Symphony No. 2

Tchaikovsky Research
Jump to: navigation, search

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17 (TH 25 ; ČW 22) was composed and orchestrated between June and November 1872 (with minor alterations in February or March 1873), and extensively revised in December 1879 and January 1880.

The work's popular (but unofficial) designation as the Little-Russian Symphony (Малороссиская симфония) appears to have been coined by the critic Nikolay Kashkin, on the basis that it included several folk-tunes from the Ukraine region, which was then colloquially known as “Little Russia” [1].


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


There are four movements:

Revised version (1879-80):
I. Andante sostenuto–Allegro vivo (C minor, 368 bars)
II. Andantino marziale quasi Moderato (E-flat major, 179 bars)
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto vivace (C minor, 482 bars)
IV. Finale. Moderato assai—Allegro vivo (C major, 847 bars).
Original version (1872-73):
I. Andante sostenuto–Allegro comodo (C minor, 486 bars) [2]
II. Andante marciale quasi Moderato (E-flat major, 179 bars)
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto vivace (C minor, 481 bars)
IV. Finale. Moderato assai—Allegro vivo (C major, 993 bars).

The revised version of the symphony lasts approximately 30 to 35 minutes in performance. The original version is around five minutes longer.


Original Version (1872-73)

Click here to listen to the original version

None of Tchaikovsky's surviving letters refer to his intention to compose his Second Symphony, nor are there any surviving drafts or sketches. According to Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer set about composition in June 1872 at Kamenka [3]. Tchaikovsky left Moscow for Kamenka on 31 May/12 June, and stayed there until 2/14 July. From 6/18–10/22 July he stayed at Nizy, and on 20 July/1 August he arrived at Usovo, where he remained until 14/26 August [4]. At Usovo, Tchaikovsky resumed work on the Symphony and finished the rough sketches [5].

The orchestration of the Symphony was apparently begun in September 1872 while the composer was in Moscow [6].

The first references to the Symphony begin to appear in Tchaikovsky's letters from November 1872. On 2/14 November, he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "My conscience is tormenting me for not writing to you—but what can I do when the symphony, which I'm finishing off, has engrossed me so deeply that I'm not able to do anything else. The writing of this work of genius (as Nikolay Dmitryevich Kondratyev calls my symphony) is nearing its end, and as soon as the parts are ready it will be performed. I think this is my best creation, in terms of perfection of form—a quality which I've hitherto failed to achieve" [7].

On 15/27 November in a letter to Ivan Klimenko, Tchaikovsky reported that he had been "frantically busy with the instrumentation of my new symphony, which I am already finishing and copying out...". In the same letter he gave his opinion of the new work: "... I don't think it would be proper for me to start boasting about how pleased I am with it" [8].

On 22 November/4 December 1872, the composer wrote to Ilya Tchaikovsky: "I've been slaving over my new symphony, which is now, thank God, finished... Having finished the symphony, I'm now resting" [9].

Following the first performance on 26 January/7 February 1873, Tchaikovsky made some alterations to the Symphony, in which form it was heard in another concert on 27 March/8 April the same year (see below).

Revised Version (1879-80)

In 1879 Tchaikovsky's thoughts turned to a more fundamental revision of his old work: "Earlier I went through the whole of my Second Symphony, to which I want to make some fundamental changes", he wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson from Parison 19 November/1 December 1879 [10]. He reported his intentions at length to Nadezhda von Meck: "I am engaged in reviewing the symphony, and have found parts of it to be so poor that I have made up my mind to rewrite the first and third movements, to alter the second, and just to shorten the last. And so if all goes well in Rome, I should turn this immature and mediocre symphony into a good one" [11].

Tchaikovsky began this process on 18/30 December, while in Rome, and on the same day: "Succeeded in writing in rough almost half of the first movement" [12].

By 21 December 1879/2 January 1880 the rough sketches had been completed, and only the copying out remained [13].

Writing to Sergey Taneyev, Tchaikovsky set forth a detailed account of all his changes: "The first movement I have written afresh, except for the introduction and coda, which remain as before. The first theme of the Allegro is different, but the previous first theme has been turned into the second. This movement is now more compact, shorter and not so difficult [14]. If anything deserves the epithet impossible, then it's this first movement in its original form. My God, it's so difficult, noisy, disjointed and confused! The Andante is left unchanged [15]. The Scherzo is radically altered [16]. The Finale has received a huge cut [17], that is to say, after the big pedal point before the recapitulation of the first theme at the end of the development, I have jumped straight to the second [theme] ... All this is almost completely ready" [18].


"When I was in Petersburg I played the finale one evening at Rimsky-Korsakov's, and the whole company almost tore me to pieces with rapture, and Mrs Korsakova begged me in tears to let her arrange it for four hands", Tchaikovsky proudly told his brother Modest in February 1873 [19].

When his publisher, Vasily Bessel, raised the question of arranging the Symphony for piano duet, Tchaikovsky replied: "Regarding the symphony, I believe it would be best if Mrs Korsakova took it upon herself to make the arrangement. With the exception of Laroche, I cannot think of anyone else who could do this well, apart from me"—the composer wrote to Bessel on 21 April/3 May 1873—"I dislike this task, but in extreme circumstances I would do it myself, so long as you don't want me to finish it all by the summer" [20]. However, due to ill health, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova withdrew, and Tchaikovsky made the arrangement himself.

On 16/28 May 1873, the composer told Bessel that he was working on the arrangement of the first movement [21]. On 25 May/6 June, he sent this arrangement to Bessel. In an accompanying letter, he asked that Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova should review it and, if necessary, make corrections. Burdened by work on the arrangement, Tchaikovsky asked Bessel to entrust the remaining movements to Nikolay Hubert [22]. On 25 May/6 June, Tchaikovsky left Moscow, and did not return until late August/early September. On 3/15 September he told Bessel: "I received the symphony, and immediately started work on the arrangement, which I shall be forwarding to you soon" [23].

After revising the Symphony at the end of 1879, In a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 4/16 January 1880, Tchaikovsky told Pyotr Jurgenson that he had made a piano duet arrangement of the new version. In the same letter he said: "Now I can say, hand on heart, that the symphony is a good work" [24].


The first performance of the Symphony No. 2 was scheduled for 11/23 January 1873 [25]. Because of the death on 9/21 January of the patron of the Russian Musical Society, the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, the symphony concert was postponed, and the Second Symphony was performed for the first time in Moscow at the seventh Russian Musical Society concert on 26 January/7 February 1873, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky shared his impressions of the concert with his father: "My symphony was performed here last week with great success; there were many calls for me and bursts of applause. The success was so great that it will be played again at the tenth symphony concert, for which they are already taking subscriptions to present me with a gift. Moreover, the Musical Society gave me 300 silver roubles in royalties for performing the symphony" [26].

To Modest Tchaikovsky the composer wrote: "Regarding my symphony, you probably know from the papers; it would be boasting to say that it had great success, and in particular The Crane [the main theme of the finale] had flattering reviews. The credit for its success I do not ascribe to myself, but to the true composer of the work — Pyotr Gerasimovich [27], who all the time I was composing and playing through The Crane, constantly came up to me and hummed: [28].

0289 ex1.jpg

In a letter to Vladimir Stasov of 27 January/8 February 1873, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Yesterday, at last, my symphony was performed, and had great success, so great that Rubinstein wants to perform it once more, owing to public demand. To tell the truth, I am not particularly satisfied with the first three movements, but The Crane itself has not come out too badly... I want to make some changes to the orchestral detail" [29]. Later he wrote to Vasily Bessel: "I'm now making a few minor adjustments to it" [30].

The Second Symphony was heard in its new form at the tenth concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow on 27 March/8 April 1873, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein, "still with great success", according to Modest Tchaikovsky. The changes made to the orchestration of the Symphony were "intended to enhance it. The author was applauded for some time after each movement, and at the end was presented with a laurel wreath and a silver tankard" [31].

The Saint Petersburg première took place at the first Russian Musical Society concert on 23 February/6 March 1874, conducted by Eduard Nápravník. The Symphony No. 2 was also performed in Pavlovsk on 16/28 July 1874, conducted by Venyamin Bilz, and in Hanover on 8/20 May 1877.

Following its more extensive revisions in December 1879 and January 1880, the reworked Second Symphony was performed on 31 January/12 February 1881 at the tenth RMS concert in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Eduard Nápravník, to great acclaim [32]. In Moscow, the first performance of the Symphony in its new version took place on 21 November/3 December 1881 at the fourth RMS symphony concert, conducted by Karl Zike [33]. Other notable early performances included:

  • New York, Steinway Hall, Symphony Society concert, 25 November/7 December 1883, conducted by Leopold Damrosch
  • Kiev, 1st Russian Musical Society concert, 16/28 December 1885, conducted by Josef Přibík
  • Kharkov, Russian Musical Society concert, 14/26 March 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Bournemouth, Winter Gardens, 20 September/2 October 1899, conducted by Dan Godfrey
  • London, Queen's Hall, 21 August/3 September 1902, conducted by Henry Wood

After Tchaikovsky's death the original version of the Symphony was reconstructed by Ivan Shorning from the surviving orchestral parts, and it was performed in this form at a Russian Musical Society concert in Moscow on 6/18 January 1896 [34]. The conductor on this occasion was Sergey Taneyev, who much preferred the earlier version:

I've been looking over the two scores—the new, printed by Bessel, and the former, compiled from the orchestral parts. My God, what a difference! How good the former Allegro is, despite some imperfections—rambling modulations which it would be better off without, but a beautiful first theme, and a melodious, graceful second. How weak by comparison is this new allegro! A poor first theme comprising many repetitions of a three-note motif: an even less interesting second theme worked in as counter-melody to part of the original first theme; a little bit of the original allegro artificially stuck into the new one in order to preserve fragments of the original development section; all this is manufactured without any definite scheme... The finale, with the exception of one large cut, remains in its earlier form [35].


Vasily Bessel in Saint Petersburg made an offer to print the Symphony for Tchaikovsky, which the composer accepted, and the composer's arrangement for piano duet was published by Bessel in November 1873. In October, Tchaikovsky corrected the proofs, and on 28 November/10 December he wrote to Bessel: "I have received the symphony; it is printed very well—apart from a few misprints; it's a pity you had to do it in such a rush" [36].

However, Bessel was not in such a hurry to print the full score. In 1875 Tchaikovsky asked him: "Do you intend to print the full score of my Second Symphony?... I should be offended if you do not do this" [37]. However, the score was still not printed.

After revising the work some years later, Tchaikovsky was grateful for this delay. He wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I gave it in 1872 to Bessel on condition that he printed the full score of the symphony. Over the course of seven years he has deceived me, always claiming that the full score would soon be ready, although it had not even been engraved. I was very angry—but in fact his dishonesty had done me a good turn!" [38]. In another letter he told her: "How thankful I am that for many years my publisher Bessel evaded publishing the full score. If he had done so, it would have been impossible to reprint it, and my poor symphony would have been left in its primitive form" [39].

In 1881 the revised full score of the Second Symphony was finally published by Bessel, together with the parts and the revised piano duet arrangement [40].

The full score and Tchaikovsky's piano duet arrangement of the Symphony, were published in volumes 15Б (1954) and volume 47 (1956) respectively of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Semyon Bogatyrov. Both the original and the revised versions of the scores are included.


The full score of the original version of the Symphony was deliberately destroyed by Tchaikovsky in 1880, as he informed Eduard Nápravník in September 1880: "The Second Symphony can only be performed in its new form, as I have destroyed the old score" [41]. He also told Pyotr Jurgenson that he had “burned the old score, and if Bessel is pig-headed then he will get neither the old nor the new [version]. If there's any dispute, I don't think he would take it into his head to reconstruct the destroyed full score from the parts, which are kept in the library of the [Russian] Musical Society” [42].

The whereabouts of the autograph full score and the composer's piano duet arrangement of the revised version are unknown. However, Tchaikovsky's arrangement of the Symphony's first version for piano duet is preserved in the Glinka National Museum Consortium of Musical Culture in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 56) [view].


See: Symphony No. 2: Recordings


The Second Symphony is dedicated to the Moscow section of the Russian Musical Society, who awarded 300 roubles to Tchaikovsky for its first performance.

Related Works

The opening theme of the Symphony's first movement is a variant of the Ukrainian folk-tune 'Down by Mother Volga' (Вниз по матушке по Волге) [43]. Tchaikovsky also harmonized this tune in May 1872 as No. 17 in Set 1 of Mariya Mamontova's Collection of Children's Songs on Russian and Ukrainian Tunes.

According to Modest Tchaikovsky and Nikolay Kashkin the main theme of the second movement was based on music for the wedding procession of Huldbrand and Berthalda from Act III of Tchaikovsky's 1869 opera Undina [44]. The central section of this movement is the Russian song 'Keep on Spinning, My Spinner' (Пряди, моя пряха).

The main theme of the Finale is the Ukrainian folk-song 'The Crane' (Та внадыся журавель), although it differs slightly the version which Tchaikovsky harmonised in May 1872 as No. 18 in Set 1 of Mariya Mamontova's Children's Songs on Russian and Ukrainian Tunes. The same tune was also used in the Scherzo of the unfinished Symphony in E-flat major (1892).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. See Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 94.
  2. In Tchaikovsky's piano duet arrangement, the main section of this movement is marked 'Allegro' instead of 'Allegro comodo'.
  3. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 379.
  4. See Letter 270 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 17/29–18/30 July 1872; Letter 269 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 16/28 July 1872; Letter 1177 to Vladimir Shilovsky, 10/22 May 1879.
  5. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 392.
  6. See letters 273 and 274 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 2/14 September and 4/16 September 1872.
  7. Letter 275 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 2/14 November 1872.
  8. Letter 276 to Ivan Klimenko, 15/27 November 1872.
  9. Letter 277 to Ilya Tchaikovsky, 22 November/4 December 1872.
  10. Letter 1345 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 19 November/1 December 1879.
  11. Letter 1366 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15 December 1879.
  12. Letter 1381 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 December–18/30 December 1879.
  13. Letter 1386 to Vasily Bessel, 21 December 1879/2 January 1880.
  14. The second version of the first movement is 119 bars shorter than its predecessor, with a new first subject in the Allegro vivo, and a second which combined elements of both themes from the original Allegro comodo. Only bars 1–52, 158–183 and 303–370 of this movement. were preserved from the 1872 version, with variations in scoring, phrasing and dynamic markings.
  15. In fact the tempo marking of this movement was altered from 'Andante' to 'Andantino'.
  16. The changes mostly involved alterations to the instrumentation, and variations in repeated sections.
  17. In the new version of the finale, 147 bars were cut after bar 508, representing the entire recapitulation of the first subject.
  18. Letter 1396 to Sergey Taneyev, 4/16 January 1880; see also Letter 1386 to Vasily Bessel, 21 December 1879/2 January 1880, and Letter 1397 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 4/16 January 1880.
  19. Letter 289 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 13/25 February 1873.
  20. Letter 299 to Vasily Bessel, 21 April/3 May 1873.
  21. Letter 308 to Vasily Bessel, 16/28 May 1873.
  22. See Letter 312 to Vasily Bessel, 24 May/5 June 1873.
  23. Letter 317 to Vasily Bessel, 3/15 September 1873.
  24. Letter 1397 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 4/16 January 1880.
  25. See Letter 285 to Aleksandra Davydova, 9/21 January 1873.
  26. Letter 288 to Ilya Tchaikovsky, 5/17 February 1873.
  27. Pyotr Gerasimovich Kozidub, the old steward at the Davydovs' estate at Kamenka.
  28. Letter 289 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 13/25 February 1873.
  29. Letter 287 to Vladimir Stasov, 27 January/8 February 1873.
  30. Letter 290 to Vasily Bessel, 21 February/5 March 1873.
  31. Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 401.
  32. See Letter 1671 to Nadezhda von Meck, 27 January/8 February–1/13 February 1881. In many sources Karl Zike is erroneously credited as the conductor on this occasion; however, see
  33. See letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky of 21 November/3 December 1881 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  34. In the late 1940s Professor Semyon Bogatyryov rediscovered Shorning's reconstruction, which appears to have been forgotten, in the library of the Moscow Conservatory. This version of the Symphony was heard again for the first time in many years on 21 April 1950, by a student symphony orchestra, conducted by Professor Mikhail Terian, in the Grand Hall of the Moscow State Conservatory.
  35. Letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest Tchaikovsky, 15/27 December 1898 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  36. Letter 326 to Vasily Bessel, 28 November/10 December 1873.
  37. Letter 396 to Vasily Bessel, 22 March/3 April 1875.
  38. Letter 1366 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15 December 1879.
  39. Letter 1381 to Nadezhda von Meck, 18/30 December 1879.
  40. See Letter 3662 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 7/19 September 1888.
  41. Letter 1586 to Eduard Nápravník, 12/24 September 1880.
  42. Letter 1404 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 11/23 January 1880. In fact such a reconstruction was made in the late 1890s after Tchaikovsky's death, by Ivan Shorning, librarian at the Moscow Conservatory, from the orchestral parts held at the conservatory. Shorning's manuscript of his reconstruction is preserved in the conservatory's library (No. Б I 1867).
  43. Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 109.
  44. See Modest Tchaikovsky, Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 416, and Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 87.