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Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 4. Essay

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Updated: Dec 20th, 2021

The orchestral E-concert contains the three works by the prominent Russian composer Peter Illyitch Tchaikovsky. A relatively short opening work is 1812 Overture, the following work is Piano Concerto No. 1 and a single multi-movement work is Symphony No. 4. The performers of the first piece are Yuri Temirkanov conducting the Leningrad Philarmonic and The Leningrad Militar Orchestras, Martha Argerich performs the second piece, playing the piano with Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre de la Suisse Rom, as to the third piece, Barenboim is the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The opening work, 1812 Overture is relatively short and lasts not more than fifteen minutes. But within this quarter of an hour so many moods are changed that it may seem that the whole life passes before the listeners’ eyes, while millions of destinies are ruled. The uninformed listener would guess that the work reflects the moods of the war conflict, so quickly the tune changes, so solemn are the separate extracts. “A festival overture by Tchaikovsky, op. 49 (1880), for orchestra, carillon, and artillery, composed for the commemoration in 1882 of Napoleon’s retreat” (Randel 286). This fact clarifies the author’s original idea of including the Russian and French anthems into the work. The opening of the 1812 Overture is gentle, the Russian national hymn God Preserve Thy People introduces the listeners to the peaceful life of the Russian people.

Then there is an unexpected change of the mood, when the tempo quickens, the savage thrusts can be heard combined with the motifs of the French hymn Le Marseilles. This change reflects the opposition of the Russian folk, its struggle for one’s freedom and the instruments are aimed at imitating the sounds of the warfare – so loud are the thrusts and so many instruments playing their parties simultaneously produce the impression of the conflict of interests, while the solemn notes emphasize the importance of the historical moment.

The tune changes several times within the overture, this is historically accurate, as Napoleon’s interventions repeated several times, the same is with the musical piece – similar excerpts repeat one by one, the periods of peace are alternated with the periods of warfare, the excerpts of the national hymns alternate, representing the French invasion and the Russian opposition. The third episode leads to the victory of the Russian folk, as the French anthem is not heard anymore, the triumph of the Russians is expressed by the solemn melody, which was heard at the very beginning of the piece, and the sounds resembling the church bells can be heard, the elements of march can be found at the end of the overture.

Thus, all the elements of the 1812 Overture such as the alternation of the national anthems, changes of the tune, solemn melody, and the sounds of the church bells are aimed at revealing the feelings and moods of the participants of the warfare and the triumph of the Russian folk.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is divided into three movements, the first one lasting for twenty minutes, the second as well as the third last for about seven minutes. The concerto includes several pieces of Ukrainian and French folklore songs. The introduction of the concerto sounds majestic; the result is achieved by the united efforts of the orchestra and the piano. Later the piano and the orchestra seem to struggle for the leading role in the concerto, the piano starting the theme and followed by the orchestra developing the same theme from the very beginning. While the first movement is triumphant, the second movement is melancholy, the opposition of the orchestra and the piano seems to lose their strength and passion, the oboe enters the concerto.

It seems that this is the consequence of the composer’s romantic character. “The Russian-born Tchaikovsky was a Romantic in every sense, with his heart on his sleeve and, quite regularly, tears in his eyes” (Smith 123). But it is only a short pause, after which the piano begins its struggle for the leading role and the extract demands the pianist’s technical skills, which were demonstrated by Martha Argreich brilliantly. The melody of the third movement is interrupted, the piano seems to be prevented from developing the entire theme, the short extracts create the nervous mood, the melody growing in its intensity and reaching its climax in this movement. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 includes several Ukrainian and French folklore motifs, combining them into a complex original melody with unexpected transitions and changes of the mood.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 consists of four movements, interconnected by the common themes and intricate transitions. The first movement opens with the majestic introduction, introducing the first violins and cellos, this theme will be heard again, this fact increases its importance. The second movement is represented by a song accompanied by the oboe and pizzicato. This movement includes the climax of the symphony and the melody grows fuller and fuller before the highest point.

The two main themes of the third movement are given out by the violins mostly, alternating each other up to the end of the movement. The fourth movement is given out by the whole orchestra, developing three themes, the symphony is closed at the full of its development. This lively symphony arouses the diverse listeners’ feelings from the desire to catch every moment of life, being influenced by the energetic melody to the touching and romantic feelings.

The initial purpose of the composer is unknown. Tschaikovsky wrote in his letter to Nadezhda von Meck: “Oh, how difficult it is to make anyone see and feel in music what we see and feel ourselves” (Althouse 56). Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 encourages the listeners for expressing their feelings and represents the composer’s attempts to show the inner struggle of the person falling in love.

The three works by Tchaikovsky represent the composer’s attempts to share his mood and feelings with the listeners using the changes in the melody, alternations of the accompaniment, and the excerpts of the folklore songs.

Bibliography

Althouse, Jay, O’Reilly, Judy. Accent on Composers.Alfred, 2001: 120.

Randel, Don. The Harvard Dictionary of Music. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. 2003: 978.

Smith, Tim. The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Classical Music. The Berkley Publishing Group, 2002: 249.

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