Despite having been a professional musician (oboist and pianist) for
nearly forty years there are still many questions that remain unanswered.
I am posting here a scoring question that has puzzled me for as long as
I can remember.
The opening eight bar theme, which appears many times throughout the
movement, is heard as a descending scale though it is actually written in
a very different way. The notes of the theme alternate between 1st and 2nd
violins as can be seen in the attached copy of the score (Ex.1).
Why does Tchaikovsky write the theme in this way?
What does it achieve?
I don't believe the listener can hear or would be aware of this
'splitting' of the theme.
If written, as one would expect, with the descending scale played by
the 1st violin (Ex.2) and the lower notes by
the 2nd violins - would it sound any different.
One could argue that if the 2nd violins were seated on the right side
of the platform opposite the 1st violins (as is favoured by certain
conductors and in certain countries) then the alternating scale would be
more clearly heard but this creates further issues. The second violins
would be facing away from the listener and so the scale would be
unbalanced - strong/weak/strong/weak etc.
(Note that a similar situations occurs with the viola and the 'cello
alternating their parts, though being written below the violin parts, this
is perhaps not so 'apparent'.)
Laurence A Frankel
An apt day to raise this Laurence, as today is the 120th
anniversary of the Pathétique's premeère!
The first and second violins would indeed have been seated opposite
each other (as is evident from a photograph of a memorial performance of
the symphony, conducted by Eduard Nápravník a few weeks after
As to 'why' Tchaikovsky wrote it that way, I would go along with the
view that when the strings finally do play together in the second half of
the movement, the psychological effect is much more powerful.
Thank you Brett for your timely and quick response.
I appreciate what you say 'when the strings finally do play together in
the second half of the movement, the psychological effect is much more
powerful' though there are many other ways to create a more powerful
effect, psychological (or musical).
I adhere to my puzzlement whenever the opposing seating of first and
second violins is used in any work. The second violins will be playing
away from the audience and so there has to be a degree of loss of colour,
timbre and indeed volume. I have often been aware of this in the
symphonies of Brahms and Schumann and of course, from the first oboe seat,
one often hears more of the second violins than the first violins in this
Laurence A Frankel