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Pyotr [Peter] (Ilyich) [Il'yich] Tchaikovsky
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Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)


Пётр Ильич Чайковский

String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, (Accordion)

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
I. Moderato e semplice
II. Andante cantabile
III. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto
IV. Finale. Allegro giusto - Allegro vivace
Composed in 1871, when Tchaikovsky was around 31 years old
30 minutes (approximately)
6 recordings, 17 videos
31:17
Quatuor Ebène
10:04
Amadeus Quartet
I. Moderato e semplice
3:50
Amadeus Quartet
III. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto
7:00
Amadeus Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro giusto - Allegro vivace
10:33
Borodin Quartet
I. Moderato e semplice
6:42
Borodin Quartet
II. Andante cantabile
3:48
Borodin Quartet
III. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto
6:53
Borodin Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro giusto - Allegro vivace
30:42
Drolc Quartet
7:49
Emerson String Quartet
I. Moderato e semplice
6:49
Emerson String Quartet
II. Andante cantabile
3:46
Emerson String Quartet
III. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto
6:12
Emerson String Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro giusto - Allegro vivace
10:40
Gabrieli String Quartet
I. Moderato e semplice
6:37
Gabrieli String Quartet
II. Andante cantabile
3:58
Gabrieli String Quartet
III. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto
6:53
Gabrieli String Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro giusto - Allegro vivace

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893

String Quartet in D Major, Op. 11, 1871

Peter TchaikovskyTchaikovsky is essentially a composer best known for large musical forces and grand dramatic gestures: orchestral music, opera and ballet. He had no strong personal affinity for chamber music though his output was not negligible: three string quartets, a piano trio, a string sextet and miscellaneous works for violin and piano. Despite many wonderful moments, his chamber music as a whole is not held in high esteem by many of the cognoscenti for various reasons: weakness of form, unbalanced texture, inconsistency, and tendency to exceed the constraints of chamber music with grand, dramatic gestures best designed for large musical forces. There is one unequivocable exception: Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 11. Even the stalwart critics acknowledge that it is a fine work, if not startlingly so, given that it was Tchaikovsky’s first chamber composition and it showed a complete technical mastery that he was unable to match again. Consistently appreciated since its debut, the quartet enjoys significant fame: it is the first noteworthy work of Russian chamber music, (the first great string quartet before Borodin), it contains one of Classical music’s greatest hits, and, according to Tchaikovsky’s own diary, it moved Tolstoy to tears.

The quartet begins with a well-crafted sonata with several noteworthy features. The opening theme is played by the quartet, softly, in unison, syncopated within the unusual meter of 9/8. (Just try counting it!). Melvin Berger indicates that these opening chords gave rise to an apt nickname for the quartet, “The Accordion”. Next, the unity of the quartet divides into a multiplicity of flowing, contrapuntal lines with shorter, quicker notes in an exciting departure into greater complexity. The ensemble joins together again to sing the second theme in simple unity only to split again into a luxurious flurry of ornamentation. The development gives full flight to the contrapuntal lines, bringing them to the foreground against the background of the original syncopated theme sped up as a pulsating accompaniment. A wonderfully dense but crystal clear texture reaches a climax before the return of opening material. A brilliant coda maximizes the long line of acceleration culminating with an extended sequence of rapid D major chords, the original syncopated rhythm pushed as fast as the music allows.

Peter TchaikovskyWith the poignant second movement Andante cantabile, Tchaikovsky penned the first of his many greatest hits, the particular part of the quartet that so moved Tolstoy. The main theme is based on a folk song that Tchaikovsky heard a gardener sing while visiting his sister in the Ukraine two years earlier. The music alternates between the folk theme and a contrasting section of Tchaikovsky’s own inspiration that is instantly recognizable as within the vein of his most characteristic style. This lovely little dream has been transcribed for numerous instrumental combinations as a separate, standalone piece including a version Tchaikovsky arranged for cello and orchestra. The Scherzo matches the heartfelt folk song of the slow movement with a vigorous peasant dance. It is heavy with unison playing, sharp rhythmic accents, strong dynamics and the stout severity of a minor key. The trio is a curious combination of frivolity and ponderous chromaticism that, in standard form, returns to the animated Scherzo. With both movements, Tchaikovsky displays a nationalistic bent contrary to the view held by later Russian composers who disdained him as too cosmopolitan.

The finale is a combination of sonata and rondo form full of bristling vigor, wonderful quartet textures, unmistakable touches of Tchaikovsky’s lyrical drama and tinged, in parts, with a distinctly Russian cast. It is one of the finest chamber music movements he wrote. With its poise, balance and concision, it is utterly classical in the true sense of the word. In fact, it is oddly reminiscent. Despite the definite mark of Tchaikovsky’s personality, it bears a striking and detailed resemblance to the string quartet music of Tchaikovsky’s greatest musical idol: Mozart. Writing such piece in 1871, Tchaikovsky could well be considered one of the first neoclassicists, though, in place of any modernist irony, Tchaikovsky expresses only affectionate sincerity.




From Edition Silvertrust:

The occasion which led Tchaikovsky to compose String Quartet No. 1 in 1871 was the proposal of an all-Tchaikovsky concert by the Moscow Conservatory at which Tchaikovsky was a meagerly paid professor, by no means well-known either in Russia or abroad. To the contrary, he was virtually unknown. Tchaikovsky recognized that such a concert would bring him to the attention of the general musical public, at least Russia and if well attended, would supplement his negligible professor's salary. His economic distress made it impossible for him to engage an orchestra which ruled out any orchestral works and the necessity for programmatic variety meant that he had to put on something more than just piano solos, or violin and piano sonatas. The offer by his friend Ferdinand Laub, first violinist of the Russian Musical Society Quartet, to play without fee made writing a quartet for the concert an obvious choice.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) is one of the most famous composers who ever lived and as such needs no introduction. However, chamber music is scarcely the first, second or even third musical genre with which he is associated. But, like most of the major composers of the 19th century, he made substantial contributions to the chamber music repertoire. Unfortunately, most of it remains virtually unknown and unplayed.

The Quartet begins Moderato e semplice, the first theme is dominated by its syncopated striking rhythm. The second theme, introduced by the viola, is also rhythmically intricate. Near the movement's end, the players are instructed to pick up the tempo gradually and to "play with fire" which gives an exciting flourish to the ending. The second movement, Andante Cantabile, is certainly one of the most famous pieces Tchaikovsky ever wrote. The melody from the midsection became an "international hit" and has become known through various transcriptions to millions the world over, few of whom ever heard it performed in its original scoring. Tolstoy, however, was one of those who did and is said to have been reduced to tears afterwards. The movement is based on a folksong which Tchaikovsky said he had heard from a carpenter. The words to this marvelous melody, however, are somewhat less than enthralling: "Vanya sat on the couch and sat drinking vodka.” The melody, as Tchaikovsky set it, begins quietly with muted strings. He makes no attempt to develop the subject before introducing the famous theme of the midsection which is sung by the first violin to the cello's pizzicato accompaniment. Next comes an upbeat scherzo, Allegro non tanto e con fuoco, full of rhythmic drive and syncopation. The finale, Allegro giusto, opens with a simple but sprightly theme of great energy. The second theme, introduced by the viola, is Russian in character, slower and more noble.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.