Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Tchaikovsky composed this work between May and the end of August 1888, and conducted its premiere at St. Petersburg on November 17 of that year. Eleven years separated the "fateful" Fourth Symphony of 1877 from the Fifth, about which Tchaikovsky expressed ambivalent feelings both during its composition and later on. To his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, he wrote in August 1888 that "it seems to me I have not failed, and that it is good." After conducting it in Prague, however, he wrote "...It is a failure; there is something repellent, something superfluous and insincere that the public instinctively recognizes." Yet by March he could write: "I like it far better now."

    By no means did Tchaikovsky neglect the orchestra between 1877 (when he committed, in his words, the "rash act" of marriage) and 1888. He composed four wholly charming and fanciful suites, of which the second and third could have passed as symphonies had he chosen to call them that. Furthermore, he wrote the unnumbered but inspired Manfred Symphony in 1885. Yet Tchaikovsky never found symphonic structure as congenial as opera or ballet. His method was closer to Liszt's tone-poem procedure than to the Austro-German heritage, continued by Brahms and Bruckner among his contemporaries. Tchaikovsky favored sequences (in his case, the iteration and reiteration of four-bar cells) over enharmonic evolution. Listeners who've sometimes found his music as irritating as he found Brahms' tend do so because of sequence overload, finding that such repeated gestures result in an overblown effect. His greatest gifts were melody and orchestration: witness the popular songs plagiarized from his music, such as "Moon Love," cribbed from the slow movement of Symphony No. 5.

    Like the Fourth, the Symphony No. 5 is unified by a six-measure "Fate" motto, heard straightaway in a darkly colored Andante introduction until, after a pause, the body of the opening 4/4 movement becomes a sonata-form Allegro con anima (with "soul" as well as spirit). It builds to a ferocious fortissimo climax before ending gloomily. Tchaikovsky marked this melodically rich slow movement Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza (songfully unhurried, with some freedom). In D major basically, it is a 12/8 sonatina (exposition and reprise), with an elaborate three-part song structure replacing the development section. Its special glory is the solo-horn arietta looted by "Moon Love", although the ominous motto theme from the first movement interrupts twice -- like the Commendatore's Statue answering Don Giovanni's invitation to dinner.

    The quasi-scherzo third movement is a waltz in A major out of Tchaikovsky's top balletic drawer, with a trio in F sharp minor plus a long coda that reprises the motto, now in 3/4 time. Germanic academics were scandalized by the presence of a waltz in a numbered symphony, but not Brahms, who stayed over in Hamburg to hear a rehearsal, and during a bibulous lunch with Tchaikovsky the day after praised the first three movements.

    The motto launches the last movement as it did the first, but now in E major, Andante maestoso, leading to another sonata-allegro construct -- this one vivace rather than moderato, with an alla breve meter that keeps it moving. At the end of the reprise, Tchaikovsky writes six B major chords -- a false cadence that invariably provokes applause -- before the motto, now bedecked in alb and fanon, launches a major-key coda as long as the entire development section. It quickens to a Presto dash for the double bar before broadening at the very end for a triumphantly sonorous tetrad of "end-of-file" chords.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Andante - Allegro con anima
    2. Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza
    3. Valse. Allegro moderato
    4. Finale. Andante maestoso - Allegro vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 Nimbus Records NI 7104
    2018 SWR Klassik SWR 19062CD
    2017 LPO LPO 0101
    2017 Decca / London
    2016 Erato 557140
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon
    2016 Recursive Classics RC 2057013
    2016 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4150
    2016 BIS BIS 2178
    2016 Exton 64
    2016 Decca
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795553
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2015 Praga / Praga Digitals PRD 350111
    2015 Cugate Classics CUG 2
    2015 Urania / Urania Records WS 121167
    2015 Detroit Symphony Orchestra
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794646
    2015 San Francisco Symphony SFS 0062
    2015 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186489
    2015 Oehms Classics OC 027
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Warner Classics 2564633593
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843003502
    2014 Cameo Classics CC 9007CD
    2014 Warner Classics 825646278251
    2014 Carlos Païta Edition / Lodia Music CP 802
    2014 Melodiya MELCD 1002157
    2014 Relief CR 210307
    2014 Urania / Urania Records WS 121245
    2014 Sony Classical 88843045052
    2014 Naïve NC 40044
    2013 Entertainment Group 14136
    2013 Entertainment Group 14139
    2013 Alto ALC 6003
    2013 Oehms Classics OC 763
    2013 Elatus 461777
    2013 Guild Historical GHCD 2396
    2013 ICA Classics ICAC 5116
    2013 BIS BIS 2018
    2013 Nimbus / Nimbus Alliance NI 6217
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Entertainment Group 4037
    2012 Brilliant Classics 9268
    2012 Naxos 8501059
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2012 Dynamic CDS 712
    2012 Entertainment Group 12102
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94307
    2012 Melodiya MYD 1001754
    2012 Teldec 2564663139
    2012 Warner Classics 663108
    2012 London Philharmonic Orchestra / LPO LPO 0064
    2012 Decca 4783613
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    2012 Naïve V 5252
    2012 Oehms Classics OC 667
    2011 Erato 2564698905
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    2011 BIS 1897/98
    2011 Marquis Classics 774718142122
    2011 Accord / CD Accord ACD164
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    2009 Orfeo 780091
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    2009 Document 223312-370
    2008 Sony BMG / Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution 88697325372
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    2008 Brilliant Classics 8593
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    2008 Berlin Classics 184532
    2008 ZYX Music 100552
    2008 Music & Arts WHRA 6022
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    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4777937
    2008 ABC Classics 476442
    2008 Svetlanov 75
    2008 Arte Nova 592030
    2008 Sony Music Distribution 87883
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    2007 Union Square Music 51
    2007 Russian Music Society 10021
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    2007 EMI Classics 0946381798
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    2005 Andante 4100
    2005 Artemis Records 1527
    2005 Silverline Records 284223
    2005 Nuova Era 7396
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    2005 Supraphon 38622
    2005 Philips
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    2005 Elatus 2564617772
    2005 Rca Red Seal 65831
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    1998 Intersound 1738
    1998 Orfeo 449961
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78837
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459 067-2GCC10
    1998 Lys 189
    1998 Lys 137
    1998 SPJ Music 90026
    1998 Denon Records 7005
    1998 Arkadia 78550
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 56522
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459011
    1998 ICONE 9404
    1998 Biddulph Recordings 051
    1997 Biddulph Recordings 02122
    1997 Everest 9043/44
    1997 Grammofono 78713
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63281
    1997 Dutton Laboratories 1007
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    1997 Vox 5117
    1997 Point Classics 265023
    1997 London 455 157-2LPF
    1997 Arte Nova 74321 30492-2
    1997 Testament 1100
    1997 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453088
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449967
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447423
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon
    1996 Teldec 0630-10904-2
    1996 Arts Music 47241
    1996 Russian Disc 10914
    1995 Russian Disc 10905
    1995 Orfeo 276921
    1995 Art of Classics 885923
    1995 Chandos 9383
    1995 Naxos 505022
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 437401
    1995 Russian Disc 10908
    1995 Melodiya 25196
    1995 Madacy 5614
    1995 Madacy 9105
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 65709
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 23158
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    1995 Melodiya 25189
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    1994 Teldec 95981
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    1994 BIS 627
    1994 Capriccio Records 10410
    1994 Infinity Digital 57242
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    1994 Sony Music Distribution 47634
    1994 Canyon Classics 3630
    1994 RCA 902661821
    1994 Philips 442061
    1994 Music & Arts 809
    1993 IMP Classics 875
    1993 Vanguard 8031
    1993 Music & Arts 780
    1993 Masters of Music 3015
    1993 Chesky Records 94
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon 439019
    1993 Philips 438335
    1992 Erato 45763
    1992 Chandos 8351
    1992 Mercury 434305
    1992 Chandos 8672
    1992 London 430787
    1991 EMI Music Distribution 64178
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 46538
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 419745
    1990 CBS Records 42094
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    1990 London 425516
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 429234
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 429675
    1989 Laserlight 620
    1988 Sony Classical 37767
    1988 Teldec 2292-43462-2
    1988 Naxos 550191
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    1985 Deutsche Grammophon 435356
    1984 Delos 3015
    History 204569
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    Brilliant Classics 8593/2
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