MFBB’s ARTSY FARTSY CORNER (1)
On the evening of August 6, my wife and I went to the Château de Beloeil for the yearly classical music festival "La Nuit Musicale de Beloeil", which is held in the Château’s park. The castle, main attraction of the village of Beloeil in Hainaut province, Belgium, really is an impressive setting for such an event, since its park is designed as a frame around a disproportionately large water basin stretching hundreds of meters to the left of the chateaus main façade. This basin is called the Bassin de Neptune, and as you walk around it and enjoy the performances of the dozen or so orchestras, ensembles and choirs, your eyes are inevitably drawn towards the majestic château across the lake. Since medieval times it has been the property of the Princes of Ligne, and over the centuries it saw many transformations, from 14th-century fortress to château de plaisance by 1780.
Every year the works of an important composer are highlighted, and only over the past years Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi and Bach "passed the revue". This year it was Tchaikovski’s turn. Piotr Ilich Tchaikovski was born on 27 May 1840 in Votkinski in the Ural mountains to a wealthy middle-class family. His father was a mining director, his mother idolized French culture. In 1848 the family moved to Saint-Petersburg, where young Piotr became a first-class clerk in the Ministry of Justice. Only in 1863 he enters the Conservatory, where Rubinstein is one of his tutors. It was Rubinstein who appointed Tchaikovsi, on graduating in 1865, as Principal for Harmony at the Moscow Conservatory, a post he held until 1877. It was during these years that he wrote his 1st Piano Concert and the ballet The Swan Lake. More importantly, between 1876 and 1890 Tchaikovsky yearly received an amount of 6,000 rubles from an eccentric widow by the name of Nadezhda Von Meck, on the condition that they never meet. His financial needs thus alleviated, he dedicated his Fourth Symphony to her. In the eighties Tchaikovski spends a lot of time in Italy, where he will compose some masterpieces, a.o. the Italian Capriccio and the Opera The Queen of Shades. In 1891, on a Tour in the United States, he performs in Carnegie Hall, where he receives a warm welcome. In 1892, back in Russia, the famous The Nutcracker sees the light. In 1893 he composes his 6th symphony, better known as La Symphonie Pathétique. It will be his last. During a cholera epidemy he carelessly drinks a glass of unboiled water and almost immediately falls gravely ill. Despit heroic efforts of three doctors, Tchaikovski dies on 6 November 1893.
As my wife and I strolled through the park, occasionally sitting down to listen to a choir here, attending a performance from a chamber orchestra there, I was musing how much I liked summer, not so much for the weather, since in Belgium you are apt to have cool and wet Julys every lustrum or so, but because it is the season where you can almost literally hop daily from event to event. Both in Flanders and Wallonia you can’t miss the ads for numerous musical, historical or architectural gatherings, often in inspiring locations such as châteaux, abbey ruins, medieval town centers etc. etc. Now, while I don’t consider myself a classical music freak nor a culture yuppie, every year I like to partake in some of these events, if only because a change of perspective and a flight from boring (work) routine refreshes the mind and liftens the mood.
And so, this year we got acquainted some more to the works of Piotr Ilich Tchaikovski, who essentially was a tragical artist. You wouldn’t say so from his music, which does not strike you as fraught with Weltschmerz, although a certain melancholy is never far away. Not contributing to any gloomy mood whatsoever was the continuous lightshow being projected onto the castles wing facing the lake, and, together with countless torches and fires, as well as numerous opportunities for light snacks and beverages, made for a jolly good atmosphere among the 16,000 guests.
If you think you are not exactly familiar with Tchaikovskis work, you might want to check out this link, where you can listen to mp3 samples as well as buy entire pieces from the master. No matter how much you may consider yourself to be at odds with classical music, chances are that you recognize I Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso, from Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Opus 23, which you can listen at here, or Scene (Act II) – The Swan Lake, over here. I have another sample here, it’s called March of the Slaves, and while the sample itself is drawn from early on in the piece, it being rather a warming-up excerpt, I assure you that the finale of this symphony, played out extremely loud and combined with the most magnificent fireworks you’ve ever seen, would make your skin crawl. At midnight, as I was watching the plethora of fusées exploding over our heads, the myriad of colors reflecting magnificently in the mirror that was the Bassin de Neptune, and with the March of Slaves thundering over the black water, I was thinking that a country that has spawn a composer and music like that is a mighty, mighty country.