Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18 (with Score)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:
The Tempest, fantasy-overture for orchestra in F minor, Op. 18, TH 44, ČW 41 (with Score)
Composed: 1873, rev.1888
Conductor: Mikhail Pletnev
Orchestra: Russian National Orchestra

00:00 Andante con moto
03:36 Allegro moderato
05:29 Allegro vivace
08:35 Andante con moto
12:17 Allegro animato
14:47 Andante non tanto
19:29 Andante con moto

There are two pairs of works in Tchaikovsky’s oeuvre that are often confused, the first couple being the Op. 3 opera Voyevoda (1867-1868) and Voyevoda, the symphonic ballad for orchestra, Op. 78. The other confusable pair of siblings are the 1864 overture for orchestra The Storm, Op. 76, and the work under examination here, The Tempest, from 1873, a later composition, despite the higher opus number of the first work. The Tempest is a fantasia inspired by the Shakespeare play of the same name. It is not as well known as Tchaikovsky’s other orchestral work after Shakespeare, the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, but is nearly on the artistic level on that powerfully dramatic work. Like Romeo and Juliet it followed a written-out program; The Tempest is less complex than Romeo and Juliet partly because that program is itself simpler in structure. The Romeo and Juliet program was written by the composer Balakirev and specified a complex correspondence of themes with the characters in the play, but the program for The Tempest, written by an art historian named Stasov, specified only a loose sequence of scenes.

The Tempest begins quietly with an air of calm and expectation, the music depicting a placid sea and Ferdinand’s ship sailing along confidently. Soon the mood becomes intense and violent as Ariel, at the behest of the magician Prospero, summons a tempest. The music rages on; Tchaikovsky’s orchestration is masterful in color and atmospheric splendor as the ship wrecks.

The music depicting the happenings on Shakespeare’s fantasy island is finely imagined and intelligently structured throughout. The love theme used to express the burgeoning and then blossoming feelings between Miranda and Ferdinand is beautiful and convincing, if not quite as memorable as that in Romeo and Juliet. Ariel comes across quite colorfully here, too, with an air of fantasy always seeming to hover above the proceedings. In the closing section, the music reverts back to the calm, seafaring mood of the opening. (

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