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Pump Haven :: Mozart Wants You!.....To Play PIU! (part one)
5:12PM CST :: 1/29/07

Mozart Wants YOU!.....To Play PIU!

part 1: Tchaikovsky
article by elegie


It’s no wonder Tchaikovsky had a mentally unstable life; I mean, if you had to grow up with four brothers and a sister, and your mother died with you were fourteen of cholera, would you be sane? Besides, all the greatest musical geniuses are insane; it just comes with the title. You give some you lose some. Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia. As the second oldest child in the family, he adored his youngest two brothers, (twins, if you couldn’t figure that one out) and cared for them as if they were his own. He was the son of a mining engineer in government mines, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, and his 2nd (of 3) wife, Alexandra Andreyevna Assier. She was a Russian woman with French ancestry, and he loved her dearly; as a child when she began having to drive to other cities (in a carriage, duh), they would have to hold him back until she was in the carriage. Once they did let him go, he would chase after the carriage and try to grab the wheels of it to stop it. He was very loyal to Russia. Once as a child he took a map, and lovingly kissed Russia, then spat on all the other countries. His nurse, a Frenchwoman, reminded him that she was from France, to which he looked up at her and replied, something along the lines of, “I know. That’s why I covered France up with my hand.”

Tchaikovsky was a rather two-sided Jekyll and Hyde person. On one hand, he was intensely emotional and personal, but imprudently rash, modest (in a letter, he ended, “as regards your humble servant, I have suffered all my life from my incapacity to grasp form in general. I have fought against this innate weakness, not – I am proud to say – without good results; yet I shall go to my grave without having produced anything really perfect in form.”), intelligence, careful and thoughtful (as showed by covering France up with his hand), and accepted criticism very well. His self-criticism would always come after finishing a work; as a result, he ripped many scores apart (literally and figuratively).

Tchaikovsky studied law and in his late teens became a petty clerk in the Ministry of Justice. In his early twenties, however, he realized this wasn’t right and rebelled. He began studying music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, despite his family’s pleading not to. While at this school, as discipline they would tie up them up starch naked in public and flog them while everyone else watched on and laughed. Upon entering the conservatory, he was already a good improviser and good with harmonies, despite the fact that he had had little formal musical education in the past, besides piano lessons. His composition teacher was the famed, legendary Anton Rubinstein. If Rubinstein asked for a set of variations, Tchaikovsky would stay up all night and write 200. Overachieve much?

In 1866 Tchaikovsky became a teacher at the newly founded Moscow Conservatory. At this point, he gathered enough courage to write his first symphony, “Winter Dreams.” While composing this piece, he suffered from insomnia, a sensation of hammering in the head, and even hallucinations whenever he composed at night. After this, he never composed at night ever again. After finishing the first symphony, he sent it to Rubinstein for a premiere at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Rubinstein refused it, because it wasn’t good enough. This was an extremely hard blow to Tchaikovsky because of his already incredibly shy personality. During his first ten years of Moscow, he suffered from nervous depression, self-disgust, a love affair with an opera singer – Desiree Artot – and composed all kinds of music, from choral scores to string quartets. One of his most famous works is the Andante Cantabile from the first string quartet, opus 11. It’s based off of a folk song he heard a house painter whistling.

Tchaikovsky came home from viewing Bizet’s Carmen in Paris morbidly depressed because he simply couldn’t accept his own homosexuality. During this time, he wrote the “Fantasia Francesca da Rimini” and the “Rococo Variations” for cello and orchestra. Nadejda Fillaretovna von Meck, a wealthy widow, was mesmerized by his work and commissioned several pieces. She offered him financial security. During this time, they began a fourteen year intimate correspondence, but being nine years older than him and in a much wealthier, autocratic class, forbade any meeting. During these fourteen years they never met, just corresponded via mail. After his sexuality tortured him for a while, he decided that the best thing for him and everyone associated with him would be to get married. Thus, after Antonina Ivanovana Milyukoff declared her love for him in a love letter, he married her almost at once. About a month into the marriage, they both realized their incompatibility for each other. They simply drove each other up the walls. He fled to St. Petersburg, arrived in a nervous collapse when he was taken to a hotel nearby where he fell unconscious for 48 hours and developed a high fever. The doctors sent him to get his strength back in Clarens, a peaceful place off of Lake Geneva. Here he wrote some of his best work, including his fourth symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin. It’s rumored that he (also? Instead?) attempted suicide, but it’s not clear.

From 1878 to 1884, he resigned from the conservatory, and, tortured by his sexuality, had trouble writing music with any kind of real emotion, save for the piano trio written for Rubinstein’s death. The fifth symphony, finished in 1888, is an expression of musical fire and anxiety. It’s his second symphony in a row with a central theme of Fate. This one, however, was more evocative. It includes a distant rumbling funeral march, and is increasingly optimistic. The finale, however, turns Fate into a triumphal march, and is mankind’s longing for a happy ending defeating fate. He conducted the premiere of his final work, his sixth symphony, “The Pathetic”, and afterwards came out for the first time in his career after listening to one of his own compositions “feeling completely content.”

Tchaikovsky officially died on November 6, 1893 after drinking unfiltered water and developing cholera, but recent discovery and rumor say that he might have gone under trial from his old school because of his homosexuality and, instead of being sent to Siberia, committed suicide. We really don’t know the real cause. However, despite his form being imperfect, and his work arguably being trite and superficial, his work will never be forgotten because of its sheer beauty, and, above all, sincerity.