1865: Tchaikovsky Overture in C Minor

WEDNESDAY, April 29, 2020

Tchaikovsky Overture in C Minor, age 25

Tchaikovsky’s student Overture in C minor (TH 38 ; ČW 36) was composed during the summer of 1865 at Kamenka, and orchestrated in January 1866 in Moscow.


  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in B-flat), 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns (in F, E), 2 trumpets (C, D), 3 trombones, tuba
  • timpani  with optional cymbals and bass drum.
  • strings

This overture never got an opus number. In other words, it was so unimportant in the eyes of historians that it never got numbered.

He composed it during the summer of 1865 at Kamenka when he was 25 years old, then orchestrated it in January 1866 in Moscow. So it was his 2nd major work for full orchestra.


piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in B-flat), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (in F, E), 2 trumpets (C, D), 3 trombones, tuba + timpani + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses, with optional cymbals and bass drum.


In a letter to his brothers Anatoly and Modest of 10/22 January 1866, Tchaikovsky said:

“I’ve orchestrated the greater part of my summer overture, and to my horror it’s turning out to be terribly long, which I didn’t expect at all.”

As Nikolay Kashkin recalled, soon after Tchaikovsky’s move to Moscow, Nikolai Rubinstein asked if any of his compositions could be performed in the 1866 concert season, and Tchaikovsky suggested his Overture in C minor. Rubinstein considered that it could not possibly be performed.

Once again, let’s read between the lines. Supposedly Nikolai Rubinstein was Tchaikovky’s friend. Let’s think about this a moment. He was five years older, so he had power over Tchaikovsky in his student days, and his influence on the young composer was horribly toxic. This did not improve over time.

On 19/31 January 1866 Tchaikovsky sent the manuscript to Herman Laroche in Saint Petersburg so that the latter might submit it to Anton Rubinstein for performance.

But Anton Rubinstein’s judgement of the overture was so unfavorable that the composer himself made the following note on the front of the full score:

“Overture, written in Moscow in January 1866 and played nowhere (loathsome rubbish!”

By now you should know that Anton Rubinstein was a horribly stupid man, and Tchaikovsky was terribly unlucky to have had him as a teacher of composition. Anton considered  himself an excellent composer. In fact, the best thing Anton ever wrote was so inferior to to just about anything Tchaikovsky wrote that the comparison between what these two men wrote is absurd. Anton worshiped the past, and at best his best music sounds a bit like very bad Mendelssohn.

Tchaikovsky’s good friend Sergey Taneyev’s wrote to Modest, Tchaikovsky’s brother, about this early work in 1896 and 1897, three to four years after Tchaikovsky died and said:

“I have now found the manuscript of the overture that you wrote about, in C minor (with the episode from the overture to The Storm)… and I can show it to you on your arrival.”

The Overture was only performed for the first time on 12 October 1931 in Voronezh, conducted by Konstantin Saradzhev, professor of the Moscow State Conservatory. That means that this music, composed in 1866, was not heard for 65 years.

Think about that. We almost never got to hear The Storm, due to the stupidity of the Rubinstein brothers, then together they trashed this overture. Next Tchaikovsky  destroyed the original version of his Symphony No. 2, and that would never have happened had he gotten support from those around him. We only have his symphony in its original form because it was reconstructed from parts.

At every point in his life he was subjected to such narrow-mindedness that to this moment we have no idea how many other great compositions he destroyed during moments of self doubt.


The Overture in C Minor was finally printed in 1952 in volume 21 of Tchaikovsky’s Complete Collected Works, edited by Pavel Lamm. In other words, if you were a conductor before that time you would never have heard this music, and you could not perform it because there was no music.

Related Works…

The Overture’s introduction (bars 1–90) is an extended version of the corresponding section from his earlier overture The Storm (1864); this passage was later re-used in the Entr’acte to Act II of the opera The Voyevoda.

The central theme of the Overture (bars 176–247) was re-used in Act I (No. 7) of The Voyevoda.

3 thoughts on “1865: Tchaikovsky Overture in C Minor

  1. With all the criticism from his friends, causing self doubt, it’s surprising that Tchaikovsky continued to compose such wonderful music.

    The repetition of somber to more playful music separated by rolling timpani and crashing cymbals maintain interest and good listening.

  2. Hard to fathom the original condemnation. Would it be easy to find which part is the central theme bars 176 – 247, to be able to compare it to the Voyevoda? I think I recognized the part that is like Storm, which I listened to first. It is fortunate that this music was not lost to us after all.

  3. I can see why they were scared of him. This is wonderfully dynamic, suspenseful music, a new kind of Romanticism.

    The New can scare people, especially insecure people. Didn’t Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Respighi also receive mountains of scorn from tin-ear “critics?” ALl of those were New and Scary when first heard.

    The sickening part is that Tchaikovsky wasn’t being berated by mere critics, he was being beaten down by his very own *teachers* just when he was learning how to fly on his own.

    Like the Storm you played for us before, this is not old music. It’s fresh, it’s timeless.

Leave a Reply