Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Yikes, it's Tchaiks

Everything is covered in snow this morning. One of those gorgeous every-twig-and-every-blade-of-grass falls, more common when one was a kid pre global-warming; the world looks like a black and white movie with splashes of colour spliced in where lights illuminate distant windows. A disgruntled-looking blackbird is huddling in the apple tree outside my study; and for once, following the paw-prints, I can see something of where Solti goes after breakfast.

What composer could be snowier than Tchaikovsky? The BBC is about to have one of its little bonanzas: his complete works on Radio 3. Oh, and Stravinsky's too, only nobody's been shouting about that. Is it a little add-on to please the R3-diehards for whom wall-to-wall Tchaik just sounds too nice? The Russians are coming on 10 February, until 16th.

Of course there's nothing nice about Tchaikovsky. Pain, yes; tragedy, yes; and this greatest of Russians beats the Germans at their own game because there is no musical sehnsucht that can compare with his. Yet this is the quality for which people denigrate him. Dearie dear, he wears his heart on his sleeve. How Russian. How Romantic. How very un-Anglo-Saxon.

The intriguing thing is this: musical hearts don't get worn on sleeves unless their composers have the technique to put them there. And the articulation of longing is not easy. It's hard enough in words, as I've been discovering to my cost while revising third novel (go through manuscript taking out every superfluous adjective and every mention of hearts, souls or spirits, then try to convey how it feels to fall head over heels in love during the course of one conversation on a train. hmm...).

It must require a certain genius to express longing through the metaphor of music to the degree that Tchaikovsky does. Tatiana's letter scene, the transforming swans, princesses and nutcracker princes, the first, fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies, the violin concerto, the Suite no.3 - there's no end to his yearning for the unattainable. It's so perfect that we take it for granted. Yes, people long for the unattainable, yes, so did Tchaikovsky, so it gets into his music, so what? Actually, so plenty.

My favourite Unintentionally Appropriate Tchaikovsky-related quote is from ballerina Alina Cojocaru in a piece currently on the Indy website: 'I find the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux terribly uplifting'. I'm sure her partner Johan Kobborg would agree...

They're showing The Sleeping Beauty on BBC2 on Saturday 27 October. Ballet on terrestrial TV is so rare these days that that's newsworthy.

UPDATE, Thursday 25 January: Solti requests that anyone confused by the above mention of paw-prints should come on over to his blog to see how he won his battle to be allowed outside again...