The woodwind and brass sections, with instruments parts being produced in factories, were significantly expanded. (Miller) Tchaikovsky's music is exemplary of the Romantic period styles in many ways. "Tchaikovsky's music was marked by its sensuously rhythmic pulse, which enabled him to create the world's greatest ballet music. The music shows a mixture of playful classicism and romantic verve. That he should incorporate such melodies into his symphonies prompted critics to attack." (NPRN) His work included orchestral pieces, ballets, operas, and chamber music. It became popular because the melodies were so beautiful, and the orchestrations were innovative and enjoyable, and the style of his work helped to define what Romantic period music was to be known as. (Daum)
One of the significant historical events that inspired the composers of the Romantic era were the recent wars and many revolutions that were uprising throughout Europe. A lot of Romantic music reflected war and revolution, and Tchaikovsky is of course no exception. One of his most famous works, the "1812 Orchestra," tells the story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, and of the French emperors defeat there. This event shaped the reality of Europeans and Russians alike, and from a nationalist perspective it was a monumental even in many ways for the Russians, occurring right at the starting line of the Romantic period. Many Russian folk songs are actually quoted throughout the piece, heightening the patriotism of the work. "The lower strings begin quietly with the melody of a hymn 'God preserve thy people'. Then a loud drum stroke shatters this peaceful prelude. The music gathers pace and snatches of the French revolutionary 'La Marseillaise', herald Napoleon's invading armies. A lyrical passage suggesting the resolute spirit of the Russian people contrasts with the sounds of battle. Descending phrases, becoming gradually weightier, lead to the final celebration of victory, with a rendition of the Russian anthem 'God Save the Tsar', a salute of canon, and the joyful clamor of the Moscow Kremlin bells." (Fry) This piece utilized real canons, bells, and guns on stage to add to the sound, a kind of revolutionary way of performing music that illustrated the rebellion of the Romantic era, and which would be used in other musical forms to the present day.
The Romantic era of art, including paintings and other art forms as well as music, saw a revival in the themes of ancient mythologies, particularly Greek stories. " in the Romantic era, music acquired poetic or philosophical meaning. Antiquity, folklore, history and exotic cultures were examined as possible sources of inspiration." (Dorak, Romantic) Tchaikovsky again represented this aspect of the Romantic period by incorporating such themes in his work, for example his "Swan Lake" which is considered to be one of the greatest ballets ever written. Swans, in particular ones that shape-shift, are significant in Celtic, Greek, Hindu, and Nordic mythology. In "Swan Lake," a princess has been turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer, and a prince falls in love with her.
A large part of the Romantic movement was the Russian Nationalism movement in music. "In the 1830s, a national musical style -marked with emphasis on folk songs, folk-dances, and especially folk rhythms- began to emerge in Russia. This coincided with similar nationalistic movements in other countries such as Poland, Bohemia, and Scandinavian countries. The Russian music is considered to be among the greatest of national music." (Dorak Russian) Before the 1830s, Russia was dominated by composers from other countries, Tchaikovsky was the first great Russian symphonist, and he did incorporate folk material into his work consistently, though it can be found in his songs, piano music, and chamber music more than his orchestral music.
However, unlike some of the other Russian composers, nationalism was never a passion for Tchaikovsky, and his symphonic work is almost more German in style. (Moreno)
Tchaikovsky's music remains relevant and celebrated in our society today. His success during his own time was due in large part to the patronage of a wealthy widow that was fond of his work. Today, while best-selling popular musicians such as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform his work with the passion and rebellious sound that he intended, other musical forms also pay homage to him in many ways. As the Romantic period in music was born out of the Industrial Revolution, the modern Industrial musical movement was born out of the technological revolution of the twentieth century. Tchaikovsky's revolutionary use of rhythm and sound effects in his music are foreshadowing for the musical styles that would be born more than a century later. The question may be raised, then, would Tchaikovsky be successful today as an artist? It is a complicated speculation to make. Certainly some "classical" composers remain active and popular today, take for example John Williams who may be the most well-known composer of our day, and Williams' work is not without Tchaikovsky-inspired elements. However, Tchaikovsky's struggle with homosexuality, signs of schizophrenia and neurosis, and social anxiety that bordered on paranoia would undoubtedly land him in the alternative music scene, where he could fully express his emotions and torment. Without an ability to woo the public on television and in magazine interviews and public appearances of all sorts, it is difficult to become "big" in today's music scene, and Tchaikovsky was barely able to address a crowd of a dozen or a hundred people in his time. Often when he went to small gatherings, his pair of twin brothers would accompany him, sitting on either side of him to protect him from social interaction, and working as "translators" for the composer so he would not have to directly speak to or be spoken to by any strangers. This would be torn apart by the tabloids if Tchaikovsky ever did make it into the public eye, and his suicidal fate would certainly have come much sooner in today's high-stress world. Confronted with a scandal about his homosexuality and his suspected relations with a particular young man, it is suspected that Tchaikovsky killed himself to protect the honor of his lover, and this was without the threat of omnipresent media coverage. However, there would be a welcoming and devoted cult following for him in the alternative music scene, and honestly that is where today's best composers lie. Look, for example, to the work of Alexx Reed, who holds a doctorate degree in music composition and has been likened to Tchaikovsky on more than one occasion, in his band ThouShaltNot. Reed's musical talent far surpasses that of any known classical composer today, yet his work is revolutionary as Tchaikovsky's was in his day, landing him in alternative rather than classical settings.
Daum, Gary. "Chapter 14 -- the Romantic Period (1825-1900)." Music: A User's Guide for Beginners. Georgetown Prep Music Department Text Book.
Brown, David. Tchaikovsky Remembered. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.,
Dorak, M. Tevfik. "Romantic (Period) Music." Romantic Period. Music Notes. 31 December 2000. http://dorakmt.tripod.com/music/romantic.html
Dorak, M. Tevfik. "Russian Nationalism in Music." Romantic Period. Music Notes. 23 May 2002. http://members.tripod.com/~dorakmt/music/national.html