12 Sep 2019

TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

From Music Alive, 8:01 pm on 12 September 2019

This exciting overture based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet drama contains one of the great love themes.

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Performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy

Vladimir Ashkenazy in rehearsal with the APO

Vladimir Ashkenazy in rehearsal with the APO Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

In 1884 Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy won 500 rubles with the Glinka Award – the first of many awards that would come the composer's way.

This was, however, a full 14 years after the work's premiere under Nikolai Rubenstein. The initial response was luke-warm, but, while this no doubt played on Tchaikovsky's persistent insecurities, he persevered with various revisions. One of these gave us the brooding introduction of Friar Lawrence's theme before another severe rewrite lead to the Overture's 1880 re-premiere in its current form.

Much thanks must go to Mily Balakirev for Tchaikovsky embarking on the work at all.

Balakirev pitched the idea of a Shakespearean-inspired overture. It proved a master stroke giving the 29-year-old Tchaikovsky a tight narrative framework to guide his musical story-telling.

Balakirev wasn't hesitant to metaphorically lean over the younger composer's shoulder, suggesting structure and themes.

And Tchaikovsky it seems was happy to take the advice, writing to his mentor: "the layout is yours. The introduction portraying the friar, the fight - Allegro, and love - the second subject; and, secondly, the modulations are yours: also the introduction in E, the Allegro in B-flat minor and the second subject in D-flat."

Tchaikovsky continued: "You can tear it to pieces ... all you want! I will take note of what you say and will try to do better in my next work."

Programme note by Kevin Keys

Recorded by RNZ in Auckland Town Hall, 12 September 2019
Producer: Tim Dodd, Sound engineer: Rangi Powick