Symphony No. 1

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Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13 (TH 24 ; ČW 21), subtitled Winter Daydreams (Зимние грезы), was composed and orchestrated between March 1866 and February 1868, and revised in spring 1874.


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

Movements and Duration

There are four movements:

I. Daydreams of a Winter Journey (Грезы зимнею дорогой). Allegro tranquillo (G minor, 723 bars)
II. Land of Gloom, Land of Mist (Угрюмый край, туманный край). Adagio cantabile, ma non tanto (E-flat major, 168 bars)
III. Scherzo (Скерцо). Allegro scherzando giocoso (C minor, 441 bars)
IV. Finale (Финал). Andante lugubre (G minor)—Allegro moderato (G major, 610 bars) [1].

A complete performance lasts around 45 to 50 minutes.


Original Version (1866-68)

Little is known about the early history of the First Symphony. According to the composer's biography, work was begun on the Symphony in March 1866 [2], and the first reference by Tchaikovsky himself to the Symphony appears in his letter to his brother Anatoly of 25 April/7 May 1866: "At eleven o'clock, I either give a lesson until one [o'clock], or tackle the symphony (which, by the way, is going sluggishly) ... I always return home by twelve [midnight]; write letters or the symphony, and read in bed for a long time... My nerves are extremely fraught again, for the following reasons: 1) my lack of success in composing the symphony; 2) Rubinstein and Tarnovsky... spend all day trying to torment me... 3) being unable to shake off the thought that I might soon die without even managing to complete the symphony" [3].

In the summer of 1866, Tchaikovsky set off for a dacha near Peterhof, where he continued working on the Symphony. Here in early/mid June he began the instrumentation of his new work, as referred to in his letter to Aleksandra Davydova on 7/19 June: "I've already started to orchestrate the symphony; my health is fine, except that recently I didn't sleep all night because I was so busy..." [4].

According to Modest Tchaikovsky the composer did not like to recall the summer that he spent in Peterhof: "the reason was his G-minor symphony, called by the title Winter Daydreams. No other work cost him such effort and suffering... Despite painstaking and arduous work, its composition was fraught with difficulty, and while pressing ahead with the symphony, Pyotr Ilyich's nerves became more and more frayed. As a result of this exceptionally hard work he began to suffer from insomnia, and the sleepless nights paralyzed his creative energies. At the end of July all this erupted into a terrible nervous attack, the like of which he never experienced again during his lifetime... The most distressing symptoms of this illness were dreadful hallucinations, which were so frightening that they resulted in a feeling of complete numbness in all his extremities". The dread of these nervous attacks recurring was such that "all his life he abstained from working at night. After this symphony, not a single note from any of his compositions was written at night" [5].

The difficult time Tchaikovsky endured while working on the Symphony did not influence the composer's working methods. In 1875 Tchaikovsky wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "Do you really believe that anything worthwhile comes without toil and effort?... Remember back in 1866 how frayed my nerves became at Myatlev's dacha through smoking too much because of my symphony, which wouldn't come out—that's just the same. Even now when things are difficult I smoke vast quantities of cigarettes and confine myself to my room, before coming around to formulate a basic motif. On the other hand writing can sometimes be terribly easy; ideas simply fly around one after another... But when this isn't the case, one must still be able to impel oneself to work" [6].

According to Modest Tchaikovsky's recollections, because of his ill-health "Pyotr Ilyich was unable to finish the symphony in its entirety during the summer. Nevertheless, before returning to Moscow, he decided to show the symphony as it stood to A. G. Rubinstein and N. I. Zaremba, in the hope that it would be performed in one of the Russian Musical Society concerts in Saint Petersburg. But instead he was sorely disappointed; the symphony was judged very harshly and was not approved for performance... The professors' authority was so great that Pyotr Ilyich bowed down before them and took the symphony to Moscow with the intention of revising it" [7].

On 8/20 November 1866 Tchaikovsky wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "The overture for Dagmara is completely finished [...] I'm now busy revising my symphony..." [8]. Although it was reworked to make it "fit for inclusion in the programme of a symphony concert", the Saint Petersburg professors approved only the Adagio and Scherzo. Both movements were given trial performances, before the whole Symphony was heard for the first time in Moscow on 3/15 February 1868

There is disagreement among scholars as to whether the version performed in February 1868 constitutes a "second version" of the Symphony, or whether it was simply the final stage of a compositional process begun in March 1866. Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky remained dissatisfied, and subsequently revised the work in 1874 to produce the final definitive version of the Symphony.

Revised Version (1874)

During the spring of 1874 revised the Symphony for its publication by Pyotr Jurgenson. Thematic notes for this version are contained in one of the composer's sketchbooks, between sketches for the String Quartet No. 2, completed in January 1874, and the opera Vakula the Smith, which suggest this task was carried out sometime during the first half of 1874.

For this version he wrote a new second subject for the first movement, and made some cuts and minor changes to the remaining movements [9]. These changes were inserted into a manuscript score of the 1866-68 version of the Symphony.

Tchaikovsky gave a detailed account of his reworking of his First Symphony, and publication of the full score, in a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 15 April 1886:

It was written in 1866. For its performance I made some changes to it on the advice of Nikolay Grigoryevich, in which form it was performed in 1868. But then I decided to make some fundamental revisions to it. However, I did not carry out this intention until 1874. In 1875, on my birthday, you surprised me by presenting me with a printed copy of the full score. I was touched by your kindness, but very displeased with the numerous errors which spoiled the edition. But mistakes aside, the symphony was printed correctly, i.e. with changes to the theme that I made in 1874. Then it was not played until 1883. Before the performance, Albrecht sent the full score to me at Kamenka. I noticed many mistakes, and during rehearsals Erdmannsdörfer found many more, but everything was performed correctly. Then you wanted to publish a new piano arrangement of the symphony, and commissioned Langer to do it, which was a bad idea. He made this with Kashkin's help, and I checked it (during rehearsals for Mazepa, i.e. at the end of '83 and beginning of '84).
What has happened to all these?: i.e. the full score with my corrections, and Erdmannsdörfer's on the parts, used for rehearsals, and the piano arrangement—they all seem to have disappeared without trace. Now, a month or so ago, you asked where were the revisions I'd made to the First Symphony? I explained to you that there were no revisions, and that there were only corrections to the score printed in 1875, made by myself and Erdmannsdörfer. Now what do I find? You've sent Ivanov the First Symphony with insertions here and there, which I removed during my fundamental revision in 1874; i.e. all the rubbish I threw out, you have now painstakingly restored [10]. Where did you get these discarded passages? Who's trying to annoy me? And why did you send the parts for the later version, thus contradicting the full score which had the symphony in its original form...?
And so, to clear up once and for all the state of affairs regarding my long-suffering symphony, I say again:

1) The full score of my symphony as it stands contains countless errors. 2) There should be the parts used by Erdmannsdörfer for the performance of the symphony in 1883. I don't know where they are, but they don't appear to be the ones you've now sent to Ivanov. 3) The [piano] arrangement was made very badly, and printed with dozens of careless mistakes.

All these were corrected in 1883 and '84, but I don't know where the proofs are now.

4) The handwritten sheets, enclosed with the proofs you sent to Ivanov, quite outrageously contain everything I threw out in 1874, and which, for reasons incomprehensible to me, you saw fit to restore [11].

In spite of the difficulties which beset this Symphony, it always remained one of Tchaikovsky's favourite works. In the aforementioned letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 15/27 April 1886, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I like this symphony very much, and deeply regret that it's had such an unhappy existence" [12]. At the time of its performance in 1883, Tchaikovsky wrote to Karl Albrecht that: "Despite all its huge shortcomings, I still nourish a weakness for it, because it was a sin of my sweet youth" [13], and sometime later to Nadezhda von Meck: "I don't know if you are familiar with my composition. In many respects it is very immature, although fundamentally it is still richer in content than many of my other, more mature works" [14].


Tchaikovsky left no explanation as to the sub-titles he gave to the Symphony, Winter Daydreams, and to the first two movts, Daydreams of a Winter Journey and Land of Gloom, Land of Mist. It is possible that he originally envisaged a programmatic element in the work which may not have survived into the completed version.


The Scherzo was first performed separately in Moscow on 10/22 December 1866, at the fifth Russian Musical Society concert, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein, but without success, according to Modest Tchaikovsky [15].

In Saint Petersburg on 11/23 February 1867, at the ninth Russian Musical Society concert, conducted by Anton Rubinstein, both the Adagio and the Scherzo were performed.

The first complete performance of the symphony took place in Moscow on 3/15 February 1868 at the eighth Russian Musical Society concert, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein, and met with an enthusiastic reception [16]. "My symphony had great success, particularly the Andante and Scherzo" [17].

That seems to have been the only complete performance of the original version of the Symphony, although the Adagio seems to have been played at a concert in the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, on 16/28 March 1870, conducted by Eduard Merten.

The 1874 version of the Symphony was performed for the first time on 19 November/1 December 1883 in Moscow, at the fifth Russian Musical Society concert, conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer [18]. Other notable early performances included:

  • Saint Petersburg, 2nd Russian symphony concert, 22 October/3 November 1886, conducted by Georgy Dyutsch
  • New York, Carnegie Hall, Philharmonic Society concert, 26 January/7 February 1896, conducted by Anton Seidl
  • Bournemouth, Winter Gardens, 25 September/8 October 1900, conducted by Dan Godfrey
  • London, Queen's Hall, 14/27 August 1902, conducted by Henry Wood.


The full score in its 1874 version was published in 1875. The orchestral parts were brought out by Jurgenson in June 1887. An arrangement for piano duet was made by Eduard Langer [19].

When this version of the Symphony came to be performed for the first time in 1883, a number of mistakes were discovered in Jurgenson's published score. On 17/29 October 1883, the composer complained to Karl Albrecht: "Taking the score in my hands, I was appalled by the large number of printing errors and the general form in which the volume was published. I set to work on the sizeable corrections, but I did not have time to do this properly… I have reviewed the first two movements quite thoroughly, but the remaining two only perfunctorily" [20]. As well as correcting the errors in the published score, Tchaikovsky made changes to phrasing and dynamic markings, and to some of the orchestral detail. The score thus amended formed the basis for Jurgenson's second edition of the full score that was published in 1888.

The full score of the Symphony was published in volume 15А of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Semyon Bogatyrov (1957), and it included the first publication of passages from the 1866–68 version.


Tchaikovsky's original autograph score has been lost, but a copyists' manuscript in which the composer marked his changes for the 1874 revision has survived, and is preserved in the Glinka National Museum Consortium of Musical Culture in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 55).

A printed edition of the score of the First Symphony (1874), containing inserted pages by a copyist restoring the altered passages from the 1868 version, is preserved in the Klin House-Museum archive [21].

A complete set of orchestral parts, with Tchaikovsky's notes and corrections, is preserved in the library of the N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory in Moscow (No. 433/1–97). This seems to have been prepared in 1866 for performances of the Symphony, and incorporates the composer's revisions up to 1883.


See: Symphony No. 1: Recordings


The Symphony is dedicated to Nikolay Rubinstein, virtuoso pianist and founder of the Moscow Conservatory.

Related Works

A significant portion of the music in Tchaikovsky's First Symphony was borrowed or re-used in other works.

  • the introduction (bars 1–20) and coda (bars 157–168) to the second movement use a theme from the overture to The Storm (1864).
  • the Scherzo is an orchestral transcription of the third movement from the Piano Sonata in C-sharp minor (1865), transposed down a semitone, and with a new short introduction, trio and coda.
  • The Finale's opening (bars 1–63) and conclusion (from bar 431) were re-used in the Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition (1872).

In the finale of the Symphony (from bar 126), Tchaikovsky used the folksong «Я посею ли, млада-младенька». In his memoirs, Nikolay Kashkin wrote: "At the start of his career, Tchaikovsky readily made use of folksongs, for the finale of his First Symphony he chose the song «Цвели-цветики». Unfortunately, this song had become greatly corrupted in the form in which it was well-known in the towns and cities; when Pyotr Ilyich eventually learned that it was not authentic, he was greatly embarrassed, and turned to various experts on Russian song—for example P. M. Sadovsky and A. N. Ostrovsky—who had learned many popular songs by heart; however, they only knew the town version of the song as it appeared in the symphony" [22].

The song named by Kashkin so far has not been traced, either in written records or in publications. Even so, Vasily Prokunin's collection of 1872 — edited by Tchaikovsky as 65 Russian Folksongs — records a song «Я посею ли, млада-младенька цветиков маленько» (No. 39), which is very similar to the theme of the finale of the First Symphony. The possibility cannot be excluded that this itself is a variant of the song «Цвели-цветики» referred to by Kashkin. Evidently the song «Распашу ли я, млада-младенька» mentioned by Taneyev, also appears to be a variant of the song used by Tchaikovsky.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Bar numbers apply to the 1874 version. The movements in the 1866-68 version lasted for 786, 176, 441 and 608 bars respectively.
  2. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 272.
  3. Letter 92 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 25 April/7 May 1866. Tchaikovsky was then sharing an apartment with Nikolay Rubinstein.
  4. Letter 95 to Aleksandra Davydova, 7/19 June 1866.
  5. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 248.
  6. Letter 384 toModest Tchaikovsky, 6/18 January 1875.
  7. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 248–249.
  8. Letter 96 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 8/20 November 1866. The "Dagmar overture" was the Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem.
  9. Tchaikovsky wrote a completely new second subject in the first movement (bars 133–190, 518–547, 594–618), made some small cuts in the second and fourth movements, and simplified parts of the Finale (bars 57–63 and 382–430).
  10. In the spring of 1886, at the time of Tchaikovsky's visit to Tiflis, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov wanted to perform the First Symphony. However, the performance did not take place, because Jurgenson sent him the wrong materials (full score and orchestral parts), which did not correspond to the authorised version. For more on the "Tiflis misunderstanding", see also Tchaikovsky's Letter 3978 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 21 October/2 November 1886.
  11. Letter 2931 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 April 1886. See also Letter 3074 to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, 11/23 October 1886, and Letter 2368 to Karl Albrecht, 17/29 October 1883.
  12. Letter 2931 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 April 1886.
  13. Letter 2368 to Karl Albrecht, 17/29 October 1883.
  14. Letter 2392 to Nadezhda von Meck, 15/27 November 1883.
  15. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 262–263.
  16. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 272–273.
  17. Letter 113 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, written between 12/24 and 17/29 February 1868. In the manuscript copy of this letter (the original being lost), Modest Tchaikovsky changed "Andante and Scherzo" to "Adagio". See also Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 54.
  18. See Letter 2391 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 14/26 November 1883; Letter 2394 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 November/5 December 1883; Letter 2931 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 April 1886.
  19. See Letter 2931 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 April 1886.
  20. Letter 2368 to Karl Albrecht, 17/29 October 1883.
  21. This represents the copy Tchaikovsky complained about in Letter 2931 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 April 1886, which was discovered in 1949. See Daniel Zhitomirsky, Ранняя редакция Зимних грез (1950).
  22. Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 35–36.