Tchaikovsky’s Tempest Overture
Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare
One of the most influential composers of the 19th century and the first Russian composer to achieve lasting international fame, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is best known today for his ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. He was, however, tremendously influenced by the writing of William Shakespeare and wrote several pieces based on his work, including incidental music for Hamlet, a fantasy-overture for that play and additional fantasy overtures for Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest.
Composed in 1873 and debuting the same year, Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest (Symphonic Fantasia after Shakespeare, Op. 18) contained meditative pieces that reflected the stillness of the sea, reflections upon the nature of Caliban and, of course, love music reflective of the romance between Ferdinand and Miranda. It is a masterful piece and was not only met with contemporary acclaim but also achieved a lasting legacy, attested to by the fact that later geniuses such as Arturo Toscanini were still conducting it nearly three-quarters of a century later. Nor has the piece faded into obscurity since; its impact is still being felt in the next millenium, with excerpts from the score being used in the 2005 ballet Anna Karenina.
You can get a great feel for the power of the piece by watching this video, in which Toscanini conducts Tchaikovsky’s overture for The Tempest on NBC in 1944:
If you enjoyed this performance of Tchaikovsky’s Overture for The Tempest, you should try some of our other Introduction to Literature (E1) videos.
This article is offered as part of a contextual series designed to provide a deeper understanding of the world of William Shakespeare, arguably the most influential writer in the western canon, the contemporary influences which shaped his work and his reciprocal influence. Shakespeare is studied in several places in Excellence in Literature, including Module 1.8, Module 2.7 and Module 4.4