This is about Tchaikovsky but I guess the real lesson here is that sometimes even if your are creatively talented as say, Tchaikovsky, life can still suck. As I suggest in the title of the post … sometimes despite being really good it can be really tough day to day.
Because sometimes being really talented just isn’t enough. You got to bring a lot of resilience and a good dose of character along for the ride.
Anyway. I will begin with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (because I happen to like it and it generated the item that will help me make my point).
His Violin Concerto was first performed at the end of 1881 in Vienna. And it generated one of the most notoriously negative (but incredibly imaginatively well written) reviews of all time (written by a conservative Vienna music critic named Eduard Hanslick). Let’s just say Tchaikovsky never got over this review and to the end of his life he could quote it by heart. The actual review:
The Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely no ordinary talent, but rather, an inflated one, obsessed with posturing as a genius, lacking discrimination and taste….The same can be said for his new, long, and ambitious Violin Concerto. For a while it proceeds soberly, musically, and not mindlessly, but soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and dominates until the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played; it is tugged about, torn, beaten black and blue….The Adagio is well on the way to reconciling us and winning us over, but it soon breaks off to make way for a finale that transports us to the brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian church festival. We see a host of savage, vulgar faces, we hear crude curses, and smell the booze. In the course of a discussion of obscene illustrations, Friedrich Vischer once maintained that there were pictures which one could see stink. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto for the first time confronts us with the hideous idea that there may be compositions whose stink one can hear.
(brutal … well written … but fucking brutal)
Regardless. I know I have trouble today locating the “stink” in what I consider a beautiful concerto (and I am certainly not a classical music aficionado by any stretch of the imagination). I am luckily backed up because it is a fact this concerto has, for nearly a century, simply been one of the four or five most popular violin concertos (which I believe is enough to shove it up Hanslick’s ‘you-know-what’ post mortem).
Yeah. I am a fan of Tchaikovsky. I have always felt no matter what he was composing he incorporated a little of Russia into whatever he composed. For example in the violin’s entry in the concerto’s middle movement (Canzonetta) there is a distinctly Russian/Slavic melancholy. And yet he incorporates a certain Cossack bold passion in the final movement. (i stole some of those thoughts from a reviewer by the way). But (to me) Tchaikovsky never failed to bring out the beauty of Russian-ness … its melancholy … its passion … its soul … into everything he did. For that alone I will listen to his music until the day I die.
And, of course, that is captured most famously in Swan Lake.
Which brings me back to why I wrote this.
It is tough being brilliantly good.
Just before he composed Swan Lake he had composed a piano concerto for his close friend Nikolai Rubinstein. Only to have the pianist … a close friend by the way … declare that work worthless and unplayable.
Utterly crushed, Tchaikovsky finally managed to arrange a performance in distant Boston (so that if it were a flop he would not have to be present to hear it himself). Ironically that concerto rather quickly became one of the most popular of all piano concertos.
Soon after, Tchaikovsky composed the ballet Swan Lake, arguably the finest ballet score of the entire nineteenth century.
And THAT was a failure in its first production.
Tchaikovsky went to his grave never knowing that the world would regard his work as a masterpiece.
I am not a huge Swan Lake fan but I do love his Violin Concerto. And, in general, I enjoy listening to all his compositions on occasion.
But that’s not the point of this (although if even one of my readers becomes a Tchaikovsky listener I will claim this post a huge success).
The point is that you can be very very good at what you do and a boatload of people will not recognize it. In fact. Some people will just be down right negative with regard to your talent.
If you are good, keep on keepin’ on.
What’s the alternative?
That’s not an alternative.
And if you think it is?
Think about Tchaikovsky. Cause if HE had … there would never have been the Swan Lake.
That’s why you ignore the negativity.
Doesn’t mean its gonna be easy.
And it doesn’t mean you won’t go to your deathbed without accolades or recognition.
The only thing I can guarantee is that you can go to your deathbed knowing you created your own greatness.
And that’s pretty good for anyone.