Symphony No. 5 (Tchaikovsky)


Symphony No. 5 (Tchaikovsky)

The Symphony No. 5 in E minor (Op. 64) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was composed between May and August 1888 and was first performed in St Petersburg on November 6 of that year with Tchaikovsky conducting.

A typical performance of his Symphony No. 5 lasts about 46 minutes. The symphony is in four movements:

# Andante — Allegro con anima (E minor)
# Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza (D major)
# Valse: Allegro moderato (A major)
# Andante maestoso— Allegro vivace (E major → E minor → E major)

Like Symphony No. 4, the Fifth is a cyclical symphony due to the recurrence of the "motto" theme in more than one movement. Unlike the Fourth, however, the theme is heard in all four movements, a feature Tchaikovsky had first used in the Manfred Symphony, which was completed less than two years before the Fifth. The "motto" theme itself is derived from a passage in Glinka's opera "A Life for the Tsar"—significantly, a passage using the words "turn not into sorrow". The motto theme has a funereal character in the first movement, but gradually transforms into a triumphant march, which dominates the final movement. Tchaikovsky was attracted to this particular theme because the topic of the Fifth Symphony is Providence, which is closely related to Fate, the theme of the Fourth symphony. The changing character of the motto over the course of the symphony seems to imply that Tchaikovsky is expressing optimism with regard to fate, an outlook that would not return in his Sixth Symphony.

Critical reaction

Some critics, including Tchaikovsky himself, have considered it to be an insincere and even crude ending, but the symphony has gone on to become one of the composer's most popular works. The second movement, in particular, is considered to be classic Tchaikovsky: well crafted, colorfully orchestrated, and with a memorable melody for solo horn.

For some reason, possibly the very clear musical exposition of the idea of "ultimate victory through strife", the Fifth was very popular during World War II, with many new recordings of the work, and many symphonic performances during those years. One of the most notable performances was by the Leningrad Radio Symphony Orchestra during the Siege of Leningrad. City leaders had ordered the orchestra to continue its performances to keep the spirits high in the city. On the night of October 20, 1941 they played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 at the city's Philharmonic Hall and it was broadcast live to London. As the second movement began bombs started to fall nearby. The orchestra continued to play till the final note. Since the war it remains very popular, but has been somewhat eclipsed in popularity by the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies.

Critical reaction to the work was mixed, with some enthusiasm in Russia. Berezovsky wrote, "The Fifth Symphony is the weakest of Tchaikovsky's symphonies, but nevertheless it is a striking work, taking a prominent place not only among the composer's output but among Russian works in general. ... the entire symphony seems to spring from some dark spiritual experience."

On the symphony's first performance in the United States, critical reaction, especially in Boston, was almost unanimously hostile. A reviewer for the Boston "Evening Transcript", October 24, 1892, wrote:

:"Of the Fifth Tchaikovsky Symphony one hardly knows what to say ... In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes. The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker. Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!"

The reception in New York was little better. A reviewer for the "Musical Courier", March 13 1889, wrote:

:"In the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony ... one vainly sought for coherency and homogeneousness ... in the last movement, the composer's Calmuck blood got the better of him, and slaughter, dire and bloody, swept across the storm-driven score."

Uses of the symphony

The 5th symphony was used in 1933 by the Russian-born choreographer Léonide Massine for his - and the world's - first symphonic ballet, "Les Présages". This caused a furore amongst musical purists, who objected to a serious symphonic work being used as the basis of a ballet.

Various passages from this symphony were used in the 1937 motion picture "Maytime", starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The music appears not only in some of the background score, but also in the form of a sung pastiche invented by Herbert Stothart as a fictitious French opera entitled "Czaritsa", "composed" by the character Trentini for the lead soprano (MacDonald).

The second movement was featured prominently in the 1986 film "Lucas".

Part of the second movement was given English lyrics under the title "Moon Love", recorded by Glenn Miller among others.

Instrumentation

The work is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in A, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.

Sources

* Review by Bogdanov-Berezovsky, paraphrased from "The Symphonies of Brahms and Tschaikowsky in Score", Bonanza Books, New York, 1935.
* Newspaper reviews quoted in Nicolas Slonimsky, "The Lexicon of Musical Invective." Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1965. ISBN 0-295-78579-9
* Hans Keller: 'Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky', in Vol. I of 'The Symphony', ed. Robert Simpson (Harmondsworth, 1966).

External links

* http://www.tchaikovsky-research.net/en/Works/Symphonies/TH029/index.html
*
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/listen/tchaikovsky_symphony5.shtml Listen online from BBC Radio 3 website]
* [http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/743#link459 Recordings for personal use] as performed by the Peabody Concert Orchestra
*


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