A Short Tchaikovsky Appreciation

Patient Expert

In about two weeks, I will be at New York's Lincoln Center, attending a Met Opera performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.

This is my excuse to wax poetic about one of my favorite composers. No one can put together a melody like Tchaikovsky. None renders emotion in music with such overwhelming force. Very few are as accessible to the public at large.

Tchaikovsky was the first composer I fell in love with, and because of this I always hold a special place for him in my heart. He was my gateway into the world of classical music. More important, at the young age of 10 he validated my sense of being different, to walk with my head held high. The experience of profound beauty at an early age does that to you.

My first exposure was to his short stuff (such as Romeo and Juliet), but I quickly graduated to his monumental Sixth Symphony (Pathetique). Nine days following its lukewarm premiere at St Petersburg in 1893, the composer tragically took his life. He was 53.

Depression was a constant in Tchaikovsky's life. According to fellow composer Edvard Grieg: "He is melancholic almost to the point of madness. He is a beautiful and good person, but an unhappy person."

Two years before his death, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I feel that something within me has gone to pieces." At age 51, he was prematurely aging, his hair white and thinning, his gait replaced by a shuffle.

Then he threw himself into his Sixth Symphony. "You can't imagine what bliss I feel," he wrote. Little did he know.

Eugene Onegin contains one of the great arias in all of opera, the "Letter Aria," where the young and naive heroine expresses her hopes and dreams. Alas, things turn out far differently than she hoped. "Happiness was within our reach," our older and wiser heroine sings in the final scene. "So close So close!"

I know I will be pulling out the kleenex.