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Symphony after Byron's Manfred. Op. 58

Pytor Il'yich Tchaikovsky
(1840-93)



1. Manfred is wandering about in the Alps.
2. The Spirit of the Alps appears.
3. Pastorale.
4. The Underground Palace of Arimanes.

"Manfred," described as "a symphony in four scenes," was written in 1884. Its scenes are based upon Byron’s "Manfred" but in the dénouement the composer’s hero evidently is reconciled to heaven and does not die rebellious. The first movement opens with a theme which dominates the whole symphony, given out by bassoons and bass clarinet, and typical of Manfred’s wretchedness and anguish of soul. The second mournful phrase, bassoons, horns, oboe, and clarinets, represents his appeal for forgetfulness. Then ensue sinister, foreboding passages, broken figures, and weird effects descriptive of his futile incantations and interwoven with them the mournful love subject, recalling the lost Astarte.





The second movement, which may stand for the scherzo, is almost entirely devoted to Manfred’s invocation of the Spirit of the Alps, and is a most charming piece of nature painting in music. The music vividly paints the rush of the water over the rocks, the reflection of the sunlight, the appearance of the rainbow, and at last the vision of the Spirit, singing her fascinating song, first violins with harp accompaniment. The pastoral movement which follows is equally restful and beautiful, but amid its quiet harmonies is heard the gloomy motive which represents Manfred as well as his motive of longing for forgetfulness.

The second and third scenes are gratefully restful after the gloom of the first and fourth scenes. The opening theme of the final scene suggests Manfred’s invocation. Suddenly the shrill trills of the strings and woodwinds and the weird tones of the brasses and cymbals mark the beginning of the Spirit’s orgy in which Manfred is a participant. The orgy becomes a veritable delirium, and after its close the motives of invocation and despair as well as of Astrarte follow each other and at last are united with impressive power. A reference is made to the "Dies Irae" with organ accompaniment. Manfred’s death follows after a powerful climax.





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