Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 Program Notes
Ten years before this Fifth symphony, Tchaikovsky's Fourth stood out from the three earlier symphonies, with its fatalistic, anxious, and unsettled first movement. It was written in a time of personal crisis and despair, which included his unsuccessful marriage to a former student (two and a half months), and the realization that he couldn't choose not to be gay. But also during the inception of the Fourth, Nadezhda von Meck, the wealthy widow of a railroad tycoon, began to support his artistic activities, giving him freedom to compose without teaching at the Conservatory. In the ten years between symphonies, his works include the orchestral suites, Capriccio Italien, the Serenade, and the 1812 Overture. Somber clarinets open the symphony. Tchaikovsky wrote that this theme represented providence, and it returns elsewhere, including the noble Andante maestoso introduction to the Finale. After the melancholy introduction, a livelier melody appears in the lower woodwinds, before being developed through various instrumental groups and harmonic directions. Sounding like distant Orthodox church singing, shadowy strings begin the second movement, before a deeply personal melody in the horn. Tchaikovsky features other introspective instruments, such as solo oboe, and the cello section. This melody was used tastefully in the 1939 song, Moon Love - online versions include Sinatra and Mitch Miller. Two things to remember with Tchaikovsky are his balletic instincts (masterpieces Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker), and that he cherished Italian inspiration (Souvenir de Florence, Francesca da Rimini from Boccaccio's Decameron, and Capriccio Italien come to mind). This third movement is a balletic waltz, and Tchaikovsky wrote that its melody was one he'd heard a boy singing on the street in Florence. By this time, he'd spend over two months in Florence through seven trips. The Finale's noble opening fades into a morose E minor. The orchestra erupts in a vigorous Russian dance, and most of the Finale alternates between this tutti material and luscious, sweeping writing. Tchaikovsky writes one finale statement of the symphonyǯs providence theme, before a devil-may-care return to a grand coda brings back the lively melody of the first movement in the brass, with a rousing and triumphant E major conclusion.