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Composed: 1877–1878

Length: c. 13 minutes

Orchestration:  2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances: March 7, 1920, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting (Polonaise); August 13, 1927, Eugene Goossens conducting (Waltz)

Eugene Onegin is Tchaikovsky’s most successful opera, based on Pushkin’s verse novel and first performed in 1879. Set in the 1820s, the opera contains two ballroom scenes, the first in the country house of the Larins, whose two daughters, Tatyana and Olga, are at the center of the action, and the second in a much grander house in St. Petersburg. In the city they dance a Polonaise, in the country a Waltz.

During the Polonaise, with its parade of magnificently costumed grandees, Eugene Onegin recognizes the Countess Gremina as the Tatyana whose love he had spurned many years earlier, an action he now bitterly regrets. For in the first act Tatyana had bravely confessed her love, only to be politely, but firmly, rejected by a younger Onegin in the second act, during the Waltz. 

The introductory build-up to the Waltz, so characteristic of Tchaikovsky’s skill, is played before the curtain rises, which is cued to happen at exactly the moment that the main tune begins. The impact of the great melody and the sight of the Larins’ ballroom full of spiraling dancers in the dresses and uniforms of 1820s Russia is unforgettable.

- Hugh Macdonald