Symphony No. 5, in E minor, Opus 64
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
Although Tchaikovsky showed talent for music as a child, he was trained first in jurisprudence. In 1863, he left that endeavor and devoted himself to his music. When Tchaikovsky began this symphony in 1888, he was plagued with self-doubt and uncertainty. He thought he had no inspiration, no ideas, that perhaps he was “written…out.” Nevertheless, this sentimental, theatrical, pessimistic composer wrote to his benefactor only a month later that “inspiration is coming. We shall see.”
I. Andante; Allegro con anima. The symphony has a motto theme, a melody used in each movement to create the emotional foundation of the whole. Two clarinets in their lower range announce this first theme, which seems to be a menacing theme of Fate. The movement proper then opens into a march theme, lively and filled with spirit. The second theme brightens the atmosphere a bit, but essentially, this is a dejected, pessimistic movement that vanishes in darkness.
II. Andante cantabile con alcuna licenza. Perhaps one of the most familiar slow movements in the entire symphonic repertoire, the theme is mournfully sung by solo French horn over sustained strings. This theme is even more nostalgic than the motto theme previously heard. The emotionalism intensifies and the horn solo becomes a duet, followed by oboe and clarinet melodies portraying melancholy. Suddenly, the lyricism is disrupted by the motto theme in a trumpet blast. The opening melodies return in a passionate outpouring before a terrifying eruption of the motto, this time in the trombones. The movement fades away with pleading, broken phases.
III. Valse: Allegro moderato. The charming melody is based on a Florentine street song Tchaikovsky heard 10 years earlier. The waltz has an undercurrent of melancholy that never disappears. The trio section has a rapid staccato figure that skips through the orchestra and then accompanies the returning waltz tune. At the end, a hollow-sounding, deep reminder of the Fate motto returns, much like an unhappy memory.
IV. Andante maestoso: Allegro vivace. The motto leads off the finale, but in E major, not E minor, suggesting a final triumph. The melody is ceded to the warm tones of the strings and marches to the woodwind choir, with a background of flowing triplet rhythm, a symbol of rejoicing. The timpani announce the final allegro. Joyous in outlook, the movement surges until it reaches the coda, when the motto is proclaimed in trumpet fanfares, irresistibly ebullient and victorious.
Program Notes by Joy S. Perry