A Hostile Reaction to Genius Is Not Unusual – It Is the Norm

The Russian composer Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) dedicated his brilliant first piano concerto to the eminent pianist Nikolai Rubinstein. When it was completed in February, 1875, he played the piece for Rubinstein.

‘Not one word was said – absolute silence… I got up from the piano. ‘Well?’ I said. Then a torrent burst from Rubinstein, my concerto was worthless and unplayable. Bad, trivial, vulgar, only one or two pages had any value.’

Rubinstein hated the piece. He wanted Tchaikovsky to make significant changes, but was refused.

‘I shan’t alter a note. I shall publish it as it stands.’

Tchaikovsky crossed out the dedication to Rubinstein from the top of the page. He then rededicated it to Hans von Bülow who played it to great acclaim on his concert tour of the USA. Eventually, Rubinstein changed his mind about the piece and learned and performed it himself.

Hostile reactions to new creative ideas are not unusual – they are normal. Listening now to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, we struggle to see how Rubinstein could have failed to be impressed by it. The lesson is that we all have a built-in resistance to unorthodox innovations that displace us from our comfort zones. The more expert we are the easier it is to find fault with other people’s ideas. We can all be as deaf to brilliant new concepts as Rubinstein was.

A version of this post was previously published on Destination-Innovation and is republished here with permission from the author.


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