Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
Francesca da Rimini,
Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Op. 32 (1876)
on folk tunes for orchestra, Op. 45 (1880)
Romeo and Juliet,
Overture-Fantasy after Shakespeare, TH 42 (1869–1880)
Conductor — Teodor Currentzis
The symphonic evening with the musicAeterna Orchestra is dedicated to Italy depicted in Tchaikovsky’s compositions. The most cosmopolitan of the Russian composers of the 19th century, Tchaikovsky travelled extensively throughout his life in Europe, by 1880 having managed to visit the Italian Peninsula three times. The very nature of his talent is more “Italian” than “German”: Tchaikovsky appreciates open-hearted emotions and expressiveness of melody, saturates abstract symphonic genres with theatrical drama, and values success with the public higher than the approval of critics. The concert programme encompasses three of his opuses related to Italy musically or in terms of the plot.
The symphonic fantasy “Francesca da Rimini” coexists in Tchaikovsky’s creative biography with “Swan Lake” and “Eugene Onegin” – all three compositions are united by the theme of the doomed love. The composer came about with the conception of “Francesca” on his way to Bayreuth for the premiere of “The Ring of the Nibelung”; Tchaikovsky later agreed with critics about Wagner’s influence on his score. In the story of Paolo and Francesca, the composer is interested in its dramatic potential in the first place. Tchaikovsky is not prone to abstract searches for sound colour, he is emotionally involved in the chosen plot, emphasizing in it the acuteness of the conflict and the depth of feelings of the characters. Saint-Saens placed “Francesca” musically above Liszt’s “Dante Symphony”, and cellist Karl Davydov, to whom the author would later dedicate his “Capriccio Italien”, called the fantasy “the greatest work of our time.”
In December 1879, Tchaikovsky found himself in Rome during the carnival and, impressed by what he saw, decided to compose “something of the kind of Glinka’s Spanish fantasies.” A few months later, the score of the “Capriccio Italien” was ready. It indeed succeeds to Glinka’s Spanish diptych in many ways – from the details of form and orchestration to the general treatment of the “national” in the vein of entertaining exoticism. Tchaikovsky in “Capriccio” looks at the Mediterranean with a tourist gaze: this is a paradise land where there are no sorrows, struggles and dramas, and sounds radiate joy, light, and serenity. “There is hardly any other composition in Russian classical music which contains not a single atom of gloom,” as one of the reviewers summed up after the premiere.
The fantasy overture “Romeo and Juliet” is the only major symphonic composition by Tchaikovsky that does not have an opus number. Tchaikovsky could consider the overture not entirely his composition – since Balakirev’s role in its creation, in fact, is teetering on the verge of co-authorship. It was Balakirev (to whom the overture is dedicated) who offered Tchaikovsky the plot, the tonal plan, the main images and even specific pictorial solutions (“fierce Allegro with saber strokes”), and his criticism forced Tchaikovsky to compose whole sections of the form anew, from the entrée to the outro. In “Romeo and Juliet” Tchaikovsky for the first time found his personal formula of symphonic drama: fatal images of doom, sharp contrasts, emotional waves, lyrics isolated and detached from the surrounding storms, tragic denouement of conflict, and ambiguous triumph. And also for the first time in his life he ascended to the top of melodic expressiveness – in the famous theme of love, which Rimsky-Korsakov later recognized as “one of the best themes of all Russian music.”