Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Serenade for String Orchestra in C Major

Sometimes, I discovered works of classical music in the strangest places, and that has humbled me a bit. My three older brothers went to a college, which lay about 100 mile south of my hometown. From 1961 until 1972, we spent a number of Sunday’s driving the two hours to visit them. For me as a child, these little trips were like mini-vacations. The university, a land-grant college, which specialized in agriculture and technology, looked like something out of a DiChiruco painting. It sat on a billiard table flat plain and consisted of a number of huge, red-brick cubes that had a sinister air about them.

To get to the University, we had to head due south for about 50 miles, through flat Indiana cornfields and small Midwestern towns. At a small county seat called Rochester the road forked and then started to climb and wind in a southwesterly direction through a series of small foothills and valleys. The hills were covered with thick deciduous forests and dotted with small ramshackle houses, abandoned gas stations and other languishing small businesses. It had a kind of backward, “hillbilly” feeling to it.

In the mid to late 60s a craze for antiques and flea markets swept through the United States. In every city someone turned an old barn or storefront into a second-hand shop, and every Saturday the suburbs sprouted signs saying “Garage Sale.” Those were the golden days–when people sold real antiques and household effects from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Nowadays, you only find ’80s and ’90s mass-produced trash at garage sales.

On one of our Sunday trips to visit a brother, my father spotted a table of junk in front of a broken-down car repair shop, and he pulled the car over. This was instinctual behavior for my parents–they had been teenagers during the great depression of 1929. We all piled out of the car to inspect the goods, which consisted of old tools, broken lamps, and other “treasures.” A pile of albums sitting on the table caught my eye, and I was flabbergasted upon inspecting them to find they were all classical LPs. The proprietor had put a sign on them “Records 25 Cents.”

I scooped up the whole set–about 12 in all–and so began my classical music collection. I was immensely happy to have found these albums, which I came to refer to as my “classical cache.” Most were on budget labels–Nonesuch, Vox, Vanguard and Everest. Some had familiar pieces–Tchaikowski’s 1812 Overture. Others had composers I had never heard of–Dvorak and Borodin. But, to me they were genuine treasures and since they were “classical” they had to be good. I ended up listening to them all again and again.

The one that I remain fondest of to this day, and which I just recently found on a CD, was Tchaikowski’s Serenade for Strings. Whenever I hear this piece, my mind’s eye conjurs up pictures of ballet dancers. I don’t know whether it’s ever been choreographed, but it seems perfect for a pas de deux. It just sounds so sweet and lush and passionate. True, it holds a touch of sadness, and you can’t think of Tchaikowski without thinking about his tortured life of self doubt and his struggles with his homosexuality. Despite his trials, however, he managed to give us Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, a great piano and violin concerto and the Serenade for Strings. It seems odd that I could have discovered this incredibly sweet piece of music amid a pile of junk on a table in a ravine in rural Indiana, thousands of miles away from its source. And strange too, that it would spring from the mind of a troubled soul. Another contemporary troubled soul of Tchaikowski–Oscar Wilde–entitled the book he wrote in prison De Profundis, which is a quote from the Bible: “Out of the depths, I call to you, oh Lord.” The trick in life is learning to find the flower growing in the dung-heap.

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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