The Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was composed between May and August 1888 and was first performed in St Petersburg at the Hall of Nobility on November 6 of that year with Tchaikovsky conducting.
A typical performance of the Symphony lasts about 46 minutes. The Symphony is in four movements:
Andante — Allegro con anima (E minor)
Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza — Moderato con anima — Andante mosso — Allegro non troppo (D major)
Valse: Allegro moderato (A major)
Andante maestoso — Allegro vivace — Molto vivace — Moderato assai e molto maestoso — Presto (E major → E minor → E major)
Like the Symphony No. 4, the Fifth is a cyclical symphony, with a recurring main theme. Unlike the Fourth, however, the theme is heard in all four movements, a feature Tchaikovsky had first used in the Manfred Symphony, which was completed less than two years before the Fifth. The theme itself is derived from a passage in Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar—significantly, a passage using the words "turn not into sorrow". The theme has a funereal character in the first movement, but gradually transforms into a triumphant march, which dominates the final movement. Tchaikovsky was attracted to this particular theme because the topic of the Fifth Symphony is Providence, which is closely related to Fate, the theme of the Fourth symphony. The changing character of the motto over the course of the symphony seems to imply that Tchaikovsky is expressing optimism with regard to providence, an outlook that would not return in his Sixth Symphony.
Analysis - The overall trajectory of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony reminds the listener of Beethoven’s 5th. To begin with, this symphony exhibits the narrative paradigm of per aspera ad astra (tragic to triumphant), which manifests as an overall tonal trajectory of e-minor to E-major. More details regarding struggle for tonal stability and triumph of E major is illustrated in the description of individual movements. As Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the first movement fails to satisfy the per aspera ad astra paradigm and ends in minor mode, which allows the narrative to continue through the rest of the symphony. It will be inaccurate to say that the tonal trajectory of the first movement is directly projected onto the rest of the symphony, a similar tonal plan can be observed: 1st movement: i → V of relative major (D-major) → i → I The symphony: i → V of relative major (D-major) → IV → I The motto theme is not only used as a device to unify the four movements of the symphony but also projects the per aspera ad astra narrative of its own. e-minor (1st mvt) → V⁷ (V4/2) of D-major (2nd mvt) →g#⁰⁷ (2nd mvt) → a-minor (3rd mvt) →E-major (4th mvt) →C-major → e-minor → E major 1st movement Themes and Motives Primary Theme 1 (PT1), mm. 42-50 Primary Theme 2 (PT2), mm. 116-128 Subordinate Theme (ST), mm. 170-182 Motive X, mm.154-170
In the exposition of the first movement, one can observe that the initial condition (e-minor) is relatively unstable. The D-major tonality slips in and out of the e-minor sonority, since it is only a V of relative major (G major), but not until mm.128-132 does one hear this as an antagonistic to e-minor. The exposition concludes in D-major, after integrating part of the PT1 into its cadential moment (mm. 194-198). Motive X frames the secondary theme group by preceding the ST and reiterating the D-major after it.
The development consists of four distinct sections. The first section exhibits sequence based on the PT1 superimposed with the motive X. This is accompanied by a bass line that diatonically descends over an octave and a fifth. The second section develops the head motive of PT1. The shifting meter (from 6/8 to 3/4), and diminished sonority (m. 261 for example) adds to growing instability. The third section is a brief allusion to the PT2, interrupted by a fugato based on PT1. Motive X returns strongly and insistently in m. 285, going back and forth between g-minor and d-minor. This can be interpreted as an effort to re-establish sonority in D. The re-transition to recapitulation is rather abrupt, yet a clever use of common tone modulation can be observed.
The recapitulation of this movement follows the convention of sonata form. 2nd movement Themes Theme A1: 1st horn Theme A2: violin Theme B: cl. in A The second movement begins with the continuation of the tragic sonority in b-minor, as if the movement will be in the minor dominant of the tonic of the symphony. Instead, a common tone modulation leads to a D-major theme first introduced by a solo horn. This movement is in a standard ternary form with A section in D-major, B section alluding f#, then a restatement of A section with different orchestration. Compared to a stable A section, the B section exhibits instability in many ways. For example, the theme begins and remains in V7/f#, even though it could be easily resolved to f#-minor. Moreover, the segmentation of a theme, fugato texture, and rapid shift of hyper meter contributes to the instability of this section. In this movement, the motto theme appears twice—from mm.99-103, as a structural dominant preparing the return of the A section, and in the coda (mm.158-166) in g#⁰7. One could interpret this as a preparation for I6, but also as a structural leading tone to the next movement (g#⁰⁷→ A), especially since the unwinding from the climactic restatement of the motto theme occurs relatively hesitantly and what follows seems to diminish away. Mvt. 3 Themes Waltz 1: Waltz 2: ob 1. Waltz 3: Trio: The third movement is a relatively ordinary valse. Some elements of absurdity can be observed, for example, hemiola and unbalanced phrase structure at the outset of the movement. These elements takes over the movement in the trio section, whose nature is that of scherzo. The scherzo theme initially played by the first violins can be seen as a superimposition of 4/4 over ¾. Hemiola is used as a transitional technique (mm. 97-105). The return of the valse is accompanied by the scherzo texture from the trio. The return of the motto theme in the 3rd movement, preceded by a waltz in a major mode, strikes the listener as a reminiscent of the tragic opening of the symphony, although perhaps in a ridiculed manner by integrating the hemiola, a light-hearted character displayed everywhere in the movement. 4th mvt Themes PT1: vl 1. PT2: ST:
As in the first movement, the exposition of the last movement begins in e-minor, and the D-major sonority struggles to establish itself. Unlike the first movement, this struggle manifests in brief tonicization of D-major, as well as V7 of D-major (mm. 86-90, mm. 106-114). The first attempt to resolve the accumulation of conflict (key oppositions, increasing harmonic rhythm, as well as segmentation and rapid changes of themes) takes place in m. 172, the re-introduction of the motto theme, in the wrong key (C-major).
The development is very brief and only lasts about 60 measures. In recapitulation, a new melody is super imposed over the PT1 texture. This melody, however it is new, exhibits characteristics of PT 2 (contour and initial succession of notes), as well as a chordal texture used elsewhere in the symphony that it does not necessary strike the listener as a new theme. This melody also never returns.
The 6th statement of motto theme is in e-minor, leading to an emphatic PAC in B major. It is perhaps unusual to see a PAC in the dominant to the home key at the end of the recapitulation, however, this could be interpreted, on a more larger level, as a half cadence preparing for ever stronger return for the tonic. Coda, following such preparation succeeds in re-emphasizing the tonic, using different themes and many cadences in tonic. Some of the themes used here are the motto theme (m. 474), the countermelody to PT1 (m. 474, superimposed to the motto theme), PT2 (m. 504), and Pt1 from the first movement of the symphony.
Some critics, including Tchaikovsky himself, have considered the ending insincere or even crude. After the second performance, Tchaikovsky wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure". Despite this, the symphony has gone on to become one of the composer's most popular works. The second movement, in particular, is considered to be classic Tchaikovsky: well crafted, colorfully orchestrated, and with a memorable melody for solo horn.
Possibly for its very clear exposition of the idea of "ultimate victory through strife", the Fifth was very popular during World War II, with many new recordings of the work, and many performances during those years. One of the most notable performances was by the Leningrad Radio Symphony Orchestra during the Siege of Leningrad. City leaders had ordered the orchestra to continue its performances to keep the spirits high in the city. On the night of October 20, 1941 they played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 at the city's Philharmonic Hall and it was broadcast live to London. As the second movement began, bombs started to fall nearby, but the orchestra continued playing until the final note. Since the war it has remained very popular, but has been somewhat eclipsed in popularity by the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies.
Critical reaction to the work was mixed, with some enthusiasm in Russia. Berezovsky wrote, "The Fifth Symphony is the weakest of Tchaikovsky's symphonies, but nevertheless it is a striking work, taking a prominent place not only among the composer's output but among Russian works in general. ... the entire symphony seems to spring from some dark spiritual experience."
On the symphony's first performance in the United States, critical reaction, especially in Boston, was almost unanimously hostile. A reviewer for the Boston Evening Transcript, October 24, 1892, wrote:
- "Of the Fifth Tchaikovsky Symphony one hardly knows what to say ... In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes. The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker. Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!"
The reception in New York was little better. A reviewer for the Musical Courier, March 13, 1889, wrote:
- "In the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony ... one vainly sought for coherency and homogeneousness ... in the last movement, the composer's Calmuck blood got the better of him, and slaughter, dire and bloody, swept across the storm-driven score."
Uses of the symphony
The 5th symphony was used in 1933 by the Russian-born choreographer Léonide Massine for his - and the world's - first symphonic ballet, Les Présages. This caused a furore amongst musical purists, who objected to a serious symphonic work being used as the basis of a ballet.
Various passages from this symphony were used in the 1937 motion picture Maytime, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The music appears not only in some of the background score, but also in the form of a sung pastiche invented by Herbert Stothart as a fictitious French opera entitled Czaritsa, "composed" by the character Trentini for the lead soprano (MacDonald).
The second movement was featured prominently in the 1986 film "Lucas".
Part of the second movement was given English lyrics under the title Moon Love, recorded by Glenn Miller and Chet Baker among others.
It is said that Annie's Song by John Denver was based in part by the first horn theme in movement two. Annie's Song is also in D major, and when Denver sang it in Russian in a 1985 concert the first five notes of the Russian portion of the song and the theme share the same rhythm.
An arrangement of the second movement was used in a prominent 1970s Australian advertisement for Winfield cigarettes, with the slogan Anyhow, have a Winfield sung by a choir to the movement's central theme, to the great annoyance of many classical music buffs. The ads were presented by Paul Hogan, who also used the arrangement as the theme to his Australian comedy show.
The work is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in A, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.
Review by Bogdanov-Berezovsky, paraphrased from The Symphonies of Brahms and Tschaikowsky in Score, Bonanza Books, New York, 1935.
Newspaper reviews quoted in Nicolas Slonimsky, The Lexicon of Musical Invective. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1965. ISBN 0-295-78579-9
Hans Keller: 'Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky', in Vol. I of 'The Symphony', ed. Robert Simpson (Harmondsworth, 1966).