I’ve long ago completely wrapped my arms around Symphony No. 4 in F minor by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Something about this music sends chills each time I hear the music. I’ve several copies on CD that I listen to quite often, especially in my car. Now I’m quite certain that the composer never intended for anyone to listen to his symphonies in the enclosed compartment of a cab, or car or anything of the sort, perhaps never anywhere other than a concert hall. He probably never would have dreamed of such possibilities.
I would listen and when I got to the third movement, as is possible with a stereo system, I would turn up the volume all the way to hear the intricacies (you can’t do that with an actual live symphony). Now this is fraught with some degree of subtle danger, as when that movement ends, it does so gradually and softly, and then the fourth and final movement begins quite abruptly. So if you don’t remember to turn that volume nob back down again, you are blasted with 137 decibels of Tchaikovsky’s grand symphonic version of the Russian folk song: “In the Meadow Stood a Little Birch Tree”. I startled myself on several occasions when I first obtained the CD. And of course, being the practical joker that I am, I played that little trick on others, driving in cars getting decibels with musicians.
137 decibels (dB) is the typical Symphonic music peak volume level. I suspect that listening to this symphony over and over hasn’t been too good for my ears, but I have to say it’s worth it, the power and the energy just get me going and in a great mood every time. There are plenty of other aspects to symphony no. 4 that are also amazing. The second movement is a masterpiece of intricate melodies interwoven with individual instruments spinning webs of glistening intonations set against dramatic pitch.
As Tchaikovsky himself put it: “Thus we see that life is only an everlasting alternation of somber reality and fugitive dreams of happiness.” This was in reference to the first movement, with blaring brasses, and a “syncopated shadow-waltz.” A beautifully hopeful romantic theme builds, and it is taken over again by this so-called ‘fate’ with the again blaring brasses. Fate is slowly and methodically drumming in the background. Themes intermingle. Romantic Dreams dwell, again brasses blare above the din. Who wins Tchaikovsky’s furtive struggle? Surreptitiously or by stealth, it is Fate that wins. But ultimately, for myself, I am the winner, as I deliriously float in a sea of beautiful symphonic music.