Conducted by Peter Tiboris, the Pan-European Philharmonia performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36. This performance was recorded at the Polish Radio Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio on April 18, 2019.

Conducted by Peter Tiboris, the Pan-European Philharmonia performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36. This performance was recorded at the Polish Radio Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio on April 18, 2019.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, is a monumental work that holds a significant place in the orchestral repertoire, embodying the depth of emotion and structural complexity for which the composer is renowned. Composed between 1877 and 1878, during a tumultuous period in Tchaikovsky’s personal life, this symphony is often interpreted as a reflection of his inner struggles and the influence of fate on human life.

The symphony’s genesis is closely linked to two major events in Tchaikovsky’s life: his disastrous marriage to Antonina Miliukova, which ended in separation after just a few weeks, and his burgeoning relationship with his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck. It was to von Meck that Tchaikovsky dedicated the symphony, describing it in a letter as an embodiment of the idea that “fate is inexorable and prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness.”

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is marked by its use of a recurring “fate” motif, introduced at the very beginning by a fanfare in the brass, which serves as a leitmotif threading through the entire work, symbolizing the power of fate over human aspirations. This motif, with its dramatic and foreboding character, establishes the emotional and thematic foundation upon which the symphony is built.

Musically, the symphony is known for its rich orchestration, melodic inventiveness, and the emotional depth of its themes. Tchaikovsky’s skill in handling the orchestra is evident in his use of contrasting textures and colors to express a wide range of emotions, from despair to joy, and from turbulence to serene beauty. The symphony’s structure, while rooted in traditional forms, is treated with a degree of freedom that allows Tchaikovsky to explore a vast emotional landscape.

The work also reflects Tchaikovsky’s interest in the music of his Russian predecessors and contemporaries, incorporating elements of Russian folk melodies and rhythms that lend a distinctive national character to certain passages. This incorporation of folk elements into a symphonic framework is part of what gives the Fourth Symphony its unique place in the repertoire, bridging the worlds of Western symphonic tradition and Russian musical heritage.

The premiere of the Symphony No. 4, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein in Moscow in 1878, met with mixed reactions. While some criticized the work for its emotional excess and structural weaknesses, others praised its originality and the intensity of its expression. Over time, however, the Fourth Symphony has come to be regarded as one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest achievements, admired for its profound emotional impact and its masterful orchestration.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 remains a staple of the symphonic literature, beloved by audiences and performers alike for its dramatic scope, its melodic beauty, and its deep exploration of themes of fate, struggle, and the quest for personal happiness. It stands as a powerful testament to the composer’s ability to translate his personal experiences and emotions into music of universal appeal and significance.


With the start times in the video above:

  1. 00:00 Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima
  2. 18:44 Andantino in modo di canzona
  3. 29:03 Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato – Allegro
  4. 34:33 Finale: Allegro con fuoco

1. Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima

The first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, is a profound exploration of the theme of fate, which dominates the entire symphony. Marked “Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima,” this movement opens with a striking fanfare in the brass, introducing the fate motif that is central to the symphony’s thematic material. This motif, bold and foreboding, serves as a declaration of the symphony’s underlying premise: the inescapable presence of fate in human life.

Following the fanfare, the movement transitions into the main section, “Moderato con anima,” where Tchaikovsky unfolds the first theme in the strings, characterized by its lyrical yet melancholic quality. This theme is developed with increasing intensity, showcasing Tchaikovsky’s mastery of orchestration and his ability to convey deep emotional narratives through music. The movement is structured in a sonata form, which Tchaikovsky manipulates with great freedom to enhance the expressive depth of the music.

The development section brings a turbulent, dramatic contrast to the lyrical themes introduced earlier. Here, Tchaikovsky employs a complex interplay of motifs, including the fate motif, weaving them into the fabric of the movement to depict the struggle against the forces of fate. The music builds to a climactic section where the themes are explored with heightened intensity, showcasing the composer’s skill in creating powerful musical climaxes.

The recapitulation sees the return of the main themes, now altered and deepened by the journey through the development section. Tchaikovsky’s use of orchestration here is notable for its ability to evoke a wide palette of emotions, from despair to fleeting moments of hope. The movement concludes with a coda that revisits the fate motif, this time more subdued yet still unresolved, emphasizing the ongoing presence of fate in the narrative.

Throughout the first movement, Tchaikovsky’s use of dynamics, texture, and harmony creates a vivid musical landscape that is both deeply personal and universally resonant. The juxtaposition of the grandiose fate motif with the more intimate, expressive themes encapsulates the tension between individual desires and the immutable forces of destiny.

This movement is not just a musical composition; it is a dramatic narrative that sets the stage for the entire symphony, inviting listeners into a world where joy, despair, hope, and resignation coexist. The first movement of Symphony No. 4 remains one of Tchaikovsky’s most celebrated achievements, a testament to his ability to capture the complexities of the human spirit in music.

2. Andantino in modo di canzona

The second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, marked “Andantino in modo di canzona,” stands in poignant contrast to the intense, fate-laden first movement. This movement unfolds with a tender and introspective quality, showcasing Tchaikovsky’s gift for melody and his deep expressiveness. The “Andantino in modo di canzona” is often interpreted as a reflective, song-like interlude that offers a moment of repose and introspection amid the symphony’s broader emotional turbulence.

The movement opens with a beautiful, singing melody in the oboe, which sets the tone for the lyrical and somewhat melancholic character that pervades this section. This main theme is notable for its simplicity and emotional depth, embodying a sense of longing or contemplation. Tchaikovsky’s orchestration here is masterful, with the theme passed among various instruments, each adding its own color and texture to the melody, enriching the movement’s expressive palette.

As the movement progresses, Tchaikovsky develops the initial theme, exploring its emotional nuances through variations in orchestration, harmony, and dynamics. The composer employs a relatively restrained orchestral texture throughout this movement, allowing the individual voices of the instruments to shine through and convey a sense of intimacy and personal reflection.

The central section of the movement introduces a contrasting theme that provides a brief, more hopeful counterpoint to the initial melody’s wistfulness. This section builds to a modest climax before the music returns to the introspective mood of the opening. Tchaikovsky’s use of harmonic tension and resolution throughout this movement is subtle yet effective, creating a rich tapestry of emotional expression.

The movement concludes with a return to the main theme, now imbued with a sense of resigned acceptance or quiet resolution. The final bars fade away gently, leaving a lasting impression of serene contemplation. The “Andantino in modo di canzona” is a testament to Tchaikovsky’s ability to evoke a profound emotional response through music, demonstrating his nuanced understanding of the orchestra’s expressive capabilities.

In the context of the symphony as a whole, the second movement serves as a reflective interlude, offering a moment of calm and introspection between the more dramatic outer movements. It highlights Tchaikovsky’s lyrical genius and his capacity to convey deep emotion through simple, song-like melodies. This movement remains one of the most cherished in the symphonic repertoire, beloved for its beauty, its emotional depth, and its capacity to speak directly to the listener’s heart.

3. Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato – Allegro

The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, marked “Scherzo: Pizzicato Ostinato – Allegro,” offers a striking and innovative contrast to the symphony’s preceding movements. This movement is unique for its extensive use of pizzicato across the string section, creating a light, almost ethereal texture that is both playful and intricately detailed.

Tchaikovsky’s decision to write an entire movement based on the pizzicato technique (plucking the strings with the fingers, rather than using the bow) was groundbreaking at the time and showcased his creativity and willingness to explore new sonic possibilities. The effect is a sparkling and delicate texture that provides a stark contrast to the more robust, fully bowed textures typically found in symphonic music.

The “Scherzo” is characterized by its rhythmic vitality and precision. The movement requires exceptional coordination among the string players, as the pizzicato notes must be executed with rhythmic accuracy to maintain the intended effect of lightness and clarity. This movement is a testament to Tchaikovsky’s mastery of orchestration, as he creates a wide array of colors and dynamics within the constraints of a single technique.

Beyond the novelty of its pizzicato texture, the movement is structured as a traditional scherzo and trio. The main scherzo section features a lively and rhythmic theme that is playful yet sophisticated, with sudden dynamic changes and unexpected accents that add to its spirited character. The central trio section provides a contrast with a more lyrical theme, though the pizzicato texture is maintained throughout, lending a cohesive quality to the movement.

The return of the scherzo material after the trio section brings back the movement’s initial energy and playfulness, leading to a dynamic and finely crafted conclusion. Tchaikovsky’s use of orchestration in this movement is not only innovative but also serves to highlight the composer’s ability to create depth and variety of expression within a seemingly limited palette.

The third movement of Symphony No. 4 is often celebrated for its originality and charm, providing listeners with a moment of light-hearted reprieve from the symphony’s more dramatic and emotional movements. It stands as a brilliant example of Tchaikovsky’s inventive use of the orchestra and his capacity to engage and surprise his audience. This movement, with its distinctive use of pizzicato and its engaging rhythms, remains one of the most memorable and beloved parts of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

4. Finale: Allegro con fuoco

The fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, marked “Finale: Allegro con fuoco,” serves as a dramatic and triumphant conclusion to the symphony, encapsulating the emotional journey of the preceding movements and bringing the work to a powerful close. This movement is characterized by its vigorous energy, bold orchestration, and the return of the fate motif that has been a recurring theme throughout the symphony.

The “Finale” opens with a fanfare-like theme that immediately sets a tone of determination and resolve. This is followed by the introduction of a lively and rhythmic melody that seems to draw on Russian folk influences, contributing to the nationalistic character of the movement. Tchaikovsky’s skill in orchestration is on full display here, as he combines these themes with rich harmonic textures and dynamic contrasts to create a sense of momentum and excitement.

One of the most compelling aspects of this movement is how Tchaikovsky weaves together the various thematic elements introduced throughout the symphony, including the ominous fate motif. The integration of these themes not only provides a sense of cohesion to the symphony as a whole but also reinforces the narrative of struggle and eventual triumph over adversity.

As the movement progresses, Tchaikovsky builds tension through a series of climactic sequences, each more intense than the last. The music drives forward, propelled by the forceful rhythms and expansive orchestration, towards a grand and triumphant conclusion. The finale reaches its peak with a return of the fate motif, now transformed into a powerful and victorious statement, underscored by the full force of the orchestra.

The “Finale: Allegro con fuoco” is a masterful conclusion to the symphony, showcasing Tchaikovsky’s ability to convey a wide range of emotions through his music, from despair to joy, and from turmoil to triumph. The movement reflects not only the composer’s personal struggles but also his belief in the power of music to express the deepest aspects of the human experience.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.