Come along with me-

So this is how I thought the whole blogging thing would go:

1. Jen gets a hyperfocus.

2. Jen creates draft as Jen goes along in it.

3. Jen publishes post once hyperfocus is finished.

One hyperfocus {and a bunny trail} into it and I already don’t like that format.  Too much Jen.  Besides you are brilliant, funny, and helpful.  You could help me in my hyperfocus.  I’m gleaning information from someone.  It might as well be you.  So this is your formal invitation to come along with me.

Current hyperfocuses:

Currently reading –

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

I’m going to be honest with you.  I’m 3 chapters in and it hasn’t really captured me.  I’m going to give it a few more chapters before I throw in the towel.  A friend of mine has this curse where she has to finish a book even if she hates it.  Not me.  If it doesn’t push that button then I have no problems returning it with a bookmark still in it {bookmark=random piece of scrap paper near me at the time}.  I haven’t seen the movie.  Have you read this or seen the movie?  If so give me some encouragement to keep going.  Or save me some time by telling me to scratch that idea.  Or join me and we can be a bloggy bookclub!

Listening to-

Storyboards by Sleeping at Last

This one has to annoy the poo out of Jon.  He has liked them for years {and that’s not an exaggeration}.  I didn’t really care for them before.  I thought it was “too mellow.”  Now I have kids.  “Too mellow” doesn’t exist anymore.  I crave mellow.  I have to be honest with you on this subject of music.  Everyone LOVES music.  It’s cool to LOVE music.  I don’t.  Ok don’t unsubscribe yet {mom}.  I like music and enjoy music but I LOVE quiet.  Jon is often confused when he comes home in the middle of the kids naptime and there is absolutely nothing on in the house {besides maybe the computer}.  No sounds.  No lights.  That’s the way I like it.  I also don’t get to listen to music in the car.  Kadence cried during every single car trip her entire first year {no matter how long or short the trip}.  She HATED the car.  Then on a magical trip to FL {a few months after her first birthday} we borrowed my mother-in-law’s portable DVD player.  And not one tear.  I almost cried myself.  I tore down those my-kid-won’t-watch-tv-in-the-car walls {correction I blew the walls up} and ran out and bought one for the car.  Result: Now it’s on every time we’re in the car.  I made my bed and am sleeping in it.  Sometimes, if they fall asleep, I turn the DVD player off and the radio on.  Unfortunately I spend the whole time trying to find a decent radio station {yet to find one in Stl that I fully like!}.  So anyways, I can’t really say I LOVE music because I choose not to listen to it most of the time.  I am enjoying this album, however, when I can’t sleep at night.  I just slip the earbuds in and listen to this “too mellow” album.

Hyperfocus side note:  Go ahead and buy the physical CD.  Their cover art is awesome.  They are always watercolor paintings done by Geoff Benzing.  I love them.  I want to buy one of his paintings.  But they cost monies and lots of them {rightfully so}.  Have you heard of Sleeping at Last?  What’s you’re “too mellow” music?  Do you watercolor paint?  Can you paint me a nature-y picture like these?  😉


Some of you may have recently seen me post on facebook about the best explanation/teaching on the baptism of the holy spirit I have ever heard.  It was at a new member course at our new church.  It really stirred me to read more about it and so I am.  When I ever get to publishing this post please don’t annihilate me with your brilliance in theology.  I’m just a humble little nobody learning what I can.  Besides I stink at debating.  So if you want to debate I’ll give you my brother Will’s number.  After saying that, I do want to hear your thoughts.  And if any of you know of some good books {or sermons} on the subject, send them my way.

During the Day-

Kadence and I are doing a letter a week.  We are on D.  I’m having lots of fun coming up with activities.  Correction.  I’m not really “coming up” with ideas.  I’m gleaning ideas from lots of different websites and putting them together.  I feel inclined to post them.  It’s fun as moms to share what we do.  Maybe others can glean from my gleaning.  When I post these I will do my best to link them back to the source {as long as I remember where!}.  I have no interest in stealing other people’s ideas…just modifying them. 😉  This all came about because Kadence told me one day that she wanted me to teach her to read.  It’s really scary when your child asks you to teach them something and your brain flat-lines.  Especially when your kid is 3.  What the poo {you can see this is my exclamation of choice} am I going to do when she is older?  A lot of googling, that’s what.  Anyways, I just looked at her and thought…uuuuuuuh….how do I do that?  She already knows her letters by sight so I figured the next step was to teach her the sound they make {along with a little handwriting practice}.  I also ran to the computer and requested some books on how to teach a child how to read to be put on the BM.  😀  So if you come across any good activities for letters D-Z send them my way!  How did you teach your kid to read?

Movie I want to go see-

The Help.  This is another odd Jenniferian way.  I hate going to the movie theater.  My hubby talked me into letting him buy this giant TV and bluray player.  Result: I always want to lay on my couch, eat my preferred white cheddar popcorn, drink beer, while covered in my embarrassing {but brilliant} blanket.  Besides.  We could buy the movie for what it costs for Jon and I to go see it.  Nonetheless, I want to go see this movie.  I don’t feel like waiting.  So mom, jump on your chance to get me to go to the theater with you!  I want to read the book too.  Should I do that first?  Nah, it would probably be gone by then.  Have you seen the movie or read the book?  Did you like it?  Save me money if it’s not any good.


I’m on this fish kick.  I’ve always loved fish {well at least in my adult life} but I’m on this kick of trying all kinds of new fish recipes out.  I also desperately want my dad to teach me how to clean them.  I mean I live on a lake for goodness sake.  Buying fish at the store just feels…stupid.  I want to post my fish recipe journey along with the smelly business of cleaning them and the crazy awesome health benefits of eating fish.  Now that it’s not so hot we can do more fishing too!  My goal is to make a dinner that my brother Tommy likes.

There you have it.  A little glimpse of what’s happening.  Join me?



{This is a bunny trail off of the post, Sleeping Beauty.  If you haven’t read it you may want to start there.}

I almost didn’t make it here.  No seriously.  I’ve warned you all, that as quickly and strong as the hyperfocus can come on, it can just as quickly be appeased and move on.

by Jeremy Siepmann - I would love to buy this book to have in my library.

When I got the book, Tchaikovsky: His Life and Music, from the bookmobile, I immediately began to read and immediately couldn’t put it down.  I love the way Jeremy Siepmann writes it.  He goes through Tchaikovsky’s life intertwining his music {how could you separate the two?} in such a way that doesn’t feel like a biography.  Many times my hyperfocus {hf} brings me to biographies and they are not always easy reads- no matter how interested I am.  Once my friend and I got obsessed with Queen Elizabeth  I and parts of the Tudor dynasty.  We split up some books about her to read and then come together to discuss.  Let me tell you.  Those were some of the hardest books to read.  I certainly ended up skimming the majority of it to find out the facts that interested me.  Anyways, this book wasn’t like that.  And it included 2 CD’s so that as he talked about certain pieces of music, you could listen to them right then and there.  Amazing.  I got lost in it all weekend.  Then I was to the last chapter and I felt satisfied of my hf hunger.  Uh-oh.  Almost made it through an entire book with having to give it up at the end.  The truth is my hf turned to looking up and coming up with alphabet lessons for my 3 year old…so once my hf wanes it’s almost impossible for me to pursue it.  But luckily I couldn’t sleep Monday night so I finished the book!  Whew!  Knowing I was going to be sharing it here really helped me to finish the task.

So now what to do with it here…there’s so much I want to tell you but it feels impossible without telling you his entire story…yet I don’t want to just type out Siepmann’s book.  So…I’m not really sure what’s going to happen here.  I do know I want it to be from my point of view and with my language.  But it’s almost like being around a British person all weekend, you try not to talk like them but some of it just rubs off.  Besides when you learn a new language {which the world of classical music is it’s own language} you do use some of what you’ve learned.  I’m just going to simply go through the notes I took, throw them at the wall and see what sticks.

So here’s the deal.  It appears that something is a little “off” with Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  The dude pretty much admits it himself.  The thing is, no one really knows if it’s some sort of psychosis, genetics, or just part of his genius {doesn’t it seem that everyone that has some sort of genius is a little bit “off?”}.  One of the earliest accounts of Tchaikovsky as a child comes from a French nanny that they had, Fanny Durbach {I can’t remember how to type funny characters so pretend there are two little dotty things above the u}:

“His sensitivity was infinite.  The tiniest thing could disturb or offend him in some way.  What would have been the merest trifle to other children affected him very deeply.  The question of punishment was unthinkable.  Even with scoldings and warnings, the slightest increase of severity would upset him quite alarmingly.  He was a child of glass.  In dealing with him, one had always to exercise the utmost care.”

Sounds like your average musician to me {…j/k…}.  His family life was not the worst yet not void of drama either.  They start off in a little town in Russia where his dad {who seems like a jolly/supportive enough guy} makes decent money- enough that they pretty much have their comforts covered.  But ya know, good is never good enough so he moves them to Moscow {Peter was 8} in hopes of more and something better.  Only he doesn’t find better…so he has to ditch the beloved nanny and move the family to St. Petersburg.  He ends up sending Pyotr and his brother Nikolay to a boarding school.  There, they were treated pretty badly {as seems to be the story with boarding schools} and Pyotr’s frailty is worsened.  His brother, Modest, describes him of having an “extremely nervous disposition” and talks about his “fits” or “frequent hysteria.”  At this boarding school they both get the measles.  His brother recovers normally but it took Pyotr an especially long time to recover and lives the life of an invalid for a period of time.  His dad finally gets a decent job and moves them back to Moscow, sticking Nikolay in a different boarding school and taking the rest.  Pyotr was then moved to a school that was supposed to improve your status.  It was to prep him for a life of civil services or the military.  It was a pretty tough school as well, and although Pyotr witnessed floggings of classmates and such, he somehow seemed to avoid it.  One classmate notes that he seemed to have a “special sympathy” from the headmaster and classmates.

When Pyotr was 14, his mother died of cholera {she was only 41} and his brother, Modest, writes that Pyotr never really gets over it.  He said that he could never speak of her without tears coming to his eyes, so people would always be careful to avoid the subject {heaven forbid people should see a man cry…}.

He went to school there for 9 years.  Now here’s the deal.  Tchaikovsky was always good at the piano.  He played a lot as a kid and entertained his family as they danced around.  He also played at school.  However, even though he was good, it seems that he pretty much goes unnoticed by his family, classmates, and the school staff.  He must have kept some of his genius quiet because even by this time he was composing.  He finishes school {in 1859} and gets a job with the Ministry of Justice.

Before leaving the subject of his school years, it seems that the author wants to make sure we know 2 things about Tchaikovsky:

1. That he is described by all his classmates to have a certain kind of charm.  That he is very childlike, wanting constant approval from others, sensitive, and compliant {not strong-willed}.

2. Boarding schools with single genders often had a homosexual subculture ranging from ‘experimentation to cynical and heavy-handed seduction.’

He alludes to, but never really says, that 1+2+death of mom=beginnings of homosexual Pyotr.  So there you have it.  Let’s move on.

After school, Tchaikovsky tries to take his job seriously but the possibility of music taking over begins to grow.  In 1862 {22 years old} he enrolls in a night class at the Russian Musical Society.  A year later the school becomes the St. Petersburg Conservatoire under director Anton Rubinstein {the greatest Russian pianist of the 19th century, as well as a noted composer}.  He encourages Tchaikovsky to take the plunge into music and so Tchaikovsky quits his job to pursue music full-time {at the late age of 23}.

The author kind of goes through some notes of what Tchaikovsky thinks of some of the composers that I found interesting {these are Tchaikovsky’s opinions not mine!}:

Mozart – “musical Christ” he compares everything to Mozart although his own music, in the end, differs quite a bit from Mozart’s.

Brahms – “gittless bastard” and that it “irritates me that self-inflated mediocrity is hailed as genius.”

Bach- interesting enough but no genius.

Handel – not even interesting.

Beethoven – had some good stuff at the beginning but Tchaikovsky loathed his last period music.

Tchaikovsky’s own composing was gaining but his own genius would take a long time to surface.  The Storm, his overture to Ostrovsky’s play {same title} would be the first piece to show him as a composer for symphonic orchestra.  It also really shows his “Russianness.”   In light of what he thought of those other composers, it’s no shock to us that he seems to show a lot of self-confidence in his own music.  Also, with what we learned about his personality it should be no shock that it is full of emotion.  I like this quote from the daughter of one of his close friends:

Everyone knew how powerfully his emotions affected him.  If he was deeply touched by something, it took him over altogether; his reason then became possessed.

Seems like my pal Tchaikovsky takes hyperfocus to a whole new level {one where all reason is lost!}.  See Jon…I’m not THAT bad…

His fears and obsessions were so bad that not only did his friends often question his sanity, but he himself did…now that’s bad.  Check this out, at his debut as a conductor, he directed the entire performance with just his right hand and used his left hand to “keep his head on.”  Ha!  Less than a year later he had a mental breakdown while obsessing over his work, First Symphony.  He would have hallucinations so terrifying to him that he would become paralysed.  The doctor said he was a step away from madness {age 26}.  Then he recovers quickly and moves on in life.  This is the picture that is pretty much painted for the reader throughout his entire life.  Something sets him off to near madness.  He’s dark. He’s dreary.  Aaaaand then he recovers and life and nature are beautiful once again.  He is geniusly, however, able to create music in both states.

Tchaikovsky often makes himself out to be a misanthrope.  The author, however, wants to paint a different picture for you.  Tchaikovsky often worried that his madness would be a burden to his family {his brothers and sister}.  Siepmann argues that this shows his inner need for acceptance from people and that this strong fear of being a burden is what causes him to often withdraw from social situations – not so much his hatred of people.  Often when you look at his relationships he seems to fear that he’s “too much.”  So I support this theory.  Besides.  It makes a more fuzzy Tchaikovsky than one that hates you and I.

So Tchaikovsky becomes a teacher of the conservatoire {pretty sure that because I’m American and don’t live in London like Siepmann, that I’m supposed to write this as “conservatory” but I’m not 100% sure so I’m leaving it as I see it}.  Then Nikolay Rubinstein {Anton’s little brother} goes and starts his own conservatoire and convinces Tchaikovsky to not only go teach at his school but to move in with him {don’t be confused- it seems that Nikolay is very outwardly a heterosexual}.  Nikolay, as a roomie, pushes him in many ways.  He forces him to be social {gasp!} and he pushes him musically.  Not afraid to call his stuff crap {obviously that’s in my own words…}.  It’s because of his pushing, though, that Tchaikovsky finishes his First Symphony and it has it’s first successful performance in February 1868.  It became very popular in the 68-69 season and he quickly became one of Moscow’s great composers.

By 28, Tchaikovsky’s lifestyle as a homosexual was well established.  He’s a cautious dude in most things and that isn’t any different in relationships yet also unashamedly promiscuous {yet separated that from “romance”}.  He also believed that he could be bisexual if he chose to but he had never come across a woman that interested him.  But in 1868 he fell in love with a woman, Desiree Artot {which has lots of funny characters in it if my memory weren’t failing me so}, a Belgian Opera singer.  So here’s the story in a nutshell.  They meet.  Spend lots and lots and lots of time together.  He composes music for her.  They have talk of marriage.  His friends aren’t too fond of the situation – no dude don’t do it! – do you really want to be shadowed by your popular traveling musical wife? – your creativity is going to be extinguished by your being tied down – etc., etc.  {I hate when peeps do that to other peeps- act like someone’s life is going to end by getting married or by having a baby – leave out all the enrichment that happens and focus on the inevitable negatives.}  Tchaikovsky believes they’re telling the truth yet he is “incapable of being without her.”  Well, after some time she goes off abroad with the opera.  Out of the middle of nowhere she sends Tchaikovsky a letter saying she off and married her baritone while away {of whom she apparently used to complain about as being annoying to Tchaikovsky – warning – if someone is talking a lot about someone, good or bad, it’s a warning flag!}.  However, Tchaikovsky seems to be more relieved then crushed.  Guess the situation was settled for him.

Ok.  At this time, in move the ‘Mighty Handful’ into Moscow.  It’s 5 composers {or pianists or both – I can’t tell} that pretty much think they are the best and the most “Russian” and self-proclaim themselves as the Mighty Handful.  This part cracks me up.  It reminds me so closely of the ‘Nashville Ten.’  The Nashville Ten is like a little gang of singer-songwriters, also self-proclaimed as the best little Indies in Nashville.  I’ve scoured the internet {alright I did one or two google searches} for some sort of link to their little world but apparently “we’re not invited {said in my best Arnie voice}” because I couldn’t find any info on them.  My general sarcasm about them isn’t because they’re not good musicians or because I’m hurt by their exclusivity {I have not a musical bone in my body – except for maybe in the tapping of my right pointer finger, right Sean?}.  It’s the fact that they’ve self-proclaimed their awesomeness- to which my depravity immediately sticks it’s tongue out at.  The immediate bucking of someone’s apparent pride is one of my Jenniferian ways {Jenniferian to be explained later}.  Perhaps my brother Sean can list the Nashville Ten in a comment below…if he ever reads this…which has about a 50/50 chance…  Anyways, back to the ‘Mighty Handful’- Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Boroclin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Cui.  These guys often beat up T {let’s face it…although I’m now a pro, I’m still getting tired of typing out Tchaikovsky and am shocked I’ve done it as long as I have} but they often shape him as well.  Balakirev was the only man to ever persuade T to re-write a work but only because he was right and Tchaikovsky knew it.  And thus, Romeo and Juliet turned out to be T’s first authentic masterpiece and was really the first piece to show his distinctive musical personality.

Despite his misanthropic ways, there are quite a few friendships that come in and out as he meets a lot of traveling composers.  In 1875 he had a short obsession with his new BF {can’t say BFF with T because Forever can’t be the case with this guy}, French composer and pianist, Camille Saint-Saens.  “He {T} was enchanted by Saint-Saens’ wit, and in awe, alike, of his comprehensive musicianship, his originality as a thinker, his formidable breadth of knowledge, and his astonishing record of achievement.”  There’s a funny story of these two guys that his brother Modest tells where they decide to do a theatrical version of Pygmalion and Galatea and decide to dance the ballet together on the stage of the Conservatoire.  Saint-Saens {age 40} played Galatea, T {age 35} was Pygmalion, and Nikolay Rubinstein performed the orchestra.  Unfortunately no one but these 3 performers were there to see it…

Soon after his short-lived friendship with Saint-Saens, he became obsessed with the music from Bizet’s {another French composer} opera “Carmen” and according to Siepmann he began to write more raw emotionalism into his work.

He then wrote the very dramatic Francesca da Rimini and then immediately chased it down with the light and peppy Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello.  Two pieces which couldn’t be more different.

The author takes a moment here to talk about how difficult it is to figure out a composer’s state of mind by their music.  As much as their emotion can be put into a work so can imagination.  He has a funny little paragraph off of this subject that I want to type out because it shows some of why I really enjoy this author.

All art is symbolic.  Nowhere is this more succinctly or delightfully demonstrated than in Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe, with it’s painted parenthetical statement: ‘This is not a pipe.’  Almost as pithy is a story about Picasso, who was asked by a stranger why he didn’t paint people the way they really are. ‘What exactly do you mean?’ he replied.  ‘Well, for instance,’ said the man, producing a photo from his wallet, ‘this is my wife.’  ‘Oh, I see’ said Picasso, ‘but isn’t she awfully small and flat?’

Oh silly Picasso.  You made me LOL.  Anyways, back to T and his back and forth ways…

The emotions brought up from Bizet’s music seemed to “worsen his inner turmoil.”  In this, he decided he was going to marry to cure his homosexuality.  There are many letters to where he talks about his “condition” and wanting to rid himself of it.  Siepmann, almost emphatically, argues that Tchaikovsky does not feel that being homosexual is wrong or that it bothers him but only because of how badly it was looked on in society at this time does he want to rid himself of it – that he doesn’t want his reputation spoiled.  All I know is that from a lot of the quoted letters from Tchaikovsky, it seems to me that he is tortured by it.  Siepmann argues his case so much in so many places of the book that I would bet money that he himself is gay.  No seriously – a quote from his book says – “The idea that he was tormented with guilt over his sexual orientation is a demonstrable fiction.”  How can he say that with such confidence anymore than someone can say that he was tormented?  Not that it really matters to me either way, it just didn’t seem that Siepmann was very objective on this particular matter.

So on his quest to marry he meets a recluse widow named Nadezhda von Meck through mutual friends.  The odd thing about this relationship is that they never meet.  She writes to him and so a correspondence begins.  They write often.  And I mean almost daily at times in his life.  They build a very intense relationship yet she insists they never meet.  Von Meck will go on supporting T emotionally and financially for many, many years.  Also during this time he receives a letter from an infatuated young girl, Antonina Milyukova, who claims to have been a student of his at the conservatoire {although he doesn’t remember her}.  They also begin a correspondence.  So basically what happens with this chick is that she’s crazy.  And says if he doesn’t meet with her, she will kill herself – so stupidly, he does.  Although he tries to scare her off with telling her all the bad things about himself, she begs him to see her again and stupidly, he does.  He then feels that she is very fragile and talking about killing herself if he leaves her and so STUPIDLY, he asks her to marry him.  He figured they would at least have friendship but…he really ended up hating her.  The dude was MISERABLE to say the least and goes into one of his darkest, near-mad times.  There’s a claim that Tchakovsky tried to kill himself by getting into an icy river in hopes of catching pneumonia and dying but Siepmann convincingly argues that it is most probably not true {um…who would want to ‘hopefully’ contract an illness to die a slow death?}.  Instead, T goes away on business and never comes back.  From then on any mention of her would cause him to go into hysteria and he referred to her as “the reptile.”  {My dad had a short second marriage to a crazy lady so I will now and forever refer to his second wife as “the reptile”}

Abandoning Antonina left him penniless in Switzerland and this is when von Meck begins to send him money.  In fact, she wants him to quit the Conservatoire and just focus on composing.  Even though he escaped Antonina, it would take awhile for him to recover from his intense nervousness, irritability, and lack of sleep.

Tchaikovsky traveled abroad often {conducting his pieces in concerts around the world}.  He says in one of his letters that it’s not until you are somewhere else that despite it’s flaws, you realize you love your country {in his case Russia}.  Yet while in Russia he would dream and long to travel abroad.  Feeling never truly at home he calls himself a nomad.  {I often wonder if this is how my older brother Will feels – when he’s in South Korea longing to be in the US, while in the US longing to be in South Korea.  He is currently living in South Korea – for the third time in his life.}

During this time he burned through the money from Mme von Meck in self-proclaimed ridiculous ways.  In the meantime, his wife tormented him by refusing divorce and even at one time moving into a flat above him.  She was increasingly showing signs of imbalance and one letter from her could send him on the brink of craziness.  He warred for divorce but wearied of corresponding with her so even when later she has illegitimate children and he could have the grounds necessary to divorce her, he doesn’t do it because he doesn’t want to have any correspondence with her {he was also afraid his homosexuality would be become public if it went to court}.  So what happened to her?  Well, she spent the last 20 years of her life living in a mental institute.  I get she was crazy – her letters show that – but he wasn’t exactly ‘sane’ either.  In my viewpoint this could be one of those, which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg trainwrecks.

This crazy marriage episode wasn’t T’s only thing to reek havoc on his emotions.  There are many situations to which he is almost “lost”.  One of which is when one of his servants, Alyosha, was drafted into the army {it seems he may have been in love with him}.  Next, it was the death of Nikolay Rubinstein who died at a young age of 45.  The only piece that he wrote during that year {1881} was a long piano trio which was to be a requiem for Rubinstein.

At this point T is 40 and decides it’s time to stop “sponging” and get his own place {um, yes}.  He found himself a cozy place in the countryside.  Over the next couple years he would move but stay in the same general area.  He would always set everything up exactly the same way every time he did move.  As most men {or really ppl in general}, he was a creature of habit.  He believed that if you walked for an hour every day you would keep your health.  So he did two of them one in the morning and one in the evening.  He began to really study English.  He loved Charles Dickens and had read most of the Russian translations but he wanted to read it exactly how Dickens had wrote it.  During this settlement period he wrote the very complex Manfred Symphony.  It was a piece that at times came easy and at times he toiled over.  After it was finished he turned back to another opera {perhaps to lighten his mood}, The Sorceress.  It ended up becoming his first conducting tour overseas.  It was on this tour that he met Brahms and he really liked him.  I think his letters about this are funny because it seemed like the reason he liked him was because he didn’t seem very German but seemed more Russian to him {he liked him because he was like him}.

As he toured in his mid to late forties, he became very famous – receiving lots of honors and praises.  He marvels about it in one of his letters to von Meck; how someone who was such a loner and very recluse was now being praised in the streets.

Upon returning to Russia {age 49} he moved houses {within the same area} and found a lot of joy in the scenery around him.  It causes him to lull in music for a bit as he writes to his brother that he has no inclination for it.  Yet, in nature he collects enough within him for a symphony.  It is at that time that he wrote his fifth and greatest symphony.  He must have pulled the inspiration from nature because it is one that doesn’t really pull from Russian folk songs.  He was also at this time, deep into literature and could read in many languages {including Latin}.  Tolstoy was an author that T revered above all living authors at that time.  He also had a lot of hyperfocus for Dickens {as we discussed} and George Eliot.  It seems that he had found a lot of joy and peace during this time in the countryside.  It seemed getting out in nature and getting a lot of vitamin D did this often depressed man some good {that’s my own conclusion there…but seriously.  Take vitamin D.  They’re finding out we don’t get enough of it.}.

As he debuted Symphony No. 5 in St. Petersburg, Cesar Cui {of that blasted Mighty Handful} gives him a very nasty review {of course now it is known as one of the greatest symphonies of all time} and boy does T take it to heart.  After this, he’s asked by the director of the Imperial Theaters to do the music for a new three-act ballet, The Sleeping Beauty {we made it!  Had to go through his whole life but we made it to sleeping beauty!}.  The piece came quickly to him at first but then the orchestration took a lot of work for him.  As soon as it was finished he left Russia and went to Italy where he wrote the very dark opera, The Queen of Spades.  He immediately followed it with the light Souvenir de Florence {this seems to always be his tendency – from one extreme to another but I don’t blame him – I do that with reading.  You read something difficult and intense and you immediately want to go to juvenile fiction to find something light and easy}.

In 1890, von Meck writes to him that she is in financial trouble and can no longer send him money.  She kinda acts {via letter} like it means the end of their correspondence together.  He’s pretty crushed and embarrassed about this.  He didn’t really still need the money and he was hurt that she thought that was the only reason he wanted to write her.  He continued to try to write to her but she never wrote back {she was kind of ill and had some pain in her hands- so her correspondence had slowed- but he was very hurt that she didn’t have someone else write to him}.  This was really a big blow to T.  Although he had gained a lot of popularity and fame, his brother Modest later writes that her silence was T’s secret anguish that darkened his life to the end of his days.  Luckily, although he wrote a lot of pieces in dedication to von Meck, she wasn’t his only muse.  He had this odd friendship {bordering on obsession} with his nephew Vladimir Davidov.  The author is very vague about this friendship/obsessions.  It almost sounds like it’s inappropriate but that’s me trying to read in between the lines.  It would be interesting to see how other biographers described this relationship.

In 1890 he made his conducting debut in the US.  He loved America and mentions that if he were younger he would have enjoyed it more.  But because he’s older he just wanted to be home in Russia.  He is very amused when he came that there were pieces of his that were very popular in America that hardly got noticed in Russia.  Of all the people he met in America he was most impressed by Andrew Carnegie {who built the now famous Carnegie Hall in midtown Manhattan, NY}.  In fact, T conducted a concert at the grand opening of the Carnegie Hall on May 5, 1981.

When he returned to Russia, he completed a one-act opera and then the Nutcracker Ballet {which did not go over well at the opening}.  As we well know, it later becomes one of his best know works.

Nonetheless, he is at this time in high celebrity status.  And not just in Russia but all over the world.  He was constantly being asked to different countries and social engagements.  This {as we can assume in what we know now of T} is very exhausting and uncomfortable for him.  He was asked to come to England where Cambridge University gave him an honorary doctorate {the whole ceremony and such really amused him}.

The Sixth Symphony was his final piece.  He half expected it to fail but he didn’t care {finally!}.  He labored hard on this piece and said that he loved it more than any other piece.  He felt it was the most sincere.  The most Tchaikovsky.  He died nine days after it’s premiere.

Tchaikovsky’s cause of death remains as one of the most heated topics of debate in historians.  The story goes that he died of Cholera after drinking unboiled water at a restaurant.  According to gossip at the time, he committed suicide.  Some say that his old Conservatoire found out about his homosexuality and something to do with his nephew {that I previously mentioned} – and they were saying that they were going to turn him in to the Czar and so they suggested he commit suicide {and so he did}.  There are other motives floating around out there that are all somehow linked to his homosexuality.  The author doesn’t believe that T would have committed suicide over this because he says that many in the Czar’s family were homosexuals and he didn’t believe anything would have come of the situation.  He also has quotes from T’s brother saying that it was one of T’s happiest times of his life.  However, on the other side, the Sixth Symphony was one of his gloomiest pieces that was self-proclaimed the most like him.  Nonetheless, he was sick for awhile and died with family around him, of which all said that he went in high spirits.  {Again, who would try to commit suicide by contracting a disease?  Seems a little far fetched to me.}

And so is the end of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s story.  Now let me say that this blog does not in the slightest bit cover all of his works.  The book I read broke his music down into sections, him as a pianist and his piano music, music written for the theater- operas and ballets, orchestra music, chamber music, as well as “songs.”  He doesn’t go into detail about what musically makes all of these categories different and he shares a lot of the opinions of T in all of these areas.  I tried my best to listen and read the opinions and gather my own thoughts but I hysterically laughed as I read back through my notes.  They pretty much looked like this:

Eugene Onegin- I like it.

Second Symphony – it’s ok but not my favorite.

Piano Concerto No. 1 – I love it!

Etc…  So apparently I do not have enough music training to properly be a critic.  Lol.  But there are many interesting points that Siepmann makes about T’s music…so…read the book.  🙂  One of my favorite points, however, is that there is enough in his music to call certain musical sounds Tchaikovskyan.  I think that it’s cool that he was enough his own that people can hear things and say, it sounds Tchaikovskyan.  I immediately thought that I would like to have something that people would say was Mitchellan.  But then I didn’t like the way it flowed {and it reminded me of a shoe insert commercial about gellin’} so I decided that things that were very much me would be Jenniferian.  But, ya know, not as cool as someone else doing it for you.  Which brings me to another point that I will end on.

It’s easy to think about geniuses or the greats of history and want to be as  great or as accomplished as they were.  But the truth is, 99% of the time, when you research their life it is usually sad.  And even more sadly is that they are usually never claimed as a great or a genius until they’re long gone.  So as much as you think it would be great to be famous or known as something amazing, maybe a nice humble life, where you look to achieve “greatness” in the small things around you {preferably how you treat people}, is the better way to go.  After all, everyone’s story always ends the same way:

The End.

La Belle au bois dormant : The Sleeping Beauty

Released from Disney on 1.29.59

We’ve been watching a lot of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  It’s Kadence’s favorite movie and she loves the music.  If you ask her to sing to you, 90% of the time she chooses Once Upon a Dream {the other 10% she sings Deep and Wide}.  The movie is beautiful.  You know, it took Disney 6 years to make this movie {as Walt tells us in the bonus features of the 50th Anniversary Edition} and 6 million dollars.  It was a drastic change for them to move from 35mm film to make it widescreen.  Basically the artists had to make their paintings larger and more detailed.  They wanted to make it look a lot different from Snow White and Cinderella so they decided to go with a medieval feel – it has much sharper features than the more rounded ones of SW and Cinderella.

The illustrations in Sleeping Beauty had "harsher" and sharper features than the soft rounded look of Snow White {Disney's first sleeping princess}.

Eyvind Earle, the film's color stylist, painted most of the film's sets himself and was given quite a bit of creative freedom, which was unusual.

But as beautiful as the movie is that’s not what even caught my attention.  It was the music, which is so classical and different from Snow White {Kadence’s previous Disney princess obsession} that got my attention.  In the bonus features, it plays a special that was aired on TV by Disney the day after the movie was released to theaters, “The Peter Tchaikovsky Story.”  We normally turn it off at this point but because I was so captivated by the music I wanted to hear more about Tchaikovsky.  The feature was definitely Disney dramatic but the hf {hyperfocus} button was pressed nonetheless.

Immediately I wanted the music from the movie. Most of the music in the movie was based off of Peter {Pyotr} Tchaikovsky’s Ballet, The Sleeping Beauty {first performed in 1890}.  Tchaikovsky {1840-1893} was a Russian composer that is perhaps best known for his music in ballets, such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker.  I decided I wanted Tchaikovsky’s composition {instead of Disney’s even though Kadence and I thought they did a good job} so I downloaded this CD from iTunes.  I also love pure piano music and found out that much of Tchaikovsky’s ballet was transcribed to a piano duet by the Russian pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1890.  And check this out.  He was 17.  SEVENTEEN!  Geesh.  It never ceases to amaze me how young geniuses start genius-izing.  His piano arrangement of Once Upon a Dream {Opus 66a V. Waltz} is the best and was disgracefully made into my ringtone.  You’re welcome Rachmaninoff.  After listening to the CSR Symphony Orchestra CD for about a week straight I realized hadn’t relieved my hyperfocus, so I requested Tchaikovsky: His Life and Music by Jeremy Siepmann to be put on the Bookmobile.

I can’t say enough about this book.  Written so well I can feel Jeremy Siepmann’s own hf on the subject.  He began his hyperfocus of all things Russian as a teen.  It started with Russian literature, leading to the Russian language, naturally then to Russian history.  It wasn’t until later in life that it led to Russian music and Tchaikovsky in particular.  He attributes this late interest to his not becoming an “opera man” until his late fifties and discovering Eugene Onegin and opening the doors to all things Tchaikovsky.  The way he writes, shows evidence of his hf which is very refreshing.  Many biographies can be boring as authors try not to speculate or draw in between the lines where facts are lacking.  The result can be a very boring view of the person at hand.  This isn’t the case in this book.  He makes it an enjoyable as well as informative read.  How he portrays his book is shown in the preface in this quote:

“It {this book} is not an act of revelation, nor does it masquerade as a work of imposing scholarship.  It is envisaged as an introduction to both the man and his work, but it is also approached as a story.  Its intended readership is emphatically non-specialist.”

That is how I feel about this entire post.  I don’t pretend to now be an expert on the subject now and the deeper I get into Tchaikovsky the more I realize how little I know about music.  But I think Tchaikovsky was a bunny trail that had to be chased off the path of Sleeping Beauty and so I do that here.  To keep this particular post from being long and hard to read, you can continue the topic of Tchaikovsky and my regurgitation of Siepmann’s book in it’s own post cleverly titled, Tchaikovsky.

My research on Tchaikovsky’s ballet naturally led me to the French author Charles Perrault and his book “La Belle au bois dormant” {translated: The Beauty asleep in the wood}, Sleeping Beauty, which is the story that the ballet and Disney’s movie is based off of {published in 1697}.  According to Wikipedia, Perrault basically laid the foundation of the genre, the fairy tale.  He was pretty much the first to publish folk tales {perhaps you’ve heard of his work, Tales of Mother Goose?} which is where Sleeping Beauty comes from.  So of course, I requested The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault from the Bookmobile as well.  This explains a lot of the odd ending in Tchaikovsky’s ballet where they’re celebrating at Aurora’s wedding and characters like Puss and Boots and Little Red Riding Hood are seen dancing.  They’re all from Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales.  Can I also just say that there seems to be a pretty strict rule to folklore.  I mean, you and I can’t just write down some stuff that we heard from some peeps and call it folk lore.  Folklorists take their work seriously and although I don’t fully understand the different levels of folk lore I can trust that those who do have put all of Perrault’s and Grimms fairy tales to the fire and they’ve come through.  I’m not saying they’re true stories but that they are truly stories that have been told for centuries.  That whole genre of folk lore and fairy tales is a bunny trail for another day {I had no interest in figuring all that out}.

Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, as to be expected, is quite different from Disney’s version.  At first they are small differences- 7 fairies come to bless the child {rather than Disney’s 3}, the fairies don’t raise the child as their own {like in the movie}, the princess isn’t named in the story {she’s named Aurora by her parents and when the fairies are raising her in secret she is called Briar Rose}, and she sleeps for 100 years {versus what seems to be less than a day in the movie}.  When she is awaken by the prince, she and “the king’s son” are married, just as in the movie.  This is where the movie ends finishing in Disney’s normal happily ever after.  However, this is where Perrault’s fairy tale takes a very odd twist {one that I’m quite thankful Disney left out!}.  In the story, the prince keeps her hidden at her castle after they’re married for two years, during which they have two children; a girl named Dawn and a boy named Day.  It mentions that he hides them because he is afraid of his mother {although she was always good and loved him} because of rumors that she was born of Ogres and was always keeping her desire to eat children at bay.  So his father dies and the prince decides to bring his queen and children to join him at his kingdom.  I guess he decided to trust his mother because at one point he has to go away and asks his mother to look after his wife and children for him.  No longer able to keep her hunger at bay she asks the chef to cook Dawn for her for supper.  Scared of her, the chef goes off to do her bidding but can’t do it in the end.  So he kills a lamb and covers it in his most delicious sauce and hides the child.  His deceit is successful.  The next night she wants to eat Day and the chef continues his deceit with a baby goat {I know it’s called a kid but I thought that would be confusing}.  He pulls that off as well and so the next night she decides she wants to eat the young Queen {although she’s really not young seeing how she went through a 100 year sleep, but ya know…}.  The chef isn’t sure how he’s going to go about deceiving her so he goes to kill sleeping beauty but tells her before hand what’s going on.  She says she wants him to do it so she can be with her children {she thought them dead because she couldn’t find them}.  That makes him sad so he takes her to the children and decides not to kill her and to deceive the old Queen with a deer.  It’s all successful until one day the old queen hears Day crying out in the cellar {and it let’s us know he was crying because he was being punished by his mother for something bad he did} and then the voice of the young queen.  So the old queen goes and makes a pit of vipers and dragons and is getting ready to throw the chef and his wife and sleeping beauty and her children into the pit when the king {son of the old queen} happens to show up just in the nick of time.  The old queen throws herself in the pit instead so that she doesn’t have to explain herself.  …So although this story also ends on a happy note, I’m quite thankful that the whole eating of children is left out of Disney’s version.  The bad fairy is bad enough without needing to add on a second villain for Kadence to be scared of.  I’m curious, though, how the Sleeping Beauty ballet is done- if it includes this part of the story or not.  I do know it was a 4 hour ballet in the beginning so it very well could have.  Make it known that if I hear of this ballet being done anywhere somewhat near me, I will do all in my power to get to see it!

So come to find out there’s more than Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty from Tchaikovsky’s version of Perrault’s version of The Sleeping Beauty.  Thrown in the middle there was a version {Dornröschen “Briar Rose,”1812} from another folklorist known as Brother Grimms (which is made up of brothers Jakob and Wilhelm from Germany).  So why not throw Household Tales by Brothers Grimm on the BM {no- that’s not bowel movement.  I just got tired of typing Bookmobile}?  So I did.

My brother Thomas {pushing Greg}, sister Caris, and our cousin Serena .

But before the book came in I got to go on a short antique shopping trip with some fam.  I saw the book section and immediately went searching for some of these original fairy tales.  Unfortunately I spent most of my time doing that and didn’t get to see the other wonders the store held.  But joyfully I found this book:

Stories and Fables - a 1974 release from Childcraft.

This book has many different fables and fairy tales from different authors and includes Brothers Grimm’s version of Sleeping Beauty.  Both this book and the one I received from the BM end the story at the wedding, just as Disney does.  They have 12 fairy godmothers and a bad fairy versus Disney’s 3 or Perrault’s 7.  In this story she’s given a name, Briar Rose, which is where Disney must have pulled Aurora’s second name from.  In this version she also actually sleeps out her 100 year sentence and everyone in the kingdom sleeps with her until a prince hears her story and goes looking for her.  The briar {which is flowering with roses at this time} opens up for him to enter and thus he finds her and the sleeping kingdom. Can I just take a moment to say that the “illustrations” in the 1974 book are sometimes creepy.  Some of them are just illustrated but some of them are photographs of people dressed up or even more disturbing, little dolls dressed up and photographed…

An odd little photograph with real people...

This is from Goldilocks and the Three Bears but it shows the creepy doll photograph "illustrations" I was talking about...

So there we have it, the appeasement of my hyperfocus on Sleeping Beauty.  Be sure to check out it’s bunny trail on Tchaikovsky because it really was the highlight of my investigation.

So let’s do a quick little time line including origin so that we can have it laid out neatly {or as my friend Danielle would say, let’s draw it out}.

  1. 1697 • The Sleeping Beauty by Perrault • France
  2. 1812 • Briar Rose by Brothers Grimm • Germany
  3. 1889 • The Sleeping Beauty Ballet by Tchaikovsky • Russia • completed in 1889, first performed in 1890
  4. 1890 • Transcribed into piano by Rachmaninoff • Russia
  5. 1959 • Sleeping Beauty by Walt Disney • United States
  6. 2008 • Disney star Emily Osment disgustingly destroys the song “Once Upon a Dream” in the 50th Anniversary Edition bonus features – sorry, had to throw that in there.

There you have it folks.  There was my 2.5 week obsession on Sleeping Beauty.  I’d like to end by showing you my very own Sleeping Beauty.

This was from June 2010 - She's not still in diapers!