TCHAIKOVSKY: Fantasias after Shakespeare

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Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)

Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture

The Tempest, Symphonic Fantasia, Op. 18

Hamlet, Fantasy Overture, Op. 67

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the second son byhis second wife of a mining engineer, manager of a metal works. At home he showed musicalprecocity and in 1848 he had his first experience of school in St. Petersburg. Two yearslater he entered the School of Jurisprudence, where he remained for nine years, laterentering the government service. In 1863 he resigned from his position in the Ministry ofJustice and became a student at the newly established Conservatory in St. Petersburg,following this with appointment to the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow. Heremained on the staff of the Moscow Conservatory until 1878, when a pension from a richwidow, with whom he corresponded for years but whom he never met, gave him independence tocontinue a career as a composer. He died when he seemed at the height of his powers, in1893.

This bald account of the course of Tchaikovsky's life ignoresaspects that caused him a great deal of misery. The departure of his beloved governess in1848 and the death of his mother in 1854 moved him deeply, affecting a nature that hadalready proved morbidly sensitive and diffident. Tchaikovsky was well enough liked by hiscontemporaries at the School of Jurisprudence and was never one to withdraw from socialcontact. Nevertheless, as a musician, he was easily depressed by harsh criticism andremained intensely critical of what he wrote.

In 1868 Tchaikovsky had written a symphonic poem Fatum and thishad elicited from Balakirev, in St. Petersburg, harsh and detailed criticism. Balakirevwas the leader of the group of nationalist composers, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui, Borodinand Mussorgsky. He had taken over the direction of the Russian Music Society concerts inSt. Petersburg after the resignation of their founder, Anton Rubinstein in 1867. In 1869he was dismissed by the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and Tchaikovsky gallantly publishedan article deploring this. Tchaikovsky's defence of Balakirev and his ready acceptance ofthe criticism of Fatum led to the renewal of Balakirev's influence over him, and it wasfrom him that the idea of writing an orchestral work on the subject of Shakespeare's Romeoand Juliet came. Balakirev was always ready to offer criticism of the music of hiscontemporaries, but was equally generous with ideas.

The story of Romeo andJuliet is too well known to need repetition. Tchaikovsky makes no attempt tofollow the events as they occur in Shakespeare's play. There is the solemnity of FriarLaurence, whose well-intentioned intervention is the indirect cause of the tragedy, atheme re-creating the traditional enmity of the houses of Montague and Capulet and asensuous melody expressing the love of Romeo and Juliet. The overture is in traditionalsonata-form, the exposition, with its principal thematic material, followed by a centraldevelopment and a final recapitulation, in which love ends in death. The original Overturewas revised in 1870, on the suggestion of Balakirev, and underwent further revision in1880, when it became an Overture-Fantasy.

The suggestion for a musical treatment of Shakespeare's play The Tempest came from Vladimir Stasov, mentor of theMighty Handful of nationalist composers to which Tchaikovsky never committed himself. Hewrote the work rapidly, over a period of some eleven days in the autumn of 1873. The firstperformance, under Nikolai Rubinstein, took place on 19th December, 1873, at a RussianMusic Society concert. The programme of The Tempest(Burya), Opus 18, described as a fantasia for orchestra, is derived from Stasovand was printed with the published score: The sea. Ariel, spirit of the air, obeying thewill of the magician Prospero, raises a storm. Wreck of the ship bringing Ferdinand. Theenchanted isle. First timid feelings of love of Miranda and Ferdinand. Ariel, Caliban. Thelovers succumb to their passion. Prospero deprives himself of his magic power and leavesthe island. The sea.

The Fantasy Overture Hamlet isthe third of Tchaikovsky's works based on Shakespeare. It was written in 1888 anddedicated to Grieg, although it might have been suggested by the French actor LucienGuitry, who asked for incidental music for the play for his final benefit performance inSt. Petersburg in 1891. The incidental music eventually included material from the Fantasy Overture, which had its first performance inSt. Petersburg in November 1888. The work was received coolly, while Balakirev, in privatecorrespondence with the composer, objected to the intrusion of Shepherds from Vladimir atone point and what he considered the triviality of the love-theme - Hamlet pays Opheliacompliments and hands her an ice-cream. The overture is scored for a full orchestra withpiccolo, pairs of flutes and oboes, cor anglais, pairs of clarinets and bassoons, fourhorns, cornets, trumpets, trombones and tuba, timpani, a percussion section that includessnare-drum, tamtam, bass drum and cymbals and the usual strings. Its opening is markedLento lugubre, leading to a dramatic Allegro vivace. As in the earlier works based onShakespeare, there is no attempt at a detailed narrative programme, a fact regretted byone critic at least at the first performance.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was created by Sir ThomasBeecham three weeks before its first concert, which took place in the Davis Hall, Croydon,on 15th September, 1946. The orchestra was initially associated with the RoyalPhilharmonic Society and involved in the Society's subscription concert series, laterearning for itself the title "Royal", when this association came to an end.

Beecham gave his last concert with the orchestra in 1960 and was succeeded by RudolfKempe, who became principal conductor on Beecham's death the following year. The orchestrahas from the beginning been involved in recording, with a major international reputationsupported by foreign tours and by association with conductors and soloists of the greatestdistinction.

Adrian Leaper

Adrian Leaper was appointed Assistant Conductor to StanislawSkrowaczewski of the Halle Orchestra in 1986, and has since then enjoyed an increasinglybusy career, with engagements at home and throughout Europe. Born in 1953, Adrian Leaperstudied at the Royal Academy of Music and was for a number of years co-principal Frenchhorn in the Philharmonia Orchestra, before turning his attention exclusively toconducting. He has been closely involved with the Naxos and Marco Polo labels and has beenconsequently instrumental in introducing elements of English repertoire to Eastern Europe.

His numerous recordings include a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies for Naxos, andHavergal Brian's Symphony No.4 ("DasSiegeslied") for Marco Polo.

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice(PNRSO)

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice(PNRSO) was founded in 1935 in Warsaw through the initiative of well-known Polishconductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked tillthe outbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestra wasresurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 GrzegorzFitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PNRSO. He was followed bya series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord,Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw
Disc: 1
Hamlet, Fantasy Overture, Op. 67
1 Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture after Shakespea
2 The Tempest, Symphonic Fantasia, Op. 18
3 Hamlet
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