Happy birthday, Tchaikovsky!

Today, we celebrate a great composer’s birthday. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on 7 May 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia.

I have always loved Tchaikovsky’s ballet music. I remember dancing around to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and feeling the romance and tragedy of Swan Lake. I also got hold of a book of sheet music for The Nutcracker to play on the piano myself. 15 years later, it is still painful to me that I cannot master it, but his music continues to capture my imagination because of the wonderful stories it depicts.

Did you know…

– Tchaikovsky loved Mozart, found Wagner boring and hated Brahms (with whom he shared a birthday!).
– As a child, Tchaikovsky complained that he could not sleep because of the music in his head.
– Music did not become Tchaikovsky’s life until age 23 when he left his clerk’s job at the Ministry of Justice.

Europeana holds hundreds of recordings of Tchaikovsky’s music, nearly 100 videos related to him, and some of his sheet music, such as this handwritten and signed example of a song called ‘Romance’.

‘Romance’ by Piotr Illitch Tchaikovsky, Bibliotheque national de France, public domain‘Romance’ by Piotr Illitch Tchaikovsky, Bibliotheque national de France, public domain
View this item in Europeana
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What’s more, you can also find braille music scores, which can be downloaded and used in Braille Music Reader. Try these ones: The Doll’s Funeral or German Song in E-Flat Major.

Or how about a twist on a Tchaikovsky classic by another great composer. Claude Debussy arranged ‘Le lac des cygnes’ as a duet on piano (four hands – one piano!).

Le lac des cygnes / Tchaikovsky ; [arr. pour piano à 4 mains par] Claude Debussy, Bibliotheque national de France, public domain

Le lac des cygnes / Tchaikovsky ; [arr. pour piano à 4 mains par] Claude Debussy‘, Bibliotheque national de France, public domain. View this item in Europeana

Tchaikovsky’s music inspired wonderful sets and costumes in its productions. Here’s a souvenir programme from a 1921 production of ‘The Sleeping Princess’ (otherwise known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’) at the Alhambra Theatre, London. It contains a synopsis of the story as well as an article by Leon Bakst, producer and designer, about his passion for Tchaikovsky’s ballets and a nervous first encounter with the man himself when Bakst was just a young student.

'Ballet in five scenes after Perrault's tale, The sleeping princess (La belle au bois dormant)', Bibliotheque national de France, public domain

Souvenir programme for ‘Ballet in five scenes after Perrault’s tale, The sleeping princess (La belle au bois dormant)’, Bibliotheque national de France, public domain View this item in Europeana

Flick through the programme to see a range of wonderful costume and set designs, as well as letter from composer Igor Stravinksy, expressing his delight at the new production of Tchaikovsky’s work.

Design by Leon Bakst for the costume of the Fairy Carabosse, in the souvenir programme for 'Ballet in five scenes after Perrault's tale, The sleeping princess (La belle au bois dormant)... ', Bibliotheque national de France, public domain Design by Leon Bakst for the costume of the Fairy Carabosse, in the souvenir programme for ‘Ballet in five scenes after Perrault’s tale, The sleeping princess (La belle au bois dormant)’, Bibliotheque national de France, public domain. View this item in Europeana

And if you’re not interested in the ballet, take a look at the fabulous adverts, which tell you something about the London ballet audience of the ’20s. I love the first one, which aims to help those theatre-goers who find it hard to sleep – the solution: ‘Get into a mustard bath’! Also shop for ‘Riding outfits for children’, ‘Inexpensive tea gowns’, ‘Dance frocks’ and ‘The very latest cigarette cases for ladies’. Well, if you’re going to the ballet, you must make sure you’re on trend with your fashions!

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