Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
String Quartet No.1 in D Major, Op.11
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.
Most editions leave a lot to be desired. Some had no rehearsal letters (Jurgenson) others were printed with very poor ink and paper (Frederic Schreiber) and are hard to read. We have reprinted what is probably the best edition ever made of this work, complete with rehearsal letters, and offer it at a very reasonable price in hopes of interesting both professional and amateur players.
Parts & Score: $33.95