isms levelled at Tchaikovsky
's Symphony No.5 in E minor, opus 64, have remained constant since its premier under the composer's direction on November 17th 1888 in St. Petersburg
. Russian critics concurred that it was an effort unworthy of his talents in comparison to the fourth symphony. Tchaikovsky was in agreement, and wrote to his patroness (whom he never met) Madame Nadezhda von Meck
'After two performances of my new symphony in St. Petersburg and in Prague
, I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure. There is something repellent, something superfluous, patchy, and insincere that the public instantly recognises.' This is still the list of charges critics make of the symphony
, although mostly now it centres around insincerity. Tchaikovsky continues: 'All this causes a deep dissatisfaction with myself. Am I really played out, as they say? Last night I looked through the Fourth symphony, our
symphony. What a difference! How superior
to this one, how much better! Yes, this is a very, very sad fact.' The initial performances of the symphony were all conducted by the composer, who was by all accounts a fairly poor conductor. After hearing it at Hamburg, not under his own baton
he wrote to a friend 'The fifth was magnificently played, and I like it far better now.'
Tchaikovsky felt he was going through a creative crisis at the time he wrote Symphony 5. He felt he had written himself out as a composer, and he wrote: 'I shall work very hard now for a while... Very often doubt seizes me and I ask myself 'Isn't it time to stop writing music, haven't I overstrained my imagination, hasn't the wellspring itself dried up?'. Tchaikovsky finished the symphony in late August 1888, it having taken him three months to write.
Personally, I don't care that it's insincere. I don't care that last time I checked, a Google on Tchaikovsky 5 brings up Classic FM (which I loathe) as its top result. The first movement of this renders me incapable of speech. It's frankly orgasmic. Maybe I shouldn't make that judgment for you; go and listen to it for yourself. Since its poor reception in St. Petersburg 114 years ago, this symphony has increasingly gained acceptance from performers and audiences alike, and is now one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire.
3 flutes/2 flutes and one piccolo
First Movement: Andante - Allegro con anima
The symphony opens with a theme that recurs throughout the work, played here by the clarinets. This leads into the main bit of the movement (Allegro), the main subject of which is apparently from a Polish folk song. This is developed to a really dramatic climax that is.. ach. Just go and hear it, really. Do. I can't describe this movement. It's too wonderful. Trust me on this.
Second Movement: Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza
Again the principle theme is all over this movement as it thunders along. Tchaikovsky mixes in new themes too on the oboe, and then has the whole orchestra play the now very familiar original theme.
Third Movement:Valse: Allegro Moderato
Tchaikovsky gives it a break here, and only once (and quietly) is the principle theme heard, I think, close to the close. Other themes are nicely mixed in all over the place. Classical symphonies have a minuet and trio as the third movement, and Tchaikovsky's inclusion of a Waltz indicates the progressionist mood seizing some composers in the latter half of the 19th Century. So there.
Fourth Movement:Finale: Andante maestoso - Allegro Vivace
There is a lengthy Andante introduction before we reach the juicy meat of this movement. The theme is heard in a major key, and we arrive via much sturm und drang at a recapitulation. You can't help but feel that Tchaikovsky is triumphant here: foes are slain, enemies are vanquished, homosexuality is successfully repressed. Only I don't think he'd want people to realise that bit. Oh well.
Recordings of this symphony are two a penny, so you shouldn't have to hunt about too much for a good one. The principle danger that conductors face here seems to be going too slowly: it gets incredibly frustrating. The Decca recording is good, though. Get that one.
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