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8.550728 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Suites No. 3 and No. 4, 'Mozartiana'
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Suite No.3 in G Major, Op. 55
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky belonged to the first generation of Russian composers to have the undoubted advantage of professional musical training at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, newly established by Anton Rubinstein, under the patronage of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna. Abandoning the career intended for him, as an official in the Ministry of Justice, he turned to music, and followed his studies with employment on the staff of the new Moscow Conservatory, directed by Nikolai Rubinstein, brother of the founder of the institution in St. Petersburg. Diffident in character, and subject to acute nervous depression, he suffered considerably from an unfortunate marriage, contracted in 1877 in an ingenuous attempt to conceal his own homosexual inclinations, a match followed by immediate separation and divorce.
For some years Tchaikovsky enjoyed the moral and financial support of a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck. a woman he was never to meet, although he stayed at her estate in Brailov during her absence. Her help allowed him to withdraw from the drudgery of teaching at the Moscow Conservatory and to devote himself to composition. With her he continued to exchange letters which reveal something of the thoughts and feelings behind the music he was writing.
It has been suggested that Tchaikovsky's death, in 1893, was suicide, forced upon him by a court of honour of former students of the School of Jurisprudence to avoid a threatened scandal, resulting from a liaison with the son of a nobleman. Whatever the truth of this, the official cause of death, announced as cholera, enabled his passing to be mourned as it should have been, his achievement in Russian music having become increasingly apparent at home and abroad. Tchaikovsky might have appeared to Vienna critics such as Eduard Hanslick as irredeemably Russian. At home, however, he wore a much more cosmopolitan air than the group of avowedly nationalist composers with their self-appointed leaders Balakirev and Cesar Cui, declared enemies of the Rubinsteins and the "German" training offered by the Conservatories.
In the early summer of 1884 Tchaikovsky was staying at Kamenka, the estate of his brother-in-law Lev Davidov. He had already achieved much, and yet, in his habitual manner, he was again questioning his own powers as a composer, fearing that he had nothing left to say. Entries in his diary in May express these anxieties, as he struggled with the composition of the third of his orchestral suites. In fact the work, particularly in its final set of variations, was to prove one of his most effective. On its first performance, which took place in St. Petersburg in January 1885, it was an instant success.
The Elegié, which forms the first movement, replaced Tchaikovsky's original conception, Contrastes, something that he had found intractable and detestably commonplace. The movement combines subtle colouring of orchestration with the composer's great melodic facility, in music of serene happiness, inspired, perhaps, by his growing affection for his young nephew Bob Davidov, an infatuation recorded in his diaries. The Waltz of the second movement seems also to have caused considerable trouble. It opens with ominous hints of sadness, dispelled by the turn that the opening melody takes, with its suggestions of Russian folk-song. There is a middle section of greater intensity, before the opening mood is restored. The third movement, a Scherzo, with a contrasted central section, is in the rhythm of a tarantelle and is followed by a Theme and Variations, the best known movement in the whole suite. The characteristically Russian theme is followed by twelve variations. The first of these combines the melody played by the plucked strings with a fascinating countersubject entrusted to flutes and clarinets. This is followed by a variation of feverish activity and a third in which flute and second clarinet share the melody, with a woodwind accompaniment. A fourth variation brings with it the suggestion of a ballet, with its romantic B minor key and colourful orchestration. A fugal version of the material comes next, succeeded by a brief and energetic dance. The seventh variation brings the serenity of a liturgical chant for the woodwind, while the eighth allows a cor anglais its version of the melody. Melancholy is dispersed in the variation that follows, ending with a cadenza for solo violin, to introduce a variation principally for the violin and replete I with choreographic implications. The whole orchestra joins in the penultimate variation, interrupted by a drum-roll and fanfares to usher in a final extended Polacca, a festive and elaborate section, of symphonic proportions.
The fourth and final suite written by Tchaikovsky was composed in 1887. He had first entertained the idea of writing a suite based on pieces by Mozart in 1884. The impetus for putting the project into practice came with the imminence of the centenary of the first performance of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, due to fall on 29th October 1887. The completed suite was first performed at a Russian Music Society concert in Moscow on 26th November. Tchaikovsky made use of four pieces by Mozart. For the first movement he chose the Gigue that Mozart had written in the music-book of a Leipzig organist in 1789. He followed this keyboard piece with an arrangement of a Minuet from 1780. The third movement is based on Liszt's keyboard transcription of Mozart's Ave verum, introduced here by woodwind and harp, followed by muted strings in a confection far enough removed from Mozart's original conception. The final movement takes Mozart's variations on Gluck's Unser dumme Pobel meint. The ten variations allow Tchaikovsky to employ all the varied and delicate colouring of his orchestral palette, with a violin cadenza leading to the ninth and a clarinet cadenza before the same instrument leads to the return of the original theme. The suite, eventually known as Mozartiana, in spite of the composer's earlier misgivings, is pure Tchaikovsky in texture, his tribute to a composer that he regarded as his God and an attempt to introduce to a wider public keyboard pieces by Mozart that at the time were relatively little known.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
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