Musical Note: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

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When my father talks about classical music you’ll never hear him say that he doesn’t like this composer or that piece; he’ll say instead, “I don’t understand it.”  I always thought he was just being humble.  Despite all his achievements as a scientist and an artist, he is an incredibly humble person; but there is more to his statement than just modesty.  I am generalizing, but classical music often is more complex than pop music.  This complexity means that are a lot of themes (stories) going on in the music; they are like underground currents that you don’t find unless you swim in the river for a while.  Though we can instantly fall in love with some pieces, many require us to work – we need to listen to them more than once to hear them, to “understand.”

I remember many moons ago I bought a used CD of La Boheme.  I don’t think I knew anything about that opera (my parents were not big into opera), but it had Pavarotti on the cover, so I bought it.  I listened to it a few times, thinking to myself, how could anybody possibly like this opera. Now it is one of my favorite operas.

When my brother Alex and I were in Sydney in November we went to a concert in the famous Sydney Opera House.  We were in luck: it was a “Russian night” (no, not so-called because Alex and I were in attendance).  The famous Russian conductor (and pianist) Vladimir Ashkenazy was conducting music by Russian composers: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 4.   After the concert I talked to my father, and I told him than I did not care for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.  To which he replied that it was his favorite symphony.  The next day we went walking on the beach in Sydney, and I made a point to listen again to that symphony.  On the second or third listen, I fell in love with that piece.  After I came home to Denver I had my son listen to that symphony, and predictably, he at first hated it, but now he loves it!

So today I want to share with you Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4.

 By the way, I’ve listened to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 4 probably two dozen times over the last fifteen years, and I still don’t “understand” it.

Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is Chief Investment Officer at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo. He is the author of Active Value Investing (Wiley) and The Little Book of Sideways Markets (Wiley). His books were translated into eight languages. Forbes Magazine called him "The new Benjamin Graham".

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