Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
Tchaikovsky wrote his Fifth Symphony in just four months during the spring and summer of 1888. The emotional background to this piece involves resignation to fate, designs of providence, murmurs of doubt, and similar dark thoughts. The movements are unified through common reference to a “motto theme” announced by somber clarinets at the outset. “If Beethoven’s Fifth is Fate knocking at the door,” wrote a commentator when the piece was new, “Tchaikovsky’s Fifth is Fate trying to get out.” And yet, not everything is forlorn. Shafts of sunlight cut through the shadows by way of orchestration of illuminating brightness, rhythmic vivacity and variety, hopeful secondary melodies, and passages of balletic grace.
Tchaikovsky dedicated his Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture, to Mily Balakirev, a mover and shaker of Russian musical politics. Tchaikovsky followed many of Balakirev’s suggestions, and it must have been a blow to both of them when the piece proved a failure at its 1870 premiere. He revised it considerably until it reached its final form in 1880. Chanting that originally opened the work was replaced by music of an antique sound. Tchaikovsky also deleted a fugue, and added a dire, unforgiving coda to depict the play’s tragic ending. After more than a decade’s work, Romeo and Juliet reached masterpiece status, an achievement that was recognized in 1884 when it won the 500-ruble Glinka Award, the first of many prizes that would come Tchaikovsky’s way.
—excerpt from liner notes by James M. Keller