Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tchaikovsky Fate Karajan Philharmonia 1954

When the fourth symphony of Tchaikovsky was initially performed in 1878, many among the audience raised a question on whether it was purely a symphony or a symphonic poem. This question then started echoing through the concert halls in Europe. Tchaikovsky had proclaimed the opening motif in this symphony as `fatum' and he made it asthe fate theme. The symphony then went on to become a hot battle ground for the use of a title. I, however, call it FATE as there is a symphonic poem also composed by Tchaikovsky with the title of FATUM. People fail to realise that Tchaikovsky used to suffer with nervous disorder in different forms and these depression bouts were strongest during the time that he was composing this symphony. He was going through nervous strains and all thse are reflected in this music. He was also trying to recover from a marriage that proved disastrous for him. It resulted almost in a mental breakdown. He recuperated by retreating to Lake Geneva and to Italy. He was able to work peacefully on the symphony as a result of the financial support from Nadejda von Meck, his benefactress. She remained his admire and correspondent. They never met during his lifetime as per terms of the agreement they had made with each other. Tchaikovsky referred to the opening motif as `Fate' and acknowledged openly that he was inspired by Bethoven's Fifth Symphony. In Beethoven's symphony, fate is a participant whereas in this symphony, fate is only an onlooker. The opening motif gives way to the first waltz subject; it has a depressive mood. The despair builds up in intensity. Comfort is found in the second subject on the clarinets, accompanied by a counterpoint in the cellos. At the climax, fate intervenes again as the coda is full of despair. The second movement is a lesson in melancholia. You may feel that it is an old person remembering his youthful days. The first andantino theme is given by the oboe and the second theme is given by the strings in low-pitched octaves. The scherzo is unique in all the symphonic repertoire as it is a marvellous exhibition of lightness, marked by pizzicatos on the strings. It highlights the fantasy of an intoxicated mood. The middle section has an unusual structure with dissimilar halves; you have a rustic theme on the winds which is followed by brass playing staccato. The finale bursts on to the scene to drive away personal sorrows to experience happiness. It comes like a tornado and then gives way to a Russian folk tune, 'In the fields stood a birch tree'. This theme has also been used by Mily Balakirev in his `Overture on Russian Themes'. Fate appears for the last time before the symphony concludes on a majestic note. This symphony is an exercise in master orchestration. People talk bullshit about aesthetics and ask various questions about whether it is a symphony; the answer to them is a YES. It is a symphony with effective orchestration and ornamental details. This 1954 performance by Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London is a fine document of this great symphony.

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