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Special remarks for instrumentation details in Tchaikovsky's Symphonies No 6 and "Manfred"

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.

Rüdiger Herpich

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 considered.

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 hall itself").

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.

Brett Langston

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