Francesca da Rimini

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini (Франческа да Римини), Op. 32 (TH 46 ; ČW 43), is an orchestral fantasia in E minor, after canto V of the Inferno from Dante's Divine Comedy. It was written and orchestrated in October and November 1876 in Moscow.


The fantasia is scored for an orchestra consisting of 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 cornets (in A), 2 trumpets (in E), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.


There is one movement: Andante lugubre—Allegro vivo (E minor, 698 bars), lasting around 25 minutes in performance.


Based on La Divina Commedia (ca. 1310–14) by Dante Alighieri (ca. 1265–1321) [1]. Tchaikovsky wrote out a detailed programme at the start of his manuscript score of the fantasia:

Dante, accompanied by Virgil's ghost, descends into the second circle of the Hellish abyss. Here the walls echo with cries of despair. In the midst of the Stygian gloom is a fantastic storm. Violent, Hellish whirlwinds carry away tormented souls. Out of the countless spinning earthly spirits, Dante notices two in particular: Francesca and Paolo, who are locked in an embrace. Dante calls out to these tortured souls, and asks them for what terrible crimes they were being punished. Francesca's spirit, drenched with tears, recounts their pitiful tale. She was in love with Paolo, but against her will she was forced to marry the hateful brother of her beloved, the hunchbacked, twisted tyrant of Rimini. Despite his violent jealousy, he was not able to wrest Francesca's heart from her passion for Paolo. Together one day they read the story of Lancelot. "We were one", recounts Francesca. "And after reading this we no longer felt the fear and confusion that had marked our previous meetings. But that one moment destroyed us. By the time we reached Lancelot's first chance of love, nothing could now part us. In a moment of weakness we openly expressed our clandestine love for one another, throwing ourselves in each others arms". At this moment Francesca's husband returned unexpectedly, and stabbed her and Paolo to death. And after telling this, Francesca's spirit, and that of Paolo, were snatched away in the raging whirlwind. Overwhelmed by the endless suffering, Dante, completely exhausted, falls dead" — Inferno. Poem by Dante. Canto V [2].

The author's programme was also printed in the concert programme for the first performance of the fantasia in Moscow, but not in the published score, which was prefaced only by a few lines and a short quotation from Dante's poem.


In July 1876, Modest Tchaikovsky suggested some subjects for symphonic poems to the composer, which included Francesca da Rimini [3]. Earlier that year Tchaikovsky had considered writing an opera on the subject of Francesca, but abandoned this idea as unworkable [4].

Replying to Modest from Paris on 27 July/8 August 1876, Tchaikovsky wrote: "This evening in my coach I read the 4th Canto [5] of the Inferno, and was inflamed with a desire to write a symphonic poem on Francesca" [6].

In his subsequent correspondence from abroad, Tchaikovsky did not refer again to the composition. After his return to Moscow, the composer worked on his Slavonic March and, it seems, only after this was completed (25 September/7 October) did he set about creating Francesca. No more information has survived concerning the early stages of work on this composition.

On 14/26 October 1876 the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky that he was: "... feverishly composing Francesca" [7], and to Modest Tchaikovsky the same day he reported: "I have only just finished my new work: a fantasia on Francesca da Rimini. I wrote it with love and love seems to have turned out decently,. As to the whirlwind, I could have written something more in line with Doré's picture, but this didn't come out as I wanted. Anyway, a proper judgement is out of the question until it has been orchestrated and performed" [8].

On 18/30 October, Tchaikovsky wrote to Karl Davydov and Eduard Nápravník that the full score would be ready "within two weeks" [9], and asked them to include the new work in a Musical Society concert in place of the dances from the opera Vakula the Smith.

The instrumentation was completed on 5/17 November 1876, according to Tchaikovsky's date on the manuscript score.


The fantasia Francesca da Rimini was performed for the first time with great success in Moscow on 25 February/9 March 1877, at the tenth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. In Saint Petersburg it was performed for the first time on 11/23 March 1878 at the eight concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Eduard Nápravník. News of the successful Saint Petersburg performance of the fantasia was reported by Anatoly Tchaikovsky to the composer, who at that time was living outside Russia [10].

Other notable early performances included:

  • Warsaw, August 1878, conducted by Venyamin Bilz.
  • Berlin, Konzerthaus, 2/14 September 1878, conducted by Venyamin Bilz.
  • New York, Academy of Music, Philharmonic Society concert, 9/21 December 1878, conducted by Adolf Neuendorf.
  • Hamburg, 8/20 November 1879, conducted by Julius Laube.
  • Saint Petersburg, Philharmonic Society concert, 5/17 March 1887, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Moscow, 2nd Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 14/26 November 1887, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Moscow, special Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 15/27 November 1887, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Paris, 17th Châtelet concert, 28 February/11 March 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Berlin, Philharmonic Society concert, 14/26 February 1889, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Pavlovsk, symphony concert, 24 July/5 August 1890, conducted by Julius Laube.
  • Cambridge (England), Guildhall, 31 May/12 June 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Kiev, Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 4/16 December 1893, conducted by Aleksandr Vinogradsky.
  • London, St. James's Hall, 7/19 March 1897, conducted by Charles Villiers Stanford.
  • Vienna, 1st Philharmonic Society subscription concert, 19/31 January 1902, conducted by Felix Weingartner.

Critical Reception

In the first years after composing it, Tchaikovsky thought highly of his new fantasia, but later this changed sharply. In reply to a letter in which Mily Balakirev had called Francesca and The Tempest Tchaikovsky's "apogee" [11], the composer proceeded to give a one-sided critique of both works. In a letter to Balakirev of 12/24 November 1882, he wrote: "Their shortcomings are such that these works do not at all reflect their respective subjects, i.e. the relationship of the music to the programme was not intrinsic, but merely extraneous" [12].

The success of both works repudiates this subjective judgement. Even during the composer's lifetime, Francesca da Rimini and The Tempest became two of the most celebrated pieces of Russian classical music. When approaching Tchaikovsky with a request to donate the autographs of some of his best works to the public library, Vladimir Stasov wrote: "You are such a prominent Russian composer, that the manuscripts of your finest works should be preserved in their originals in our public collections, alongside those of Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, et al" [13]. In the list of works which Stasov sought for the Public Library was Francesca da Rimini. Tchaikovsky also received the Belyayev prize for the fantasia.


Francesca da Rimini was published by Pyotr Jurgenson. The edition was prepared during the autumn of 1877, and passed by the censor on 28 September/10 October 1877. In October the same year an arrangement for piano duet by Karl Klindworth was issued; in November, its piano arrangement for two hands, and in January and February 1878 respectively the orchestral parts and full score were issued.

The full score was published in volume 24 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1961), edited by Irina Iordan.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score is preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 72) [view].


See: Discography


The fantasia is dedicated to Sergey Taneyev (1856–1915), composer, pianist, and former student of composition in Tchaikovsky's classes at the Moscow Conservatory.

Related Works

See Francesca da Rimini (projected opera).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Probably in an abridged Russian translation of the Inferno by V. Petrov (Saint Petersburg, 1871).
  2. Tchaikovsky mistakenly wrote 'Canto IV'.
  3. Letter from Modest Tchaikovsky to the composer, early/mid July 1876 — Klin House-Museum Archive (a4, No. 5088).
  4. See Letter 445 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 10/22 February 1876, and TH 212.
  5. Tchaikovsky was mistaken—this should read the fifth canto, not the fourth.
  6. Letter 488 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 27 July/8 August 1876.
  7. Letter 504 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 14/26 October 1876.
  8. Letter 505 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 14/26 October 1876.
  9. Letter 507 to Eduard Nápravník and Letter 508 to Karl Davydov, 18/30 October 1876.
  10. See letter from Anatoly Tchaikovsky to the composer, 18/30 March 1878 — Klin House-Museum Archive (a4, No. 4755).
  11. Letter from Mily Balakirev to Tchaikovsky, 28 September/10 October 1882 — Klin House-Museum Archive (a4, No. 161).
  12. Letter 2158 to Mily Balakirev, 12/24 November 1882.
  13. Letter from Vladimir Stasov to Tchaikovsky, 9/21 November 1884 — Klin House-Museum Archive (a7, No. 31).