|About this Recording
8.553017 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Fantasias after Shakespeare
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the second son by his second wife of a mining engineer, manager of a metal works. At home he showed musical precocity and in 1848 he had his first experience of school in St. Petersburg. Two years later he entered the School of Jurisprudence, where he remained for nine years, later entering the government service. In 1863 he resigned from his position in the Ministry of Justice and became a student at the newly established Conservatory in St. Petersburg, following this with appointment to the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow. He remained on the staff of the Moscow Conservatory until 1878, when a pension from a rich widow, with whom he corresponded for years but whom he never met, gave him independence to continue a career as a composer. He died when he seemed at the height of his powers, in 1893.
This bald account of the course of Tchaikovsky's life ignores aspects that caused him a great deal of misery. The departure of his beloved governess in 1848 and the death of his mother in 1854 moved him deeply, affecting a nature that had already proved morbidly sensitive and diffident. Tchaikovsky was well enough liked by his contemporaries at the School of Jurisprudence and was never one to withdraw from social contact. Nevertheless, as a musician, he was easily depressed by harsh criticism and remained intensely critical of what he wrote.
In 1868 Tchaikovsky had written a symphonic poem Fatum and this had elicited from Balakirev, in St. Petersburg, harsh and detailed criticism. Balakirev was the leader of the group of nationalist composers, Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Borodin and Mussorgsky. He had taken over the direction of the Russian Music Society concerts in St. Petersburg after the resignation of their founder, Anton Rubinstein in 1867. In 1869 he was dismissed by the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and Tchaikovsky gallantly published an article deploring this. Tchaikovsky's defence of Balakirev and his ready acceptance of the criticism of Fatum led to the renewal of Balakirev's influence over him, and it was from him that the idea of writing an orchestral work on the subject of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet came. Balakirev was always ready to offer criticism of the music of his contemporaries, but was equally generous with ideas.
The story of Romeo and Juliet is too well known to need repetition. Tchaikovsky makes no attempt to follow the events as they occur in Shakespeare's play. There is the solemnity of Friar Laurence, whose well-intentioned intervention is the indirect cause of the tragedy, a theme re-creating the traditional enmity of the houses of Montague and Capulet and a sensuous melody expressing the love of Romeo and Juliet. The overture is in traditional sonata-form, the exposition, with its principal thematic material, followed by a central development and a final recapitulation, in which love ends in death. The original Overture was revised in 1870, on the suggestion of Balakirev, and underwent further revision in 1880, when it became an Overture-Fantasy.
The suggestion for a musical treatment of Shakespeare's play The Tempest came from Vladimir Stasov, mentor of the Mighty Handful of nationalist composers to which Tchaikovsky never committed himself. He wrote the work rapidly, over a period of some eleven days in the autumn of 1873. The first performance, under Nikolai Rubinstein, took place on 19th December, 1873, at a Russian Music Society concert. The programme of The Tempest (Burya), Opus 18, described as a fantasia for orchestra, is derived from Stasov and was printed with the published score: The sea. Ariel, spirit of the air, obeying the will of the magician Prospero, raises a storm. Wreck of the ship bringing Ferdinand. The enchanted isle. First timid feelings of love of Miranda and Ferdinand. Ariel, Caliban. The lovers succumb to their passion. Prospero deprives himself of his magic power and leaves the island. The sea.
The Fantasy Overture Hamlet is the third of Tchaikovsky's works based on Shakespeare. It was written in 1888 and dedicated to Grieg, although it might have been suggested by the French actor Lucien Guitry, who asked for incidental music for the play for his final benefit performance in St. Petersburg in 1891. The incidental music eventually included material from the Fantasy Overture, which had its first performance in St. Petersburg in November 1888. The work was received coolly, while Balakirev, in private correspondence with the composer, objected to the intrusion of Shepherds from Vladimir at one point and what he considered the triviality of the love-theme - Hamlet pays Ophelia compliments and hands her an ice-cream. The overture is scored for a full orchestra with piccolo, pairs of flutes and oboes, cor anglais, pairs of clarinets and bassoons, four horns, cornets, trumpets, trombones and tuba, timpani, a percussion section that includes snare-drum, tamtam, bass drum and cymbals and the usual strings. Its opening is marked Lento lugubre, leading to a dramatic Allegro vivace. As in the earlier works based on Shakespeare, there is no attempt at a detailed narrative programme, a fact regretted by one critic at least at the first performance.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice
Close the window