Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony: A Journey from Darkness to Light

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor begins in the shadows. A halting melody emerges in the solo clarinet, shrouded in the gloom of the low strings. It’s a melody built on simple, repeating phrases—something akin to a lamenting Russian folksong. In fact, this theme seems to have developed out of a phrase from Mikhail Glinka’s 1836 tragic opera, A Life for the Tsar, accompanying the words, “turn not into sorrow.” The Fifth Symphony’s introduction …

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