know Tchaikovsky Online

Sheepishly, as usual, I find myself down to the wire in releasing the syllabus and book recommendations for my two upcoming classes that start next week.

But those in the Tchaikovsky course (beginning this coming Thursday) are in luck. Bonnie has located two free web resources to introduce you to Tchaikovsky’s biography and milieu through the prism of his Fourth Symphony (one of his two “biographical” symphonies).

The first is a 60-minute web video on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s website, captured from their terrific “Beyond the Score” program. Narrator Gerard McBurney interprets the symphony as a convergence of Tchaikovsky’s literary influences and personal romantic upheavals. Like any self-respecting, late romantic orchestral composer, it seems that Tchaikovsky cast himself as his favorite literary characters, viewed his own romantic disappointments as another episode of Eugene Onegin or War and Peace, and used the fourth symphony as the soundtrack.

The second pick is another treatment of the Fourth Symphony from the Keeping Score website (a project of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony). Rather than watching a straight video, you play interactively with the four movements of the 4th Symphony as a representation of Fate, Childhood, Play and Russia. Bonus features include a timeline showing Tchaikovsky’s contemporaries and a look at the instruments and their special moments in the symphony. In addition to the free web application, there’s a DVD for rent on Netflix or for sale on Amazon.

Both of these are an entertaining basic intro to Tchaikovsky himself as well as the symphony. The CSO program is more literary, while the SanFran program tells you a little more about the music of the symphony and the historical context.