First Thoughts

Several of Tchaikovsky's compositions, including Romeo and Juliet, his first two symphonies, and his Piano Concerto No. 1, exist in more than one version, and many others underwent less fundamental changes when being prepared for performance or publication. Besides versions of works that were superseded, there are also many compositions and arrangements (especially from the 1860s and 1870s) which have either never been recorded at all, or which can be extremely difficult to find. On this page we provide links to audio files of performances that have been specially created for our site.

Important Note
All sound files are in MP3 format, specially produced for this website using Sibelius Software and Note Performer.
You are welcome to download them for your own personal listening, but they must not be broadcast, sold, performed in public, or reproduced in any other form without seeking permission from us at
info@tchaikovsky-research.net

Symphony No. 1 (TH 24)

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Winter Daydreams", was the first major piece written by Tchaikovsky after his graduation from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in February 1866, and it was subjected to at least two sets of revisions and partial performances before its eventual premiere in Moscow on 3/15 February 1868. Although warmly received at the time, it seems that the symphony was completely neglected for another six years; then, in 1874, Tchaikovsky's principal publisher Pyotr Jurgenson proposed that it should be printed. The composer agreed, but only after he had made made significant revisions, the most drastic of which concerned the first movement, where the original secondary subject was replaced an entirely different new theme. Tchaikovsky also made small cuts in the 2nd and 4th movements, with minor alterations to phrasing, dynamic markings and scoring throughout the work.

No commercial recordings of the symphony are known (although in 2007 the BBC broadcast a studio recording, believed to be the first performance of this version since 1868); however, you can listen to all four movements as they were performed at the premiere in 1868 by clicking on the links below [1]:

  • 1st movement — The theme which Tchaikovsky replaced in 1874 occurs at 2'03 to 3'05, 8'03 to 8'53 and 9'32 to 9'58 minutes into the movement.
- MP3 format (10.7 Mb, 11'26 minutes)
  • 2nd movement — Short repeated passages (5'17 to 5'24 and 6'02 to 6'09) were deleted from the revised version.
- MP3 format (9.5 Mb, 10'11 minutes)
  • 3rd movement — There are only very minor differences in phrasing and dynamic markings from the revised version.
- MP3 format (6.4 Mb, 6'52 minutes)
  • 4th movement — Passages from the finale (2'41 to 3'05 and 9'00 to 10'35) were shortened and re-orchestrated in the revised version.
- MP3 format (11.2 Mb, 11'53 minutes).

Tchaikovsky's metronome marks have been carefully observed in these virtual performances [2].

Symphony No. 2 (TH 25)

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 was subject to even more substantial revisions following its initial composition in 1872. Immediately after the first performance in Moscow on 26 January/7 February 1873, the composer made some small alterations — including lengthening the Scherzo by inserting a repeat of the Trio. Initially the symphony was published only in the composer's arrangement for piano duet, and once again the composer decided to make substantial alterations when it was about to be published in 1879. The last two movements were shortened and the Scherzo completely re-orchestrated, but the greatest changes affected the first movement, which apart from the introduction and coda was completely rewritten. Only the second movement escaped modification.

In 1982 the complete original version of the symphony was recorded for the first (and so far only) time by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Simon (see the discography). A more recent recording of only the first movement was released in 2012, with Mikhail Pletnev conducting the Russian National Orchestra. However, this original version is still widely unknown, even though it was far more ambitious than its better-known successor.

You can listen to all four movements as modified by Tchaikovsky for the symphony's second performance in Moscow on 27 March/8 April 1873 by clicking on the links below [3]:

  • 1st movement — The main body of the opening movement (3'31 to 14'10) was completely rewritten in the revised version, while retaining some elements of the earlier themes.
- MP3 format (15.1Mb, 16'11 minutes)
  • 2nd movement — The original version of this movement has only very minor differences in phrasing and dynamic markings from its successor.
- MP3 format (6.8Mb, 7'14 minutes)
  • 3rd movement — This Scherzo was completely re-orchestrated and shortened in the revised version [4].
- MP3 format (6.0Mb, 6'22 minutes)
  • 4th movement — Based on the Russian folk-song 'The Crane' (Журавель). More than 200 bars (6'40 to 8'33) were cut from the revised version of this finale. The original bass drum and cymbal parts do not survive for this passage, but they have been restored here by analogy with their appearances earlier in the movement.
- MP3 format (10.8Mb, 11'34 minutes)

Symphony No. 3 (TH 26)

While Tchaikovsky's later symphonies escaped significant revisions, one exception is the finale of his Symphony No. 3, which was subjected to cuts, probably between around the time of its first performance in November 1875. In fact these remained undiscovered until 1949, when a critical edition of the score was being prepared.

  • 5th movement — Two of the three cuts in this polonaise finale were small (2'39 to 2'46 and 4'21 to 4'32), but a more substantial section of the movement's second theme was excised from the recapitulation (6'35 to 7'11).
- MP3 format (8.7Mb, 9'19 minutes)

Suite No. 2 (TH 32)

Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 2 (1883) is one of his most playful works — its opening movement is entitled 'Game of sounds' (Jeu de tons). The composer seems to have been persuaded that the last three of the suite's five movements were too long in their original form, and at some point he shortened them by 210, 36 and 90 bars respectively, mostly by cutting repeated material.

  • 3rd movementScherzo burlesque is most notable for its use of four accordions (at 2'07, etc.). Tchaikovsky cut more than two minutes of material at the end of the trio (from 4'23 to 6'40, of which everything after 4'58 is an exact repeat of earlier music), and the whole of the original coda (from 7'10), in which the theme of the trio gently subsides to a murmur.
- MP3 format (7.3Mb, 7'50 minutes)
  • 4th movementRêves d'enfant ('Child's dreams') lost over two and a half-minutes of material near the beginning (from 0'43 to 2'57), which largely consisted of varied repetitions of music heard elsewhere in the movement.
- MP3 format (10.1Mb, 10'49 minutes)
  • 5th movement — the Danse baroque ('Wild dance') which concludes the suite also lost around 20% of its original length (from 2'36 to 3'40, of which everything from 2'49 to 3'19 is an exact repeat of earlier music).
- MP3 format (4.4 Mb, 4'42 minutes)

Tchaikovsky's metronome marks have been carefully observed in these virtual performances; the 4th movement in particular is normally played much more slowly than indicated.

Romeo and Juliet (TH 42)

Tchaikovsky's music for Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet exists in three versions, dating from 1869, 1870 and 1880 respectively, and it is the last of these versions which is almost always performed today. Below we compare the music of the first two versions with their much more familiar successor.

First version (1869)

At least four recordings exist of the original 1869 version, the earliest of which was by the London Symphony Orchestra under Geoffrey Simon (1981). However, these are all based on Soviet edition of the score which disregarded many indications in Tchaikovsky's autograph score, which can be viewed through the Tchaikovsky Open World project.

Tchaikovsky was persuaded to write the overture by fellow composer Mily Balakirev, who even provided him with a detailed plan for how the music should unfold. After completing the first version in the autumn of 1869, Tchaikovsky informed him, "In the first place, the overall scheme is yours: an introduction representing the friar; the struggle—allegro, and love—second theme; and secondly, the modulations are yours: the introduction is in E major, the Allegro in B minor, and the second theme in D-flat major".

Balakirev replied that "The [introductory] theme is not at all to my taste. Perhaps when it's worked out it attains some degree of beauty, but when noted down plainly as you've sent it to me, it conveys neither beauty nor strength, and it does not even depict the character of Father Lawrence in the way required. Here there should be a sort of Lisztian chorale in an old Catholic style...".

The original Friar Laurence theme opens the first version of the overture, followed (from 3'10 in our recording) by a brief by a foreshadowing of the lovers' main theme. Tchaikovsky preserved the feud theme and the lovers' music which follows (from 3'55 to 8'23), but with some differences: the autograph manuscript shows that the woodwinds' final response to the strings (4'33) was originally absent, and the lovers' music was accompanied by harp glissandi (from 6'46), which he later crossed out in the score. It is unclear whether Tchaikovsky's extensive cuts in the harp and cymbal parts were made before the premiere, or afterwards when the work was being prepared for publication, but they are included in our specially-prepared recording below.

The original development section (from 8'24) opened with a lengthy fugato for woodwinds and strings, from which only a short passage (from 9'13 to 9'28) was preserved in the later versions. The autograph shows that the short timpani solo (from 10'02 to 10'12) which concludes the development originally ended with just four crotchet notes, but Tchaikovsky realised this was simply too weak, and replaced this with a crescendo drum roll (as in our recording).

The recapitulation of the feud theme and the lovers' music which follows (from 10'12 to 12'02) was also preserved in the later versions, but with slightly different orchestration — for example, the cymbal clashes from 10'26, and the woodwind and brass parts from 11'26. Tchaikovsky discarded almost all of the overture's original ending (from 12'02), except for the chorale-like theme on the woodwinds (from 14'08 to 14'32) which he lengthened and reworked in the later versions.

  • 1st version (1869)
- MP3 format (14.0 Mb, 17'58 minutes)

Second Version (1870)

While staying in Switzerland in the summer of 1870, Tchaikovsky fundamentally revised the overture in accordance with Balakirev's instructions, as he later wrote: "In my opinion the ending is now respectable; the introduction is new; the middle section almost entirely new, and the recapitulation of the second theme (in D major) has been completely reorchestrated".

Although very similar to the definitive third version of the work, made in 1880, the autograph score reveals small differences dynamics, scoring and instrumentation. For example, the hairpin crescendo and "poco più f" markings are missing from the opening statement of Friar Laurence's theme on the woodwinds, and the expected drums and cymbal clashes at 11'19 are also absent, while some of the woodwind parts were doubled in the later version, presumably to help balance the string parts.

Tchaikovsky also told Balakirev that "Perhaps the ending is not entirely what you ordered, but in any case it is better than before", and was the main focus for his revisions in the 1880 version, when the music from 14'22 to 15'38 of the second version was completely discarded. He did, however, retain the section from 16'03 onwards, and inserted music heard earlier in the second version (from 15'38) just before the final chords. The woodwind chorale from 16'42 to 17'25 was reworked from the first version, as noted above.

Balakirev welcomed the new version: "Although the new introduction is much better, I feel strongly that you need to make further revisions to the overture, and not just to wave your hand at it, and hope for the best in your future compositions". Until Tchaikovsky did eventually make his final revisions in the summer of 1880 (when he also changed its title from "overture" to "overture-fantasia"), audiences in Russia, Europe and North America would have become acquainted with Romeo and Juliet in its second version, rather than the one we know so well today.

  • 2nd version (1870)
- MP3 format (16.8 Mb, 15'00 minutes)

The only other live recording of Tchaikovsky's 1870 version of the overture was made by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Baldur Bronnimann, and was broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Radio 3 on 14 February 2007. This performance has never been re-broadcast or made available on disk.

Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem (TH 40)

The overture was written in 1866 to mark the marriage of the heir to the Russian throne (the future Alexander III) to a Danish Princess, but the full score was not published until 1890, when Tchaikovsky took the opportunity to make some changes. He rewrote a short bridge passage (7'04-7'15), made a small cut (10'49-10'51) in the lead up to the final grand statement of the anthem, and wrote a completely new coda (from 12'08). No performances of this version are known.

  • Complete Performance
- MP3 format (12.0 Mb, 12'46 minutes)

Anastasie-valse (TH 119)

The Anastasie-valse is Tchaikovsky's earliest surviving composition, a piano piece written when he was 14 years old during a family holiday, and dedicated to his governess, Anastasia Petrova. It was only published for the first time in 1962, and has been very rarely recorded.

  • Complete Performance
- MP3 format (2.6 Mb, 2'47 minutes)

Adagio in C major (TH 156)

The Adagio in C major was a short piece written while Tchaikovsky was a student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1863 or 1864, written for 4 horns (in different keys).

  • Complete Performance
- MP3 format (1.3 Mb, 1'25 minutes)

Adagio in F major (TH 160)

The Adagio in F major was also written as a student exercise, and it is Tchaikovsky's only composition for wind octet (2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet).

  • Complete Performance
- MP3 format (2.5 Mb, 2'39 minutes)

Gott Erhalte Franz den Kaiser (TH 185)

Tchaikovsky made an orchestral arrangement of the Austrian National Anthem, Gott Erhalte Franz den Kaiser, in 1874, probably in connection with a visit to Russian by the Austrian Emperor in that year. The music is probably now more familiar as the current national anthem of Germany.

  • Complete Performance
- MP3 format (2.7 Mb, 2'24 minutes)

Notes and References

  1. Earlier sound files of the 1st, 2nd and 4th movements of the First Symphony were published on this website in 2006 as part of our "Unknown Tchaikovsky" series. However, the present versions are of much improved sound quality, and have also corrected significant errors in the original Soviet published source material.
  2. Tchaikovsky's metronome marking for the 3rd movement is "♪ = 160", although this only appears in the printed edition of the revised full score, since the opening pages of the Scherzo are missing from the manuscript copy of the original version. At this tempo, the Scherzo would take longer to perform than the preceding Andante, and such a marking also deviates from Tchaikovsky's usual practice of using a dotted note when giving metronome marks at the start of waltz movements in triple time (for example, in the waltzes in the Suite No. 2 and Suite No. 3, although the marking for the waltz in the Symphony No. 5 is "undotted"). The compiler of the present virtual performance has postulated that a rhythmical dot was accidentally omitted from the metronome marking in the published score, and so it is played here "♪. = 160", which is more in keeping with the "Allegro scherzando giocoso" marking; however, a performance using the alternative slower reading can also be heard here: MP3 format (9.6 Mb, 10'16 minutes).
  3. Earlier sound files of the 1st, 3rd and 4th movements were published on this website in 2006 as part of our "Unknown Tchaikovsky" series. However, the present versions are of improved sound quality, and minor errors have also been corrected.
  4. The surviving manuscript sources show that Tchaikovsky rewrote the piccolo and flute parts in the trio's central section (from 1'59 and 4'16) at least once. In this recording we have used the version preserved in the autograph score his piano duet arrangement of the symphony, which was made as late as September 1873, and so presumably reflects his final thoughts on this passage before the symphony was completely revised in 1879.