Symphony No. 5
(Симфония № 5)
Op. 64 (1888).
Tchaikovsky’s ideas for a new symphony probably arose during late March/early April 1888. The composer wrote about it for the first time in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky from Tiflis, on 28 March/9 April: "in the summer I intend to write a symphony ..." . The day before leaving Tiflis, on 13/25 April, he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "... I want to spend all summer and autumn at Frolovskoye, and do a great deal of work... I am giving thought to a new symphony" .
On 24 April/6 May, now at Frolovskoye, he wrote to her: "After a trip to Saint Petersburg and some visits to Moscow in connection with the conservatory examinations, I intend first of all to compose a symphony..." . In a letter to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya of 23 April/5 May, Tchaikovsky outlined his schedule: "I will be in Saint Petersburg for four days... returning after Famine week, and then settle down in the village and set about my work, namely I want to write a symphony..." . On 9/21 May, Tchaikovsky told her: "Today I returned from Saint Petersburg, where I have spent the last ten days... Now I can work for days on end, in peace and freedom" .
In mid/late May, he wrote: "I've still not yet made a start, because I've been working on various proofs. But I can honestly say that the urge to create has deserted me. What does this mean? Am I really written out? I've no ideas or inspiration whatsoever! But I hope little by little to gather materials for the symphony" . Around this time, evidently, he did begin work on the symphony: "Now I am gradually, and with some difficulty, squeezing a symphony out of my dulled brain" .
Judging from these notes, Tchaikovsky envisaged a programme for the symphony. A scribbled note by the first sketches reads as follows:
Another note with a programmatic character appears in sketches for the second movement :
However in a letter to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich of 11/23 June 1888 (around two months later), Tchaikovsky wrote: "At the present time, I am fairly busy and working diligently on composition of a symphony, without a programme: by the end of the summer I hope to have finished it" .
Did Tchaikovsky have in mind a literary programme, similar to Manfred? It is not possible to say for certain, particularly in view of the fact that the first version of the music for the Fifth Symphony was subjected to considerable changes.
During the course of the summer, Tchaikovsky frequently had to leave Frolovskoye, besides which he took ill during June, although he continued to work on the symphony during his illness.
The most intensive work on the Fifth Symphony was carried out between 7/19–17/29 June, although Tchaikovsky continued to doubt his abilities: "I am working quite assiduously on a symphony, which, if I am not mistaken, will be no worse than its predecessors. But perhaps this is just my opinion now... I may later feel that I am written out, that my head is empty, that my time is past, etc." .
On 10/22 June, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I must work harder in the future; I want so much to show not only to others, but to myself, that I still haven't expired... I don't know whether I wrote to you that I had decided to write a symphony. At first it was fairly difficult; now inspiration seems to have deserted me completely" .
The rough draft was completed on 17/29 June . This draft of the symphony was later sent by Tchaikovsky to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, probably in September 1888 . Its whereabouts at the present time are unknown.
The surviving sketches show the gradual evolution of ideas for the symphony. The first musical notes are significantly different from the last, and apparently comprise musical materials intended for an original version of the symphony, which the author later rejected. The evidence suggests that the sketches for this first version were made by Tchaikovsky while he was at Frolovskoye between 9/21 May and 23 May/4 June 1888. Probably, it was this phase of composition that Tchaikovsky referred to when he described his work on the symphony as "initially fairly difficult" .
On 22 June/4 July, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I have been working well the whole time; I have already prepared in rough a symphony and an overture to the tragedy Hamlet, which I have had in mind to write for a long time. In the coming weeks I shall set about the instrumentation of both works... although for almost a whole month I have been able to rise to the challenge, despite my poor state of health, yet my indisposition has not really impeded my work. At the moment it is difficult to say how this symphony will turn out when compared with my previous ones, and particularly in comparison to ours. What was previously easy and straightforward has not remained so" .
"After the 29th [O.S.] I shall take up the instrumentation", the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky on 26 June/8 July . But on 1/13 July, in a letter to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, he stated: "I am working well. I have finished the symphony and the overture to Hamlet, and set about their instrumentation. Having prepared two large-scale works I am in high sprits, because, you know, I had begun to think that I was played out, since it was initially very difficult" .
"My work is now progressing terribly slowly. Time flies, old age draws near, and each moment is precious to me; but in the meantime, despite my efforts, I cannot concentrate on work. However I hope that by the end of the summer to have finished both my symphonic works", he wrote to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya on 6/18 July 1888 from Moscow .
After visits to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Tchaikovsky returned to Frolovskoye on 12/24 July , and once again resumed work: "From tomorrow I shall work very assiduously on the instrumentation" .
On 25 July/6 August he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I am now working very successfully, and the greater portion of the symphony is already scored" . But on 1/13 August, the composer told Vladimir Shilovsky, "I’m working terribly, because the full score of the symphony needs to be finished quickly" .
Evidently, as soon as the instrumentation of the first movement and finale was complete, Tchaikovsky sent the full scores to Sergey Taneyev, who was to make the piano arrangement. Taneyev responded on 6/18 August: "I have received the first movement of the symphony and your letter, in which you wrote that you were sending the Finale" .
On 7/19 August, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "Now, as the symphony nears its end, I can view it objectively, and at the culmination of the work I must say that, thank God, it is no worse than my previous ones. This accomplishment means a great deal to me!" .
By 14/26 August all work on scoring the symphony had been completed: "I am so pleased that my symphony is safely finished" . "My symphony is ready, and I don't think I am wrong in saying that it has come out well" .
The first performance of the symphony took place in Saint Petersburg on 5/17 November 1888 at a concert of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society, conducted by the author (and repeated on 12/24 November at a symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society); the Moscow premiere took place on 10/22 December at the fifth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, also conducted by him. On 25 October/6 November 1888, at a concert in the Russian Nobles' Society, Sergey Taneyev and Aleksandr Ziloti performed the second and third movements of the Fifth Symphony in Taneyev’s arrangement for two pianos .
On 3/15 March 1889, the Fifth Symphony was performed in Hamburg, conducted by Tchaikovsky . For this performance, Tchaikovsky made some changes to the finale of the symphony: "Made cut in fin[ale] of the symph[ony]", he noted in his diary for 24 February/6 March 1889, and on 27 February/9 March he remarked: "Corrected the parts of the symphony" .
The symphony is dedicated to Theodor Avé-Lallemant.
While composing the symphony, Tchaikovsky constantly doubted his powers of composition . However, after completing work the symphony he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck on 24 September/6 October 1888: "Thank God that I still have the will to work. But my urge to produce is so great that even two lifetimes would barely be sufficient to carry out my all my plans" .
The symphony was enthusiastically received by Tchaikovsky's friends in Moscow. On 5/17 September, the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "The symphony has received unanimous approval from all my friends: some even say that it’s my best work. It's particularly significant that S. I. Taneyev is wholly enthusiastic" . However, his earlier doubts regarding the Fifth Symphony later resurfaced in letters to Nadezhda von Meck: "My new symphony was played twice in Saint Petersburg and once in Prague . I am convinced that this symphony is not a success. There is something so repellent about such excess, insincerity and artificiality" . "With each day that passes I am increasingly certain that my last symphony is not a successful work, and the realisation that it is unsuccessful (or perhaps that my powers are declining) is very distressing to me. The symphony is too colourful, massive, insincere, drawn out and on the whole very unsympathetic... Am I indeed, as they say, written out?... If so, then this is terrible. Whether my misgivings are mistaken or not, regrettably I have concluded that the symphony written in 1888 is poorer than the one written in 1877" .
After a performance of the symphony in Hamburg in March 1889, with which Tchaikovsky was very satisfied, the composer wrote: "The musicians took to the music more and more each time the symphony was played. At rehearsals there was general enthusiasm, flourishes, etc. The concert also went excellently. As a result, I no longer have a bad opinion of the symphony, and like it once more" . "The Fifth Symphony was again performed magnificently, and I have started to love it again; my earlier judgement was undeservedly harsh..." .
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 238–242
This page was last updated on 16 May 2013