Tag: tchaikovsky

A Tough Nut to Crack

hardnut“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” ― Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was not a stranger to hard work, but like any composer, he had to be inspired…and he had to have time to compose. But also like many of us, he had to deal with this thing we call life.

Every Christmas, The Nutcracker is adored by music lovers, both professional and casual. It’s become a staple of our Christmas musical landscape.

Originally commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theaters after the success of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, the composer received initial instructions on the Nutcracker ballet in 1890. The ballet was to be based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. This didn’t do much for Tchaikvosky since he liked that fairy tale and didn’t see much room for a ballet in it.

Like a good composer for hire though he put his nose to the grindstone and began sketches in early 1891. But then…life settled in.

He ran into constant distractions from travel, including a trip to America, and then the death of his sister Aleksandra.

From New York he wrote, “I cannot start working again before June at the earliest… otherwise whatever I tried to write would turn out wretchedly”.

Even when he arrived home to St. Petersburg, he continued to find he was flummoxed by other things in his way of writing. In a letter to his brother Modest he wrote, “It is also good for me here, but work isn’t going as quickly now as at first. There are unexpected distractions.”

Once he did finish writing sometime in 1891, he still had to orchestrate, which started around the first few months of 1892. Finally in March or April of 1892, he could put down his pen. “I’ve finished the ballet; all that remains is to insert the markings and put it in order.”

Why This Matters

We all have works we need to get out; art that needs to get done. But life happens. We have travels, sickness, family matters, and sometimes that little thing called work!

Sometimes we (and when I saw we, I mean me) have projects that go a lot longer than two years to finish. But a work like The Nutcracker has stood the test of time, and I think the goal is to do our best work, as we can, when we can. Then let the work stand on its own, indicative of our hard work.

Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use. – Earl Nightingale

Have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!


John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, but hopes Santa will magically bring his Musicology Masters degree for Christmas!

Tchaikovsky Bites His Fingernails

Does this man look worried to you?
Does this man look worried to you?

It’s hard to imagine famed composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky fretting, chewing his fingernails and wondering what people would think about his work. It’s an especially silly thought now that we know his classic works such as the 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker Suite, Swan Lake, and much, much more of course.

But this is exactly what happened when he was premiering his opera Eugene Onegin in 1879.

He was quite worried about what several of his contemporaries would think about the work. At the time, the leading Russian musicians were Anton Rubenstein, the founder of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and his brother Nikolai, the founder of the Moscow Conservatory.

As it turns out, one loved it and one hated it. Of course history would bear out the opera’s popularity, but at the time, Tchaikovsky must have felt conflicted that one of them did not approve.

How often do we worry about what people will think of our art? What will they think of our songs, our paintings, or our little blogs?

Now we look back on Tchaikovsky’s output and place in music history and it seems silly he would worry about two men whose works are much lesser known.


The fact is we all fret and lay awake wondering what people will think. We wonder if our latest work, or career move will be the one that makes us what we were intended to be.

There’s one sure way to ensure your work’s final effectiveness and popularity: Get to work making it and quit biting your fingernails!

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.” – J.S. Bach

Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and worries about his place in history too. Do you worry about what people think of your art? Make sure to comment by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Smoke Signal. http://www.MusicHistoryMatters.org