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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4, analysis by Gerard Schwarz (part 3)

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Video transcript

- The third movement is a scherzo. In the past, we've seen scherzos, that they're an extension of a minuet. The minuet is a dance in three. The scherzo is in three also. When I say in three, I mean three beats to a bar, so it's one, two, three, one, two, or one, two, three, one. By the time Tchaikovsky writes a scherzo, it doesn't have to be in three or a two or a fourth. He writes this one in two, so this is a scherzo in two. He calls it pizzicato ostinato, which means it's continuously played pizzicato on the strings. When you look at our string section play it, you'll see that no one is holding a bow. They put the bows in the lap, and they play everything with their fingers plucking the string. ("Symphony No. 4" by Tchaikovsky) After that, the section of the street musicians a little bit tipsy comes in with the oboe solo. In a way, the loss of odd accents, the kind of a strange rhythm, it's a unusual kind of melody, and he has the woodwinds play it all by themselves. No brass, no strings, and we have these tipsy street musicians. ("Symphony No. 4" by Tchaikovsky) Eventually, the brass section comes in. Remember I mentioned that Tchaikovsky very often does sections, so he did the strings playing a little pizzicato. Now he does the tipsy street musicians playing in the woodwinds, and at the brass, it does sound like a march. It sounds like a military march in the distance. Why do I say in the distance? He writes pianissimo, very soft. ("Symphony No. 4" by Tchaikovsky) And that street musician's hearing that, say, "Oh, I'm gonna come in anyway. "I'm gonna play a little bit, too," so the clarinet jumps in and plays along. ("Symphony No. 4" by Tchaikovsky) The piccolo jumps in with a kind of bizarre solo. ("Symphony No. 4" by Tchaikovsky) And then all of a sudden, this becomes a conversation between the brass playing their march, the pizzicato strings, the tipsy street musicians, and it leads us back to a whole repeat of the opening section, the pizzicato section the strings played, eventually leading to a conversation between all the elements of the orchestra. Brilliant, brilliantly done, brilliantly written. Short, very, very succinct, and very effective. ("Symphony No. 4" by Tchaikovsky)