All his life Tchaikovsky struggled against what he himself called ‘the inability in gene- ral to maintain a good grip on form. I have fought this innate weakness and – some- thing I’m proud of – not without some decent results. Nonetheless I will go to my grave without having produced anything at all which has a perfect form.’ Dilettantism was anathema to him: ‘You really have to outdo yourself if you want to avoid lapsing into dilettantism, of which even someone as gifted as Glinka was not entirely free...’ Although Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky is generally seen as belonging to the Western-orientated Russian school, as indeed are most of his professional colleagues in Moscow, his musical art was not in fact very far removed from the ideals of the so-called ‘Mighty Five’ (or ‘Mighty Handful’.) In 1869 he met Balakirev, the actual founder of this national school in Petersburg. Balakirev recognized the young Tchaikovsky’s talent and would ideally have liked to include him in his group. But the greatest problem as he saw it was that Tchaikovsky had received a formal conservatoire education, and that clashed with his ideals of an uncultivated, original Russian music.
Ernest Bloch belongs to the large group of twentieth-century composers who, though not wishing to be associated with the avant-garde, equally did not distance themselves from the latest developments. He studied violin and composition in his native city Geneva, and later in Brussels and Frankfurt. His early compositions reveal a great curiosity about everything that was new and unknown at the time: Wagnerian chromaticism, the orchestral expansivity of Richard Strauss, and then the subtle timbres of Debussy and the block chords of Stravinsky.