RCM History – Romeo and Juliet Overture

Background information “Romeo and Juliet Overture” is a concert overture by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky that premiered in 1870. The work is in sonata form. It is program music. The piece reflects major characters and emotions from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.” Friar Laurence, Juliet, and Romeo are all represented by themes in the overture. There is also a theme that represents the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. As well, there is a theme that represents the love between Romeo and Juliet. With these themes, Tchaikovsky captures the emotions from the story without representing specific plot points.
Introduction The introduction is Friar Laurence’s theme. It is marked “Andante non tanto quasi moderato.” It commences in F sharp minor. The time signature is marked common time. The theme plays three times, each time having different instrumentation.
Exposition – first theme The exposition starts with the first theme which is also the “Feud Theme.” It is marked Allegro giusto. The time signature is common time. The key is B minor. The agitated, syncopated melody is played forte by the cellos and answered by the piccolo. This theme also features the crash cymbals.
bridge The bridge begins with a sudden dynamic shift to pianissimo. The woodwinds, double basses, and horns play gentle undulating figures that set the mood for the love theme.
second theme group – 2A The second theme group begins with theme 2A, which is the “Love Theme.” This theme is in D flat major. It’s in common time. The theme is stated broadly by the English horn and muted violas.
2B Theme 2B is “Juliet’s Theme.” The theme is a gently pulsating melody that is played pianissimo by muted violins.
2A again Theme 2A is restated in the high woodwinds and is extended.
Codetta In the codetta, the harp softly accompanies muted strings.
Development The development begins with the feud theme played softly in the strings and woodwinds. Then, the Friar Laurence theme undergoes extensive treatment. The theme is then reiterated by the horns. Abrupt changes in volume and the tossing of melodic material between different instruments heightens the agitation. The Friar Laurence theme is interrupted by the feud theme, which is marked by crashing cymbals and syncopation.
Recapitulation – first theme The first theme returns in B minor and is played fortissimo. It is played by the full orchestra with cymbal crashes and rapidly descending string figures.
recap – second theme group – 2B The second theme group in the recapitulation starts with theme 2B, which is played gently by the oboes and is accompanied by the strings.
recap -second theme group – 2A Theme 2A returns in D major. the theme is played broadly and loudly by the strings with horn accompaniment. The feud theme and Friar Laurence theme both interrupt the love theme. A bold timpani roll ushers in the coda.
Coda In the coda, the love theme is transformed into a funereal song of mourning in B major. The woodwinds and harp follow with a solemn, hymn-like passage. The love theme is repeated expansively in the strings. Solemn fortissimo chords are sounded by the full orchestra and are accompanied by an ominous timpani figure.