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“Doc Talk”/ Class Lesson 4/30/2020

“DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Thursday, April 30, 2020





Monday’s Lesson: Aaron Copland’s 3 planes of music-listening; Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6,” first movement, exposition

Tuesday’s Lesson:  Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6,” first movement, development

Wednesday’s Lesson: Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6,” first movement, recapitulation and coda/second development


Today’s Lesson:  Tchaikovsky’s “Overture to Romeo & Juliet” (the music of our marching band show next year!!!)


Woo-hoo!  Guess what???  The 3 lessons that were offered this week about “listening planes,” “sonata form,” and Gustav Mahler’s “Sixth Symphony” were presented to get you ready for TODAY—when we are going to explore the beloved “Overture to Romeo and Juliet” by Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-93)—the music that we are going to use for the opener of our marching show next year!

Like the Mahler Symphony, the “Romeo and Juliet Overture” is 1) easy to hear in each of Copland’s planes because it is both programmatic and absolute; and 2) this one-movement overture is in sonata form with a clear intro, exposition, development, recapitulation, second development, and coda.

However, what makes this work so cool is that it contains such TERRIFIC MELODIES/THEMES!  You will easily recognize some of this music!  Tchaikovsky—like Mozart—had the gift of being able to write music that was not only of exceptional quality, but that people instantly enjoyed on first hearing!  He was known as a “tunesmith”—someone who seemed to have an inexhaustible amount of memorable melodies in his imagination.  By contrast, there are many famous composers who were very skilled at their craft, but whose melodies are not remembered (Haydn is one example!).


First some background on Tchaikovsky…

1)   He was a professor of harmony in Moscow in his early professional career.

2)   He struggled throughout his life with his homosexuality—a lifestyle that was not permitted in Russia at the time.  He actually married one of his female pupils in an effort to “fit into society”—but the marriage ended 9 weeks later with Tchaikovsky suffering a mental collapse.

3)   Around this time in his life, he was extremely fortunate to be taken under the patronage of a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Meck, who was an avid admirer and who provided Tchaikovsky with a yearly allowance which allowed him to abandon teaching and devote himself wholly to composition.  The only condition of the stipend was that they were never to meet in person; rather, they would just correspond in writing.

4)   Near the end of his life, Mme von Meck ended the relationship, cutting off Tchaikovsky’s allowance.  This was in no fault of Tchaikovsky’s, rather it was due to Mme von Meck’s illness.  Tchaikovsky took the rupture of their relationship very hard.

5)   His Sixth Symphony, completed just months before his death, was moderately successful; however, Tchaikovsky considered it his best work.

6)   He died a few weeks later after drinking unboiled water during a cholera epidemic…  Most scholars believe it was suicide.

7)   Tchaikovsky is most famous for the music of his ballets (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker) and his last 3 symphonies (Nos. 4, 5, and 6).  He also wrote operas, piano music, chamber music, songs and overtures such as “March Slav,” “1812,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”


Fun fact:  Tchaikovsky and Mahler crossed paths in 1892 with Tchaikovsky watching Mahler conduct one of Tchaikovsky’s operas.  Both Mahler and Tchaikovsky adored the music of Mozart!


Now some background on Romeo and Juliet:

1)   Based on Shakespeare—who else??

2)   Quick storyline:  Romeo falls in love with Juliet…problem: their respective families hate each other and have been feuding for years.  So, they decide to get secretly married by Friar Laurence.  Soon afterwards, Romeo’s best friend is slain by one of Juliet’s cousins and Romeo avenges his death by killing Juliet’s cousin and running away!  Juliet decides to fake her death and run away to find Romeo by drinking a coma-inducing potion.  Romeo returns and thinks Juliet is dead, so he kills himself.  Juliet awakens, finds Romeo dead and kills herself… ah, a real uplifting ending, eh?

3)   Many composers have written music to depict this story including Berlioz.


Analysis of Romeo and Juliet Overture:

We will examine this Overture by looking at it both as an abstract piece of music and a programmatic one.

Essentially, the overture is in sonata form:  Intro-Exposition-Development-Recapitulation-Second Development and Coda.

1) The Intro is relatively slow (andante moderato) and is written in chorale style.  This music depicts Friar Laurence (he gets his own theme) and the marriage of Romeo and Juliet.  It’s a fairly long introduction, 111 measures in length!  The chorale/Fr. Laurence theme is easy to recognize because it begins with a scale-like figure.

Beginning of pt. 1 of link in assignment

2) The Exposition begins when the music changes to a fast tempo (allegro giusto) and contains 2 primary themes.  The “A Theme” is the very rhythmic and depicts the battle between the two feuding families (the Montigues and Capulets).  Note the use of the “kitty-kat” rhythm as a motif and the key of b minor.

5:50 in link in assignment

3) Of particular “coolness” is Tchaikovsky’s musical depiction of a swordfight depicted by irregular accented chords separated by rests in the winds and percussion over the strings.

6:40 in link in assignment

4) After a short modulating bridge, the beautiful “B Theme”–the famous “love theme”—is heard.  Note that this theme is in the key of Db Major…not only is the key now in major but it is very far removed in pitch from b minor, as if the lovers are in their own world vastly separated from the fighting in their families.  The “B Theme” is often accompanied by a “sighing motif” to represent the yearning and restlessness of the lovers.

7:56 in link in assignment

5) In the development, Theme A and the Intro Theme are manipulated in many ways.  The programmatic nature of the development is a battle between the “righteousness” of the marriage and the feud between the families.  Note that Theme B–the “love theme”—is not heard.  The development concludes with another statement of the “sword fight.”

Beginning of pt 2 of link in assignment

6) The Recapitulation is fairly straight forward featuring Themes A and B…this time Theme B occurs in the key of D Major, which is the relative major of b minor.

7) The real interest happens in the Second Development in which we hear Theme A and the Intro Theme again climaxing in a musical depiction of the 2 suicides—first Romeos, then Juliet’s.

4:40 in link of pt. 2 of assignment

8) The work ends with a slow coda where the “love theme” is heard very sadly with “funeral drums” to depict the death of the characters, followed by “Friar Laurence’s theme” heard as a benediction (final blessing), followed by the “love theme” heard more serenely—as if the lovers are reunited in heaven.  The last four bars are the motifs associated with Theme A but are stated in a conclusive manner—perhaps indicating that the families are finally reconciling their differences so that something good can occur from this tragedy.

6:00 in link of pt 2 of assignment



1) Listen to the entire “Romeo and Juliet Overture” and do your best to keep track of the storyline/form.

(Please note that this link is in 2 parts…in the first part the first 11 minutes of the work is performed, in the second part the final 6-7 minutes of the work is performed.)

2) Look up “Quick Lesson:  Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.”  (Sorry, link is not easy to cut/past but if you look up “Quick lesson…” you’ll find it!)

3) For a more detailed analysis, look up “LaRue Analyses Romeo and Juliet” (Sorry, link is not easy to cut/past but if you look up “LaRue analysis” you’ll find it!)




Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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