Tchaikovsky's overture to Aleksandr Ostrovsky's drama The Storm (Гроза), Op. 64 (TH 36 ; ČW 33), was his first significant orchestral work. It was written while he was studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and composed and orchestrated during his summer vacation at Trostinets in 1864.
The overture is scored for a large orchestra consisting of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in E, C), 2 trumpets (in E), 3 trombones, tuba + timpani, side drum, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.
There is one movement: Andante misterioso—Allegro vivo (E minor, 441 bars), which lasts approximately 12 to 15 minutes in performance.
Aleksandr Ostrovsky's drama was written in 1859, and tells the story of Katerina, an unhappily married woman who struggles to hide her feelings for another man. While her husband is away, Katerina yields to her passion. When a great storm then breaks, she is terror-stricken and confesses her guilt, before throwing herself into the torrential waters of the River Volga.
A rough programme of the overture was jotted down by Tchaikovsky on the manuscript score of his orchestration of the Adagio and Allegro brillante from Robert Schumann's Symphonic Studies. Its contents were as follows:
Introduction: adagio (Katerina's childhood and her life before her marriage); (allegro) intimations of the storm; her yearning for true happiness and love (allegro appassionato); her spiritual struggle; sudden change to evening on the bank of the Volga; again a struggle, but tinged with a certain feverish happiness; a foreshadowing of the storm (repetition of the motif after the Adagio and its further development), the storm; a climax of desperate struggle and death.
In the spring of 1864, Anton Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky's composition tutor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, set his students a summer assignment to compose a large-scale orchestral piece—an overture to an opera. Tchaikovsky, who was already at that time thinking of composing an opera to Aleksandr Ostrovsky's drama The Storm, chose this as his subject .
In a letter to Aleksandra Davydova from Trostinets of 28 July/9 August 1864, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Tell Vera Vasilyevna that my Storm is rumbling along, and she may run the risk of hearing it at the Russian Musical Society" .
On finishing the overture, Tchaikovsky sent the score to Herman Laroche, who later recalled:
In the summer of 1864, Pyotr Ilyich had to write a large overture, for which he chose himself the programme of Ostrovsky's The Storm. The orchestra he employed was ‘heretical', with bass tuba, English Horn. harp, tremolo and divided strings, bass drum and cymbals. He was probably optimistic in nurturing the hope that the requirements of the programme would exempt him from any punishment for failing to follow the usual guidelines. In any event, by the start of term, or perhaps somewhat earlier, he finished his work. I cannot recall the reason now, but he asked me to stand in for him, and sent me the score by post with a message to show it to Anton Grigoryevich. A few days later, Rubinstein told me to come and listen to his judgement. Never in my life did I receive such a dressing-down for my misdemeanours as on that day (as I recall, it was a beautiful Sunday morning), listening on behalf of someone else .
The Storm was never performed during the composer's lifetime. It was heard for the first time only on 24 February/7 March 1896 at Mitrofan Belyayev's third Russian Symphony Concert in Saint Petersburg, conducted by Aleksandr Glazunov.
In London the work was premièred on 8/20 February 1897 at a concert in the Queen's Hall, conducted by Henry Wood.
The score was published in 1952 in volume 21 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Pavel Lamm.
The autograph score is now preserved in the Tchaikovsky House-Museum Archive at Klin (a1, No. 218)
- See also: The Storm (projected opera).
An extended version of the overture's introduction (bars 1–45) was re-used in the opening of the Overture in C minor (1865-66), and also in the opera The Voyevoda (1867-68). Part of this introduction (bars 23–43) includes the folk-tune 'The Young Maiden Walked So Far' (Исходила младеньк], which Tchaikovsky later arranged as No. 1 of Fifty Russian Folksongs (1868).
A modified version of Katerina's theme (bars 128–134) was re-used in the second movement of the Symphony No. 1 (1866-68).
Bars 272 to 292 from the overture's central section were reworked in Bastryukov's Aria (Act I, No. 4) from the opera The Voyevoda (1867-68).