Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

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Painting by Alex Katsenelson

When my father talks about classical music you’ll never hear him say that he doesn’t like this composer or that piece; he’ll say instead, “I don’t understand it.”  I always thought he was just being humble.  Despite all his achievements as a scientist and an artist, he is an incredibly humble person; but there is more to his statement than just modesty.  I am generalizing, but classical music often is more complex than pop music.  This complexity means that are a lot of themes (stories) going on in the music; they are like underground currents that you don’t find unless you swim in the river for a while.  Though we can instantly fall in love with some pieces, many require us to work – we need to listen to them more than once to hear them, to “understand.”

I remember many moons ago I bought a used CD of La Boheme. I don’t think I knew anything about that opera (my parents were not big into opera), but it had Pavarotti on the cover, so I bought it.  I listened to it a few times, thinking to myself, how could anybody possibly like this opera. Now it is one of my favorite operas.

When my brother Alex and I were in Sydney in November we went to a concert in the famous Sydney Opera House.  We were in luck: it was a “Russian night” (no, not so-called because Alex and I were in attendance).  The famous Russian conductor (and pianist) Vladimir Ashkenazy was conducting music by Russian composers: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 4.   After the concert I talked to my father, and I told him than I did not care for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.  To which he replied that it was his favorite symphony.  The next day we went walking on the beach in Sydney, and I made a point to listen again to that symphony.  On the second or third listen, I fell in love with that piece.  After I came home to Denver I had my son listen to that symphony, and predictably, he at first hated it, but now he loves it!

So today I want to share with you Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4.

By the way, I’ve listened to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 4 probably two dozen times over the last fifteen years, and I still don’t “understand” it.

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  • Roman says:

    It’s funny. I think I’d really like your father.

    I got a chance to catch the Finale of the Houston Symphony playing Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. They did a great job with it. I was on a date with someone who wasn’t attracted to me until later. I was attracted to her at the time.

    Unfortunately, our attractions didn’t cross paths. When she finally became attracted to me, I was starting a relationship with the one who would become my wife. As for the girl, she ended up getting stabbed in a real traumatic incident with her ex who suffered from PTSD and is now in jail. Poor girl.

    But probably way more than you wanted to hear. That was the only time I’ve ever heard Tchaikovsky’s 4th live and it’s one of my favorites. So I’ll always think of that poor girl when listening to it as I have that memory to it.

    Yeah, I’m like your father. I say “I don’t understand it” if it’s Romantic era Classical music or later before I say “I hate it.” Because I may change my mind.

    Although, the very first time I heard Tchaikovsky’s 6th, I immediately knew it would become my favorite piece of all-time. His 4th is my 2nd favorite of his.

  • Dear Vitaliy when I must compare those two great Russian composers ,. it is not possible . They are totally different .Tchaikovsky’s music is more soft and serene where as Rachmaninoff’s more “raw” and earthy .
    For me it’s easier to fall in love with Tchaikovsky but I’ll need maybe 25 listen to Rachmaninoff

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