Tchaikovsky: The Storm, Op. 76, in E minor, in E minor, age 24

Mr. Peabody Says:

There are more than 20 compositions listed from Tchaikovsky’s first two years at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. “The Storm” is the very first major work we know of, and it is from 1864, when Tchaikovsky was 24 years old. One of the themes he used later in his 1st symphony.

Katerina’s theme:

If you know Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, you will immediate recognize an important theme from that symphony (Katerina’s theme – bars 128–134), from the second movement. This is just another example of how all fine composers reuse their own ideas in other works.

Bernard Haitink

One movement: Andante misterioso – Allegro vivo


  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns (in A, C, E), 2 trumpets (in E), 3 trombones, tuba
  • 2 timpani, side drum, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, harp
  • strings

Tchaikovsky Research…

All of this information is on the site above.

This is an online resource that has so much information, I have barely scratched the surface. Here you can find everything he every wrote, organized by type of music, opus numbers and chronologically. Of special interest to me is the list over everything in the exact order it was composed. But the whole site contains so much information, I could study just this subject for a year and barely scratch the surface.


Tchaikovsky’s overture, The Storm, was written while he was studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and composed and orchestrated during his summer vacation at Trostinets in 1864. When you read this, you will get the idea that he was just a student and did not know much. In fact, he was already so far ahead of everyone else, his music was not understood or appreciated. He was held back at every moment by the horribly conservatory, who for the most part still thought music started and ended with very traditional German music.

Tchaikovsky’s overture has in mind a drama written by Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s in 1859, and tells the story of Katerina, an unhappily married woman. Do your own research if you want to know more of this depressing story. It’s of zero importance here. But the title “The Storm” is about desperate life and death struggle. In other words, this is not happy shiny music.

On finishing the overture, Tchaikovsky sent the score to Herman Laroche, who later recalled:

“In the summer of 1864, Pyotr Ilyich had to write a large overture, for which he chose himself the programme of Ostrovsky’s The Storm. The orchestra he employed was ‘heretical’, with bass tuba, English Horn. harp, tremolo and divided strings, bass drum and cymbals. He was probably optimistic in nurturing the hope that the requirements of the programme would exempt him from any punishment for failing to follow the usual guidelines. In any event, by the start of term, or perhaps somewhat earlier, he finished his work. I cannot recall the reason now, but he asked me to stand in for him, and sent me the score by post with a message to show it to Anton Grigoryevich. A few days later, Rubinstein told me to come and listen to his judgement. Never in my life did I receive such a dressing-down for my misdemeanours as on that day (as I recall, it was a beautiful Sunday morning), listening on behalf of someone else.”

Let’s read beyond the lines a bit. Laroche was five years younger than his friend, and he had to put up with the rants of Anton Rubinstein, who was a lifelong thorn in Tchaikovsky’s side.He was known as an amazing pianist, and he may have been, but he should not have been teaching composition to anyone, even an untalented hack, and what he did to Tchaikovsky is beyond horrible because he was his composition teacher.

The composer was “heretical” for daring to use the kind of orchestration that later would become completely standard, including tuba. His “misdemeanors” involved not following the orders of Rubinstein, a perfect ass. You would think from all this that Tchaikovsky was a naughty teen rather than already a very mature composer who was on the way to becoming one of the most successful and famous composers who has ever lived.

For some people their only purpose in life is to torpedo the efforts of others, and Anton Rubinstein was often such a man.

Never performed during his lifetime…

There were two Rubinsteins, Anton and Nicolai. Anton was Tchaikovsky’s composition teacher, and Nicolai was Anton’s younger brother. Supposedly Nicolai was a friend, but these two idiots tag-teamed Tchaikovsky again and again, robbing him of confidence. By the time Anton got finished trashing The Storm, the young composer was so unnerved that he never tried to have it performed, and it was not finally published until three years after he died, in 1853. You could easily conclude that it was a worthless, immature work by a kid rather than of a man who would shortly begin to get a bit of the admiration he deserved. Is this one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest works? Of course not. But it should be important to all of us who want to know what his first major orchestral work is, and it is by no means a poor composition. A perceptive musician would have recognized that young Tchaikovsky was likely to be a force to be reckoned with.


It was heard for the first time only on 24 February/7 March 1896 at Mitrofan Belyayev’s third Russian Symphony Concert in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Aleksandr Glazunov.

In London the work was premiered on 8/20 February 1897 at a concert in the Queen’s Hall, conducted by Henry Wood. In other words, Tchaikovsky had been dead three years before his first major orchestral work was heard. We can thank Anton Rubintein for it nearly being destroyed.

4 thoughts on “Tchaikovsky: The Storm, Op. 76, in E minor, in E minor, age 24

  1. I’m coming to this from the Tempest. Am I strange to say I like this more? If I am not strange, then can it be because he was still free, with nobody “interested” in his work yet, and thus trying to direct it with their own ideas. Unfettered?

  2. You can hear the 1812 in this! Bass drum, cymbal. Bass drum, cymbal. BOOM-TSHH! That brutal contrast between those two.

    If this is heresy, then burn me at the stake, I love it!

    The mediocre hate the truly talented. They’re threatened by the talented. Wolfie on occasion had to put up with a court filled with mainly Italian mediocrities like Saleri and his “peers”, who constantly machinated against Wolfie. They knew talent when they heard it.

    Imagine being Tchaikovsky’s teachers. You *KNOW* he’s got enough raw talent right now to smoke you, to write music that leaves you a puddle on the floor. What will you do with it? Encourage it, nurture it, give it light and water and make it grow?

    No. Not if you’re petty and insecure. Then you try to dissuade it, to shame it. Same now as it was then.

    This is wonderful music. It doesn’t sound old at all. It’s classic him. It’s movie music, a full 50 years before we had movies.

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