Symphony No. 2
(Симфония № 2)
Op. 17 (1872, revised 1879–80) .
(a) 1st version:
(b) 2nd version:
None of Tchaikovsky’s surviving letters refer to his intention to compose the Second Symphony, nor are there any surviving rough sketches. According to Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer set about the composition of the symphony in June 1872 at Kamenka . Tchaikovsky left Moscow for Kamenka on 31 May/12 June, and stayed there until 2/14 July. From 6/18–10/22 July he stayed at Nizy, and on 20 July/1 August he arrived at Usovo, where he remained until 14/26 August . At Usovo, Tchaikovsky resumed work on the symphony and finished the rough sketches .
The first references to the symphony begin to appear in Tchaikovsky’s letters from November 1872. On 2/14 November, he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "To be honest it has played on my conscience that I haven’t written to you, but the reason is that my symphony, which I’m finishing, has absorbed me to such an extent that I've not had time to do anything else. This work of genius (as Nikolay Dmitriyevich calls my symphony) is near to completion, and as soon as the parts are ready it will be performed. It seems to me that this is my best work insofar as perfection of form is concerned—not normally my highest virtue" .
On 15/27 November in a letter to Ivan Klimenko, Tchaikovsky reported that he had been "frantically busy with the instrumentation of my new symphony, which I am already finishing and copying out...". In the same letter he gave his opinion of the new work: "... I don’t think it would be proper for me to start boasting about how pleased I am with it" .
On 22 November/4 December 1872, the composer wrote to Ilya Tchaikovsky: "I have been slaving over my new symphony which now, thank God, is finished... After completing the symphony I am now resting" .
In the Second Symphony, according to Modest Tchaikovsky and Nikolay Kashkin, Tchaikovsky in part used music from the earlier destroyed opera Undina; this music was the march from the last act of the opera, which was imported into the second movement of the symphony—Andantino marciale .
The first performance of the symphony was scheduled for 11/23 January 1873 . Because of the death on 9/21 January of the patron of the Russian Musical Society, the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, the symphony concert was postponed, and the Second Symphony was performed for the first time in Moscow at the seventh Russian Musical Society concert on 26 January/7 February 1873, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky shared his impressions of the concert with his father: "My symphony was performed here last week with great success; there were many calls for me and bursts of applause. The success was so great that it will be played again at the tenth symphony concert, for which they are already taking subscriptions to present me with a gift. Besides this, the Musical Society has given me 300 silver roubles as royalties for the performance of the symphony" .
To Modest Tchaikovsky the composer wrote: "Regarding my symphony, you probably know from the papers; it would be boasting to say that it had great success, and in particular "The Crane" [the main theme of the finale] had flattering reviews. The credit for its success I do not ascribe to myself, but to the true composer of the work: Pyotr Gerasimovich , who all the time I was composing and playing through "The Crane", constantly came up to me and hummed:
When I was in Petersburg I played the finale one evening at Rimsky-Korsakov's, and the whole company almost tore me to pieces with rapture, and Mme Korsakova begged me in tears to let her arrange it for four hands" .
In a letter to Vladimir Stasov of 27 January/8 February 1873, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Yesterday, at last, my symphony was performed, and had great success, so great that Rubinstein wants to perform it once more, owing to public demand. To tell the truth, I am not particularly satisfied with the first three movements, but "The Crane" itself has not come out too badly... I want to make some changes to the orchestral detail... and then to present it in good order to Nadezhda Nikolayevna" . Later he wrote to Vasily Bessel: "I’m now making a few minor adjustments to it" .
"At the 10th concert  of the Musical Society in Moscow"—according to the composer’s biography—"the symphony was repeated, still with great success". The changes made to the orchestration of the symphony were "intended to enhance it. The author was applauded for some time after each movement, and at the end was presented with a laurel wreath and a silver tankard" .
Bessel made an offer to print the symphony for Tchaikovsky, which the composer accepted. The arrangement for piano duet should have been made by Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova. "Regarding the symphony, I believe it would be best if Mme Korsakova took it upon herself to make the arrangement. With the exception of Laroche, I cannot think of anyone else who could do this well, apart from me"—the composer wrote to Bessel on 21 April/3 May 1873—"I dislike this task, but in extreme circumstances I would do it myself, so long as you don’t want me to finish it all by the summer" . However, due to ill health, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova withdrew, and Tchaikovsky made the arrangement himself.
On 16/28 May 1873, the composer told Bessel that he was working on the arrangement of the first movement of the symphony . On 25 May/6 June, he sent this arrangement to Bessel. In an accompanying letter, he asked that Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova should review it and, if necessary, make corrections. Burdened by work on the arrangement, Tchaikovsky asked Bessel to entrust the remaining movements to Nikolay Hubert . On 25 May/6 June, Tchaikovsky left Moscow, and did not return until late August/early September. On 3/15 September he told Bessel: "I received the symphony, and immediately started work on the arrangement, which I shall be forwarding to you soon" .
The arrangement of the symphony for piano duet was published by Bessel in November 1873, although the publisher procrastinated over the printing of the full score.
In October, Tchaikovsky corrected the proofs, and on 28 November/10 December he wrote to Bessel: "I have received the symphony; it is printed very well—apart from a few misprints; it's a pity you had to do it in such a rush" .
In 1879, Tchaikovsky’s thoughts turned to revising his old work: "Earlier I went through the whole of my Second Symphony, to which I want to make some fundamental changes", he wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson from Paris on 19 November/1 December 1879 . He reported his intentions at length to Nadezhda von Meck: "I am engaged in reviewing the symphony, and have found parts of it to be so poor that I have made up my mind to rewrite the first and third movements, to alter the second, and just to shorten the last. And so if all goes well in Rome, I should turn this immature and mediocre symphony into a good one" .
By 21 December 1879/2 January 1880 the rough sketches had been completed, and only the copying out remained .
In a letter to Sergey Taneyev, Tchaikovsky set forth a detailed account of all his changes: "The first movement I have written afresh, except for the introduction and coda, which remain as before. The first theme of the Allegro is different, but the previous first theme has been turned into the second. This movement is now more compact, shorter and not so difficult . If anything deserves the epithet impossible, then it's this first movement in its original form. My God, it’s so difficult, noisy, disjointed and confused! The Andante is left unchanged. The Scherzo is radically altered . The Finale has received a huge cut , that is to say, after the big pedal point before the recapitulation of the first theme at the end of the development, I have jumped straight to the second [theme] ... All this is almost completely ready" .
In a letter to Jurgenson of 4/16 January 1880, Tchaikovsky reported that he had made a piano duet arrangement of the revised symphony. In the same letter he said: "Now I can say, hand on heart, that the symphony is a good work" .
The reworked Second Symphony was performed on 31 January/12 February 1881 in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Karl Zike, with great success . In Moscow, the first performance of the symphony in its new version took place on 21 November/3 December 1881, also conducted by Zike .
In 1881 the full score of the symphony, together with the parts and the new piano duet arrangement, were published by Bessel . Therefore, the full score was published for the first time in its second version.
The story of the delay in printing the Second Symphony is revealed in numerous letters from Tchaikovsky to Vasily Bessel and others.
Although in 1875, Tchaikovsky wrote to Bessel: "...do you intend to print the full score of my Second Symphony?... I should be offended if you do not do this" , the score was still not printed. He wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I gave it [the symphony] in 1872 to Bessel on condition that he printed the full score of the symphony. Over the course of seven years he has deceived me, always claiming that the full score would soon be ready, although it had not even been engraved. I was very angry—but in fact his dishonesty had done me a good turn!" . In another letter he told her: "How thankful I am that for many years my publisher Bessel evaded publishing the full score. If he had done so, it would have been impossible to reprint it, and my poor symphony would have been left in its primitive form" .
Tchaikovsky wrote to Eduard Nápravník about the first version of the autograph full score, in connection with a performance of the symphony in Saint Petersburg: "The Second Symphony can only be performed in its new form, as I have destroyed the old score" .
In the Second Symphony, Tchaikovsky made use of three folk songs. In the first movement, a Ukrainian variant of the song 'Down by Mother Volga' (Вниз по матушке по Волге), which has so far not yet been identified in records or collections .
The second theme of the second movement is the Russian song 'Keep on Spinning, My Spinner' (Пряди, моя пряха). The basis for the finale is the Ukrainian folk song 'The Crane' (Та внадыся журавель).
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 212–218
This page was last updated on 16 February 2013