BBC hands over the air waves to magic of Tchaikovsky

The great Russian Romantic Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is to be the next composer whose complete works will be broadcast by Radio 3.

After the enormous success of previous schedules offering the entire output of Bach, Beethoven and Webern, Tchaikovsky has been chosen for the full immersion treatment.

But BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4 will also join in the giant celebration, with highlights including the Royal Ballet's new production of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake from the Mariinsky Theatre - formerly the Kirov - in St Petersburg.

Adam Kemp, who commissions BBC television's arts, said that the broadcasts would be a "rare treat for music fans". "The Tchaikovsky season across BBC television is a first both in terms of its extraordinary scale - 11 originated programmes across three channels - and its variety."

The season will kick off on television in January. The Mariinsky will also present the opera, The Queen of Spades, under the conductor Valery Gergiev and Charles Hazlewood will present a two-part drama-documentary about Tchaikovsky's life.

The following month, Radio 3 will clear its schedules for a week to broadcast Tchaikovsky's complete works. The romantic overload will be tempered on radio by interspersing the composer's music with the works of his fellow Russian Igor Stravinsky.

The radio broadcasts will include notable exponents of the Russians' work, including Vladimir Ashkenazy and Pierre Boulez, while other artists, including the choreographer Matthew Bourne and the director Nicholas Hytner, will offer their own reflections on the composers.

The Radio 3 controller, Roger Wright, said that listeners had responded to previous seasons of complete works with great enthusiasm.

As part of the complete Beethoven, free downloads of his symphonies were offered and nearly 1.4 million were taken up - a figure which stunned record labels and critics who had long written off interest in classical music.

"The audiences have been crying out for us to do more of them and suggested all kinds of names," he said. They included Vivaldi, Telemann, Brahms, Schubert and Vaughan Williams as well as Tchaikovsky.

But Mr Wright said what was interesting about the Russian Romantic was that he produced a significant body of very great work, such as the 2nd Piano Concerto and many little-known string quartets and songs.

"There are highly crafted, magnificent pieces that are really worthy of investigation," he said.

Tchaikovsky was born in 1840. He studied the piano at school but originally became a civil servant. A colleague at the Ministry of Justice encouraged his love of music and he enrolled in the St Petersburg Conservatory, graduating to a career in composing and conducting. He died in 1893.