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Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427472
01/29/05 10:59 AM
01/29/05 10:59 AM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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I'm contemplating writing a one-act stage play about the tumultuous night that Tchaikovsky played his 1st piano concerto for Nicholas Rubinstein. Fascinating story. I've always held the belief (trying to find out if this is borne out in any writings from Tchaikovsky's or Rubinstein's journals, letters, etc.) that genuine disdain for the piece was not the real reason for Rubinstein's infamous blow-up when he called it clumsy & unplayable. Rather, I think Rubinstein saw the real worth of the concerto and its eventually popularity and, being a good brother, knew that it would displace Anton's own totally junk piano concertos, which were the only Russian concertos making the rounds in those days, and so he did everything he could to dissuade Tchikovsy from premiering/publishing it. Does anyone have any feedback re the true story behind this feud? confused

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Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427473
01/29/05 11:15 AM
01/29/05 11:15 AM
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I don't know much about the details to their feud. Or was it?

Anyway, Anton might be a killer conductor/pianist. His compositional skills were, however, never on the par with the great Tchaikovsky. His only 'surviving' work, it seems, is his 4th Piano Concerto. I listened to his sonatas and other minor works. Infrequently, a spark shoots up here and there. No major musical statement or idea that I can sense or feel, at least to me...

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427474
01/29/05 12:12 PM
01/29/05 12:12 PM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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Very aptly put, Andrew. An accasional spark, an occasional tune, but, as a whole, a staggering output w/ a staggering lack of any musical worth. I have old LP's of his Concertstuck & Fifth Piano Concerto. The former is one long cascade of diminished chords (if you know the PC #4 you'll notice that a diminished chord appears in measures 2,4,6,& 7 of the opening theme. It seems Anton would have had a stroke if diminished chords did not exist) The Fifth C. is a monstrous 50-min. white elephant w/o a single redeeming quality, IMHO. I think Rubinstein fancied it another "Emperor" Concerto since they share the same key, and it tries to be majestic in its scope and layout. Course I don't want to start bashing poor Anton. He did what he could w/ what God gave him. But I can see no logical reason for Nicholas blasting Tchaikovsky's first. Nick was an astute musician w/ good judgemental powers. Even Tchaikovsky was flaberghasted at his vehement attack, so one must look for other reasons. All I can come up w/ is that Nicholas was jealously protective of Anton and his concertos, recognized instantly the threat that Tchaikovsky's first posed to them, and didn't want any talented upstart composer usurping them, which he had to know deep down were third rate works. Hank Drake is usually knowledgable on this stuff. Hank, do you have any thoughts about this issue?

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427475
01/29/05 12:19 PM
01/29/05 12:19 PM
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pianojerome Offline
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I'd be very interested in reading your play, when you are finished with it. I've previously only read a few lines in some CD liner notes about this feud, and now the comments in this thread.

Did Nicholas Rubinstein compose as well? Perhaps there was jealously that Tchaikovsky's concerto was greater than his works as well? Perhaps he was jealous simply because Tchaikovsky was so young when he wrote this great concerto?

Music history / Musicology is fascinating, IMO. For me, the study of these two subjects is just as important and interesting as technical performance itself.


Sam
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Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427476
01/29/05 04:00 PM
01/29/05 04:00 PM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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Nicholas, if he did compose, never made his works public, to the best of my knowledge. He was content to let brother Anton take the limelight, so I don't think Nicholas had any animosity for Tch. because of his own ego. I think it was all directed at Tch. because of Nicholas' determination to keep Anton in the spotlight. Sure wish Hank Drake would check in on this. He's very knowledgeable on these things.

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427477
01/30/05 12:26 AM
01/30/05 12:26 AM
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"Rubinstein's criticisms still have merit, for the piece is in some places nearly unplayable, while other passages for the soloist are barely audible. And the famous opening theme, for all its grandeur, is just as remarkable in its disappearance -- for after storming in with blaring horns calls, sweeping strings, and maestoso ascending chords from the piano, the theme continues for only 110 measures and simply drops out of the piece, never to be heard again."

Just looked it up. Very interesting story. I'd love to see the play too.

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427478
01/30/05 02:00 AM
01/30/05 02:00 AM
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Another thing you need to consider is that Leopold Auer reacted exactly the same way to Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. He said it was unplayable, as well, and did not play it until other violinists showed that maybe it wasn't unplayable.

I suspect that Nicholas Rubinstein couldn't play the concerto, at least not without more work than he was willing to put into it, and couldn't understand the piece well enough to predict the effect on audiences. It is unusual for a concerto, with what would have been termed structural weaknesses. How could he have dealt with such a piece? It's tough to say what the effect would be. We don't look at things like that as audiences would have at the time, whether they are musicians or public. Most of us are exposed to music through recordings, and nowadays, new music can be previewed on computers without an instrumental performance. In those days, if you couldn't play it, either as written or in a reduction, if there weren't any performances, you had to hear it in your mind's ear while reading the score. Most musicians couldn't expect to get it all right, especially when it is so different from what they were used to.

Besides, during his lifetime, Anton Rubinstein was a far more successful composer than Tchaikovsky. Really, do you think that anyone would think that a concerto that was at an entire different level of difficulty than anything anyone else was doing at the time would be serious competition to Rubinstein?

Still, your story is an interesting hypothesis. You might want to pursue it anyway. I'm not certain that the brothers Rubinstein were as close as you might be assuming, though. I have the feeling there may have been some sibling rivalry between them.


Semipro Tech
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427479
01/30/05 11:07 AM
01/30/05 11:07 AM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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Well, see that's the crux of the problem - the lack of available resources to research this hypothesis. Tchaikovsky only gives a cursory account of his experience and immediate reaction. I can't uncover anything that old St. Nick said about his inner feelings re the concerto, other than that in later life he came to see the merits of the concerto and performed it frequently. Anton, of course, was probably oblivious to all this, focusing on his practice and composing (if one can call it that -I prefer to label it "assembling"). Anything on my part would be purely speculative, sure to come under fire. What a dilemma! confused

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427480
01/30/05 11:58 AM
01/30/05 11:58 AM
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Don't worry about it too much. Just think of it as a work of fiction. I think someone did something similar, writing an obscure play where the characters were Mozart and Salieri. Of course, it was a great flop and practically nobody has heard of it. smile


Semipro Tech
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427481
01/30/05 11:59 AM
01/30/05 11:59 AM
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pianojerome Offline
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The play doesn't have to be 100% factual, does it? I mean, it could be historical fiction, based on a true story... or something like that.

It's been said that Salieri didn't really kill Mozart as he did in Shaefer's "Amadeus", but that's still a terrific play. Even if it comes out that the feud between Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky didn't happen exactly as you write it (but similar), that's not necessarily a bad thing.


Sam
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427482
01/30/05 12:06 PM
01/30/05 12:06 PM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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BDB wrote:

I think someone did something similar, writing an obscure play where the characters were Mozart and Salieri. Of course, it was a great flop and practically nobody has heard of it.

Yeah, I could really use a "flop" like that at this stage of my "career"!!!! wink

Well, Piano, you & the others have given me some impetus to proceed. I see a conversation between Nicholas & Anton that goes something like this:
N: Anton, I've got bad news. This upstart composer Tchaikovsky, who's been making waves around St. Petersburg, has written a piano concerto that makes yours feel like a Chinese water torture machine!
A: Is it that good?
N: Good? It's Greaaaat!!! (apologies to Tony the Tiger)I predict it'll be the most popular piano concerto ever written!
A: Well, do something, Nick. (thumps chest) Nobody upstages the great Anton Rubinstein's piano concerti. You're my brother. Do something about it!
N: I have this idea. The fool wants to play it for me tonight. He respects my judgement! I'll lay into him so thick - I'll blast his precious concerto so badly he'll think he got hit in the back of the head w/ a 9 ft. Steinway! I'd be surprised if he doesn't crawl out the door on all fours whimpering like a cur after I get through w/ him!
A: Excellent idea, Nick. You always were good at discouraging talented up & coming composers who make threats to (thumps chest) the great Anton Rubinstein! Do your worst.
N: I will. And when Tchaikovsky lands in an asylum you & I will waltz over the the St. Petersburg Cafe for some crumpets & absinth to celebrate. (they shake hands)

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427483
01/30/05 12:07 PM
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But everybody's heard of "Amadeus"...


Sam
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427484
01/30/05 12:17 PM
01/30/05 12:17 PM
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Quote
eah, I could really use a "flop" like that at this stage of my "career"!!!!
It will help pay for those 1000 tickets!


Semipro Tech
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427485
01/30/05 12:36 PM
01/30/05 12:36 PM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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OMG! I totally forgot about that deal I made! (groan)

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427486
01/30/05 12:47 PM
01/30/05 12:47 PM
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Quote
But everybody's heard of "Amadeus"...
You mean someone else wrote something like "Antonius"?


Semipro Tech
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427487
01/30/05 05:27 PM
01/30/05 05:27 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by JoeTownleyy:
N: Anton, I've got bad news. This upstart composer Tchaikovsky, who's been making waves around St. Petersburg, has written a piano concerto that makes yours feel like a Chinese water torture machine!
A: Is it that good?
N: Good? It's Greaaaat!!! (apologies to Tony the Tiger)I predict it'll be the most popular piano concerto ever written!
A: Well, do something, Nick. (thumps chest) Nobody upstages the great Anton Rubinstein's piano concerti. You're my brother. Do something about it!
N: I have this idea. The fool wants to play it for me tonight. He respects my judgement! I'll lay into him so thick - I'll blast his precious concerto so badly he'll think he got hit in the back of the head w/ a 9 ft. Steinway! I'd be surprised if he doesn't crawl out the door on all fours whimpering like a cur after I get through w/ him!
A: Excellent idea, Nick. You always were good at discouraging talented up & coming composers who make threats to (thumps chest) the great Anton Rubinstein! Do your worst.
N: I will. And when Tchaikovsky lands in an asylum you & I will waltz over the the St. Petersburg Cafe for some crumpets & absinth to celebrate. (they shake hands) [/QB]
laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh


Sam
Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427488
01/30/05 09:25 PM
01/30/05 09:25 PM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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Thank you, thank you, Sam. Course that's not how the dialogue will actually read, but it gives you an idea where I'll be taking this. wink

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427489
01/30/05 10:42 PM
01/30/05 10:42 PM
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Are you planning to take the sibling rivalry and the actual weaknesses of the concerto into consideration when you write out the whole play?

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427490
01/31/05 02:04 AM
01/31/05 02:04 AM
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JoeTownleyy Offline OP
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I will research the sibling rivalry issue, though I doubt it will play a major role. My understanding is that Nicholas was content to let Anton take the spotlight, even though Nicholas was reputed to be as good a pianist as his brother, though not as dramatic. As to the weakness of the Tchikovsky concerto, I am reminded of that old saying that weakness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Case in point: Nicholas thought the concerto clumsy & unplayable, his reasons being the genesis of the controversy. Yet here we have Rachmaninoff, certainly no slouch, saying just the opposite: I might not get this correct word for word, but Rachmaninoff wrote to a friend saying: I have come to believe that there is musc that could be called true "klaviermusic" - music that is written specifically for a pianist to be able to comfortably play. Rimsky-Korsakoff is probably Russia's greatest composer, yet his piano concerto is rarely played because it is not true 'klaviermusik'. On the other hand, the concertos of Tchaikovsky are frequently played because they lie well under the fingers. Even with my own concertos I much prefer my Third because the Second is awkward to play". So now we have two first-class pianists giving completely opposite opinions about the playability of the Tch. First. Who is right? Well, probably both. For Nicholas the Tch. First might have seemed clumsy at first, and of course Rachmaninoff had the benefit of seeing it grow in popularity and acceptance so his opinion might have been a little biased. I appreciate your point about the concerto's inherent structural weaknesses: a long intro that never appears again; page after page of incessent double octaves, awkward rhythmic patterns, a first movement twice as long as the 2nd & 3rd mov. combined, etc. Yet somehow the warmth of the music overcomes these faults. IMHO, the Tch. concerto will never match the truely fine pianistic writing that Rach accomplished, yet the concerto will shine along w/ Rach's 2nd, 3rd, & Paganinni Rhapsody for all time anyway. And thereby hangs a tale.....

Re: Tchaikovsky vs. Nicholas (and Anton) Rubinstein #427491
01/31/05 10:39 AM
01/31/05 10:39 AM
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I think Tchaikowsky's concerto is much better than Rachmaninov's. There are good melodies throughout, and not nearly as much empty ornamentation. Its episodic nature is actually quite well suited to a large work and keeps the audience from getting bored. Offhandly, I can remember about two themes from the Rachmaninov second, and even less from the third, but most of the Tchaikowsky's. I suspect that's true of most people.

Have you ever heard the Nikisch recording of Beethoven's 5th Symphony? It's very episodic. One tempo may only last for a short section of the piece. If you listen to it over and over, you would think that it doesn't hold together as a piece. But if you are only going to hear it once, you will get more of it faster that way.

When you are researching this project, don't forget to look into the Violin Concerto. There's a couple of (Ira) Gershwin songs to go along with it: Tchaikovsky, and Mischa, Yasha, Tosha, Sasha.


Semipro Tech

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