1) Registration for Marching Band is OPEN on our website!!!
Please sign up ASAP, and spread the word, especially to rising 9th graders! The due date is Friday, June 19th.
2) Applications for Section Leaders/Captains and Drum Majors has been emailed to all the families and will be posted on our website. Deadline for submission of the written application, along with videos for drum major candidates, is tomorrow, Friday, May 29th!
Tuesday’s Lesson: Robert Schumann’s “Symphony No. 3” – “The Rhenish”
Wednesday’s Lesson: Franz Schubert’s “Symphony No. 8 in b minor”—”The Unfinished Symphony”
Today’s Lesson: Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4 in f minor, Op. 36” (1878)
We have spent time together this week looking at some of the “favorite” symphonies of the Romantic era—the works that are very likely to be performed in a concert season by any orchestra. On Tuesday, we discussed Robert Schumann’s (1810-56) “Symphony No. 3” and yesterday we examined Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) “Symphony No. 8” known best as the “Unfinished Symphony” because it only comprises 2 movements.
Today we are going to return to Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) one of HIS favorite works, the “Symphony No. 4 in F minor.”
About a month ago, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture” and noted the following facts about 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.
4) He died a few weeks later after drinking unboiled water during a cholera epidemic… Most scholars believe it was suicide.
5) Tchaikovsky is most famous for the music of his ballets (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker) and his last 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.”
Tchaikovsky wrote his “Symphony No. 4” in 1877-78 shortly after the failure of his marriage and at the beginning of his distant acquaintance with Nadezhda von Meck. Although they never met, they did write over 600 letters back and forth to each other over their 14 year “relationship.” It is in these letters that are revealed Tchaikovsky’s most intimate thought processes.
The “Symphony No. 4” was actually dedicated to von Meck. In fact, in their correspondence, Tchaikovsky refers to the Symphony as “our Symphony.” Unlike many of his other works, Tchaikovsky truly enjoyed working on this piece and he realized its exceptional potential as a masterwork! Also, he revealed to von Meck a “program” that described each movement of the work and that we will unveil as we listen to the work.
Movement I: Andante sostenuto-Moderato con anima
Music cue #1: 0:37-1:53 in the attached link
Tchaikovsky writes: “The introduction is the seed of the whole symphony, undoubtedly the main idea.” He refers to this fanfare-like figure as the “fate motif” akin to the opening of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5.” Tchaikovsky writes: “it is that fateful force which prevents the impulse to happiness from attaining its goal.” In other words, it is the stark “reality” of life. For Beethoven, it was his hearing loss; for Tchaikovsky, it was the rejection from society that he felt as a homosexual. No matter how musically famous his works were to become, he felt that he would always be viewed as an outcast.
Music cue #2: 2:08-3:00 in the attached link
“Theme A” of the exposition (f minor) is a waltz-like, intensely yearning theme that is really quite complicated in its rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic construction. You’ll note its scalar and quasi-chromatic design, it gradually descends and then gradually ascends. Tchaikovsky refers to this theme as the “dream motif” and writes “Is it not better to escape from reality and to immerse oneself in dreams.”
Music cue #3: 6:00-6:50 in the attached link
“Theme B” of the exposition (Ab minor) is a perkier little theme first played by the clarinet that represents “a sweet and gentle day dream.” Note the little “skip” to its rhythmic construction and the echo of its chromatic ending by the flues and bassoons.
Music cue #4: 7:15-7:50 in the attached link
This “Theme C”—the only “major key” theme in the entire movement. Note that the answer to the first half of this theme is actually “Theme A” in a happier sounding guise. Tchaikovsky writes: “How wonderful! How distant the obsessive first theme of the allegro now sounds! Gradually the soul is enveloped by daydreams. Everything gloomy and joyless is forgotten.”
Music cue #5: 9:45-10:05 in the attached link
Alas! The day dreams do not last long. The exposition concludes with a restatement of the “fate motif.” Tchaikovsky writes: “And thus all life is an unbroken alternation of harsh reality with fleeting dreams and visions of happiness…No haven exists…Drift upon that sea until it engulfs and submerges you in its depths.”
Movement 2: Andantino in modo di canzona
Music cue #6: 19:37-21:04 in the attached link
The second movement is in sort of a “rondo form: A-B-A-B-C-A-B-A where the A theme serves as a refrain. This “A Theme” (Bb minor) is another beautiful, and melancholy melody first sounded in the oboe with a simple pizzicato (plucked) string accompaniment.
Music cue #7: 21:04-21:44 in the attached link
The “B Theme” (Ab major) follows directly after the first theme and is a bit more stronger and optimistic in nature. Tchaikovsky writes: “This movement describes the melancholy feeling which comes in the evening when, weary from one’s toil, one falls asleep with a book. Here comes a whole host of memories—the pleasantness of youth…happy moments when the young blood boiled and life was satisfying. It is both sad, yet somehow sweet to be immersed in the past.”
Movement 3: Allegro
Music cue #8: 30:17-31:48 in the attached link
Tchaikovsky actually writes a title to this movement: “Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato.” It is a wonderfully peculiar movement because the strings play the entire movement pizzicato—that is plucking their strings with their fingers. The word “scherzo” means “joke” or “merriment.” Tchaikovsky writes: “This is whimsical arabesques, vague images that can sweep past the imagination after drinking a little wine. It is about nothing in particular however there is the picture of drunken peasants and their street song and then a military procession.” You will all 3 of these themes in this movement.
Movement 4: Allegro con fuoco (fast with fire)
Music cue #9: 35:28-37:04 in the attached link
This is the most famous movement of the symphony (in fact there is a wonderful wind-band transcription of this movement that our wind ensemble performed years ago). I like to call it the “Joy to the World” motifJ Tchaikovsky writes that this movement expresses the joy found in other people: “Go out among the people…see how they can enjoy themselves…picture the merriment of ordinary people.” The movement is in F Major; thus, the symphony shares another parallel with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” which began in C minor and ended in C major. The second theme, “B Theme” is actually a Russian folk song entitled “In the Meadow Stood a Little Birch Tree.” It is the only part of the symphony in which Tchaikovsky used a theme that was not his own.
Music cue #10: 41:13-42:00 in the attached link
So, after witnessing all the joy experienced by others, how do you think that Tchaikovsky wraps up this work?
Hint: cyclical. Hint: first movement. Hint: FATE!
Yes, the return of the “Fate Motif” from the introduction to the entire Symphony! Tchaikovsky writes: “Hardly have you managed to forget yourself and to be carried away by the spectacle of the joys of others, than irrepressible FATE appears again and reminds you of yourself. But others do not care about you, and they have not noticed that you are solitary and sad. O, how they are enjoying themselves.
Tchaikovsky LOVED this symphony through the remainder of his life. I believe that the reason for this attachment was that it was autobiographical, like Mahler’s “Symphony No. 6.” It so aptly musically described what was going on in Tchaikovsky’s mind. And yet—and this is so important—one does not need to know the “program” in order to enjoy the work. It can stand on its own with any extra-musical explanation!!! Tchaikovsky even wrote: “When asked whether there is a definite program to one of my works, my answer is none!”
As you might have guessed, the Symphony was met with great enthusiasm from its premiere performance to the present day. It continues to be one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest works and one of the finest compositions in this genre.
Summary: Why I LOVE Tchaikovsky’s music:
1) The tunes! Tchaikovsky, like Mozart, was a “tunesmith.” He had a knack for writing tunes/themes/motifs that were both attractive and latched easily on to the aural memory.
2) The passionate, melancholy, Russian flavor of so much of his music created by the melodic and harmonic structure of his themes and accompaniments.
3) His clear use of orchestration. You will notice that he tends to orchestrate his music into 3 main sections: strings, woodwinds, brass. In other words, at many times, the strings are pitted against the woodwinds; or the woodwinds pitted against the brass, etc. Percussion is used for color and to reinforce style. (Fun fact: There are more cymbal crashes in the “Symphony No. 4” than in any other of Tchaikovsky’s works!)
4) His polyphonic writing. You will notice many times where Tchaikovsky is able to weave 2 distinct lines together so well that they create added beauty and not needless activity.
5) The exceptional “highs” and “lows” in his music. Tchaikovsky was able to write the most powerful, dramatic passages as well as the most sensitive, heartfelt moments. Like his personality, his music is often imbued with polar opposite extremes that always keep the listener coming back for more!
1) Listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4” without interruption.
2) Listen to this work with the score.
3) Listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor” and “Symphony No. 6 in B minor—the Pathetique.” [This last work of Tchaikovsky’s was premiered just weeks before his death.