Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture in B Minor
Tchaikovsky began work on the Fantasy-Overture Romeo and Juliet in September 1869. By the end of November he had completed the scoring, and arrangements were made for the work to be premiered in Moscow on March 16, 1870, with Nicholas Rubinstein conducting. During the summer of 1870 Tchaikovsky revised the work, making considerable changes. The score is dedicated to Mily Balakirev (1837-1910), one of the leading figures of "The Mighty Five" (a group of 19th century Russian composers including, in addition to Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, all of whom were united in their aim to create a distinctive nationalist school of music.) It was Balakirev who suggested the idea to Tchaikovsky for the Fantasy-Overture as well as its general outline. It is of interest that at a later date Tchaikovsky contemplated writing an opera on the Romeo and Juliet theme; a duet was sketched but left unfinished.
The final measures of Tchakovsky's score with Stokowsky's cuts.
Jane MacKay 1999 watercolor, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
The Fantasy-Overture consists of an introduction followed by a movement in sonata-allegro form. The introduction, beginning with the stately Friar Lawrence theme, is marked Andante non tanto quasi moderato. It commences in the key of F-sharp minor and then proceeds to move through a variety of keys before settling into the "home" key of B minor. The first theme, with its evocation of the Montague-Capulet conflict, builds up to a tremendous climax before subsiding quietly into the second theme. The following section, depicting the love motive, is in the key of D-flat major; the melody is heard first in the muted violas and doubled by the English horn. The reflective love music is suddenly interrupted by a return of the principal theme, which is highly developed and ingeniously combined with the Friar Lawrence motive of the introduction. In the recapitulation section which follows, the second theme (love motive) appears in D major. To conclude the work, the principal B minor theme is combined in the full orchestra with the Friar Lawrence theme and, as the music subsides, there are motives from the second theme section. The work concludes in the key of B major.
Tchaikovsky revised the work yet again in 1880, this time however, making only minor alterations in the scoring. Due to the fact that Romeo and Juliet was belatedly published, it is the only important orchestral work of Tchaikovsky not to have a designated opus number.
* Author's addendum:
* The cover image is the Ford Madox Brown 1870 oil painting, Romeo and Juliet
* The audio files embedded above are a complete live performance of Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 2007. It is exceptional for many reasons. First, and to the inexperienced eye, Gergiev might come off as a bit dramatic, but to the contrary, he's a master of understatement. Gergiev is more of a conceptual director than a timekeeper in that he doesn't predictably swat the air for time or cue those in who already know they are next to play. He creates shape, color and dimension. The music he performs is the personification of the composer's intentions, and it's even more convincing as he does this without a baton. This is possibly the best interpretation of this overture on YouTube, but there are many recordings for purchase that are excellent, as well. These are only examples. Please support working artists by purchasing music and art legally. Thank you.
For further reading on the life and works of this composers, please see my other Factoidz articles on Tchaikovsky at: