Saturday, December 10, 2005


Tchaikovsky: Fifth Symphony, E minor, Op.64

The first four Symphonies of Tchaikovsky were written in reasonably close succession, during the years 1868 to 1877; but then he paused in his symphonic occupation (devoting his genius meanwhile chiefly to the creation of four of his great operas), for eleven years. His Fifth Symphony, in the unusual key of E minor, Op.64, was composed in 1888. The progress in the steady maturing course of its author's genius is confirmed by two qualities which place this Symphony above all his preceding ones, namely: greater warmth, firmness of line, richness and depth of sentiment in the conception of the melodies; and greater command of the formal structure, which is here of genuine symphonic dignity and perfection.

The Symphony opens, like the Fourth, with a portentous, oracular Introduction, that appears to be thematically foreign to the purpose of the first Movement; but it is inserted twice, unexpectedly and with tremendous emphasis, in the second Movement (to which, also, it is wholly foreign in mood and character); appears again, greatly subdued, near the end of the third Movement; and then---at last asserting its true thematic quality and importance, it becomes (in considerably extended form, and changed from minor to major) not only the introductory section of the Finale, but an essential thematic factor of the entire last Movement. The first movement is cast in sonata-allegro form.

The second Movement, in the First-Rondo form, is a lyric conception of rich, glowing melodic quality and very great tonal beauty.

The third Movement is in one of the customary dance-forms, but it bears the somewhat surprising title Waltz, and one wonders how so plebian a style can hold its own in aristocratic symphonic company. But it does so, with quiet dignity and charm. Besides, the "Waltz" is no more foreign to the traditional Minuet, than is the very common "Scherzo," which no less a master than Beethoven introduced into this company.

The Finale is, in keeping with convention, a vigorous Allegro, more distinguished for forcefulness than for vivacity, and splendidly effective. The allusion to the chief Theme of the first Movement, at the end, in major, rounds out this imposing Symphony in a masterly manner.


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