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Peter I. Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 1 "Winter Daydreams"
"Hamlet" Fantasy Overture
"The Voyevoda" Symphonic Ballade

USSR Maly State Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Simonov, conductor

Catalog #S022584CD [DDD]

Program Notes

Symphony No. 1 in g minor op. 13 was composed in 1866 and revised by Tchaikovsky in the spring of 1874. The work is dedicated to Nikolay Rubinstein who conducted its premiere in Moscow on February 3rd 1868 (1866 version). The revised version was premiered in Moscow in November, 1883 conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer.The Symphony is a young man's work in many respects, but in originality, in charm, in genuine feeling it stands squarely on its own feet as a work able to give pleasure without reference to anything the composer might have written in later years. In the first movement, Tchaikovsky uses his love of the Russian countryside-particularly the expanse of snowy steppe-symbolically and with the happiest of results. This first movement opens as if the composer had created the Tchaikovsky idiom many years earlier; flute and bassoon announce a cheerful melody which leads into the principal theme struck out by full orchestra. The link between first and second theme is just as representative of the established Tchaikovsky, a series of chromatic scales taken from a folk Russian instrument of the psaltery type, the gusli, chiefly famed for its rich arpeggios. The gusli was to reappear in all his symphonies. The movement ends with another Tchaikovsky device, a thrilling orchestral crescendo dying away to the suggestion of a tolling bell, but not a bell itself. The Andante opens with one of Tchaikovsky's mellow themes and is ended with a stroke of ingenuity, the bassoon used against a background of strings. The theme is given to the woodwinds, the instruments Tchaikovsky loved best and certainly used with the most ravishing effect. The Scherzo opens with a piccolo and moves into a waltz. The last movement returns to the first theme of the opening movement, then breaks into a fine rousing dance measure.

On February 6, 1888, during his extended concert tour, Tchaikovsky received a request from his actor-friend, Lucien Guitry, to provide incidental music for some scenes from Shakespeare's Hamlet which were to be part of a charity performance only two months later in St. Petersburg. Though the second letter notified Tchaikovsky that the event has been cancelled, the subject had seeded itself firmly, and during the remainder of the tour he had continued to jot down sketches, both verbal and musical. He did not conclude the scoring of the Hamlet Fantasy Overture until October. It premiered on November 24 and the performance was conducted by the composer. Hamlet was Tchaikovsky's fourth mature symphonic poem, his third upon a Shakespearean play. The Fantasy Overture is a sonata structure, but without a central development in which dramatic conflicts could be played out. In the introduction, Fate broods darkly, but once the twelve stopped horn notes have signaled midnight and the ghostly emissary appears, its chilling menace is exposed. Hamlet's response is instant though his f minor music suggests agitation of spirit rather than decisive action. Ophelia is to be pitied, her theme (oboe melody in b minor) is rather plaintive in sharp contrast to Hamlet's music. After Hamlet's death, all-powerful Fate leads the concluding death march.

In 1884, Tchaikovsky began working on a symphonic ballad, The Voyevoda, founded not upon the Ostrovsky play which had been the basis of his first opera Voyevoda over twenty years before, but upon the very different subject of Pushkin's ballad after Mickiewicz. Tchaikovsky conducted the first performance at a concert promoted by Ziloti in Moscow on November 18, 1884. Even before the premiere he was having serious doubts about the piece and had been canvassing his friends' opinions. Among those who expressed strong reservations was Taneyev, and his view seems to have been decisive. Tchaikovsky preparation became perfunctory, he conducted the performance offhandedly, and by its end turned completely against the piece, despite its apparent success with the audience. On returning to the artists' room he began ripping the score, then turned to the attendant and demanded he collect the orchestral parts immediately. Ziloti refused to surrender the parts, as they were his property. Tchaikovsky threatened to destroy the score anyway and carried out his threat the following day. Thus, The Voyevoda became yet another of those pieces reconstructed after the composer's death from the orchestral material. According to both Modest Tchaikovsky and Alexander Goldenweiser, after its performance and publication in 1897 Taneyev radically revised his opinion of the piece, expressing bitter regret that he so misjudged it and thus jeopardized its survival. In Pushkin's ballad a voyevoda (or provincial governor) returns home to find his wife in the garden with her lover. Ordering his servant to shoot the wife, he receives the bullet himself.


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