Great Masters: Tchaikovsky—His Life and Music

Course No. 753
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 753
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Course Overview

The life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) exhibits as close a link as you will find anywhere between an artist's inner world and the outward products of that artist's creative activity. As a man, Tchaikovsky was defined by and indivisible from his music, which became an outlet for all the shifting moods of his turbulent soul. As Professor Robert Greenberg says, "If Tchaikovsky felt it, it found a way into his music."

As an artist—and it is worth recalling that he was the first full-time, formally trained, professional composer in Russian history—Tchaikovsky walked a fine and difficult line between his Romantic penchant for expression and the demands of Classical structure.

This delicate balancing act—between heart and head, emotion and reason, release and control, Russian expressive content and German technique—is a key to his music that you find amply illustrated by Professor Greenberg's musical selections and commentary.

A Suitable Profession

"To know Tchaikovsky's music, we must be familiar with the details of his life because his music, as his Sixth Symphony so abundantly demonstrates, is so often an intimate confession, a mirror of a personal life tormented by doubt and sexual anxiety," states Professor Greenberg.

Tchaikovsky was an unusually sensitive child, with an abnormal dependency on his mother and an obsessive love of music.

As a child of a 19th-century upper-class Russian family, however, Tchaikovsky's musical talent was not particularly encouraged. His parents had him educated for the more "suitable" profession of the civil service at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg.

It was at school that Tchaikovsky discovered his homosexuality. It was also while still a schoolboy that Tchaikovsky lost his mother to cholera. Her death was a shattering experience for the 14-year-old Tchaikovsky and it found poignant expression in his later music.

After Tchaikovsky graduated from the School of Jurisprudence, he was employed as a government clerk—but not for long. His obsession with music eventually won out, and he entered the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory.

He graduated in 1866 at the age of 26 and joined the teaching faculty at the likewise newly established Moscow Conservatory.

In 1868, his First Symphony was premiered; it already possessed the hallmark of Tchaikovsky's musical style: formal Classical construction coupled with Romantic expression.

Growing Success Plagued with Self-Doubt

For the rest of his career, Tchaikovsky would successfully tread a fine line between Russian emotional excess and Germanic intellectual control. He was the only composer in Russia at that time who could combine the best of Western European technique with his own Russian heritage.

Despite his growing musical success, Tchaikovsky remained prey to self-doubt about his compositional abilities, to bouts of severe depression, and to anxiety that his homosexuality would be publicly exposed.

His sense of alienation seems to have turned him inward to a world of self-expression that he might not otherwise have discovered had he felt less isolated.

Among the great works of the 1870s were the iconoclastic First Piano Concerto and the music for the ballet Swan Lake, which revolutionized the art and substance of ballet.

Another masterwork was the opera Eugene Onegin of 1877. That year also marked the start of Tchaikovsky's brief but disastrous marriage and his unique relationship with his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck.

A Long-Distance Musical Relationship

Nadezhda's devotion to Tchaikovsky and his music resulted in one of the strangest relationships in music history.

She supported Tchaikovsky with the agreement that they would never meet, but only exchange letters. Her generosity enabled Tchaikovsky to leave his teaching post at the Moscow Conservatory in 1878 and concentrate on his compositional career.

By the early 1880s, he had become an international celebrity. He conquered his fear of conducting and toured Europe promoting his own music.

In 1890, however, he was devastated by the loss of his friendship with Nadezhda von Meck, who withdrew her financial support because of family problems. She also ceased to write letters to Tchaikovsky. He became embittered and began to age visibly.

Nevertheless, in 1891, he undertook a highly successful conducting tour of the United States and, a year later, received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University.

Tchaikovsky's last years were filled with composing, traveling, performances of his music, and new friends, including mutual admirer Anton Chekhov.

In late August 1893 Tchaikovsky completed his Sixth Symphony, which reveals a composer at the height of his power. Two months later, he lay dying of self-inflicted arsenic poisoning. His homosexual affair with a young nobleman had been discovered, and it was in danger of becoming a public scandal.

A group of former classmates of the School of Jurisprudence, calling themselves a "court of honor," had decided that Tchaikovsky was jeopardizing the reputation of their alma mater. They forced him to commit suicide.

The public was told that he had died of cholera, a disease common at the time.

"A Genius of Emotion"

As was the case with Beethoven, the serious personal and psychological problems that plagued Tchaikovsky also profoundly enriched his music, opening up a font of expression that an equally talented but less troubled man might never have tapped.

From the suffering of the man, then, came the triumph of the artist—a triumph without which we we would not have Swan Lake, the Serenade for Strings, or the Pathétique Symphony.

Is this a sad irony, a thrilling testament to the transforming power of art, or perhaps both?

Discover Overlooked Musical Gems

Professor Greenberg points out that the essence of Tchaikovsky as a man and great artist is heard best in compositions that are often overlooked because of the tremendous popularity of his more famous orchestral works and ballet scores.

After taking this course, then, you will be among the relative few who know the true significance of such marvelous but underappreciated chamber pieces as the String Quartet no. 3 in E-flat Minor, op. 30.

In smaller, rarely heard works like this, Tchaikovsky reveals himself, his world, and his experience with deeply moving intensity.

Blending Passion and Technique

"Tchaikovsky's music remains an enduring monument to a man who was not only a great composer but also a highly popular composer," says Professor Greenberg.

"He possessed the unique ability in his day to blend the fire and passion of Russian nationalism with Germanic compositional technique. He infused his music with a rare intensity of expression and a rich harmonic and melodic beauty that guarantee his place among the greatest contributors to the repertoire."

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Symphony no. 1 in G Minor, op. 13 (Winter Daydreams) (1868)
Six Songs, op. 6, no. 6 (None but the Lonely Heart ) (1869)
String Quartet no. 1 in D, op. 11 (1871)
Symphony no. 2 in C Minor, op. 17 (Little Russian) (1872)
Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23 (1874)
String Quartet no. 3 in E-flat Minor, op. 30 (1876)
Swan Lake, op. 20 (1877)
Eugene Onegin (1877)
Symphony no. 4 in F Minor, op. 36 (1877)
Serenade for Strings in C Major, op. 48 (1880)
Symphony no. 6 in B Minor, op. 74 (Pathétique) (1893)

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8 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction and Early Life
    Tchaikovsky was an extremely sensitive child, obsessive about music and his mother. His private life was reflected to a rare degree in his music. His mother's death when he was 14 years old was a shattering experience for him—one that found poignant expression in his music. x
  • 2
    A Career in Music
    According to Tchaikovsky, Mozart's Don Giovanni was the inspiration for his musical career. After a brief turn as a civil servant, he joined the teaching faculty at the new Moscow Conservatory, and in 1868 his First Symphony was premiered. He was the only composer in Russia at that time with the education, craft, and talent to combine the best of Western European compositional technique with his own Russian heritage. x
  • 3
    The First Masterworks
    The Russian nationalist composer Mili Balakirev championed Tchaikovsky's music and suggested the idea for Tchaikovsky's first masterwork, the Overture-Fantasy Romeo and Juliet of 1869. Tchaikovsky's first two symphonies and the iconoclastic First Piano Concerto were written between 1868 and 1872. His success allowed him to acquire his own apartment, freeing him to lead a double life as a homosexual. Yet he feared public exposure in a country that severely punished homosexuality. x
  • 4
    Maturity
    Tchaikovsky took a number of structural liberties with his First Piano Concerto that drew criticism as well as praise. It soon became a favorite throughout Europe and the Americas. Despite his success, Tchaikovsky lacked confidence in his creative abilities and felt alienated by his homosexuality, which may have forced him to turn inward to a world of self-expression. Swan Lake, written in 1876, revolutionized the way ballet depicted mood, dramatic action, and characters in the tragic story. x
  • 5
    Three Women—Tatyana, Antonina, and Nadezhda
    In 1877, Tchaikovsky wrote Eugene Onegin, an opera inspired by Pushkin's tale of unrequited love. In July 1877, he married a former conservatory student, Antonina Milyukova. The marriage was such a disaster that Tchaikovsky would attempt suicide. He separated from her that October. He was then exchanging letters with a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Meck, who became his patroness and lifeline for the next 14 years. x
  • 6
    "My Great Friend"
    With the generous financial support of Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky lived abroad, and in 1878 resigned from the Moscow Conservatory to compose full time. His Fourth Symphony was premiered in Moscow and was quickly followed by the brilliant Violin Concerto in D Major, which became a pillar of the repertoire within a few years. x
  • 7
    "A Free Man"
    Tchaikovsky's masterwork of 1879—80 is the Serenade for Strings, for which he himself had a special affection. In the 1880s, Tchaikovsky became an international celebrity. He conquered his fear of conducting and promoted his music across Europe. Yet he was still unhappy due to depression and anxiety over public discovery of his homosexuality. In the late 1880s he wrote the Fifth Symphony. x
  • 8
    The Last Years, or Don't Drink the Water
    In 1890, Tchaikovsky lost his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck; she could no longer support him. In 1891, he made a highly successful conducting tour of the United States. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University. In August 1893, he completed his Sixth Symphony. On November 4, 1893, he died of self-inflicted arsenic poisoning. It was publicly announced that he had died of cholera. Tchaikovsky's music endures—a unique marriage of Western European compositional technique and passionate Russian nationalism. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Great Masters: Tchaikovsky—His Life and Music is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 52.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful introduction to Tchaikovsky I loved this course, it is a wonderful introduction to Tchaikovsky the human being, and to his profoundly beautiful music. Professor Greenberg presents Tchaikovsky in his historical and cultural context, and the composer's family and upbringing, while emphasizing his unique, extraordinary creative gift. Professor Greenberg is never dry, his presentation is alive, funny, and so appreciative. This course moved me to purchase some recordings of Tchaikovsky's music, and to buy Professor Greenberg's course "How to Listen To and Understand Great Music," which I am *greatly* enjoying!
Date published: 2017-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great overview of Tchaikovsky Great overview of his life and work. More heavy on anecdotes than I prefer, less focus on music per se. Professor states this intense biographical focus is to understand music in more depth, appreciate Tchaikovsky's emotional turmoil and pathos. I think some of the biographical detail could have been condensed, to focus on more of the music itself (good example: his course on Mozart's chamber works, only enough bio material as needed for the work in question). Overall a very good course, another solid offering from Dr. Greenburg.
Date published: 2017-01-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from If It's Greenberg, It's Good, But... Robert Greenberg is nothing if not entertaining, and the entertainment is in high style in this course. Robert Greenberg is nothing if not informative, and nformative is putting it mildly here. At the same time, I have more reservations about this one than any of Greenberg's other offerings with the Great Courses. First is his relation to his subject. While Greenberg expresses genuine admiration for Tchaikovsky's music, it's hard to avoid the feeling that he holds his subject in some disdain. More than once he seems to make light of Tchaikovsky's melancholy and depression. And while I am sure that Dr. Greenberg is not homophobic, some of his wisecracks relating to Tchaikovsky's homosexuality made me squirm. In a nutshell, he does not seem to be sympathetic to Tchaikovsky the man, a kindness he manages even for the notoriously difficult Beethoven. Second, as other reviewers have pointed out, there is more life story than music. Very little of the music is deconstructed in any helpful way. Which is unfortunate, because the pieces that Greenberg does explain are very tantalizing and eye-opening. Yet Greenberg focuses on Tchaikovsky's life, or more accurately, his personal failings and foibles. In fact, we really don't end up with a good life sketch, not like Greenberg's parallel courses on Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. It's not that Greenberg treats Tchaikovsky as a pathetic clown, but sometimes he comes dangerously close. Third, there are the constant needless mispronunciations. Look, Russian names and places really aren't hard to say if you put the stress where it belongs. Greenberg could easily have looked a few things up and thrown an accent mark on his notes. AnDREYevna, PeTROvich, FilaRETovna, even Tchaikovskaya (the female form of Tchaikovsky, in reference to the composer's mother and sister) are not that alien to the English-speaking tongue. But Greenberg stumbles over and butchers all these and more. Weirdly, every single time Greenberg says the name of Tchaikovsky's hometown of Votkinsk it comes out as - I have no other word for it - a snarl. Either he had a very bad experience there or he is struggling to say it. A couple of time he seemed to be under the impression that it's "Votkinksk." Two simple syllables, accent on the first. If you can say Minsk, you can say Kinsk, and if you can say Vot as well, then you can say Votkinsk. The fact is that any musicologist worth his salt should have a smattering of French, German, Italian and Russian, at least enough to know the pronunciations. Greenberg gives us a German pronunciation of "Bach" but mispronounces "Alsace." He even makes the freshman error of putting an English "th" sound in Pathétique. Minor irritants, to be sure. But they are distracting and, with ever so little checking, unnecessary. Fourth and most concerning are the errors of fact and history. Several times Greenberg gets the Julian (Old Style) and Gregorian calendars backwards. Nadezhda von Meck had eleven children, not 18. And her break with Tchaikovsky wasn't forced on her because "her children were bleeding her dry"; if anything, her outlandish largesse to the composer (even after he was funded by Tsar Alexander) was impoverishing the family business. (It is true that some loss occurred because her son Vladimir managed business affairs poorly.) Greenberg ignores the fact that Tchaikovsky's niece married von Meck's son - an occasion attended by the composer but not his patron - and a raging conflict between mother and her Tchaikovskaya daughter-in-law was probably a far more decisive factor. Not to mention von Meck's realization that her tuberculosis was terminal. Greenberg makes two comments that have given me pause about purchasing his course on Wagner. He refers to Wagner's patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, as "very rich and very crazy" in one lecture and in another refers to him as "Mad King Ludwig - who really was nuts." I'm sorry, but anybody at the turn of the 21st century who seriously thinks King Ludwig was mad is just plain guilty of sloppy research. Ludwig was overthrown in a palace coup while he was out of town. It was done by forcing a team of doctors (who had never examined him) to sign a document certifying him insane. He died under mysterious circumstances at Berg Castle (his captors claimed suicide by drowning, but the autopsy they frantically tried to prevent showed no water in his lungs). Ludwig was a hopeless romantic, reclusive, socially awkward, and guilt-ridden over his homosexuality, but no responsible historian since the 1950s seriously believes there was anything actually wrong with his mind. A final caution regarding this course: The exact cause of Tchaikovsky's death is a matter of lively dispute. But Greenberg presents the "forced suicide" theory as if it were the established consensus of historians. He says that the Soviet government covered up the truth but that previously suppressed documents released from the Communist archives under Yeltsin confirm this version of events. In fact, the "Court of Honor" theory, far from being hidden by the Soviets, was first aired by a Russian musicologist during the Brezhnev era. Among other problems, it relies on the interception of a letter to the Tsar from one Duke of Stenbok-Fermor, with whose nephew Tchaikovsky had allegedly had an affair. Problem is, no such Duke existed. There was a Count Stenbok-Fermor, and Greenberg has obligingly corrected the rank. But the Count was an intimate of the Tsar who lived in the palace. He would hardly have sent any correspondence, let alone such explosive correspondence, through an intermediary. In any case, Greenberg describes events as if they took place when in fact they're speculation. Which is not to say that the forced suicide theory is necessarily false. I happen to be inclined toward it. But it's important to acknowledge that it has at least as many holes as any of the other theories surrounding Tchaikovsky's death. The matter is not as resolved as Greenberg would have us believe. Even given all of the above, I do recommend this course. Some reviewers are turned off by Greenberg's style. I find it refreshing and stimulating. This course has prompted me to buy some music I did not previously own, and Greenberg is right - I wasn't sorry that I did. I only wish Greenberg had taken a little more time with the music and significant life events and gone lighter on the tabloid approach.
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent - but too short Prof. Greenberg is fantastic -- knowledgeable, funny, and incisive, with a distinct New York humor. The only "problem" with this course is that it is too short -- should have been double the length to do Tchaikovsky's corpus the depth it deserves. But for anyone who wants to get the "core" of this master Romantic composer -- a great course.
Date published: 2017-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful content, presentation not so much This course content and organization is wonderful. Prof. Greenberg does a great job of providing the history of the times and of Tchaikovsky and explaining how Tchaikovsky's experiences informed his music. He intersperses segments of music with his discussion in a wonderful way so that you appreciate and have a better understanding of the music you are listening to. However, Prof. Greenberg's presentation style is pretty bad. He is clearly excited about his subject, and certainly is providing great information, but his excitable presentation style and his continual over stressing of words is rather jarring.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative Dr. Greenberg is one of the best professors I have ever viewed. His presentation is both rewarding and informative. Tchaikovsky is one of the great music masters and I'll learned much about his life from this course. I took this course at an OLLI Class at UNLV and liked it so much that I decided to buy it for myself.
Date published: 2016-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Happy I Bought This Course I don't really know much about classical music and have endeavored to learn more about it. I really enjoy Professor Greenberg's presentation of the material. It's funny, raw, and fast paced. It also presents samples from each work to reinforce the topic at hand. He also really helps his class to connect with Tchaikovsky personally. At times, too much information was presented about the composer's various tastes. However, there was a point to everything he said and that was really appreciated. He's a great lecturer--his enthusiasm transfers nicely towards whatever he discusses, his passion for the topic is both realistic and inspiring. The course is great and I'm glad I purchased it.
Date published: 2016-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love this man... Both Tchaikovsky and Robert Greenberg. I probably am biased in favor of the composer after years of ballet, but I can't get enough of his music. This course gave me a new perspective on many of his works, as it showed how much of his work was related to events in his life. I agree with Dr. Greenberg that Tchaikovsky, not Johann Strauss, should be called the Waltz king...Strauss never wrote anything as good (plus, as my father said, "if you have heard 8 bars of anything Johann Strauss wrote, you have heard everything Johann Strauss wrote)." I wish Dr. Greenberg had been able to identify the performers for the piano and the violin concerti, as I found the recordings wonderful, and I don't have them. The information about Tchaikovsky's death was new to me, although I had never believed he died of cholera, the symptoms not matching that disease. But the reason he died is appalling: how could anyone terminate a composer of his talent for such a trivial reason?
Date published: 2016-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent value, engagingly presented This has been my favorite of the many Great Courses I have taken on music. It is an enjoyable balance of music, commentary, and biography. In eight lectures I have learned to relate Tchaikovsky's music to his life and been introduced to some wonderful pieces of music I did not know previously.
Date published: 2015-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful, Enjoyable. This was a very informative and insightful lecture serious. It helped me have a deeper appreciation for Tchaikovsky's life. Thus it has helped me to understand his approach to writing music --the context. There did seem to be some contradictions. At one point I was almost sure Professor Greenberg stated that Peter's music was too Germanic, but then later stated that it was too melodically driven --which is not Germanic at all. But perhaps I need to listen to it more. His music was of a hybrid nature, so it may be too nuanced to say it is too Germanic or too melodic. Structure is most definitely there, but perhaps in a different way then we generally think of it. Overall a very enjoyable and informative lecture serious. Can't wait to listen to more lectures by this professor.
Date published: 2015-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling and enlightening Professor Greenberg delivers yet again with a riveting biography of Tchaikovsky that also introduces you to some of his music that you may not have heard but certainly should- his "Serenade for Strings" chief among them in my opinion. Absolutely wonderful!
Date published: 2015-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Virtuoso Lecture Series The Great Courses equivalent of a book that you "can't put down" - it is a biography presented with Professor Greenberg's trademark excitement and wry humor. Most enjoyable, however, is the way in which Greenberg combines an elegantly paced and richly developed narrative with musical excerpts that serve to illuminate the work product and inner temperament of the composer. All components of this course blend harmoniously to leave the listener awestruck by the sheer sensual joy of this learning experience
Date published: 2015-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing course. " Professor Robert Geenberg is not only an expert but also a humorous, insightful and delightful presenter who brings the subject to life. I highly recommend beginning with Professor Greenberg's "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music," then select the five or six composers of greatest interest. For example, I have worked through Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and, Wagner. Next is his "How to Listen to and Understand Great Opera" followed by Verdi. Professor Greenberg demonstrates how the individual composer's private life and psyche as well as the historical setting are intimately revealed in their music. If you long to fill that great gap in your education on Western Civilization and culture begin here. Then, you can move on to great literature with Professor Marc C. Connor and his amazing "How to Read and Understand Shakespeare." Walter J. McDonald, Jr. "
Date published: 2015-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spellbound! I purchased the Tchaikovsky Great Courses DVDs of lectures given by musical scholar, Robert Greenberg. I am watching them with a friend who also loves them and we have finished six lectures so far out of eight. They are BEYOND excellent!! Professor Greenberg is incredibly knowledgeable and knows just what parts of a composer's life to focus on. He is brilliant, thorough, and witty. I learned of these musical lectures through a class offered in a lifelong learning program in the Baltimore area for +50 people in which I am enrolled. The instructor played the whole sequence of Great Courses lectures on Mozart in one class I signed up for and they were equally as good as the Tchaikovsky ones. (Professor Greenberg also lecturing in those DVDs) The class came first and inspired me to buy the Tchaikovsky DVDs. My friend who is enjoying the Tchaikovsky lectures with me gave me three of your great courses for Christmas! (the ones on Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler.) Like me, he loves music and is now hooked on Mr. Greenberg's lectures as I am. We will be watching all of these lectures together. The lifelong learning program I attend always uses your products for its classes on composers and there are plans to run a class on Brahms using your DVDs in the fall. I will be the first one to sign up for that class! Do you think I like your products??? :-)
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Music Biography at its Best I really cannot recommend this course highly enough. Tchaikovsky was not entirely likeable, and he most certainly did not lead the life of a saint. But his musical legacy is undeniable, and the context that Greenberg provides for why he was who he was -- and the music he made -- is nothing short of spellbinding. I was riveted by this course. Yes, I wish there were more musical samples, but it is a musical biography, not a history of the music per se. You will never listen to the man's music without thinking about the man's tragic life again. Bravo, Prof. Greenberg. Bravo.
Date published: 2014-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Exploration of Life & Music This is an excellent course on an extraordinary composer that provides rich detail about his life, his music, and how the two influence each other. Professor Greenberg is passionate and affable in his presentation and oftentimes playful; cracking jokes and making puns that regularly bring a chuckle. This is not to say that he doesn't take his subject matter seriously. The emotion and tragedy are there when called for, just as humor is. Please be advised that this course is much more of an exploration of Tchaikovsky's life than of his music. This is a biography that also covers music and not a musicological examination that also contains biographical side notes. It still hits most of the big pieces and might introduce the less initiated into some new compositions. For instance, I was familiar with all his ballets, most of his operas, and a couple orchestra pieces but not his violin concertos or symphonies. So I was very pleased with the variety of music presented. All in all, this was a very enjoyable course that I found myself rushing through in less than a week. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-08-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More life than music As a biography of the great man, this was engrossing. I found it less rewarding as a study of his music. The audio format should make for an interesting opportunity to intersperse clips of music with spoken information, but somehow the promise was not fulfilled here. The usual approach was to play a segment and then talk about how the composer was feeling at the time. That's interesting, certainly, but perhaps I was hoping for a more critical approach to the music -- something that would help me understand how the composer's innovations should be understood in the context of the history of music.
Date published: 2013-03-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Passionate music--passionate man Tchaikovsky's music is passionate and intense, as was his life. Dr. Greenberg is able to weave the multiple and varied colors of the master's life into the fine fabric of his music. Listening to the hardships; the discrimination; the tortures implicit in Tchaikovsky living a different life than was accepted in his time was heart wrenching just to hear about. Great lectures--fascinating...
Date published: 2013-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! I love Tchaikovsky's music, but wanted to learn more about the man AND the music with which I was unfamiliar. This course was great! Professor Greenberg reminds me of all of the great teachers I had in high school and college that had such flare that they kept me on the edge of my seat the entire length of the class. There were many times that he made me laugh out loud. I enjoyed Prof. Greenberg so much that I am going immediately to another of his lectures, The Schumanns.
Date published: 2013-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Composer with a Tortured Soul I have listened to several of Prof. Greenberg's composer courses, and this one maintains the high standard of the series. As with the others, what interests me the most in these mini-biographies are the personal and historical facts, which go far beyond what most music history survey books provide. You may learn more about Tchaikovsky's tortured personal life than you wanted to know, but Greenberg is honest about the man's troubles as well as his triumphs. The stories behind the first performances of many of these works are also eye-opening. I have two "negatives" about this course: first, it skipped many of Tchaikovsky's major works and didn't take us into many of the lesser-known pieces; and second, I wish someone as educated as Prof. Greenberg could do better with his pronunciation of foreign names. (I've wanted to mention the latter point on some of his other courses but haven't.) All in all, a fascinating course, a kind of classical soap opera with an emotional musical score.
Date published: 2012-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinatingly Tragic Audio Version (Library): I got this course because I heard that the great ballad we hear every 4th of July was actually a Russian victory song by Tchaikovsky. I knew nothing about him or his work at the time and needed to "kill some time" between TGC deliveries. Boy was I surprised! As someone who is not really "into music” I found the story of Tchaikovsky fascinating to say the least. I was drawn into every lecture by the twists and turns of his story and by the wonderful music that he composed. At one point in his life story I got pretty choked up. Then, the accompanying music he wrote that corresponded to that moment got me choked up as well (and yes, I am a grown man). This was truly an amazing course and I recommend it to music lovers and history buffs alike! It is an emotionally gripping tale and you will not be disappointed!
Date published: 2012-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much to be learned Like most people, I have heard most of Tchaikovsky's famous works, but knew very little about the man. I had a deep appreciation of his violin concerto, because it was featured prominently in the movie Together, as well as the Right Stuff as discussed in the course. His Piano concerto, Nutcracker, and Swan Lake are just a few other familiar works. But there was so much I didn't know about the works or the composer. I didn't know that the violin concerto and the piano concerto received initially scathing reviews, because both have become repertoire staples, and I share Prof Greenberg's love for the violin concerto. I didn't know Tchaikovsky was homosexual, and although it doesn't matter when it comes to his greatness, it does enhance listening to the music when you feel like you knew the man. Listening to this course makes you feel like you knew the man, a feat which Greenberg has also achieved in the Haydn course. The professor describes his marriage and separation in adequate detail, which makes for an amusing story. If only Tchaikovsky had lived in modern times, he could have been left alone to live his life as he felt and not be forced underground. Other great works which you will develop a deeper appreciaton for by listening to the course are Eugene Onegin, souvenir of Florence, and serenade for strings. He achieves his goal, which is to stimulate interest in the composer and his recordings.
Date published: 2011-07-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An interesting biography While I don't enjoy Professor Greenberg's lecturing style, finding it more along the lines of someone trying to sell me something cheap than a teacher trying to educate, he manages to present a detailed, and interesting biography. I feel this series to be too much biography, though, and not enough a discussion of Tchaikovsky's beautiful music. I would also like to see who is performing the samples as they are played. The Professors' reasoning behind the death of Tchaikovsky is presented with a bit too much certainty. It doesn't entirely make sense that after a lifetime of behaviour supposedly known by all around him that it would come to that end. While it is a possible scenario I feel it would be more appropriate that it should be presented as hypothesis, not fact.
Date published: 2011-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a wonderful teacher! A friend has been badgering me to check out Professor Greenberg and sent me Tchaikovsky - His Life and Music. I really wasn't terribly interested, a reaction that survived only the first minute of Professor Greenberg's introduction. He's passionate, he's amazing, he waves his arms around, he quotes at length, he puns, he richochets enthusiasm, he laughs, he snarls - and he's quite wonderful. I did five lectures straight and went to bed fascinated with all I had not known, or had not understood, about Tchaikovsky, and full of admiration for a very fine teacher indeed. I am going to do every music course I can lay my hands on for Professor Greenberg. Highly recommended, fascinating, and FUN.
Date published: 2010-10-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another good course by Greenberg This course was marginally better than Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart, which I previously reviwed, but still not quite good enough for that fifth star. The explanations of the music was excellent, on par with what he did for Beethoven. His overy theatric lists of synonyms were reduced relative to other lectures (or maybe I've just learned to tune them out). The mixture of biography and music was well balanced. So what prevented this course from picking up that elusive final star? * No discussion of The Nutcracker. Perhaps not his best work, but it would be like doing a biography of Einstein without discussing E=mc^2. * Expounding the coerced suicide theory as established fact, which it isn't. * Just a little too accepting of Tchaikovsky's tendency to sexually exploit young boys. All in all, a good course. I look forward to the next series.
Date published: 2010-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lecture, But Overall, a very good to excellent course by Mr. Greenberg. Is there anything about music he doesn't know!? But I have one quibble, and it's common to all his lectures, of which I've seen quite a few. It's not his arm waving, which I could do with a bit less of, however. Whenever he quotes someone he always says, "And I quote," when it is obvious his next words will be the quote, especially true when he steps to the lectern and then exaggerates the quote with gestures or voice. Then it's "unqote," when that is obvious too. Or, "Jones wrote this in his diary, and I quote from his diary." Totally unnecessary. Like another reviewer, I think perhaps too much time was taken in this lecture with the composer's relationship with three women, even considering their importance in his life. Worth about half a lecture in my opinion.
Date published: 2010-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Poor Tchaikovsky Professor Greenberg spends so much time on Tchaikovsky's personal life--his depressions and obsessions--that the overall impact of the course is to make us conclude: Poor Tchaikovsky. On one hand, he was sensitive and emotional, and wrote ravishingly beautiful music. On the other hand, it was disconcerting to learn that he was willing to sexually exploit adolescent boys. The contradictions in his life led to a tragic ending with a coerced suicide, and we are left loving his music and grieving his life.
Date published: 2009-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from another great, SUPER Some are gifted to be a teacher, Prof Greenberg is the one. It is very easy to follow along the course, while commuting. His changing tone of voice, comments, jokes are well chosen. He is simply an excellent teacher (like others in teaching company), who will force me to listen to more of his courses. I usually listen to the course twice, but this course, you get it and master it from the first time. Super teacher The course itself, is great too; I learned a lot from it, now I enjoy Tchaikovsky work more, such as Eugene Oneign, Swan Lake.
Date published: 2009-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biography is History and Music Professor Greenberg once again has put together a winning combination of biography and musical appreciation. His courses have added greatly to my appreciation of one of the greatest musical geniuses. After listening to this course I purchased the BBC docu-drama of Tchaikovsky's life. My wife and I have attended numerous Tchaikovsky performances at the Kennedy Center and Wolftrap and recently with my son in Yekaterinburg's excellent philharmonic. As I wrote in my review of Professor Greenberg's course on Shostakovich, I wish he would sit down with a Russian speaker and go over the pronunciation of names and other words before speaking. Sometimes his German gets off track as well. I'D LIKE TO SEE PROFESSOR GREENBERG DO SOME MORE BIOGRAPHIES. Mendelsohn, Wagner, Rimsky Korsakov, Britten and - yes, Peter Schikele!!!
Date published: 2009-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mother Russia's Greatest Composer Prof. Greenberg pulls no punches in telling the story of Tchaikovsky's private life. He was a homosexual who entered into a disasterous marriange in a vain attempt to be "normal" and was required by a "Court of Honour" to commit suicide or face exposure and public shame. According to Greenberg the composer's emotional anguish is directly reflected in his music. We are treated to a selection of some hauntingly beautiful melodies. Excellent.
Date published: 2009-05-25
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