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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G, Op. 55 in 1884, writing it concurrently with his Concert Fantasia in G, Op. 56, for piano and orchestra. The originally intended opening movement of the suite, Contrastes, instead became the closing movement of the fantasia. Both works were also intended initially as more mainstream compositions than they became; the fantasia was intended as a piano concerto, while the suite was conceived as a symphony.[citation needed]

The suite's first performance was in Saint PetersburgRussia on January 24, 1885, under the direction of Hans von Bülow. It was dedicated to the conductor Max Erdmannsdörfer, who gave the Moscow premiere a few days later, and who had conducted the premieres of the first two suites.



The suite is divided into four movements, the fourth a theme and variations longer than the other three movements combined:

I) Élégie (Andantino molto cantabile, G major)

Wiley calls this movement "resolutely melodic." A change from B to B–flat "produces tension in the misalignment of theme and key," he comments. The first theme group returns in the key of the second, then to a bridge. He then returns to the home key and reprises the second theme group in the key of the first and follows it with a lengthy epilogue.[1]

II) Valse mélancolique (Allegro moderato, E minor)

Wiley contends that while Tchaikovsky referred to this movement as the "obligatory waltz number," it is not typical of his work in this vein. The somber character of the opening theme is exceptional and the syncopated second subject much like that in the scherzo. Wiley adds, "The unusual periodicity in long, uneven spans is acharacteristic, as is the formal pattern, a tripratite reprise that also mimics the scherzo. The unwaltz–like result, sustained for 100 bars, is enigmatic. Abbreviating the reprise makes the Trio even more striking."[2]

III) Scherzo (Presto, E minor)

The opening theme of this movement, Wiley writes, is similar to its counterpart in the Second Suite. The constant shift of timbral combinations and the tempo make this music, alternating between 6/8 and 2/4, a challenge for the orchestra. Tchaikovsky "plays with emphasis throughout," Wiley adds, "sometimes enriching the tonic triad with the addition of the sixth, creating a chord with the pitches of both chords simultaneously, and so creates a merging of G major and E minor." The orchestration of the Trio section, a march, includes snare drum and triangle.[3]

IV) Tema con variazioni (Andante con moto, G major)

1. Andante con moto, 2/4
2. Andante con moto, 2/4
3. Andante con moto, 2/4
4. Pochissimo meno animato, B minor
5. Allegro vivo, 3/4, G major
6. Allegro vivace, 6/8, G major
7. L'istesso tempo, 2/4, G major
8. Adagio, 3/4, A minor (closing in E major)
9. Allegro molto vivace, 2/4, A major
10. Allegro vivo e un poco rubato, 3/8, B minor
11. Moderato mosso, 4/4, B major
12. Finale. Polacca—Moderato maestoso e brillante, 3/4, G major


"I meant to write a symphony, but the title is of no importance", Tchaikovsky wrote Sergei Taneyev.[4] When he had gone to the Davidov family estate at Kamenka in the Ukraine, he had contemplated ideas for a piano concerto and a symphony. Neither plan really materialized the way the composer intended. He quickly recognized his ideas for the symphony were better suited for an orchestral suite like the two he had previously written. The problem lay with the opening movement. Titled Contrastes, it was to be a fantasia of contrasting musical sounds and patterns, not unlike the Jeu de sons movement that opened the Second Orchestral Suite. The more he worked with the music, the more recalcitrant the music became and the more he hated it.Contrastes finally found its way into the Concert Fantasia.[5]

Tchaikovsky's original layout for the Third Suite was similar to that of his Second—a fairly large opening movement as in his first two orchestral suites, then three smaller ones and a theme–and–variations finale.[6] The developments that Contrastesunderwent, while good for the Concert Fantasia, left the suite unbalanced, with three small-scale movements followed by a theme-and-variations movement as large as all three previous movements placed together. Even without Contrastes, the suite remains a long work.[5]

Wiley writes that Tchaikovsky composed the scherzo first. The theme-and-variation finale came last, beginning with the concluding polonaise. This, he says, might have helped the composer clarify his strategy in pacing the movement and guiding its overall momentum. He also links the theme of the finale to the other movements: "its opening chord is presented as a triad with added sixth, [which he used for the scherzo immediately preceding it] and, like the [opening] Elegie, the movement is resolutely melodic."[1]

Wiley also says the quality of Prelest' (meaning "charming" or "pleasing") in the Third Suite "is too prominent for a symphony, while at the same time the suite's coherence advances well beyond the casual miscellency of the Second." This continuity, he suggests, "casts doubt on the freedom he so cherished when writing the First Suite six years earlier." The Third Suite, Wiley adds, is also much darker music in tone than in the two suites that preceded it.[7]

In the fourth variation (pochissimo meno animato, B minor) of the fourth movement, a quotation of the Dies Irae theme is distinctly heard.[8]

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