Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet

Structure The piece is in sonata form, like Berlioz, and can be unconventional (again like Berlioz). For example, the second subject of the exposition in Db Major, which is a semitone of the relative major (which this part of the form would normally be based in). In addition, it could be argued that the development isn’t really a development as such, since it largely repeats previous ideas. Each section has very distinct rhythms, which allows you to know which movement is which, as well as ensuing specific characters have specific rhythm motifs
About Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky is regarded as one of the most gifted composer’s of the romantic period, in particular when it came to the composition of melodies. He was the first Russian composer to make a lasting international impression, which was helped by his work as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. He was also inspired by western themes, such as Shakespeare. Despite his success, his life did have sad aspects, in particular he suffered from depression, being separated from his mother at an early age due to her early death and boarding school, and in addition, he also had homosexual orientation, something which he had to keep private due to potential discrimination. When he wrote the first version of Romeo and Juliet in 1869, it was around the time that he was involved with a young man called Eduard Sack, who committed suicide in 1873. The death of Sack deeply affected Tchaikovsky.
The Five The Five (also known as the Mighty Handful), were a set of five romantic composers from Russia, who wanted to create a specifically Russian type of music, rather than one that relied on European styles. The group was active between 1856 and 1870: meeting in Saint Petersberg. Their leader was Mily Balakirev, who for several of the early years was the only professional out of the group, with the others being amateurs with only a limited musical education. He thus shared with them his musical beliefs, and this was used to encourage all members’ compositional efforts. His methods of influence on other musicians could be somewhat dictatorial, yet the results of this often established the respective composer’s reputation, including with Romeo and Juliet, which was suggested to Tchaikovsky (a non member of the group) by Balakirev. Cèsar Cui was a cellist (formerly an officer in the Russian army), who composed works such as the “Orientale Op50” and the “Tarentella Op12”. He was very keen to promote the work of his co-members, but unlike his colleagues, he didn’t compose symphonies or symphonic poems. Modest Mussorgsky, composed a number of works inspired by Russian History, Russian folklore, as well as other nationalistic themes. He was also a Russian civil servant. His decline however was steep: he became an alcoholic on the breakup of “The Five”, and died in 1881 Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, was a master of orchestration, and is famous for a piece called “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, which features chromatic notes running up and down the scale at a very high pitch, as well as the Scheherazade: a symphonic poem which is based on “The Arabian Nights”. Like Cui, he served in the military, and was an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, later rising to be a civilian inspector of Naval Bands: some say his experiences at sea helped inspire the Scheherazade. The fifth member, Alexander Borodin, was best known for his symphonies snd symphonic poems. His most famous works were, “In the Steps of Central Asia”, which was intended originally for the silver Aniversary of Tsar Alexander II (which in the end didn’t happen), and the opera “Prince Igor”, which incorporates material from two Kieven chronicles of the medieval period. The work was unfinished at the time of Boridin’s death, and so was finished by Korsakov. In addition to being a musician, Borodin was a doctor and chemist.
The Four Main Ideas of Frair Lawrence First Idea – Choral minim motif at the very beginning, in F# Minor, to reflect the peaceful and tranquil character of this religious person. Slow tempo, use of hollow woodwind instruments, soft tempo and homophonic texture Second Idea – Bars 28-37, rising harp arpeggios under a sequence of sustained chords in the woodwind, represents the lovers meeting with the Friar (as the harp generally represents romance and love)Third Idea – Between Bars 41 and 51, there is countermelody between the woodwind, mainly consisting of minims and crotchets, (in a slightly adapted version of the first tune from the very beginning), and the strings, consisting of a quaver motif which moves up and down in step. The quaver motif is plucked. This perhaps represents the fact that the two lovers he is dealing with are from different, and conflicting families.Fourth Idea – From Bar 78, the timpanists gradually build up rolls, starting ppp, but later crescendoing to forte at Bar 90, just as the tempo increases. This indicates the danger is increasing. The subsequent bars feature a call-and-response idea: as the woodwinds play 4 high pitch crotchets starting on F (see figure), these are responded to by the cornets, with different notes, but in rhythmic unison. This represents the high amount of conflictual situations which the Friar has had to deal with – the conflict being represented through the forte dynamics and the minor key.Since many of the keys here are minor (eg E Minor for the second go of the rising harps – portraying the love as dangerous). This creates an element of danger.
Exposition First Subject Important Information Some very stark B minor chords take place, before the fight theme begins in allegro gusto (briskly, and with vigour). As the chords progress before the conflict theme begins, there is a gradual crescendo, which perhaps reflects the tension between the two families building up. (See figure for main theme motif). At Bar 122, a call and response like theme begins, between the strings and the woodwind/brass. The violins start by playing a semiquaver / quaver motif for about a bar’s worth (while the rest of the strings play crotchet chords below), with the piccolos clarinets and flutes then playing a similar melody in response in the next bar (with chords by the oboe and cornets) .A similar rhythm call and response takes place again in the next bar. This perhaps represents the two families behaving aggressively to each other – the aggression coming from the use of slurs in this quick rhythm, which creates a harsh soundBetween Bars 143-147, there is a rapid semiquaver motif in the strings which gradually crescendos, and travels ascending and descending, in steps. As this happens, sudden quaver discords are played by the rest of the instruments. The fact that the quaver chords are discordant (D, D, C#, F#, A, F#, F#, F#, F, D, A, B, D, F#, A, F#) as well as because of their suddenness (and being in forte to boot), this gives the impression of one of the families assaulting the other, with the other family being portrayed in the strings semiquaver flurry as making a quick getawayThe use of the Neapolitan 6th – very popular in Naples in the 16th Century. This is significant that an Italian theme is being used in the music, because the composer who inspired Tchaikovsky, Barakirev, wanted Russian music to be more nationalistic. However, it does make sense – Romeo and Juliet is set in Italy At Bar 164 (towards the end of this), the tempo gradually slows down, and the dynamics dramatically descend to piano, while there is much more emphasis on the woodwinds, particularly the flute. This “drop” portrays a dramatic change of theme, as we prepare to go to the love theme.
Exposition Second Subject Important Information This is where the love theme first appears. The change to the Db key is done in an ingenious, enharmonic way: the A7 chord (A C# E# G#) is repeated as an augmented sixth, resulting in the second inversion of Db Major’s tonic (Ab Db F) (see figure for the second inversion)At bars 212-219, the use of dissonant chords, and a strong harmonic framework: moving his bassline mostly in fifths and fourths, (such as from Db – Ab7, then back to Db) while the tune in the flutes moves mostly in steps (with the exception of an augmented fifth in 216), all of this happening underneath an Ab bass pedal. The resulting effect is large leaps in sound, which reflects how deep the love between Romeo and Juliet is.
Development Important Information At Bars 287-88, there is then an adapted rhythm by the flutes, oboes and clarinets, which is taken from the fourth idea of the introduction (which showed Friar Lawrence’s experience at dealing with conflict). Some fighting has probably started again between the families in the musical story, with the Friar perhaps unable to mediate between the two camps. This idea is repeated, only a tone higher. At 335-342, there is a motif which is almost entirely based on the beginning semiquaver / quaver rhythm from the conflict theme, the only exception being minims on the trombone and the use of the bass drum. From Bar 345, there is then a repeat of the chasing motif from the first subject (where the strings portrayed one family running and the other playing the quaver chords), before we then hear a repeat of the main fight theme.Just as at the end of the first fight section, there is then a drop in dynamics, to prepare for the love theme’s reappearance.
Recapitulation Important Information At Bar 389, we then hear the love theme again (same as the leaps motif). As the theme progresses, the dynamics continually crescendo until it reaches fortissimo at Bar 410. The increasing loud dynamics provide a sense of building up to some sort of climax, so perhaps this represents the strong chemistry between the two lovers despite the bitter conflict between their respective families. The theme is gradually developed further, building slowly up to it’s climax through rubato at Bar 438, in a modulated key of E major. At Bar 443, the semiquavers / quaver motif from the conflict theme once again returns in unison in between the climaxed love theme, before the melody eventually transfers completely from the love to a repeat of the main conflict theme at Bar 446. This portrays the fact that the love between the two is perhaps making their extensive family’s divisions worse.Right before the coda (Bar 483/84), the timpanists play a fortissimo F# semibreve, followed by a minim on the same note, by which time the music has diminuendoed. This creates the impression of a stabbing, and portrays Romeo and Juliet’s death.
Coda Important Information This is where the funeral takes place in the story. The beginning of the coda is marked by a piano timpani motif (on a B), while the trombone holds a tied semibreve B. The atmosphere of the funeral is conveyed through the slower tempo, use of piano dynamics and legato. The rhythm of the timpani is a semiquaver triplet, and then a quaver – this is similar (though not quite the same) as the semiquavers / quaver motif in the conflict theme, but perhaps the use of a triplet in itself reminds us that it was the conflict that caused the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.FIND OUT ABOUT THE KEY / S At Bar 509, the harps return with their motif from in the introduction, which represents how the love between Romeo and Juliet never faded despite the families’ conflict. The key modulates briefly to B major to reflect this, while the strings play another adapted version of the love theme, which is much slower in tempo. Bar 510: the strings, with harps, play the main love theme from the exposition second subject. This portrays the love between Romeo and Juliet lasting beyond the grave. However, it is loosely adapted, now including a rise to G (a minor interval) conveying a darker sound.This subject ends on a B Major tonic chord by all the instruments except the trumpets and trombones at Bar 518, before the timps are then heard to be quickly crescendoing. Some harsh, staccato B major chords by the whole orchestra (with the final semibreve one being pitched an octave below the rest) then finishes the piece. The harsh staccato reflects the brutal nature of the conflict, and perhaps how this unfairly impacted on Romeo and Juliet.