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MD-VA-DC Strathmore Tchaikovsky 4th Klipschfest, Saturday, April 25, 2009


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I don't think we'll see 3 cymbals at Strathmore -- remember, these are the folks who, as good as they are, didn't spring for an alto flute or contrabassoon for The Planets! The piece sounds VERY Russian to me, but then I'm used to Russian composers. The heavy, passionate, soulful strings are uniquely Russian, and so are the low, slightly raucous woodwinds, the peasant dance rhythms and tunes, etc. Of course, T. did a lot to define Russian sound, so that's a little circular. The main theme of the last movement is maybe the most clearly Russian thing about it. There is a Youtube segment with a movement of his 5th you could listen to -- that is also very Russian.

So you recognized the cymbals? Very good!

I didn't think much of the PIT site, don't recommend it. Monty Python was great! The best writing was T's own movement-by-movement description on the MusicWeb site. The Research site shows how long it takes even a great composer to write a long complicated work!

Thanks for looking -- I hope forum passers-by will look at the Youtube clips!


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Michael, THANK YOU for digging all this up! This is the first half of the first mov't on Youtube:

, and you can go from there to the clips on the right covering the second half and then all the other movements. IOW, you can watch the whole thing.

One reason I like the National Philharmonic at Strathmore is that those performers and the conductor really cook through powerful works, like The Planets last time. I'm sure we won't be disappointed even after seeing these videos!

Michael, if you want to lead a cheering squad after the first movement, I don't think anyone will mind! I may just step out to go to the bathroom....


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midway through this track at about 3:00 there is a very tender bassoon section which melts into a even quiter part with oboe leading, then clarinet and flute joining in . Very gentle.

Michael, if you've got your thinking cap on, here's something on how this first movement is structured or organized! That theme at 3:00 min in the second half (
) is called the SECOND THEME. (The first theme is the more melancholic, and less melodic, droopy tune that just preceded it.)

I've reorganized this post, to try to make it a little clearer, as follows. [:)]

First, bring up the FIRST half (

), and go to 5:42 [corrected] minutes -- SAME SECOND THEME! Only, it's played by the haunting clarinet the first time around. The structure is that the first time around (this entire clip) is called the "exposition" in which the 1st and 2nd themes and other stuff are presented in a certain order. The second time around is the "recap" or "restatement" (also "recapitulation") which presents the themes and other stuff IN THE SAME ORDER.

Then, you can go to the bassoon second theme you picked up on, at 3:00 min in the second half (


NOW: The composer has inserted KEY DIFFERENCES between the first half and the second:

  • The first time around, the second theme is played by the haunting clarinet (very Russian, sounds like empty steppes/plains)
  • The first time around, there is soon a haunting COUNTER-MELODY behind the theme, played by high cellos
  • The first time around, the counter-melody is carried on by high flutes and an oboe in octaves
  • The second time around, the second theme is played by a bassoon, as you noted
  • The second time around, the counter-melody is played by a low horn
  • The second time around, the horn counter-melody is answered by a single, very plaintive oboe

Both times, the counter-melody soon flows into the beautiful, very soft waltz theme played by violins. DON'T FAIL to notice the tympani playing the beats behind the waltz! The happy stuff doesn't last for long, and there's another very interesting contrast that comes up. But first, let's see how this works for you before we go there ....


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Yes YES I hear it. Very well explained Larry. The counter melody is like what I hear in Jazz or some progressive rock music (the band Yes for instance) when it seems that everyone is playing their own song, but it flows together beautifully. The repetitive themes carried out by different instrumentation seems to be an effective device in the story-telling if you will, of the song-poem. And the tympani picks up the same theme, played on it's limited scale but with great pace that echoes the second theme played previously by the clarinet.

I enjoy these moments in the piece as much as the more dramatic ones. Could these possibly be the tentative peace and harmony that are punctuated by the angst (percussion and blaring horns) in life that Tchaikovsky is writing about in his letters to his benefactor?

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I enjoy these moments in the piece as much as the more dramatic ones. Could these possibly be the tentative peace and harmony that are punctuated by the angst (percussion and blaring horns) in life that Tchaikovsky is writing about in his letters to his benefactor?

Oh, probably. Apparently he was a very moody, unhappy guy. This symphony is an expression of that, since it begins and ends with a lot of firey minor-key unhappiness. It does switch to happier moods, but just briefly for contrast. Even the major-key last movement seems to be looking to joy outside of himself.

There is, however, a rather short peaceful hymn-like portion in the second half (

), at 6:40 min. It's a striking entry just before the close, that quickly toughens to end the movement in the opening bitter mood. He was fond of closing hymn thingies, since he did it at the end of the first mov't of his 6th symphony and the close of his Romeo and Juliet Overture.

The second movement is THE best representation of "melancholy" in all of the symphonic literature, IMO. It flips back and forth between sad melancholy and a temporary contentment for relief. The third movement is the famous pizzicato movement, which seems to be the least deeply-felt.

Although this is an unhappy symphony overall, his super tear-jerker is his last symphony, no. 6, the "Pathetique". He died within days of its premiere, at only 53.

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Hope I can make one of these someday.

You can catch a train with Michael! I cannot offer you a place to stay, however.

I only intend to organize one of these if there's a really good concert during each season. There has been so far, but no future guarantees.

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very cool Larry, got any more examples of themes?

That more or less it for now for the first mov't, since I don't want to get into the development or coda until you get here. I suggest you listen to/watch the other 3 movements and gin up some questions or observations for me to do something with.

Anyone else, or does Micheal have a music appreciation audience monopoly here?

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

The big event is now only a little over 5 weeks away! This post is to tell you about a great recently released DVD of the star work on the program, the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony, by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The SFSO performance of only the last movement is on Youtube, which is how I tracked down the DVD. See


This DVD is part of a series called "Keeping Score: MTT on Music," available only through the SFSO e-store at http://www.shopsfsymphony.org/shop/product.php?productid=803&cat=42&page=1. The sound AND the visual quality are outstanding, and so is the camera close-up work. The only curiosity is they don't furnish program notes with these DVDs.

Keeping Score: MTT on Music - Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony (DVD)

The DVD has 3 sections --

  • Making of a Performance (about 10 min/movement, lots of intros and one-on-one discussions with musicians)
  • Live Performance
  • Bonus section -- narrated slideshow, MTT bio, and about the SFSO)

I'll probably play a couple of selected parts of this when we meet at my house on Saturday. Meanwhile, if you decide to order it, BE SURE to have shipping done by Other - USPS. They'll send it by Priority Mail for $4.50 instead of UPS for $12.50.

There is one disappointment -- Dhar will not be able to do a session at his place. I'll be scouting around for alternatives, or have others volunteer CDs, LPs or DVDs at my place. TBA.

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