Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1 Program Notes
Tchaikovsky waited until his twenties before devoting himself to composition, quitting his Civil Service law job to study music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In 1860s St. Petersburg, he would have heard the concerts given by Hector Berlioz, and the French composer’s innovations in orchestral color seem to have influenced the young Tchaikovsky. Aged 26, he accepted a faculty position at the new Moscow Conservatory, spending most of his spare time writing this symphony. This led to very long nights – he developed a severe case of insomnia. His brother, the writer Modest Tchaikovsky, later said the First Symphony was the hardest for the composer to write. Mostly, the Symphony seems to celebrate the romance of Winter – the briskness of a sled over fresh snow, the crispness of a cold morning, and even the warmth of a good fireplace. The first movement is titled Dreams of a Winter’s Journey,dz and after the second movement’s muted string opening, Gloomy Land, Misty Land, Spring is hinted at by the flute’s birdcalls over a melancholic woodwind melody. The third movement, a lively scherzo, is filled with energy and fine little details, and includes a tremendously romantic waltz. The Finale, also untitled, emerges from its mysterious beginnings to a rollicking and energetic finale.