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Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5, in E minor, Opus 64

( Originally Published 1935 )



I. Andante; Allegro con anima

H. Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza

III. Valse: Allegro moderato

IV. Finale: Andante maestoso; Allegro vivace

Tchaikovsky's Fifth symphony has been variously rated. There is more disagreement as to its quality and value than about the Fourth or the Sixth. The composer himself was long dubious of its value. He wrote Madame von Meck in December of 1888, "After two performances of my new symphony I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure. There is something repellent, something superfluous, patchy, and insincere, which the public instinctively realizes.... The consciousness of this brings me a sharp twinge of self-dissatisfaction... . Last night I looked through our symphony [No. 4]. What a difference! How immeasurably superior it is! It is very, very sad!"

The Fifth symphony had come hard. For an interval its author had produced little. Now, with poor health and low spirits dogging him, he girded up his loins and set to work. In this place it is worth while to remark that despite his physical and temperamental difficulties, Tchaikovsky was a hard and systematic workman. He did not wait for inspiration.-He worked steadily, systematically at his task. This steadfastness, the more remarkable in one given to his despondencies, undoubtedly saved him in the 'creative field. If industry and system in working did not disperse his neuroticism, they counter-balanced it, and his. capacity as a technician became the admirable servant of his inspiration. It may be said that when completed the Tchaikovsky Fifth symphony represented a conspicuous triumph, not only for the artist, but for the man.

For this music, singularly enough, has a certain relation to another Fifth—that of Beethoven, which hymns the universal drama of man pitted against fate. It is the only one of Tchaikovsky's symphonies which ends victoriously. Furthermore, both composers transform a thematic idea in accordance with an obviously dramatic conception. And here the re-semblance ceases. For Beethoven salvation was a struggle, a vision and a faith. Only once was it given Tchaikovsky to entertain such confidence, and he never had Beethoven's . classic structure or incisive power.

Like Tchaikovsky's Fourth symphony, his Fifth states the theme of destiny in the introduction, with clarinets and dark-hued instrumentation. The orchestra broods over this theme before entering upon the despondent or wildly dramatic moods of the first movement proper. A new motive stated by clarinet and bassoons is dwelt upon at great length, as a thought that cannot, be shaken off. Two other ideas appear in the course of the movement proper—one of them a mournful phrase in the rhythm of the waltz. But the persistent rhythm of the first theme clominates, and it echoes sadly from instrument. to instrument in the concluding measures.

The second . movement, introduced by sustained chords of the strings, is a scene of moonlight and romance, if ever there was one in symphonic music. The horn begins a ravishing song following preliminary harmonies of the strings. A second strain, given wood-wind instruments, brings a more ardent mood. Then the strings, with a fine sweep, and elaborated orchestration, take up the song the horn first sounded. There is a sensuous climax, and new material as laden with lyrical feeling as the Spring night. After a second climax, the fate theme intervenes, grimly, sardonically, and the end is despondent.

The third movement is really a waltz, with a contrasting section in a different rhythm. It replaces the classic scherzo. It has a kind of a sick gayety. Toward the end the motto theme is woven into the dance like a specter that will not be laid.

But in the militant finale Tchaikovsky is another man. The theme of destiny is now heard as a triumphant proclamation in the major key, with panoply of the full orchestra. The trumpet:; are answered by salvos of the assembled instruments. A later theme is akin to Beethoven in its amplitude of line and its fine curve, set over a treading bass. Finally the whole orchestra prepares solemnly for the apotheosis, with the fate 'theme transfigured and glorified, and the composer captain of his soul.



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