Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Roméo and Juliet (fantasy overture)

Duration : 24 minutes

In celebration of the 4th Evgeny Svetlanov International Conducting Competition, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Andris Poga, performs Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture. Live concert at the Radio France Auditorium, recorded on 6 September 2018.

Though many a composer has drawn inspiration from Romeo and Juliet to compose a dramatic symphony (Berlioz), an opera (Bellini, Gounod), a ballet (Prokofiev) etc., Tchaikovsky's fantasy overture focuses on the substance of Shakespeare's work and not the specific events. The idea of composing a musical work based upon Romeo and Juliet was first planted by Balakirev and Vladimir Stassov, friend of Moussorgsky and tutor of the Russian Five. His brother Modeste also suggested in 1876 the idea of composing a work around the story of Hamlet - another work the composer would eventually define as a "fantasy overture".

Romeo and Juliet, according to Tchaikovsky, "is an "overview" of the drama and in particular its atmosphere", explains Michel-R. Hofmann, who sees within the work "a musical abstract, a thematic summary of an opera existing in the state of the "possible": an opera seen from a bird's eye view, observed in its entirety by one capable of noticing the hollows and bumps, whilst obeying a strictly musical logic", that is to say a relatively open sonata form.

After a sombre introduction leading to an agitated theme (named "the swords") comes a passionate love song, gradually lost amidst the return of the previous theme, until a funeral march, mixed with a consolatory theme, bring to mind the opening of the work. 

The final chords drew various doubts from Balakirev. He wrote to Tchaikovsky: "The actual ending is not bad, but why those accentuated chords in the very last bars? This seems to contradict the meaning of the play, and is inartistic. MadameRimsky-Korsakovhas scratched out theses chords with her own fair hands, and wants you to make the pianoforte arrangement end pianissimo. I do not know whether you will consent to this alteration." Though the work underwent three important changes, the composer never questioned the abrupt coda.

Written by Christian Wasselin

Medtner, Rachaminov, Svetlanov, Tchaïkovski... Tribute concert for Evgeny Svetlanov
Full concert
Medtner, Rachaminov, Svetlanov, Tchaïkovski... Tribute concert for Evgeny Svetlanov
Auditorium de Radio France
Pyotr Ilitch Tchaïkovsky
Pyotr Ilitch Tchaïkovsky
All artists
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra