Ode to Joy

Tchaikovsky Research
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Tchaikovsky's music to Schiller's hymn Ode to Joy (К радости), for soloists, chorus and orchestra (TH 66 ; ČW 62) [1] was written in November and December 1865 for his graduation examinations at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.


The cantata is scored for solo soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, mixed chorus (SATB), and an orchestra consisting of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in E, F, G), 2 trumpets (in C, E-flat, E), 3 trombones, tuba + 2 timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are six movements:

  1. Andante (C minor, 90 bars)
  2. Allegro non troppo (E major, 149 bars)
  3. Adagio molto (G major, 84 bars)
  4. Allegro (B-flat major, 109 bars)
  5. Andante non troppo (F major, 78 bars)
  6. Allegro giusto (C major, 335 bars)

A complete performance of the cantata lasts approximately 25 to 30 minutes.


The Russian text is from the poem An die Freude (1785) by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), in a translation from the German made in 1843 by Konstantin Aksakov (1817–1860), Vladimir Benediktov (1807–1873), and Mikhail Dmitriyev (1796–1866) [2].


On 12/24 October 1865, the Professors' Council at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory determined that, in order to complete his course, Tchaikovsky should be set the task of writing a cantata for chorus and orchestra on the text of Schiller's Ode to Joy [3].

On 22 October/3 November Tchaikovsky wrote to Aleksandra Davydova, "...my work is entering a very serious phase. In order to finish my conservatory course I have been set a large composition, for which I require quiet, peace, and access to an instrument" [4]. However, at this stage the composer had not even begun to work on the cantata. It might be supposed that the cantata was written during November [5], and in the first half of December, since the first examinations took place on 20 December 1865/1 January 1866 [6].


The cantata was performed on 29 December 1865/10 January 1866 at a public examination for conservatory students before the State Examination Commission and other invited guests, at the Mikhailovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Anton Rubinstein [7]. According to Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer was not present [8]. However, no documents have yet come to light to corroborate this fact, and the minutes of the Examination Commission recorded that all students were in attendance [9].

The first British performance is believed to have taken place on 28 November 1978 at Southwark Cathedral, London, by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, Kensington Choir, and Stoke-on-Trent Bedford Singers, conducted by Leslie Head. The soloists were Valerie Hill (soprano), Elizabeth Stokes (contralto), William Kendal (tenor), and David Wilson-Johnson (bass) [10].


On 15/27 January 1866, Tchaikovsky told Aleksandra Davydova and Lev Davydov: "I wrote my cantata, and those who were supposed to pass judgement upon it were very happy with it" [11].

Perhaps Tchaikovsky had deliberately sought to conceal from his sister the way that his cantata had been received, for it failed to earn the praise both of his friends — except for Herman Laroche (see below), and of leading musical authorities. Thus, the composer's friend Ivan Klimenko observed: "No, the cantata isn't any good: I'd expected far more from Tchaikovsky". Three months later, the critic César Cui, in a survey of recent musical events, recalled the cantata's performance and pronounced a harsh verdict: "The Conservatory composer Mr Tchaikovsky is quite feeble. Granted, his composition (a cantata) was written under the most unfavourable circumstances: as an assignment which had to be ready by a fixed deadline, using a set theme (Schiller's ode An die Freude, which was set to music in the finale of [Beethoven's] Ninth Symphony), and having to comply with the established forms. But all the same, if he did possess any talent, then it would surely have broken through the fetters of the Conservatory at some point" [12]. "When I read this terrible verdict", Tchaikovsky recalled several years later, "I don't know what came over me. My eyes clouded over, my head started spinning, and like a madman I rushed out of the café (where I was reading that newspaper). I was not conscious of what I did or where I ended up. All day long I wandered aimlessly through the city, repeating to myself: I'm useless, I'm a nonentity, nothing good will ever come of me, I have no talent" [13].

Tchaikovsky was optimistic that Anton Rubinstein would perform the cantata at a Russian Musical Society concert, but the composer was disappointed by a letter of 11/23 January 1865 from Herman Laroche. " Rubinstein has asked me to say", he wrote, "that your cantata will not be performed unless you make a number of changes to it. But this is blackmailing you into rewriting the whole score. Is this really fair play? I think this unfavourable opinion is unworthy of your cantata — the same cantata that is the greatest musical event in Russia since [Serov's] Judith, and is immeasurably superior (both in inspiration and craftsmanship) to Rogneda... But to rewrite and rewrite would be terrible". In the same letter, Herman Laroche predicted that Tchaikovsky would become the greatest Russian composer: "Your creative life is barely five years old; but it is mature, classical, and surpasses all that has happened since Glinka ... The standard you have set so far simply towers above the most promising of your contemporaries" [14].


In 1890, Pyotr Jurgenson suggested to Tchaikovsky that the cantata should be published. "I do not want you to print this", the composer replied, "because it is an immature work with no future; moreover, it is set to the text of Schiller's To Joy. Comparisons with Beethoven would be embarrassing" [15].

The cantata was first published in 1960, in volume 27 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Irina Iordan, and with a revised text by Sergey Gorodetsky. The original score and text of the cantata was only published for the first time in 2016 in Series IV, Volume 1 of the Academic Edition of the Complete Works, edited by Tamara Skvirskaya.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score is in the library of the N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory in Saint Petersburg (No. 1745). Two folios from the autograph (comprising bars 62-84 of the third movement, and bars 1-15 of the fourth) are missing; however, these passages were reconstructed from performing materials in the 1930s by Aleksandr Yegorov, and pasted by him into the manuscript score to replace the missing sections.


See: Discography

Related Works

The third movement of the Ode (besides the introduction, four bars of postlude and the concluding chorus a cappella) was used by Tchaikovsky in the first act of the opera The Voyevoda, in the duet for Mariya Vasilyevna and Bastryukov (Andante non troppo section).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Entitled "To Joy" in ČW.
  2. There is some uncertainty as to exactly who were the compilers of the Russian text. Nonetheless, it might be supposed that the translation was specially prepared for Tchaikovsky, since it differs from the version normally used at that time in performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
  3. Minutes of the Professors' Council, 12/24 October 1865 — Saint Petersburg State Historical Archive.
  4. Letter 75 to Aleksandra Davydova, 22 October/3 November 1865.
  5. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 201.
  6. Minutes of the Professors' Council, 20 December 1865/1 January 1866 — Saint Petersburg State Historical Archive.
  7. According to recent research by Yelena Polotskaya, Tchaikovsky conducted two private rehearsals of the cantata himself on 17/29 December 1865, and it has also been suggested that he, rather than Anton Rubinstein, may have conducted the first public performance at the examination ceremony twelve days later. See П. И. Чайковский и становление композиторского образования в России (2009) and P. I. Čajkovskij und der Großfürst Konstantin Nikolaevič Romanov. Zur Geschichte einer Wechselbeziehung (2015), p. 7 (note 17).
  8. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 203.
  9. Saint Petersburg State Historical Archive.
  10. We are most grateful to Mr Edward Johnson for providing details of this performance.
  11. Letter 80 to Aleksandra and Lev Davydov, 15/27 January 1866.
  12. Saint Petersburg Gazette (Санкт Петербургские ведомости), 24 March 1866; also quoted in: Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 188.
  13. From the memoirs of Alina Bryullova, the manuscript of which is kept at the Klin House-Museum Archive — note based on that by Vladimir Zhdanov in П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 667.
  14. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 203–205 (original in French).
  15. Letter 4163 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 2/14 July 1890.