Our music for this week is the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony.
This symphony is somewhat of an odd-ball. It is the only one of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies that was composed in a major key and the only one that contains five movements rather than four. The Finale that you will hear is particularly unique because it is composed in a “polonaise” form that earned the symphony the nickname “Polish.” This nickname was controversial at the time, however, because it carried a cultural connotation of Russian dominance over Poland. It is very possible that Tchaikovsky did this on purpose, since he knew that in order for his music to be popular, his music would need to appeal to the political and cultural tastes of the aristocracy that funded his musical endeavors.
The polonaise is a type of Polish dance that resembles a march or a processional. Perhaps in an effort to challenge himself, Tchaikovsky cleverly mixes this dance form with a fugue format. In other words, the dance is layered onto itself many times through different instrumentations. You will hear the opening theme of the movement repeated several times throughout; each time it is handled by different instrument and is played in a different key. As the piece progresses, Tchaikovsky creates even more complexity by having different instruments play this melody in a staggered progression, which gives listeners the impression that they are listening to a round.