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Metronome markings in Symphony No. 5

My name is Yoon Jae Lee. I am a conductor and I would like some input regarding metronome markings especially that of the 5th Symphony. I would like to confirm that the metronome markings are authentic. Which begs me to ask why no one takes the 2nd theme of the first movement nowhere close to 92!

If you could kindly provide some insight regarding this matter I would appreciate it. Thank you!

Yoon Jae Lee

Yes, the metronome markings are authentic, but are very seldom followed. Mravinsky's performances were generally closest to Tchaikovsky's intentions in this symphony, although there are inconsistencies between his several recorded versions.

The many subtle but precise markings in the second movement are all-too-often overlooked as well, with conductors slowing where they should be accelerating, and vice-versa. I hope you'll have the opportunity to conduct your orchestra at the speeds indicated, and see what a real difference this can make compared with the types of performance we've become accustomed to hearing.

Brett Langston

Hello, Mr Yoon

"Valse" is one of the most important form for Tchaikovsky. And he was precise in his metronome markings.

He setted slow 3/4-valse in the 3rd movement of symphony 5. Also in the 1st movement he put 6/8-valse like as No. 5 Scene-valse of "The Nutcracker". By the way, I think it not the 2nd subject because it is never developped. Actually those two valses are composed as the same-tempo-valse by Tchaikovsky. Quarter note of 138 In 3/4 eaquals eighth note of 92 in 6/8.


Thus, in the performance 92 should be taken.

However, no conductors has performed as Tchaikovsky intended. Perhaps Guido Cantelli has performed mostly close to 92, but it was not valse-rhythm so I was not mooved.


Kamomeno Iwao

It may be helpful to clarify what Kamomeno Iwao's calculations mean.

The implication of the given calculation, (92/2=138/3), is that one bar of mvmt. III should pass at the same rate as one bar of mvmt. I (for this section of the movement). For, 92 beats per minute / 2 beats per bar = 138 beats per minute / 3 beats per bar = 46 bars per minute.

To look at the equivalence from a different direction (i.e. by units of subdivision rather than by bar):

A tempo of quarter equals 138 (mvmt. III) gives the eighth note pulse at 276 eighths per minute (138 beats per minute * 2 eighths per beat). The tempo of dotted-quarter equals 92 (mvmt. I) gives the exact same pulse of 276 eighths per minute (92 beats per minute * 3 eighths per beat).

These equivalences suggest a much quicker tempo than is traditionally taken for this 'waltz' subject of the first movement, setting the primary waltz-beat division for this section not to the eighth note (as is traditional here), but to the quarter note (!!! yes, not even the dotted-quarter, but the quarter note!!!). This entirely changes the music of this section, in accent, in breath, and in psychological impact, emphasizing even more the conflict between 6/8 and 3/4 which is written into the score. More so, it allows this segment to be rendered in an entirely different way.

Most often we find that for this section the pace of the music drastically slows and the second beat of each measure suddenly finds strong accent, replacing the typical first beat stress in every bar, due to the strings syncopated attack off the first and change of note on the second. The strings could play this differently, not emphasizing the second beat but giving a series of leaping and falling syncopation coming from the impulse of the bar's downbeat, especially if not distracted by a conductor who leans into the second beat of each bar. (The conductor might rather, for example, follow a pattern more akin to as in one.)

This faster pace can return the stress of each bar to the downbeat and transform the melody from one somewhat reassured of its footing to a near-breathless waltz striving to find a bit of rest.

Brad Cawyer

Sorry for my english. The problem is not the fast pace for the second theme of the first movement (bars 170-193 and 427-450) at 92 beats / minute (6/8). Indeed this section is marked Molto piu tranquillo, because the previus section pace is 104 beat/minute. The extrange is the fast pace for all the movement.

I want make a exercise, as if I was a robot conductor following scrupously the metronome markings:

The first movement has 542 bars:

bars 1-37 Andante (4/4) 80 beats/minute -> 1 minute 51 seconds bars 38-169 Allegro con anima (6/8) 104 beats/minute -> 2 minute 32 seconds bars 170-193 Molto piu tranquillo (6/8) 92 beats/minute -> 31 seconds bars 194-426 Tempo I (6/8) 104 beats/minute -> 4 minutes 29 seconds bars 427-450 Molto piu tranquillo come sopra (6/8) 92 beats/minute -> 31 s bars 451-542 Tempo I (6/8) 104 beats/minute -> 1 minute 46 seconds

The total time is 7 minutes 220 seconds = 10 minutes 40 seconds

The whole first movement should last 10 minutes 40 seconds !!!!!!

The recordings i know are in the range 14-15 minutes.

Manuel Blanca

I just heard this movement by Markevitch and London Symphony Orchestra (the album include the six symphonies) and Markevitch plays this passage at the correct speed (i have measured 90 beats/minute with a timer). The speed for the first theme (allegro con anima) in Markevitch version is aproximately 96 beats/minute (a bit slower than 104 beats/minute indicated by Tchaikovsky).

The total time for the complete movement is 12m 30s.

I never had heard this second theme so fast and the effect is very extrange (it is like missing a half one beat, the syncopas play so fast seems to dislocate the beat).

The recording is from 1966.

Manuel Blanca

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013