Piotr IIyich Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy overture
Comments on the influence or lack of influence of earlier composers’ works
Balakirev suggested Tchaikovsky write a piece based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky was having difficulties writing an opera entitled Undine, which he would eventually destroy. Though he complained, "I'm completely burned out," Balakirev persisted, as was his manner. Balakirev wrote suggestions about the structure of Romeo and Juliet, giving details of the type of music required in each section, and even opinions on which keys to use.
Balakirev had suggested his own overture King Lear as a model for Romeo—a prudent move, since he had seen Tchaikovsky's weakness in writing in an unstructured musical form in Fatum. King Lear is not a symphonic poem in the manner of Liszt. It is a tragic overture in sonata form along the line of Beethoven's overtures, relying more on the dramatic potential of sonata form rather than on a literary program. Thus, Balakirev had transformed King Lear into an instrumental drama and now offered it as a model to Tchaikovsky. While basing Romeo and Juliet on King Lear was Balakirev's suggestion, reducing the plot of the former to one central conflict and then combining it with the binary structure of sonata form was Tchaikovsky's idea. However, executing that plot in the music we know today came only after two radical revisions.
Explains how the composer has tried to make the programme clear in the music (this section is the major part of this assignment, and should represent at least 60% of your writing)
Although styled an 'Overture-Fantasy' by the composer, the overall design is a symphonic poem in sonata form with an introduction and an epilogue. The work is based on three main strands of the Shakespeare story. The first strand, written in F-sharp minor, following Mily Balakirev's suggestion, is the introduction representing the saintly Friar Laurence. Here there is a foreboding of doom from the lower strings. The Friar Laurence theme is heard in F minor, with plucked strings, before ending up in E minor. The introduction is chorale-like.
Eventually a single B minor chord with a D natural in the bass passed back and forth between strings and woodwinds grows into the second strand in B minor, the agitated theme of the warring Capulets and Montagues, including a reference to the sword fight, depicted by crashing cymbals. There are agitated, quick sixteenth notes. The forceful irregular rhythms of the street music point ahead to Igor Stravinsky and beyond. The action suddenly slows, the key changing from B minor to D-flat (as suggested by Balakirev) and we hear the opening bars of the "love theme", the third strand, passionate and yearning in character but always with an underlying current of anxiety.
The love theme signifies the couple first meeting and the scene at Juliet's balcony. The English horn