6 - 8 May '18

Tour VI
6 - 8 May '18

Mariinsky Orchestra


Concert dates and locations


Programme Lucerne

Allegro tranquillo
Adagio cantabile ma non troppo
Scherzo: Allegro scherzando giocoso
Finale: Andante lugubre

As a composer, Tchaikovsky was quite a late starter since he was already 26 when he began writing his first symphony. As a freshly appointed teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, he had only the nights left to compose. This double activity soon pushed him to the limit of physical and mental exhaustion. Although the 1st Symphony was completed by the end of the summer 1866, Tchaikovsky had to wait another year and a half until the work had its first hearing. The work already bears the main characteristic of Tchaikovsky's orchestral language, namely a reference to classical models. The first movement perfectly meets the requirements of the sonata form, despite its descriptive title (“Dreams on a winter journey”). The composer also showed his attachment to Russian folk tunes, some of which he quoted verbatim, such as the popular “Flowers Bloom” in the introduction of the last movement. Others are evoked in a more stylized form in the remaining movements. Throughout this symphony, Tchaikovsky strived to reproduce powerful images and personal experiences, to which the first two movements owe their titles (the 2nd movement is titled “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists”) and the last movement its shape. Considering the fact that one of Tchaikovsky's most elegiac waltzes is imbedded in the scherzo and that the symphony as a whole (like most of the following symphoniec works) culminates with a liberating finale, one can rightly consider the opus 13 as the birth of a symphonic style to which Tchaikovsky remained faithful for the rest of his life, without ever repeating himself.
Adagio – Allegro non troppo
Allegro con grazia
Allegro molto vivace
Finale. Adagio lamentoso – Andante

From the 4th Symphony onwards (1877), Tchaikovsky's symphonies went much further than just developing orchestral tradition. The last three works mirror the composer's life and can even be considered as musical confessions. This is particularly true for the 6th Symphony, which can be looked upon as Tchaikovsky’s musical testament or “Requiem”. The composer died in obscure circumstances only a few weeks after the symphony’s first hearing. In a letter to his nephew Vladimir – to whom this work is dedicated – Tchaikovsky confirmed the programmatic intention of this unusual work (which ends with an Adagio), without going into details. Even in the absence of any indications, the “Pathétique” seems closely associated with the theme of death, especially in its outer movements. The works progresses from the sombre key of B minor to farewell gestures in the final measures, working its way through sighing motives and intense orchestral colourings in the darker shades (rendered by the bassoon solo!). The chromatic bass line heard in the symphony’s opening is reminiscent of the expression of sorrow that is to be found in baroque music. The two central movements take their distance. The waltz can be seen as nostalgic glance cast on days gone by, whereas the third movement is bubbling with energy. In this context, the tragic effect produced by the Finale is all the more effective. Tchaikovsky was particularly satisfied with his last symphony, as he wrote to his publisher Pyotr Jurgenson: “I can honestly say that never in my life have I been so pleased with myself, so proud, or felt so fortunate to have created something as good as this.”

Programme Geneva

Andante sostenuto – Allegro vivo
Andantino marziale quasi moderato
Scherzo: Allegro molto vivace
Finale: Moderato assai – Allegro vivo

Tchaikovsky's 2nd Symphony is commonly known as the “Little Russian”, but the composer did not himself nickname the work as such. The designation seems to have been coined by the music critic Nikolay Kashkin and refers to the historical name of the Ukraine, where Tchaikovsky composed his Symphony in C minor in 1872. While staying in his sister's home at Kamenka, the musician collected several folk songs that inspired him to write the shortest of his six symphonies. Two famous tunes are quoted verbatim: “Down by Mother Volga”, which appears in lengthy introduction to the first movement, and “The Crane”, which is used as the main theme in the last movement. The symphony was premiered in January 1873 in Moscow and earned the composer a resounding success. Members of The Five – usually ready to consider Tchaikovsky's music as rather suspicious – were impressed when the musician played the work for them on the piano shortly before it’s first hearing in a concert hall. Tchaikovsky nevertheless felt the need to revise this symphony, which he condemned in 1879 as being “immature and mediocre”. He then undertook to rewrite the first movement, with the exception of the introduction and the coda, and to make important cuts in the last movement, only slightly retouching the third movement. In lieu of a slow second movement, Tchaikovsky chose to insert a march, which he borrowed from the wedding scene of his opera Undina, a work which was abandoned after its first partial performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The second movement was not submitted to any revisions. Satisfied with this new shortened version of his 2nd symphony, Tchaikovsky hastily destroyed the original manuscript, which was later reconstituted on the base of the orchestra parts.
Andante – Allegro con anima
Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza
Valse. Allegro moderato
Finale. Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace

Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies share the obsession of fate as a common denominator and are in fact often regarded as a triptych. Although they are well spaced out over time, these works can be considered as different stagings of the musician’s tormented inner world. Eleven years after having completed of his 4th Symphony, Tchaikovsky began to compose his Symphony in E minor, not without some difficulty. “I must work harder in the future; I want so much to show not only to others, but to myself, that I still haven't expired... I don't know whether I wrote to you that I had decided to write a symphony. At first it was fairly difficult; now inspiration seems to have deserted me completely” he confided to his admirer Nadezhda von Meck in the course of the composition. Tchaikovsky did not attach a programme as such to the piece, but provided a few guidelines in the margin of the first movement: “Total submission before fate, or, what is the same thing, the inscrutable designs of Providence (…) Murmurs, doubts, laments, reproaches against... XXX (…) Shall I cast myself into the embrace of faith???” Who or what is XXX? Maybe a person, but it is more likely that the composer was referring here to the crucial problem of his homosexuality. The reference to a “complete resignation” seems however to indicate that he had accepted this fact. The first movement opens with the cyclical theme that will further appears throughout the work: a sad and gloomy motive related both to a march and a chorale. The second movement might correspond to the “consolation” and the “ray of light” that Tchaikovsky went on to mention in his annotations, whereas the third movement moves closer to the world of dance, carried by an elegant waltz. In the last movement, the cyclical theme finally shifts into the major mode. Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony was given its first hearing in St. Petersburg on 5 November 1888, with the composer conducting. It was given a warm welcome by the audience, even if the critics seemed more reserved. This work nevertheless bears the imprint of a profound individuality and concludes on the man’s spiritual impotence.

Programme Zurich

Introduzione e Allegro. Moderato assai
Alla tedesca. Allegro moderato e semplice
Andante elegiaco
Scherzo. Allegro vivo
Finale. Allegro con fuoco – Tempo di Polacca

After a 2nd Symphony inspired by the Russian musical culture, in which Tchaikovsky abundantly quoted folk tunes from his homeland, the 3rd Symphony (1875) offers quite a different – so to speak polyglot – profile. The symphony’s nickname refers to the Polonaise on which the last movement is built. The work also explores other "international" veins that relate to a march, a dance, a romance and a fantasy. The second movement is even explicitly titled “Alla Tedesca” (in German style). These details are not the only ones that distinguish Tchaikovsky’s opus 29. This work is his only symphony written in a major key, even though the D major is constantly opposed to passages written in minor, namely in the introduction, the 3rd and 4th movements, as well as various secondary themes. The symphony is also built in five movements, thus deviating from the classical standard, despite its “Western orientation”. Tchaikovsky’s models seem to have been highly individual works, such as Beethoven’s “Pastoral” or Schumann’s “Rhenish Symphony”. The latter appears to have also influenced the Russian composer in terms of pictorial evocations. This visual conception greatly contributed to the symphony’s warm reception, even by the critics, at its first hearings in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The work’s popularity however declined with time, in favour of Tchaikovsky’s further “confession symphonies”. Yet this charming work rightly deserves to be rediscovered!
Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima
Andantino in modo di canzona
Scherzo. Pizzicato ostinato – Allegro
Finale. Allegro con fuoco

1877 was a fateful year for Tchaikovsky on a personal, artistic and financial level. Despite his growing success as a composer, he had to face the fact that his homosexuality was preventing him from leading an independent life. His attempt to keep up appearances through marriage proved to be a disastrous decision. The musician was at least freed from all financial worries after having being allotted a generous life annuity by his patroness Nadezhda von Meck. All these contradictory events, the continuous coming and going between a sense of renewal and new relapses set the backdrop of the 4th Symphony in F minor (1877), whose initial measures give the main thematic idea. In the composer’s own words, “this is that fateful force which prevents the impulse to happiness from attaining its goal, which jealously ensures that peace and happiness shall not be complete and unclouded, which hangs above the head like the sword of Damocles, unwaveringly, constantly poisoning the soul. It is an invincible force that can never be overcome—merely endured, hopelessly.” This is precisely the role the “Fatum” theme assumes throughout the work, constantly reappearing when least expected as a reminder or even a destructive element. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky gave a further insight into the symphony’s underlying programme: “The second movement expresses another aspect of sadness… », whereas the third « expresses no specific feeling : these are whimsical arabesques, vague images which can sweep past the imagination… » The composer saw the Finale as an invitation to “picture the festive merriment of ordinary people”. And came to the conclusion that “joy is a simple but powerful force. Rejoice in the rejoicing of others. To live is still possible. »

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Good to know

The Mariinsky Orchestra is one of the oldest and finest orchestras in Russia. Its history stretches over two centuries and goes back to the first orchestral ensemble attached to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. It first developed its activities under two conductors, Italian composer Caterino Cavos and Konstantin Lyadov. The Mariinsky Orchestra then began to truly flourish in the nearly fifty years it was led by Eduard Nápravnik. Under his baton, the orchestra’s repertoire widened to include new Russian and foreign operas. The Mariinsky Theatre maintained the Russian operatic tradition during the Soviet era, but changed its name in 1935. It was still named Kirov Theatre when Valery Gergiev made his debut in 1978 as Assistant Conductor. It only regained its original designation in 1992, four years after Gergiev was appointed Artistic Director of the Opera Company. Gergiev’s arrival at the helm of the Mariinsky Orchestra marked the start of a period of renaissance and careful restoration of great masterpieces of the past, combined with an intense artistic development and an opening towards new horizons. The Mariinsky’s repertoire has also considerably expanded in the field of symphonic music. Thanks to Gergiev’s efforts, a new concert hall adjoining the theatre opened in 2006, which significantly broadened the orchestra’s possibilities. The new concert hall has facilitated the production of recordings on the Mariinsky label, which Gergiev founded in 2009.

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