For Music of the Week, we are offering a much neglected masterpiece by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Based on Shakespeare’s drama The Tempest, this orchestral fantasy, also sometimes regarded as an overture, was created in 1873 within only 10 days adopting a compositional structure suggested by Vladimir Stasov. Stasov was a very influential art historian and critic and one of the great mentors of Russian Romantic composers such as Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. The young Tchaikovsky was also under his tutelage and followed some of Stasov’s programs of composition.
It was Stasov who gave Tchaikovsky the idea to start the tempest suddenly, in full force, rather than building by degrees as most other symphonies or operas would have musically portrayed a “storm.” This tempest is not a natural occurrence but evoked and manifested at the command of a supernatural power that follows different laws.
Regarded by many as the most beautiful part of this symphonic poem, however, is the love scene between Miranda and Fernando—Miranda’s theme—one of the most sensuous of Tchaikovsky’s creations and on a par with his Romeo and Juliet.
In the original program, the score is structured as follows:
The Sea. The magician Prospero commands his spirit Ariel to create a storm. Fernando’s boat is shipwrecked. The enchanted island. The first tender stirrings of love between Ferdinand and Miranda. Ariel and Caliban. The lovers give themselves into triumphant love and passion. Prospero renounces his magical powers and leaves the island. The Sea.