"TCHAIKOVSKY: The Final Years, 1885-1893" by David Brown

"TCHAIKOVSKY: The Final Years, 1885-1893"

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The third and concluding volume of Brown's monumental study (1983, 1986) of the Russian composer--which combines detailed musicological analysis (including generous excerpts from scores) with thorough, if not especially penetrating, life-history. As Brown himself says, ""it is a paradox of the professional man's biography that its externals can become less interesting as its subject's distinction and fame grow."" So it is here: much of this undramatic book chronicles Tchaikovsky's late-blooming conducting career and his many tours. Even more space is devoted to critiques of the operas The Queen of Spades and Iolantha; the ballets Sleeping Beauty (which Brown finds profound as well as beautiful) and The Nutcracker (which Brown clearly loathes); and the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the former a ""compromise"" between Russian soul and Western form, the latter an uncompromising triumph, ""surely the most truly original symphony to have been composed"" since Beethoven's Ninth. Throughout, Brown is properly cautious--but not unimaginative--about finding autobiography in the music. The composer's homosexuality is mentioned occasionally, matter-of-factly, downplayed (to a fault, perhaps) rather than overplayed as in last fall's speculative biography by Alexander Poznansky. And, as for Tchaikovsky's death, Brown finds suicide the ""inescapable conclusion."" Not the last word, of course: glasnost is likely to open up previously closed Tchaikovsky archives. But, for now, a solid windup to the critical biography for serious students and knowledgeable music-lovers.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Norton