SUNDAY, May 10, 2020
Let me see if I can bring this together: First of all, I think I already had negative expectations because of the program. The idea of being given specific characters and situations to depict in pure music is insane. But perhaps Tchaikovsky had his own sound world that was no longer too linked to the original idea. What threw me is that this is so complicated, I could not connect things. I did not yet know the whole symphony. Not only does he have many sections, he used ideas all the way back to movement one.
There are so many themes. There is the opening theme, which is new. There is the theme I call the “pop folk tune”, meaning that Tchaikovsky used it for his own purposes, and it’s like this banal thing out of nowhere that seemed to be totally out of place. But this conductor performs it with complete abandon. It’s like characters suddenly pop in from another world, dancing with swords, and even the piccolos go wild. It’s like an acid trip.
Then a total mood change to something very ominous. How he got from there to this new thing is shocking. It’s like flipping between parallel worlds. Let’s call this the moaning music, with big chords. Then suddenly he is back to his huge, heavy theme from the very beginning of the 1st movement. I really love it when composers unite symphonies this way. You can never say, “Well, these movements do not necessarily belong together.” Because with unifying themes, they do.
So what’s next? A fugue. How they hell did a fugue get in here? The first time I heard this, it was so random I could not figure out where it came from, but then he’s right back to the pop song-like theme, and this time it really winds up to something totally manic.
Then suddenly the very beginning of the first movement, those really dark, cutting low strings, then a touch of the beginning of this movement again. He builds again, winds down, and suddenly you have a totally new feeling.
This is like a combination of a love theme and a ghost story, especially the eerie harps. This is like a movement within a movement, and it’s really one of the sweetest things Tchaikovsky ever wrote.
What’s next? Funeral music, just like Wagner in Twilight of the Gods. How the Vikings got to Russia I do not know, but there they are, and even if Tchaikovsky said he did not like Wagner, no one doesn’t like this funeral scene from The Ring. Only a total moron would dis this. But the funeral gets manic in Tchaikovsky’s usual style, and suddenly there’s the organ.
Now you have everything but angels, and I think you can hear a taste of Russian Orthodox music.
Does this work? For me, now, it all works perfectly, but it is unique, and you have to experience it on its own terms. If you start of with Haydn, thinking you are going to experience what a symphony is, this is more like listening after a half bottle of vodka and psychedelic mushrooms.
This will actually not start right, because there is so little lead in that starting at 1 second is the middle of the first chord. To actually begin correctly you have to start exactly the beginning.
You start with almost a march, lots of energy. Then the kind of turbulent music Tchaikovsky uses for battles, and storms, and conflict. What makes this work, if it works, is the insane energy, which the other recording was totally lacking. 2:06 (stopping point)
This could be a Russian pop song. It’s very simple, rather crass, and it goes on for some time. It gets developed. You can almost smell vodka. Finally it starts to wind down. I THINK Tchaikovsky was being deliberately crude. This could be descent into total decadence. It’s a wile ride. It finally winds down at 4:20
Slow, and a total mood change. It’s ominous. So a complete change of feeling and scene. Very chromatic, then big chords. It more or less keeps repeating the same ideas.5:45
This goes all the way back to the 1st movement, and that’s cool because he uses this theme to unify everything. This is the idea of using this:
It’s a term also used in connection to Berlioz and his Symphony Fantastique, which I want to get to. It’s really important. That symphony was in 5 movements and a program, but in this case the program was Berlioz’s, so all his invention. He unifies the whole thing by using the same theme in each movement. That’s his “fixed idea”, but that is always written in French. It is a unifying theme, a lot like a Leitmotiv that is used again and again. Just as you can have several Leitmotivs, you can have several unifying idea.7:07.
Same theme we just heard at the end of the last section, now fast and used in a fugue, Bach-like. You hear the same idea move from voice to voice. 7:58
That crude or very pop sounding Russian theme is back, then it develops more, getting really frantic and intense. But at the end he does the same thing as in the 1st movement, those gun shots in the timpani. 8:47
This is the unification. It’s right back to almost the beginning of the 1st movement. 9:30
Back to the beginning of this movement again. 10:23
Total mood change. Soft strings, sound muted, spooky harp. Love story or ghost story. Moody, introspective. 12:54
Death. Manfred dies. It’s a funeral march. It speeds up, more and more intense, louder and louder. Without any doubt Tchaikovsky knew Wager’s music. 14:53
It was premiered Aug. 1876
Tchaikovsky’s is 1/2 step lower, but the resemblance is strong. His was written in 1885.
Total change. Now the music is noble. Redemption? This mood holds to the end. The first time I got here I was bored out of my mind. Nothing seemed to hold together if felt like too many things were pasted together. Now I don’t know why, but I THINK it was because there was no energy in the other recording. It was not over the top. It was not exaggerated, excessive, almost totally out of control. Whereas this recording is. I think this music can only work if you totally belief in it. It’s just bigger than life in every way.
Adding: The most famous recording of this, up until perhaps the Markevitch recording, was this famous recording with Toscanini. But there is a huge cut.
There is a cut here. At 37:32 he jumps from the “pop folk tune”, the first time, skips that ending and the fugue, then jumps past where the pop folk tune comes back and adds the ending of the second version. To 47:12
Here is Markevitch starting the same pop folk tune section, but at 3:43 it branches, and that’s where there is more, in major, and it winds down to reference to the 1st movement, followed by the fugue. Then the fugue leads to a repeat of most of the pop tune, which comes back in at 7:56. At 8:33 there is a different ending to this section, and this is where Toscanini jumps to. That’s a cut of more than 4 minutes. Stop at 3:43.
This is where Toscanini jumped to. Did he do this live? I hope not, because cutting the link to the 1st movement ruins the structure.