Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

THURSDAY, March 26, 2020

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

It is the 2nd of three monumental symphonies. There are six symphonies in all, and the first three have been largely overlooked until fairly recently, but considering the usual idiotic critics who always impede everything, this is not surprising. Even the last three symphonies were often badly reviewed. Today that seems completely impossible, since these last three symphonies are among the most popular symphonies ever written and always get a huge positive reaction from any audience.

Tchaikovsky, caught between two rival camps…

He could not win. His own teachers criticized him for not writing in the old, European manner, yet the nationalistic movement to write in a purely Russian manner often criticized him for not being “Russian” enough.

The Five criticized him heavily at first…

It took time, but eventually he was accepted, though never fully a part of this group. Today the idea that this quintessential Russian composer, beloved all over the world and most of all in Russia, was accused of being not “Russian” enough.

Stokowski’s amazing relationship to this symphony…

He was born in 1882, only 42 years after Tchaikovsky was born. When Tchaikovsky died, Stokowski was already 11 years old.

He made a recording back in 1923…

Although the recording sounds painfully primitive now, you can hear that his ideas remained unchanged over the rest of his life. He was 41 at that time, and he was one of the first people in the world to understand the importance of recordings.

40 years later, in 1953, a modern recording…

This newer recording sounds wonderful right now, and I just found it two days ago. It is a miracle. It is a bit narrower than modern recordings in spaciousness, but my friend Louie tells me that modern recordings techniques were almost completely what they are today by the early 50s. You could not tell that from the recordings that were available because what people used to play records on was at least a decade behind. There was no stereo, only mono, with heavy tone arms and needles that literally ruined records while they were playing them. But the original tapes, which we never heard, were very advanced, and you can find the 1953 recording on YouTube. It’s almost as good as the one from 1966, sonically, and may be the absolute best in terms of the performance. Stokowski was 70 years old when this later recording was made.

Phase 4, another step forward in recording ideas…

I once owned this, so I bought it not too long after it was released. It was called “Phase 4” and it used very new recording techniques. One of my favorite recordings from any era, it was made in 1966, when Stokowski was 84 years old. He never stopped rethinking everything about sound and was still evolving as a musician in his mid 90s.

Not easy to find…

It was actually hard to track down all the movements because, for some reason, they are all separate and not labeled with names that were easy to locate with a simple search. This is the “needle in the haystack” problem of YouTube. Just about anything you can imagine is there, but first you have to know that it exists,  then you have to be lucky enough to find it. These videos are are pure gold. Once upon a time you had to pay a lot of money just to buy the record. If anything these videos sound better than my old record because I did not have a very expensive sound system, and in those days that’s the only way that vinyl sounded really good, with a very good and a very expensive sound system.

Movement I: E minor

Movement II: B minor – D major

Movement III: A major

Movement IV: E major

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