Violin Concerto

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Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 35 (TH 59 ; ČW 54) was written in March 1878.

Contents

Instrumentation

The concerto is scored for solo violin and an orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in D) + timpani + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are three movements:

I. Allegro moderato—Moderato assai (D major, 339 bars)
II. Canzonetta. Andante (G minor, 119 bars)
III. Finale. Allegro vivacissimo (D major, 639 bars)

The concerto lasts approximately 30 to 35 minutes in performance.

Composition

Early in 1878, Tchaikovsky was staying at Clarens as a guest, with his former student, the violinist Iosif Kotek. Together with Kotek, he played through a large selection from the violin repertoire, and in particular the French composer Lalo's Symphonie espagnole which it seems inspired him to write a violin concerto [1].

On 5/17 March Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "This evening I was seized ... quite unexpectedly with a burning inspiration..." [2]. He set aside his Grand Sonata, on which he had been working at the time, and began composition of the Violin Concerto [3]. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 7/19 March, Tchaikovsky noted that for the first time in the life he had begun a new composition before completing the previous one. "On this occasion I could not overcome my desire to make rough sketches for a concerto, and afterwards became so carried away that I abandoned work on the sonata" [4]. In all his letters from this period, the composer remarks that he is carried away with work on the concerto, which, notwithstanding its novelty of form, came very easily to him. On 10/22 March, i.e. after five days, Tchaikovsky finished the first movement of the concerto; on 11/23 March he began the second movement (Andante), and on 14/26 March he told Nadezhda von Meck that he had "reached the finale" and the concerto would soon be ready [5]. On 16/28 March 1878, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Today I finished the concerto. It still has to be copied out and played through a few times... and then orchestrated. I shall start the copying out and add the finishing touches" [6]. The following day he began to make the fair copy [7].

After playing through the concerto with Iosif Kotek, Tchaikovsky decided to write a new Andante, though the first movement and finale were considered satisfactory [8]. On 24 March/5 April, Tchaikovsky wrote the new Andante, which in his words was: "better suited to the concerto's other two movements". He decided to add two other violin pieces to the original Andante (which was restyled Méditation) to form the cycle Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42) [9].

Therefore, by 24 March/5 April all the sketches were ready, including the new Andante, and the piano arrangement of the first movement. In a letter of 24 March/5 April, Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck: "Today my concerto might be called completely finished. Tomorrow I shall launch myself into the full score, and aim to finish this while the work is still fresh in my thoughts". On 30 March/11 April the full score was ready [10].

Arrangements

Tchaikovsky also arranged the concerto for violin with piano accompaniment, between 17/29 March [11] and 24 March 1878 [12].

Performances

The first performance of the concerto was scheduled for 10/22 March 1879 at a concert of the Russian Musical Society in Saint Petersburg, to be performed by Leopold Auer [13]. But Auer and Karl Davydov declared that it was too difficult, and the performance of the concerto did not take place. Attempts by Iosif Kotek and Emile Sauret to play the concerto in Moscow were also unsuccessful. The concerto gained a reputation as unplayable, and no-one would perform it [14]. The concerto was reportedly performed for the first time in 1879 (in the version for violin with piano] in New York by the violinist Leopold Damrosch [15].

In Europe, and later in Russia, the first performer and advocate of the concerto was Adolph Brodsky. Enraptured by the concerto, Brodsky introduced it in Vienna, at a special Novitätenprobe [16], conducted by Hans Richter. After the preliminary hearing, it was approved for performance at a Philharmonic Concert on 22 November/4 December 1881. Its success was sensational, despite an unfavourable reception by parts of the audience. The critics behaved with hostility to the work, particularly the well-known critic Eduard Hanslick. Nevertheless, the concerto attracted considerable attention, and Brodsky received offers for concerts in the following season [17].

The concerto's standing was affirmed by its performance by Adolph Brodsky in London at a "Richter Concert" in the Saint James's Hall on 26 April/8 May 1882.

In Russia, the Violin Concerto was performed for the first time on 8/20 August 1882 at the sixth concert in the Art and Industrial Exhibition, by Adolph Brodsky, conducted by Ippolit Altani, where it had exceptional success [18]. Other notable performances during the composer's lifetime were:

Publication

The concerto was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow:

  • Arrangement for violin with piano — October 1979
  • Orchestral parts — August 1879
  • Full score — June 1888 [19].

In Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works the full score of the Concerto was published in volume 30A, edited by Valentina Rachkovskaya (1949), and the violin-piano arrangement in volume 55A, edited by Ivan Shishov and Nikolay Shemanin (1946).

Autographs

Tchaikovsky's manuscript full score of the concerto is now preserved in the Glinka National Museum Consortium of Musical Culture in Moscow (ref. ф. 88, No. 95). The whereabouts of the manuscript of his arrangement for violin and piano are unknown.

Dedication

After some vacillation over who the dedicatee of the concerto should be— Iosif Kotek or Leopold Auer—Tchaikovsky initially decided upon the latter [20]. However, as a result of Auer's persistent refusal to play the concerto, the composer withdrew the original dedication and replaced it with one to Adolph Brodsky [21], who had been impressed by the young violinist's enthusiasm for the work.

Recordings

See: Violin Concerto: Recordings

Notes and References

  1. See Letter 777 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15 March 1878, and Letter 769 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 25 February/9 March 1878 [back]
  2. Letter 778 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17 March 1878 [back]
  3. See Letter 776, 3/15 March 1879, and Letter 779, 6/18 March 1878, to Anatoly Tchaikovsky [back]
  4. Letter 780 to Nadezhda von Meck, 7/19 March 1878 [back]
  5. See Letter 782, 10/22 March 1878, and Letter 787, 14/26 March 1878, to Nadezhda von Meck; also Letter 783 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 11/22 March 1878 [back]
  6. See Letter 790 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 March 1878 [back]
  7. See Letter 791 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 16/28–18/30 March 1878 [back]
  8. See letters 795 and 797 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 20 March/1 April and 23 March/4 April 1878  [back]
  9. See Letter 798 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 March/5 April 1878 [back]
  10. See Letter 803 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 March/11 April 1878, and the author's date on the manuscript full score  [back]
  11. See Letter 790 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 March 1878, and Letter 791 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 16/28–18/30 March 1878 [back]
  12. See Letter 798 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 March/5 April 1878 [back]
  13. See Letter 1132 to Nadezhda von Meck, 6/18 March 1879 [back]
  14. See Letter 1916 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 December 1881/3 January 1882–23 December 1881/4 January 1882  [back]
  15. See letter from Nadezhda von Meck to Tchaikovsky, 27 December 1881/8 January 1882, and "Ignotus" [i.e. Sergey Flerov], 'Музыкальная хроника', Московские ведомости, 20 December 1881. The exact date of this supposed performance is unknown, and it has yet to be corroborated by contemporary accounts [back]
  16. A preliminary hearing for new works [back]
  17. See letters from Adolph Brodsky to Tchaikovsky, January–June 1882 — Klin House-Museum Archive [back]
  18. See Letter 2028 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 24 May/5 June 1882; Letter 2071 to Sergey Taneyev, 28 July/9 August 1882; letters 2073 and 2076 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15 and 11/23 August 1882 [back]
  19. See Letter 828 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 May 1878, and Pyotr Jurgenson's letter to Tchaikovsky, 15/27 June 1879 — Klin House-Museum Archive  [back]
  20. See Letter 865, 1/13 July 1878, and Letter 870, 12/14 July 1878, to Pyotr Jurgenson [back]
  21. See Letter 1904 to Lev Kupernik, 1/13 December 1881; Letter 1914 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 December 1881; Letter 1916 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 December 1881/3 January 1882–23 December 1881/4 January 1882; and Letter 1924 to Adolph Brodsky, 1/13 January 1882 [back]