Thematic Counterpoint And Adjacent Constructional Texturing In Tchaikovsky’s Six Symphonies

Svein Hundnes
PhD, 2014, University of Oslo

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This thesis aims to demonstrate that Tchaikovsky’s symphonic style is explicitly contrapuntal.Not only has this aspect of the composer been significantly undervalued in western musicology until today, it would be about as accurate to claim that the opposite has been the case. Tchaikovsky’s reception history shows that important circles within musical life received him with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. He was both Russian and – even worse – homosexual; something that was previously regarded to be not only a perversion, but a mental illness. Thus, if the composer was mentally ill, his music would be inescapably influenced by this illness. Since these views have been put forward well into the Century, this negative attitude towards Tchaikovsky and his music has been thoroughly segmented by fractions of Western musicology.A polyphonic slant indicates in itself a very textural constructional approach, and Tchaikovsky’s angle is topped by thematic density. His 6 symphonies are composed throughout his career as a composer. Symphony No.1 is an early work (opus 13), while Symphony No.6 is one of his very latest.”Contrapuntal” and “polyphonic” are terms occasionally used to describe passages in the symphonies of e.g. Brahms and Bruckner. But in such situations these terms are often used en-passant. Since the author of this thesis has wished for a slightly more developed conceptual framework around this subject, such a framework has been attempted established before carrying out the actual textural analysis, although this has not been a goal in itself: The core of the dissertation is devoted to the analyses as such, with continuous explanations demonstrated in actual score-examples.The thesis concludes that a contrapuntal approach is a most striking feature of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic style, a finding that has not previously been demonstrated or verified.