Composer Study: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with ballet. One of the first cassettes I ever remember purchasing was music from Tchaikovsky’s three ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker. Even people without a connection to ballet are probably familiar with these musical works, but they were a part of my very being. In my piano lessons I worked harder on Tchaikovsky pieces than anything else, just because he had composed those three ballets. I no longer eat, sleep, and breathe all things ballet, but even so, there is something magical for me about this music, so I really enjoyed our composer study this past month on Piotr (Peter) Illyich Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky wrote a lot more than just ballet music, so we had plenty of listening options this month. The boys were already familiar with a lot of his music from Nutcracker, so we mostly focused on the 1812 overture (what boy wouldn’t love the idea of a cannon being fired as part of an orchestral piece?) and the music from Swan Lake. Here’s what was on our composer playlist for the month:
- Tchaikovsky Discovers America from Classical Kids
- The Story of Swan Lake from Maestro Classics
- “Tchaikovsky’s Cannonball” from Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Symphonies
- 1812 Overture from Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Symphonies
- “Silver Winds” from Beethoven’s Wig 3: Many More Sing Along Symphonies
- Classics for Kids episodes on Tchaikovsky
- The Story of Tchaikovsky in Words and Music
As usual, the boys knew many of the themes we were listening to from watching Little Einsteins episodes that feature music by Tchaikovsky:
- “Quincy and the Magic Instruments” and “The Blue-Footed Booby Bird Ballet” (both featuring music from Swan Lake)
- “The Wind-up Toy Prince” and “Animal Snack Time” (both featuring music from The Nutcracker Suite)
- “The Song of the Unicorn” and “Fire Truck Rocket!” (both featuring the 1812 Overture)
The boys loved watching the part of Fantasia that contains the Nutcracker Suite, and we were all amazed by a YouTube video of the Great Chinese State Circus doing a scene from Swan Lake (not pure ballet, but SO worth watching just to see the main dancer’s incredible balance). Ian also enjoyed watching an entire performance(in two sittings) put on by the Kirov Ballet.
To help Ian understand what we were watching and listening to, I got a copy of Margot Fonteyn’s retelling of Swan Lake. The illustrations are by Trina Schart Hyman (who also illustrated the Caldecott award-winning St. George and the Dragon, one of the boys’ favorite books). He loved this book and brought it to me to read over and over throughout the month. We also read Tchaikovsky Discovers America, which tells the same story as the Classical Kids CD from a different perspective.
Once again, a month flew by and we were saying good-bye to Tchaikovsky just as we felt like we were starting to get to know him. We’re getting ready to move so we’ll be taking a break. I think we’ll use this next month or so to go back and revisit some of the composers we’ve already learned about.