Although the light and popular dance rhythms of Johann Strauss II seem a sociocultural world away from the ‘classical’ Tchaikovsky, they’re not. It’s our own snobbery that obscures the connections in the music, for what is Tchaikovsky most famous for if not the Waltz of the Flowers, and the waltzes from Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake? But there is a physical and geographical connection too. For in 1865, Strauss – who was a regular guest conductor at summer concerts at the Pavlovsk station in Russia – conducted the first public performance of Tchaikovsky’s Characteristic Dances.
At a station? Well yes. The station at Pavlovsk was no ordinary railway terminus – it had been fashioned on the magnificent Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in London, and included a concert hall in formal gardens, amongst other Imperial extravagances. And it’s that connection with Vauxhall that, to this day, gave rise to the Russian word for ‘train station’ – vokzal. By the strangest of coincidences, I’m now off to Vauxhall to play for class for the Strauss Gala.
And as someone has wittily pointed out since reading this post, Tchaikovsky would have been very at home in today’s Vauxhall, which is gayer than Old Compton Street.
- More about Strauss and Pavlovsk from the St Petersburg Times
- Fascinating programme notes about Strauss & Pavlovsk from Naxos
- Etymological relations between Vauxhall & vokzal
- Pavlovsk Vauxhall from the St Petersburg encyclopedia
- Tchaikovsky not gay, according to Russian culture minister (Putin disagrees)