The most shattering personal crisis of Tchaikovsky’s life — his ill-conceived marriage to a young student in 1877 — coincided with one of the greatest periods of his composing career. Over a mere two years, he poured out a stream of masterpieces, culminating in his Fourth Symphony, a 19th-century Russian music drama to rival the great literary dramas of Pushkin and Tolstoy. In an eruption of purely orchestral sound, Tchaikovsky makes instruments speak with the theatrical vividness of characters in a play or a novel. The result is a flawless work, and at the same time a portrait of a society in ferment and the loneliness of individuals struggling to comprehend historical events that swirl around them. The young Russian knew he had achieved something extraordinary, calling his symphony “better than anything I’ve done so far.”

60 minutes

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Polianichkoconductor
Gerard McBurneycreative director and narrator
Larry Yandoactor

Recorded at Orchestra Hall in January, 2008