It is well known, that Tchaikovsky very scrupulously set remarks and assignments
in his scores, especially in his late works. I am surprised about two curious
comments in his symphonies, which I found in the printed full scores (Ernst
Eulenburg Ltd. 1982) and other full scores.
In his Pathétique he mentioned “ad libitum” by using the tam-tam in the
last movement (bar 140, in the Eulenburg edition “ad libitum” is probably
removed). I guess this instrument was well established in Russia in the 1890ies.
Furthermore in his second symphony, in the revision version from 1880 Tchaikovsky,
uses exactly the same instrumentation. I didn't found in the 2nd symphony
any comments concerning tam-tam (last movement), which associate with the
potential availability of this percussion instrument in the Russian orchestras.
In the Manfred symphony he remarks in the first movement at bar 60 “If
the piano in the second bassoon will not be possible, once can play one octave
higher”. In the last movement of the Manfred symphony (bar 393 just before
the “Andante con duolo” reappears) the bassoons have to play the same notes,
and there is no remark.
Was a contrabassoon not available in Russia in the mid of the 1880ies ? Beethoven used the contrabassoon decades before. Or Tchaikovsky didn't consider
the usage of contrabassoon possible.
Does anybody has an idea about these remarks. Are these remarks original
? Did Tchaikovsky write this really ?
Thank your for your suggestions.
Tchaikovsky was fortunate that most of his works were usually premiered
by the finest orchestras in Russia—such as the Russian Musical Society
and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society. But all composers want
their works to be heard as widely as possible, both by orchestras of
international renown and by amateur provincial players, and I think it's
in this context that Tchaikovsky's remarks in the score need to be
So the remark in the score of the Pathétique symphony
meant that if a smaller orchestra does not have access to a tam-tam (or
someone to play it), then that should not prevent the whole symphony from
being played. In other words, it was desirable but not essential.
Sometimes Tchaikovsky would suggest the use of alternative instruments—such as a piano instead of the celesta in the Dance of the Sugar-Plum
Fairy from The Nutcracker,
or Organ instead of Harmonium in the finale of Manfred. But where he
considered that a particular effect was important, then he could be very
specific — as in Manfred's
third movement ("The bell should be of emdium size and tuned in A. If
possible, it must be placed in an adjacent room rather than in the concert
With regard to the remark about the bassons in Manfred's first
movement (which was also authentic), Tchaikovsky knew that not all second
bassoon players would be capable of playing that very low, soft note. So
where this was the case, he would prefer them to play an octave higher,
instead of resorting to a contrabassoon, for example.