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Idiots from History. Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto no 1 and Nikolai Rubinstein. Don't disrespect a genius.

Updated on May 5, 2015

Good Fame, and Bad Fame.

Peter Tchaikovsky. Composed the most popular piano concerto ever.
Peter Tchaikovsky. Composed the most popular piano concerto ever.
Nikolai Rubinstein. He didn't like it.
Nikolai Rubinstein. He didn't like it.

Some idiots from history.

How many times in history have there been people whose only claim to fame for posterity is to be on record for disrespecting the genius of somebody else, especially when that person was only at the start of their career.
We all have heard of the studio executive who said of the great Fred Astaire, after Fred had done an audition.

"Can't act, cant sing, but can dance a little"

How stupid that man must have felt in later years. I don't even know his name, but I am sure if I did it would be only for his crass unforseeing remark.

Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg thought he was a very important man in his day, but now he is only remembered as the man who ordered, (literally) his chamberlain to kick Mozart downstairs, because he couldn't respect him as an artist.

Tchaikovsky, his Piano Concerto No 1, and Nikolai Rubinstein.

The man that I want to write about today was a gentleman by the name of Nikolai Rubinstein.
Mr Rubinstein was the Director of The Moscow Conservatoire of Music, when Tchaikovsky was one of the teachers.
Peter Tchaikovsky was one of the up and coming musical lights in russian music in the middle of the nineteenth century. His overture Romeo and Juliet had already been performed to critical acclaim, so he knew a thing or two about writing good sounds.
But he decided to try more extensive composition, so he wrote his Piano Concerto in B flat minor, which was his first venture into such a long piece.
When he had finished the composition he decided to show it to his boss, and to play the first movement for him.
Tchaikovsky was expecting to get perhaps a bit of constructive criticism from the great "Maestro Rubinstein"., and probably a fair amount of praise as well.
But things did not work out that way. When the young composer asked the older man what he thought of his concerto, he was shocked by the reply.

"Absolutely unplayable rubbish. You must rewrite the whole thing under my direction"

was the verdict of the esteemed Director of The Moscow Conservatoire.

The composer was so insulted by the verdict, and so annoyed, that he said.

"I am not going to change a single note. It shall be published and performed exactly as I have written it".

And that is what he did.

Nikolai Rubinstein. Music's Idiot from History.

Nowadays when people speak of the beauties of Russian music, or the greatness of that countries composers, the Name Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky is the foremost on their lips, and when they wax lyrically about the music of that immortal genius, his glorious first piano concerto is the one most of them remember.
It was a sensation when it was first played, and it has remained the most popular, and often played piano concerto ever, and that is without any input from "Maestro Rubinstein".

If you speak to any classical musician today, and ask them who Nikolai Rubinstein was, the answer will be.

"Oh! That,s the guy who told Tchaikovsky that his first piano concerto was rubbish"

That is all he is remembered for.

The moral of the tale should be that, you might think you are a big noise, but be careful how you judge other people, or their works.
It might come back to haunt you.

Judge for yourself. Who was right?


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    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi John.

      I was being a bit "tabloid" when I wrote this Hub. Even though Tchaikovsky fell out with Rubinstein over Concerto No 1, they remained good friends, and Nikolai did champion a lot of his music. He greatly praised the "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture", something that I would agree with.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub - thanks for sharing this piece of information....

      This concerto has many compositional flaws, so I can understand Rubinstein to a certain degree. The concerto is very very famous, nevertheless, fame and greatness shouldn't always be synonymous - most music scholars know exactly what Rubinstein was referring to....

      Take care!


    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom


      Thanks for visiting, and for your comment. I may have been a bit harsh on poor old Nikolai. There is a prestigious music prize in his name, but undoubtedly, in the matter of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto, he made a serious misjudgement.

    • profile image

      Garnetbird 7 years ago

      Excellent, fun HUB! I love his compositions and learned to enjoy them when I took ballet as a little girl. So right about judging genius--to judge is usually to misjudge in the long run.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Cheers Keith.

      Sometimes, people don't know when to keep their mouth shut.

      It was good, that story about the cricket. Australia really did get trashed, and I bet the english players got "hammered" afterwards, but they earned it.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Christopher, i'm not much of a classical music fan, but you would have to be mad not to love this. My music teacher friend Joseph was playing a piece of music on the piano when he was a student at the Conservatorium, in the Georgian capital of Tiblisi. A lecturer stopped at the door listening. When Joseph had finished the lecturer said to Joseph. "What a beautiful piece of piano music, what is it called and who is by?" "Girl, by the Beatles" came the reply. The lecturer turned his nose up and strutted off down the corridor. Evil Western music.

      I was watching the final ashes test last week. Alister Cook was on about 120 and Ian Bell On 8. The Commentator said. Bell is no threat. He went on to post a century and place the game beyond Australia's reach. What a plonker. Cheers mate i enjoyed this cultural hub, i'll be drinking tea out of a china cup and saucer next instead of a mug.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks drjb and Christopher.

      Poor Rubinstein.

      He did end up with a massive amount of egg on his face.

      He should have kept his mouth shut.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      The music is glorious. Rubinstein was an ignorant barbarian and I apologize for insulting barbarians! Thank you for reminding us, Christopher, of Tchaikovsky's genius.

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 7 years ago from Vermont, USA

      Nay-sayers and critics...the bane of the creative.

      How satisfying when they are silenced by success.