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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.

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:

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:

This 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:

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 (see score):