Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 29, was written in 1875. He began it at Vladimir Shilovsky's estate at Ussovo on 5 June and finished it on 1 August at Verbovka. It is dedicated to Shilovsky.
The Symphony No. 3 is unique in Tchaikovsky's symphonic output in two ways: it is the only one of his seven symphonies (including the unnumbered Manfred Symphony) in a major key; and it is the only one to contain five movements (an additional Alla tedesca movement occurs between the opening movement and the slow movement).
Like its two predecessors, it carries a nickname, "Polish". This name is in reference to the recurring Polish dance rhythms prominent in the symphony's final movement. It was premiered in Moscow on 19 November 1875, under the baton of Nikolai Rubinstein, at the first concert of the Russian Music Society's season. It had its St. Petersburg premiere on 24 January 1876, under Eduard Nápravník. Its first performance outside Russia was on 8 February 1879, at a concert of the New York Philharmonic Society. Its first performance in the United Kingdom was at the Crystal Palace in 1899, conducted by Sir August Manns, who seems to have been the first to refer to it as the "Polish Symphony".
Symphony No. 3 was used by George Balanchine as the score for the Diamonds section of his full length 1967 ballet Jewels.
The work is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
Like Robert Schumann's Rhenish Symphony, the Third Symphony has five movements instead of the customary four. It also emulates the Rhenish's suite-like formal layout, with a central slow movement flanked on either side by a scherzo. The entire symphony runs approximately 50 minutes.
- Introduzione e Allegro (D minor → D major)
- This movement, in common time, begins with a slow funeral march opening in the parallel minor . The movement then accelerandos and crescendos up to a key change back into the parallel major, where, in a typical sonata-allegro form, after the exposition in the major key it modulates to the dominant, before repeating the theme from the key change and then returning to the tonic at the end instead of the dominant, with a developmental section in between before the recapitulation. The movement closes with a coda, which occurs twice (essentially back to back) and accelerandos to an extremely fast tempo towards the very end.
- Alla tedesca (G minor/B flat major)
- In a sort of ternary form, this begins as a waltz, and then after a trio consisting of a many-times-repeated triplet 8th note figure in the winds and strings, after which the beginning up to the trio is basically repeated again. The movement closes with a brief coda consisting of string pizzicatos and clarinet and bassoon solos.
- Andante elegiaco (D minor/Bb major/D major)
- Also in 3/4 time, this movement opens with all winds, notably a flute solo. This movement is the most romantic in nature of the five, and it is roughly a variation of slow-sonata/ternary form without a development, although the traditional dominant-tonic recapitulation is abandoned for more distant keys, the first being in Bb major (the subdominant to F) and the recapitulation in D major (the parallel major to D minor). This movement is atypically more lyrical than the second. Between the two is a contrasting middle section, consisting of material closely resembling the repeated eighth note triplet figures in the trio of the second movement. The movement closes with a brief coda with string tremolos, and a repeat of the wind solos accompanied by string pizzicatos from the opening of the movement.
- Scherzo (B minor)
- In 2/4 time unlike a regular scherzo, this movement is effectively in 1 due to the speed. This is unusual and unique to this symphony, as scherzi in classical music are traditionally in fast triple meter or some other meter based on sets of 3, although the name scherzo (literally meaning 'joke' in Italian) does not in itself imply this metric convention. Like a scherzo, however, the movement is in ternary form, and after a prolonged 'question and answering' of 16th note figures between the upper strings and woodwinds, there is a trio in the form of a march, which modulates through a number of different keys, starting with G minor, before returning to the relative major to the tonic B minor of the movement, D major. The entire opening of the movement up to the trio is then repeated, and the movement closes with a brief reprise of some of the trio's march material. The trio uses material Tchaikovsky had composed for an 1872 cantata to celebrate the bicentenerary of the birth of Tsar Peter the Great. The entire movement has muted strings, and there is a trombone solo at the exposition before the trio and the recapitulation after the trio, the only appearance of the trombone in the symphony outside of the first and last movements.
- Finale: Allegro con fuoco - Tempo di Polacca (D major)
- This movement is characterized by rhythms typical of a polonaise, a Polish dance, from which the symphony draws its name. The opening theme is effectively a variety of a rondo theme, and it returns several more times in the movement, with different episodes in between each occurrence: the first is fugal, the second is a wind-choral, and the third is a section in the relative minor, B minor, where some of the second movement's trio's triplet figures make another reprise. There is then another longer fugal section, a variation of the main theme which modulates into a number of different keys along the way. It is characterized by staggered entrances of the theme, before another variation on another reprise of the main theme slows dramatically into a slower chorale section featuring all the winds and brass. There is then a section with another variation on the original theme up to the original tempo, and then a presto in 1 which drives to the end, which concludes with 12 D major chords over a long timpani roll, and then 3 long D's, the third of which is a fermata in the last bar of the symphony.
- Keller, Hans, ed. Robert Simpson. The Symphony (New York: Drake Publishers Inc., 1972), 2 vols. ISBN 87749-244-1.