In the spring of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky sketched his Symphony No 1 in G minor op. 13 “Winter Dreams”. He was 26 years old, a fresh graduate of St. Petersburg Conservatory. The talented young musician was noticed by Nikolai Rubinstein, who recruited him to become a professor at the newly established Moscow Conservatory. After classes with students, which took up his entire day, Tchaikovsky managed to write the work at night. “No work has cost him such effort and suffering.” – testified his brother Modest when talking about the great physical and nervous exhaustion of the composer, accompanied by the worry whether he will cope with his first experience in the genre. The score was completed in November and he was quick to show it to his teachers in St. Petersburg, Anton Rubinstein and Nikolai Zaremba. However, they relentlessly recommended that he rewrite the symphony. Offended, Tchaikovsky made significant changes, hoping that their intercession would be performed at one of the concerts of the St. Petersburg Music Society. But even after the second edition, the reviews were negative. Instead, Nikolai Rubinstein approved of his new work. At two of the concerts of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow he first performed Scherzo, and on February 15th , 1868 he conducted the premiere of the entire symphony. As a token of gratitude, Tchaikovsky dedicated this opus to him. Critics omitted the premiere in silence. Six years later, still dissatisfied with the result, he made a third edition; the score was published by Jurgenson in 1875. Under the baton of the German conductor Max Erdmannsdörfer, who worked in Moscow, in 1883 was the first performance of the final version of the work which is still performed today. “This is a real Russian symphony” – noted one of her reviewers – “In every measure, it feels like it can only be written by a Russian person. In the form made abroad, the composer uses purely Russian content. The symphony is composed in four movements. Despite the title “Winter Dreams”, it is not a program work. In it, the composer demonstrates his admiration for the Russian nature, which he adored, the memories – emotions from his childhood about the sparkling white paths on the way from his hometown of Watkins to St. Petersburg and the cheerful masquerades on Maslenitsa. He shared with Countess Nadezhda von Meck the amazement of the beautiful winter landscape she saw at an exhibition: “The picture seems to illustrate exactly the idea of the first part of the symphony.” In the first movement, entitled “Dreams of a Winter Journey”, – melody, touches in the orchestra and sound combinations – he recreates the feeling of snowy icy spaces, which metaphorically outline the longing soul’s longing for warmth and caress through all means of expression. The famous Russian ballet dancer and choreographer George Balanchine successfully compared it to a watercolor.
The lyrical, elegiac character of the music permeates the entire symphony. In the other movement Tchaikovsky uses a theme from his youth overture “Storm” (in the second movement, entitled “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists”), music from the piano sonata in C sharp minor (in the third movement – scherzo) and the folk song ” If I sow it, young ” (in the fourth movement it is transformed into a festive apotheosis) as thematic material.