Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 3 Program Notes
While not one of Tchaikovsky’s three final, fatalistic and most performed symphonies, the Third is rightly popular, not least for its use by George Balanchine in his 1967 evening-length ballet Jewels. Interestingly, Tchaikovsky had ballet on the mind when composing the Third Symphony, as he’d accepted a commission to write Swan Lake for the Bolshoi Ballet. (As he wrote to Rimsky-Korsakoff, DzI long cherished a desire to try my hand at this type of music.dz) In the Symphony, the first movement’s somber and mournful opening gives way to increasingly cheerful music, becoming a grand (and even boisterous) march. Its contrasting B-minor melody, in the oboe, is not far removed from the Swan Lake theme (also in B-minor and played by the oboe). The second movement is a sunny and easy-going ländler with a humorously off-beat melody. (Tedesca being an Italian word for German, the ländler is a German/Austrian folk dance). The movement’s title, Tedesca, is an Italian word for German.d The movement’s central Trio section is rhythmically precise and robust. The third movement, also in triple time, has mournful solos for bassoon and horn, and passages of achingly beautiful melody. It’s followed by a glittery scherzo, which many writers compare to Mendelssohn’s musical depictions of fairies, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The shortest of Tchaikovsky’s finales, the fifth movement, seizes the listener, not letting go until it has impressed with a forceful polonaise, some canonic and fugal excursions, a reference to the second movement, and a grand, anthem-type melody. These episodes completed, it rollicks onwards to an optimistic end. Not subtle at all, it’s tremendous fun. The Symphony’s premiere in Moscow, a few months after its completion, was a critical and popular success. Fourteen years later in London, the symphony was mistakenly billed The Polish when it was assumed that a Polonaise finale symbolized Polish nationalism. (After all, Frederic Chopin’s use of the Polonaise had been nationalistic). This was not the case for Tchaikovsky, loyal citizen of Tsarist Russia, but the name stuck.