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1888 – Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

1888 Peter Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani
Movements I: Andante – Allegro con anima (e) II: Andante cantabile (e) III: Valse: Allegro moderato (A) IV: Andante maestoso (E)
Overview This symphony with its soaring tunes and heart-on-sleeve emotion is the epitome of the late Romantic Symphony – Tchaikovsky’s reportedly anguished personal life completes the common Romantic idea of the suffering artist producing great works (like Beethoven).

Look at a full score / Listen on Youtube

A) Overall form Overall, the fifth symphony follows a familiar Romantic symphony blueprint. It is made up of the traditional collection of four movements (with a Waltz substituting for a minuet) and follows an E minor to E major path from tragedy to blazing triumph.

The melody introduced at the beginning reappears in all the movements in some form, including in the final triumph of the last (see here).

Listen to the heart-wrenching struggles of the first movement (below) and then listen to Tchaikovsky wind the end of the last movement into a triumphant E major march (Booklet: Extract 3. 0’30):

B) 1st mov The first movement is in sonata form but it is much expanded with a profusion of themes introduced in the exposition. This greater length and complexity allows for a more complex and involved emotional narrative.

After a slow introduction, the E minor first subject is introduced gently on clarinets and strings:

The music gets increasingly impassioned before moving (as you might expect) to B minor (the dominant) for the first of several second subject ideas:

The expansion of the second subject is an important feature of Romantic sonata form. In Tchaikovsky (and many others) this often means presenting a more lyrical and contrasting set of second subject ideas.

The first second subject theme gives way quite quickly to a much more light-hearted idea in D major (the relative major of the dominant) and it is this key that turns out to be the main one for the rest of exposition:

It is in D major that we then get what feels like the proper second subject, a wistful and reflective syncopated idea on violins:

As in the first subject, the emotional tension is ratcheted up as the melody climbs higher and higher before finishing the exposition with a much more forceful repeat of the original D major idea (initially combining it with the first subject):

This snapshot of the exposition gives a flavour of the complexity of the structure of this movement and the development and recapitulation are no less involved.

The movements ends in a gloomy E minor, repeating the first subject idea in increasingly darker orchestrations. It almost feels like the music is wading into thick mud under which it eventually sinks (Booklet: Extract 1):

Tchaikovsky makes us wait until the last movement before E major triumphantly sweeps away all the gloom.

D) 3rd mov. / Minuet Tchaikovsky replaces the Minuet/Scherzo movement with a Waltz, part of a picture of more varied dance styles in Romantic third movements.

It is also worth noting how the orchestral textures are incredibly varied. A good example is the tricky Bassoon solo at letter D (Booklet: Extract 2) (see score):

K) Rhythm d
This symphony is another good example of the influence of dance styles on rhythm in the symphony. The third movement is a Waltz, albeit one with some pretty complex syncopations in the middle.

Syncopations in the middle:

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