I wonder if Tchaikovsky had perfect pitch. There are some controversies
on internet about it. These two articles claim he had:
"The boy, very likely taught piano by his mother, showed the perfect pitch
and remarkable musical memory."
"Though it is well-known that Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt had absolute
pitch, so did Tchaikovsky despite opinions to the contrary."
Here we learn he did not:
"Nor does absolute pitch appear to correlate with other musical skills.
Composers with tone-AP (e.g. Mozart,Skryabin, Messiaen, Boulez) have not written
indisputably better or worse music than composers without it ( e.g. Wagner,
Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Stravinsky: see Slonimsky,1988)."
"The list of great musicians who did not have perfect pitch — among them Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Furtwangler, Bernstein..."
Where is the true?
In the article on absolute pitch on my website that was linked to from
here, I wrote that Tchaikovsky did have it because of what I read elsewhere.
I can vouch for what I wrote about Bernstein because he told me (and the others
including the violinist Tossy Spivakovsky, and Roger and John Sessions.) in
no uncertain terms that he "never had it".
There is always the possibility that Tchaikovsky had it as a child and,
like Mahler, lost it later in life. I've known several people of whom this
Alas, books and the internet are not only filled with much information
but an awful lot of misinformation as well and both are passed rapidly from
one place to another!
I have always thought that contributors to this Forum are dedicated to
study of the vast musical legacy left by Peter Tchaikovsky.
I notice however from time to time some contributions that pick on
personal features of the great man and are totally oblivious of the fact
that P. Tchaikovsky is one of the world's greatest musical minds.
When people reach that level of fame, their personal features and their
characters fade into insignificance in comparison with their contribution
to the human culture.
Any attempts to highlight individual features as human being (or more
specifically put some critical slur or gossipy style allegations against
them) is shallow and pathetic.
Of course all great men and women as human beings had their unique
characters, their strengths and weaknesses etc.
However we remember them and pay homage to them for their works and
impact on the human civilization.
I suggest therefore that we concern ourselves with study and
discussions of Tchaikovsky's music, which is right in front of us, rather
than dealing with unimportant and unproven allegations.
I am a new student at McGill University in the Honors Music History
program, and I am about to dedicate a good deal of time to the life and
times of Tchaikovsky. I personally believe that the discussion of
Tchaikovsky's perfect pitch is perhaps one of the most relative things to
Think about how absolute pitch changes a way that a person composes.
Saint-Saens, a composer with perfect pitch, almost always composed
standing up, without a piano, while Leonard Bernstein, who didn't have
perfect pitch, always had a piano with him when he composed. Perfect pitch
can also dramatically effect how a person's musicianship develops.
Simply because many people are interested in the details of
Tchaikovsky's every day life and pick through 'personal features of the
great man', doesn't mean that we are discounting his greatness. If
anything, our fascination with the greater detail of his life should show
how great he actually is.
So, please before you go dismissing this forum for 'dealing with
unimportant and unproven allegations', please consider that some people
have an attention to detail and find this character trait of Tchaikovsky
relevant and pertinent to this website. Thank you.
John A. Miller