COMPOSED BY

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 1840 – Nov 1893) in 1888

DURATION

Approximately 40 minutes (total 4 movements)

Instrumentation

3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings

SUMMARY OF THE COMPOSITION

A popular symphony, the Fifth Symphony is filled with wonderful mottos, orchestral colour, balletic beauty, high drama, and a primary theme that represents “complete resignation before fate”. A notable highlight of the piece is its false climatic conclusion in the finale that creates an impression the performance has ended.

1

Andante - Allegro con anima

The first movement opens with the clarinets introducing a slow, sombre motto-theme that leads to the main body of the movement. With a steady pace, the solo clarinet and the bassoon continue with a surging main theme and later, creates a wealth of thematic material. A lengthy movement, it consists of three separate-theme groups filled with soaring and sumptuous melodies unique to Tchaikovsky.

2

Andante cantabile

The second movement opens with deep string chords and introduces one of the great solos for French horn and later, the oboe as the graceful second subject. The relaxing spirits are shattered twice when the music returns to the motto-theme, which blazes out dramatically in the trumpets.

3

Valse: Allegro moderato

It is surprising to hear a lovely waltz instead of the expected scherzo in this movement. As this movement concludes with a beautiful extended coda based on the waltz tune, the motto-theme makes a fleeting appearance, triggering the impression of a figure seen through the mists.

4

Finale: Andante maestoso - Allegro vivace - Moderato assai - Presto

The finale opens with the motto-theme that leaps to life in the main body when it breaks in more often as it proceeds, driving to a great climax before breaking off in silence. Out of the ensuing silence, the real coda is sounded, and later, the motto-theme leads in a constantly-accelerating tempo towards the (true) conclusion in E major.

WHO IS ... PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY?

Suprising fun facts

  • Tchaikovsky was said to be a homosexual. 
  • Tchaikovsky was just four when he began composing.
  • Many of his compositions were inspired by Shakespeares’ plays, such Hamlet, The Tempest, and Romeo & Juliet.
  • While he was conducting, he thought his head was going to fall off. He even held his head up with one hand while standing in front of the orchestra.
  • He was diagnosed with cholera in 1893 and died a few days later.

RECOMMENDED RECORDING