When I was a kid, my taste in music was probably a little unconventional compared to my peers. When everyone else was into Creedence Clearwater Revival, I liked the Partridge Family…odd, I know, and I have been told…repeatedly. What can I say? Of course, these musical choices were not considered the most odd, according to my peers, and I suppose they would be right, but the reality is that I simply liked different kinds of music than most.
The most odd musical choice, I suppose, was when I discovered classical music in junior high school. It was in my music class, and our teacher played “The Nutcracker” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. I was hooked!! I began to listen to other classical artists…Gershwin, Mozart, Bach, and any others that I could find. Classical music was so soothing, and yet sometimes…so intense!! While classical music isn’t the kind of music I listen to all the time, it is something I enjoy listening to once in a while. I’m sure that many people would think it’s odd, especially for a junior high school student, but I liked it, and that was all that mattered. My choices were my own to make, and while I wasn’t considered an odd duck, mostly because it wasn’t something I spoke of very often, I suppose I could have seemed odd to anyone who found out about it. It is kind of sad that we are so concerned about what our peers think…especially in junior high, but that is when we are at our most vulnerable, and to be an odd duck would be bad.
Tchaikovsky began piano lessons at age five. Within three years he had become as adept at reading sheet music as his teacher. His parents, initially supportive, hired a tutor, bought an orchestrion, which is a form of barrel organ that could imitate elaborate orchestral effects. They encouraged his piano study for both aesthetic and practical reasons. However, they decided in 1850, to send Tchaikovsky to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in Saint Petersburg. They had both graduated from institutes in Saint Petersburg and the School of Jurisprudence, which mainly served the lesser nobility, would prepare Tchaikovsky for a career as a civil servant. This was mostly because there was not many opportunities for a musician in Russia at that time. Nevertheless, when an opportunity arose for him to be educated in music, he seized the opportunity, and entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1865. The Western leaning teaching he received there set him apart from composers trained in the traditional the Russian style. Tchaikovsky suffered from depression and personal crisis for much of his life. I have to wonder if his music was a form of release.
The origin of the Nutcracker, a classic Christmas Story, is a fairy tale ballet in two acts centered on a family’s Christmas Eve celebration. The Nutcracker Ballet was Alexandre Dumas Père’s adaptation of the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Tchaikovsky set it to music and Marius Petipa choreographed the ballet. It was commissioned by the director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, in 1891, and premiered December 18, 1892. Tchaikovsky composed other music, but for me, The Nutcracker is without any doubt my favorite.