Letting Go of Anger and Accepting Fate in Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony

Jul 3, 2017

Tchaikovsky grappled with the issue of fate in an early symphonic poem, and in his 4th symphony, when he described it as a ‘fatal force.’ But, as WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, in his 5th symphony he suggests a way to be happy in the face of events beyond our control.

On July 9th at 1 pm on WRTI, Cristian Măcelaru leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

Radio script: 

The acceptance of it, that's the only way to find happiness or peace within fate.

Susan Lewis: The idea of fate is expressed with words such as destiny, providence, and fortune.  And in music?

[Music: Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5]

Cristian Măcelaru: Most composers have orchestrated fate as a motive that’s relentless, driven by rhythmic pulse, it doesn’t allow the listener to become comfortable.

SL: Conductor Cristian Măcelaru

CM: Tchaikovsky portrays it in a very melodic way, but he still portrays it in a language that is dark.

SL: In notes about his Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky writes of ‘submission before Fate," ideas you can hear in contrasting themes, says Măcelaru.

CM: The first theme, in a minor key, has this constant breathlessness to it,  giving us all this darkness, this angriness about the fate, that actually resolves into acceptance of it. 

SL: Acceptance, which is not bad thing, says Măcelaru.

CM: Accepting that life goes on; it doesn’t stop with every speed bump in the road. In the same way, fate continues to take its course. I think this is what Tchaikovsky was saying: the acceptance of it, that’s the only way to find happiness or peace within fate.

 SL:  The symphony premiered in 1888; in its early days, critics were divided, but, as fate would have it,  it became one of Tchaikovsky’s most acclaimed works.