Symphony No. 3

Tchaikovsky Research
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Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 29 (TH 26 ; ČW 23), was composed and orchestrated between June and August 1875. It is his only symphony in a major key, and to have five movements [1].


The Symphony is scored for an orchestra comprising piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in F), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are five movements:

  1. Introduzione e Allegro. Moderato assai (Tempo di marcia funebre) (D minor) — Allegro brillante (D major) (472 bars)
  2. Alla tedesca. Allegro moderato e semplice (B-flat major, 289 bars)
  3. Andante. Andante elegiaco (D minor, 182 bars)
  4. Scherzo. Allegro vivo (B minor, 439 bars)
  5. Finale. Allegro con fuoco (Tempo di polacca) (D major, 350 bars) [2].

A complete performance lasts around 45 to 50 minutes.


At the end of May/start of June 1875, after the Moscow Conservatory examinations, Tchaikovsky left for his friend Vladimir Shilovsky's estate at Usovo, where on 5/17 June he began to make the first sketches of the Symphony. The title page of the fair copy of the full score has the note: "Begun 5 June 1875 at Usovo. Finished 1 August 1875 at Verbovka".

Tchaikovsky referred to the composition of the Symphony in one of his letters to Aleksey and Mikhail Sofronov: "I am now composing a new symphony, but am taking it steadily, not spending all my time on it, and taking long walks" [3].

On 20 June/2 July the rough sketches of the Symphony were completed [4], and Tchaikovsky left Usovo.

At Nikolay Kondratyev's estate in Nizy, Tchaikovsky started to orchestrate the Symphony. And so on 8/20 July 1875 he wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson from Nizy: "I'm sorry for writing so little; I'm terribly tired from work (scoring the symphony)" [5]. Judging by the dates of completion found at the end of each movement on the fair copy of the manuscript, the first to be orchestrated was the fifth movement, at the end of which is written "9 July 1875. Nizy"; then, the fourth movement — "13 July 1875. Nizy".

On 14/26 July, Tchaikovsky left Nizy for Verbovka, where he arrived on 17–18 July [6]. Here the composer continued to orchestrate the Symphony, i.e. the first, second and third movements, noting at the end of each movement its date of completion: the first movement — "26 July 1875. Verbovka"; the second movement — "28 July 1875. Verbovka"; the third movement — "31 July 1875. Verbovka".

The full score was completed on 1/13 August, according to a note at the top of the title page of the manuscript. On 14/26 August, in a letter to Sergey Taneyev, Tchaikovsky reported: "The symphony has been written. It was composed in Tambov province, orchestrated partly at Sumy [7] and partly here. It is written in D major, and consists of five movements" [8].

Before the score was published in December 1876, it appears that Tchaikovsky made some cuts in the Finale, which in the autograph score is 36 bars longer than in the printed edition [9].


The first performance of the Third Symphony, at which the author was present, took place in Moscow on 7/19 November 1875, at the first symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. After its performance Tchaikovsky wrote to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov: "As far as I can tell, this symphony does not have any particularly successful new ideas, but in terms of craftsmanship it is a step forward. I am most pleased with the 1st movement and with both scherzos, of which the second is difficult and was played not nearly as well as would have been possible if there had been more rehearsals. The thing is that our rehearsals last only 2 hours; it is true that there are three of them but what can you do in two hours? However, I was satisfied with the general performance." [10].

In Saint Petersburg, the Third Symphony was performed for the first time on 24 January/5 February 1876, at the fifth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Eduard Nápravník, also in the presence of the author. Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother Modest: "My symphony fared very well, and had appreciable success. I was called for and roundly applauded" [11].

Other notable early performances were:

  • New York, Academy of Music, Philharmonic Society concert, 27 January/8 February 1879, conducted by Adolf Neuendorf
  • Kharkov, 2nd Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 14/26 November 1893, conducted by Ilya Slatin
  • London, Crystal Palace, 20 February/4 March 1899, conducted by August Manns
  • Liverpool, Philharmonic Society Concert, 7/20 November 1900, conducted by Frederick Cowen.


The symphony was first published by Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow, with August Cranz in Hamburg acting as his European agent.

Jurgenson's editions
No. Description Arranger/Editor Issued Notes
2982 Orchestral score 1876 Advertised in Signale für die musikalische Welt (March 1876), No. 20, p. 319 [12].
2983 Orchestral parts 1877 Advertised in Signale für die musikalische Welt (March 1877), No. 19, p. 302
2984 Arr. for piano 4 hands Eduard Langer 1877 Advertised in Hofmeister's Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht (October 1877), p. 286.
26190 Arr. for solo piano Max Lippold 1901 Advertised in Hofmeister's Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht (October 1901), p. 550.
27753 Arr. for 2 pianos 8 hands Eduard Langer 1902/03 Dated approximately from the edition number.
28483 Alla Tedesca, arr. for 2 pianos 8 hands Eduard Langer 1903 Advertised in Hofmeister's Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht (September 1903), p. 451.

The full score of the Symphony was published in volume 16А of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Pavel Berlinsky (1949).


Tchaikovsky's autograph score is now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 57) [view].


See: Discography


The title page of the symphony's autograph score carries the inscription "to Vladimir Stepanovich Shilovsky" (1852–1893), on whose estate at Usovo the work was composed. However, the printed editions of the symphony carry no dedication.

Related Works

For the trio section of the Scherzo of the Symphony, Tchaikovsky borrowed from his Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition (1872) [13].

In 1891, an abridged version of the Symphony's Alla tedesca (without the central section) was used by the composer as an entr'acte (Act II, No. 5) in his incidental music to Hamlet (1891).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. The Symphony is sometimes referred to as the 'Polish', after the 'Tempo di polacca' marking of the Finale.
  2. The tempo markings for some movements differ on the title page of Tchaikovsky's autograph score: I. Introduzione e Allegro brillante; II. Andante elegioso; V. Allegro con fuoco (Alla Pollaca) [sic].
  3. Letter 405 to Aleksey and Mikhail Sofronov, 19 June/1 July 1875.
  4. See Letter 409 to Sergey Taneyev, 14/26 August 1875.
  5. Letter 408 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 8/20 July 1875.
  6. See Letter 409 to Sergey Taneyev, 14/26 August 1875.
  7. Sumy was the district in which Nizy was situated.
  8. See Letter 409 to Sergey Taneyev, 14/26 August 1875.
  9. With 6 extra bars after bar 110, 14 bars after bar 176, and 16 bars after bar 255. To listen to a reconstruction of the uncut version of the finale, see First Thoughts.
  10. Letter 417 to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, 12/24 November 1875.
  11. Letter 442 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 28 January/9 February 1876.
  12. Editions published after around 1900 were described as "Seconde édition revue et corrigée", but retained the same plate and page numbers.
  13. The motif from the final part of the cantata's introduction (Allegro vivo) and from the tenor solo («Ужели вновь бороться и страдать»).