Keys to Music podcast: Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony

Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony, written in 1888, is a work which arouses hugely divergent opinions. Many people love it dearly, and the famous horn solo in the second movement is often cited as an example of how to write a beautiful melody. Many others can’t stand it, finding it over-emotional, over-sentimental, and repetitive.

What gives? Tchaikovsky’s fifth is one of the standard works of the repertoire, a core symphony which is played regularly all over the world. But maybe familiarity has bred contempt.

For me, ABC Classic FM’s Graham Abbott, writing this program forced me to confront a work I had avoided for years. I love the fourth and sixth but confess I have for most of my life found the fifth hard to take seriously. During this process I have come to see it afresh and, I’m happy to say, have started to love it again. My time away from it (I haven’t listened to it for more years than I can remember) has helped me grow up and to take its “message” (whatever that is) seriously.

In this program I’ll take you on a guided tour of Tchaikovsky’s fifth, using the 2007 live recording featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Oleg Caetani.


Download the podcast from iTunes here, or on Soundcloud here.

Tchaikovsky (1840–1893), in a painting from the last year of his life