Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky on Vacation

One of Tchaikovsky's inspirations? The Kamianka Waterfall, Kamianka-Buzka, Ukraine, in summer(Photo: Alex Zelenko)
One of Tchaikovsky's inspirations? The Kamianka Waterfall, Kamianka-Buzka, Ukraine, in summer(Photo: Alex Zelenko)

Sometimes taking a trip and getting out of town does one’s spirit a lot of good.

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky certainly benefited from vacations away from Moscow. He was an artist of great emotional sensitivity and passion, and much of  his music reflects this, including the inner turmoil and anxieties he felt (just listen to his 4th and 6th symphonies).

But he did find occasional refuge from the storms and stresses of his life.   Some of his happiest music came as a result of his summer holidays.

The Second Symphony (1872), the one nicknamed “Little Russian,” was the result of stays with his sister’s family at their estate at Kamianka in the Ukraine, a region that was often called Little Russia at that time.

Tchaikovsky’s love of the area and feelings of contentment there led to him using the melodies of Ukrainian folk-songs in this work, hence the nickname.

But one of Tchaikovsky’s sunniest works of all, the Capriccio italien (1880), comes from (you guessed it) his visit to Italy. During his stay in Rome, he took in the sights and sounds, and the resulting relaxation of his spirit are everywhere evident in this engaging and lighthearted piece.

At the hotel where he stayed, every morning he heard the bugle call of an Italian cavalry regiment from a nearby military barracks, and that makes its way into the opening of this joyful composition.

Drama, conflict, and tragedy may be the stuff of great art, but we also have to remember that even the greatest artists are mere mortals like all the rest of us. Sometimes we may undervalue anything less than the “greatest” works of Romantic composers like Peter Tchaikovky who wore their heart on their sleeve, and sometimes literally wore themselves out producing their masterpieces.

It’s also good to give due consideration to the music of these great composers that was produced as a result of a happier frame of mind and a more relaxed spirit.  Who knows, some of that lighter and more cheerful feeling might rub off on us.

After all, isn’t that why we all want to go on vacation?

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