Peter Tchaikovsky is my hands-down favorite composer. I’ve been a huge fan of his since high school. So picking my favorite ten pieces by Tchaikovsky and ranking them – should be a fun exercise. Here goes.
Tchaikovsky Top 10
1. The Pathetique 1893. Best piece of music ever written. Period. Tchaikovsky killed himself nine days after its first performance. I have a minority opinion (although you will hear other Historians agree) that this piece was a suicide note. It’s hard to listen to and I only listen to it on special occasions.
2. Violin Concerto 1878. As depressing as his Sixth Symphony (the Pathetique) is, this piece is joyous. Which is ironic considering he was writing it while recovering from his famously disastrous marriage. Contains one of the best melodies ever written. If that melody doesn’t move you, you have no soul.
3. Piano Concerto No.1 1875, 1888. I’m a lucky man. I got to see the great Van Cliburn perform this on his comeback tour. The best piano concerto ever written.
4. Swan Lake Ballet 1876. My favorite ballet. If you’re young, you probably know this ballet from the movie Black Swan. Of course, I won’t thumb my nose up to anyone who knows it that way – it was a pretty good movie. The ballet itself is chocked full of delicious melodies.
5. The Nutcracker Suite 1892. When we’re in town in Decembers, we see this as a group at the San Francisco Ballet, one of the premier ballet companies in the country. They give it a San Francisco feel and it’s quite magical. We all know how gorgeous the Suite is. You’ve heard it many times, even if you never looked for it.
6. Symphony No. 4 1878. I absolutely love the Finale but the whole symphony is quite good. Dedicated to his patroness and best friend Madame von Meck, purists would argue it had weak parts. I’d counter that those parts are what helps it stand out. As much as Tchaikovsky wanted to be Western, he also wanted to be Russian. If that doesn’t define Romanticism… One thing I especially liked was that an American critic called it too Russian and “semi-barbaric.” One of these days, I’ll do a write-up how Russian Romanticism was a precursor to Metal and of course this symphony would be an example.
7. Serenade for Strings 1880. I adore this piece, and I’m sure a lot of people would say I overrate it. I don’t care. Show me a composition along these lines this that is more beautiful. You can’t. If this doesn’t make you want to dance, you may be missing your soul. I also had gone so far that I used this as a test to gauge if a woman was worthy of my love. I’d play the Waltz (the second movement) and if she found it boring, we were through. Yes, I’m quite serious. I won’t apologize for having high standards and I refuse to fall in love with a philistine.
8. 1812 Overture 1880. Being a Metalhead, you’d assume I’d rank this one a lot higher. I love it, don’t get me wrong. But doing a Tchaikovsky top 10 isn’t easy – he wrote so many great compositions. One thing that makes me proud about being American is we have adopted this piece for July 4th. I couldn’t tell you how many times and in how many cities I’ve seen this performed. Some of the orchestras were mediocre, but regardless, they’d pour their hearts into the performance and it showed.
9. Sleeping Beauty 1890. Still a beautiful ballet, this one falls behind Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Sadly, I’ve never seen it performed live. Yet. The music is gorgeous. My dream of course is to see this in St. Petersburg on a tour’s night off.
10. Romeo and Juliet Overture 1880. You have heard the Love Theme from this ballet numerous times as it has been adopted into pop culture. The whole fantasy is brilliant, having been rewritten numerous times. Had this been written by any other composer, it wouldn’t have been so far down on the list. But you know how much I love Tchaikovsky.
But wait, you left out…
I know. I didn’t say it was easy to cut down to a Tchaikovsky top 10.
We saw the SF Ballet perform Sleeping Beauty live in January 2018. So now I’ve seen all 3 of my favorite Romantic era ballets!