Symphony in E-flat major

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Symphony in E-flat major (TH 238 ; ČW 443), also known (inaccurately) as his Symphony No. 7, or with the subtitle Life (Жизнь), was abandoned in November 1892 with only part of the first movement having been fully completed, and the remainder left in sketch form.

In 1893, Tchaikovsky adapted three of the movements for piano and orchestra as the Piano Concerto No. 3 and the Andante and Finale, while the remaining movement was arranged for solo piano as Scherzo-Fantasie (No. 10 of the Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72).

In the 1950s, the symphony was reconstructed from the manuscript sources and completed by the Soviet musicologist Semyon Bogatyrev.


Bogatyrev's reconstruction is scored for an orchestral complement of piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (F), 2 trumpets (B-flat), 3 trombones, tuba + timpani, triangle, side drum, cymbals, bass drum + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are four movements, lasting together around 40 minutes in performance:

  1. Allegro brillante (E-flat major, 405 bars)
  2. Andante (B-flat major, 204 bars)
  3. Scherzo. Vivace assai (E-flat minor, 328 bars) [1]
  4. Finale. Allegro maestoso (E-flat major, 321 bars)


In 1889, a year after completing his Symphony No. 5, Tchaikovsky wrote about his idea for its successor to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich on 29 October/10 November 1889: "I want terribly to write a somewhat grandiose symphony, which would crown my artistic career... For some time I have carried in my head an outline plan for such a symphony... I hope that I shall not die without carrying out this intention" [2].

However, the earliest known sketches for the symphony were made only in 1891, in one of Tchaikovsky's notebooks, and dating from the time of his tour of America. On the outward stage of his journey he noted on the cover of the notebook the date: "Ruan (Rouen) 12 Avril/31 Mars 91" [3]. In this notebook, besides sketches in E-flat major relating directly to the Symphony in E-flat major, are a number of other sketches and a programme note for the symphony, which suggest that the composer was initially undecided about his programme and the music. The first theme he noted was in E minor [4]:


The following sketch was in G major. Above it is the note: "Motif for the finale after Why? At first there is no reply, but then there is the triumphal":


Later there are more themes in E minor and E-flat major.

During his return voyage from America, on 10/22 May, Tchaikovsky noted in his diary: "I walk around the lower deck, work and read. By work, I mean sketches for a future symphony" [5]. On that same day, in a copybook containing sketches for the ballet The Nutcracker and the opera Iolanta, Tchaikovsky sketched a theme in in E-flat minor, dated "22(10) May 91 at sea". The page containing this sketch was detached by the author from its copybook, together with two other pages which contained sketches and an outline programme for a symphony, entitled "Life" (Жизнь). On the first of these pages is the note:

The ultimate essence of the symphony is Life. First movement—all passion, confidence, thirst for life. Must be short (finale death—result of collapse). Second movement—love; the third—disappointment; the fourth ends dying away (also short)"

On another page is a note of the theme of the first movement [6]:


A later sketch is found in a second copy-book with sketches for the opera Iolanta, on which Tchaikovsky worked in June 1891. It has the heading: "For the finale of the symphony in E-flat major". This is the first note establishing the key of the future symphony. This sketch contains two themes: the first in E-flat major, the second in G major. Apart from these, there is also the opening of a second theme in the key of E-flat major—"for the end of the finale".

Undoubtedly work on composing the opera and the ballet prevented the composer from making a start on the symphony. The first references to his work are encountered in Tchaikovsky's correspondence with Aleksandr Ziloti. It appears that Tchaikovsky originally intended to follow his idea of a programme. On 6/18 April 1892, he wrote to Ziloti from Moscow: "... I have even had the idea for a new large symphony, i.e. a symphony with a secret programme. I will spend the whole of April here, May at Klin, and June at Vichy" [7].

The next reference to work on the symphony is found in a letter of 20 May/1 June 1892 to Vladimir Nápravník: "I have lately been immersed in correcting proofs and partly composing a symphony" [8]. On the same day we read in a letter to Nikolay Konradi: " I have... begun to compose a symphony" [9].

By 27 May/8 June [10], the first movement and finale of the new symphony in E-flat major had been composed, as Tchaikovsky reported in a letter to Eduard Nápravník: "After all I told you, in around a month at Klin I drafted two movements of a symphony" [11].

Tchaikovsky originally intended to complete the symphony in July or August 1892: "I need to finish my symphony, for which I have set aside July and part of August" [12]. "I want to finish the symphony at Klin and in August to join you in the country" [13]. But this aim was not accomplished. On 13/25 July, the composer wrote from Klin to Sergey Taneyev: "It looks as though I shall have to spend the next couple of months exclusively on correcting proofs [14], simplifying the arrangement of the ballet, etc. Being unable to write is so frustrating and annoying. In May while travelling abroad, I made sketches for the first movement and finale of a symphony. Abroad I managed to do a little, but now nothing at all" [15]. Tchaikovsky reported the same to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov in a letter of 16/28 July 1892[16], and to Modest Tchaikovsky on 17/29 July: "I have decided not to proceed with the symphony, because I have so much work to do on the proofs" [17].

In response to a request to conduct a concert, Tchaikovsky wrote on 9/21 August to Pavel Peterssen: "Of course I will agree to conduct for you, but would it not be better at the end of the season? The fact is that I will have a new symphony, which is almost written already, but the instrumentation will not be ready before Christmas, because I am now immersed in proofs of the full scores of my opera and ballet, as well as their arrangements" [18]. The composer also wrote about the prospects for scoring and performing the symphony to Ilya Slatin on 7/19 October 1892 [19].

At around this time, Tchaikovsky returned to work on the symphony. On 12/24 October he wrote from Klin to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I'm now concentrating on the symphony. Soon the draft will be finished" [20].

By 23 October/4 November the rough sketches had been completed. "Returning home, I set about the symphony. It is finished in rough, and I have begun the orchestration. How it will turn out, I really don't know... In December I'm planning to orchestrate the symphony..." [21].

The evidence of the surviving manuscript shows that by 26 October/7 November (the day of his arrival in Saint Petersburg) the first movement had been orchestrated up to start of the recapitulation.

On 10/22 December, before leaving for Berlin, Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother Anatoly: "Now my itinerary is as follows: the day after tomorrow (the 12th), I will depart for Berlin. In Berlin I will decide where to take a holiday (in all probability, Nice). Then on 29th Dec (10th Jan) I will be in Brussels, and from there on 15th (3rd) I will travel to Paris for 3 days, then on to Montbéliard to see M-elle Fanny, and around 10th (22nd) January I should be in Odessa, where I'm conducting one or two concerts. At the end of April I'll be in Petersburg. After this I shall settle down for a long stay at Klin, but without fail I shall come to see you at Nizhny before then" [22].

This letter contains no reference to his earlier plans to orchestrate and perform the new symphony, but on 16/28 December, in a letter to Vladimir Davydov, Tchaikovsky declared his intention to destroy it: "These past few days, I have given myself over up to important considerations that are fraught with consequences. I have reviewed carefully and, you might say, objectively, my new symphony, which fortunately I didn't manage to orchestrate and bring out. The impression it makes is not at all flattering. i.e. the symphony was written merely for the sake of having something to write—there's nothing at all interesting or appealing in it. I have decided to throw it away and forget about it. This decision is irrevocable and I'm glad that I have made it" [23]. Tchaikovsky wrote more about his reasons for rejecting the symphony in a letter to Vladimir Davydov of 11/23 February, while he was working on his Symphony No. 6: "You know I destroyed a symphony I had been composing and only partly orchestrated in the autumn. And it was a good job too, because it had little of merit—empty playing with sounds, without genuine inspiration" [24].

However. Tchaikovsky did not destroy the sketches for the symphony, and subsequently used them in the Piano Concerto No. 3, and also for the piano piece Scherzo-Fantaisie (No. 10 of the Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72).


After Tchaikovsky's death, Mitrofan Belyayev published the Andante and Finale, and considered publishing this composition as an orchestral work or movements from an unfinished symphony. However, such a publication did not materialize.

The idea of completely restoring the Symphony in E-flat major from the surviving manuscripts was proposed by the academic Boris Asafyev, but he did not succeed in realizing this concept before his death in 1949. Between 1951 and 1957, Professor Semyon Bogatyrev was able to reconstruct the whole of the Symphony in E-flat major, working from the surviving manuscripts.


Bogatyrev's reconstruction was performed for the first time on 7 February 1957 in Moscow, with the Moscow Region Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Terian.

In New York the symphony was first performed at Carnegie Hall on 27 February 1962 by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy.


The full score of the symphony, as reconstructed by Semyon Bogatyrev, was published by Muzgiz in 1961.


Tchaikovsky's unfinished sketches for the symphony are preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive.


See: Discography

Related Works

See Piano Concerto No. 3, Andante and Finale, and Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72

The main theme of the trio in the Scherzo is the Ukrainian folksong 'The Crane' (Журавель), which Tchaikovsky also used in the finale of his Symphony No. 2, and another variant appears as No. 18 from Set 1 of Mariya Mamontova's collection of Children's Songs on Russian and Ukrainian Tunes.

Notes and References

  1. Although the editors of ČW note that "There is no evidence that these drafts [of the Scherzo] were intended for the symphony in E flat" (p. 781), in the preface to his reconstructed score (Moscow, 1961) Semyon Bogatyrev sets out the evidence that Tchaikovsky intended this to be the third movement of the symphony.
  2. Letter 3966 to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, 29 October/10 November 1889.
  3. Klin House-Museum Archive. Tchaikovsky left Rouen directly for the USA on 5/17 April 1891.
  4. «Мотив. Зачем? Зачем? Для чего» = "Motif. Why? Why? What for". «Начато и основная мысль все симфонии» = "Opening and fundamental idea for the whole symphony".
  5. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), p. 292.
  6. «Жизнь» = "Life". «1) Юность» = "1) Youth". «Препятствия! Вздор!» = "Obstacles! Nonsense". «Вперед» = "Onwards".
  7. Letter 4656 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 6/18 April 1892.
  8. Letter 4694 to Vladimir Nápravník, 20 May/1 June 1892.
  9. Letter 4692 to Nikolay Konradi, 20 May/1 June 1892.
  10. i.e. the day Tchaikovsky left for Saint Petersburg; see Letter 4699 to Yuly Konyus, 26 May/7 June 1892.
  11. Letter 4709 to Eduard Nápravník, 18/30 June 1892. See also Letter 4724 to Sergey Taneyev, 13/25 July 1892.
  12. Letter 4716 to Anna Merkling, 28 June/10 July 1892.
  13. Letter 4717 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 29 June/11 July 1892.
  14. i.e. proofs of the opera Iolanta and the ballet The Nutcracker.
  15. Letter 4724 to Sergey Taneyev, 13/25 July 1892.
  16. Letter 4729 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 16/28 July 1892.
  17. Letter 4734 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 17/29 July 1892. See also Letter 4735 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 17/29 July 1892, and Letter 4746 to Sergey Taneyev, 3/15 August 1892.
  18. Letter 4749 to Pavel Peterssen, 9/21 August 1892.
  19. Letter 4780 to Ilya Slatin, 7/19 October 1892.
  20. Letter 4784 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 12/24 October 1892.
  21. Letter 4789 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 23 October/4 November 1892.
  22. Letter 4820 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 10/22 December 1892.
  23. Letter 4829 to Vladimir Davydov, 16/28 December 1892.
  24. Letter 4865 to Vladimir Davydov, 11/23 February 1893.