Friday, 7 May 2010

The Google Doodle - Music Trumps Politics

Yesterday, as the British nation went to the polls in the first General Election in five years, Google commemorated the occasion by incorporating the famous door of No. 10 Downing Street into its Doodle du jour. After a hard-fought and dramatic campaign, the country woke up this morning to a parliamentary system plunged into chaos, as it became clear that the ballot failed to return a decisive winner. As politicians and electorate alike scrambled to make sense of this unfolding drama, I was almost expecting the Google Doodle to continue with its political theme, as a reflection of the uncertain and uncharted waters in which we now found ourselves.

This was not to be the case. Instead, Google elected (excuse the pun!) to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the birth of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky – a more tranquil subject, I’m sure you’ll agree, and a welcome distraction from the political battle that rages all around us. The Doodle itself is rather beautiful, composed of a number of dancers in ballet poses vaguely representing the Google logo. It is unquestionably one of the more artistic Doodle offerings of late.

And of course, the acclaimed composer is a very worthy subject. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky entered the world on 7th May 1840, born into a middle class family with a long history of military service. His father, Ilya, was an engineer, and his mother Alexandra (Ilya’s second wife) was of French extraction. He began piano lessons at five years of age, and proved himself a prodigious student. However, after initially supporting his musical education, his parents’ enthusiasm eventually waned, and they insisted he attend a school which would groom him for a career in the civil service. As a result, Tchaikovsky’s musical ambitions were put on hold for several years. He entered the civil service in 1859, at the age of 19, and remained there for three years. Upon leaving, he continued his musical education, enrolling to study at the St Petersburg Conservatory. He graduated in 1865, and composed his First Symphony a year later. And so began an incredible career, lasting until his early death in 1893, at the age of 53.

During Tchaikovsky’s relatively short life, which saw professional successes marred by a turbulent and troubled personal life, the gifted composer produced many of the enduring pieces from the Romantic era. His most famous works are the ballets "Swan Lake", "The Sleeping Beauty", and "The Nutcracker". He was equally proficient in composing operas, "Eugene Onegin" probably being the most well known. In addition, he composed a host of symphonies and concertos. This prolific output ensured that his legacy was guaranteed, and it is a testament to his genius that we find the time to celebrate him today, in the midst of the biggest political and social upheaval of a generation.

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