Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Active - 1945 - 2013  |   Born - May 7, 1840   |   Died - Nov 6, 1893   |   Genres - Dance, Music, Theater, Drama

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Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

There are approximately 250 films that use the music of supreme melodist Pyotr Tchaikovsky. A surprising majority, some 72 films, quote parts from one of Tchaikovsky's most popular works, Symphony No. 5 in E minor (1888), with its dramatic fanfares, somber moods, and lyrical waltzes. Curiously, these films are concentrated around the World War II and immediate post-war years: One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), Unseen Guardians (1939), Utopia of Death (1940), American Spoken Here (1940), The Strange Will of Julian Poydras (1941), The Film That Was Lost (1942), Trifles That Win Wars (1943), To My Unborn Son (1943), Don't You Believe It (1943), That's Why I Left You (1943), Grandpa Called It Art (1944), The Seesaw and the Shoes (1945), Our Old Car (1946), and City of Children (1949).

Whether, in Ken Russell's imaginative dramatic biography The Music Lovers (1970), it's the scene of Madame Meck enthralled with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 or Anton Rubenstein satirizing the same, the splendidly energetic trepak (lively Russian dance) music underscoring the composer at drunken winter play with his boyfriend, the staging of his ballet in the city park, the terrifying image of the cholera "cures," and many other scenes, this film presents arguably the finest match of image, plot, and a generous sampling of this composer's music.

With a few notable exceptions, music from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake, usually the instantly recognizable introductory theme, has been employed for scenes of suspense, tension, and horror. The theme first enhanced the archaic, gothic beauty of the Bela Lugosi Dracula (1931) and Boris Karloff The Mummy (1932) vehicles, and was soon taken up again in Secret of the Blue Room (1933) and Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934). The theme appears as a camp icon in Ed Wood (1994) and in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). The best version of the ballet itself was Matthew Bourne and Peter Mumford's striking and brilliantly original vision produced for television (1996).

The exquisitely animated Disney studio version in Fantasia of selections from the Nutcracker ballet feature waltzing flowers and snowflakes and trepaking creatures tracing lines in imaginary wintery environments. Other quotes occurred in Derek Jarman's emotionally devastating Edward II (1991, Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy), Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963), the Friz Freleng animation Holiday for Shoestrings (1946) about cobbler elves, and the Tetris string of Japanese animé (1986-1998).

Tchaikovsky's operas Pikovaya dama (Queen of Spades) and Yevgeny Onyegin (Eugene Onegin) have received many productions, with Lenski's Aria included in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). The songs "Du Kommst Zurück" ("You've Returned") and "Freudelos und Liebeleer" ("Joyless and Empty of Love") appear in Es War eine Rauschende Ballnacht (It Was a Gay Ballnight, 1939). The composer's lovely song "None but the Lonely Heart" is heard in several romance films including Love in Bloom (1935).

Other often quoted works by Tchaikovsky are the passionate Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, his 1812 Overture, Piano Concerto No. 1, the Symphony No. 6 Pathetique, parts of Sleeping Beauty, and the Violin Concerto.

Movie Highlights

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