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8.550644 - TCHAIKOVSKY: Suites Nos. 1 and 2
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Suite No.1 in D Major, Op. 43
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 aftermath of his marriage Tchaikovsky had taken refuge abroad in the autumn of 1877. The following year he was again in Russia, resolved to leave the Conservatory, not least because of hints in the press about his private life. In May he was at the estate of Nadezhda von Meck, where he returned in August, busying himself with the composition of a suite, allegedly in the style of Franz Lachner, a contemporary and friend of Schubert in Vienna, a composition on which he continued to work at his brother-in-law Lev Davidov's Verbovka estate. Later progress on the suite was interrupted, to be continued abroad, in Florence, where his patroness had provided an apartment for his use. The suite underwent various changes, before it took its final shape. Tchaikovsky had second thoughts about the prevalence of duple rhythm throughout, and then about the number of movements. Eventually it assumed its present form, with a first movernent an Introduction and Fugue, followed by a B flat major Divertimento, opened by the solo clarinet. The third movement Intermezzo, in D minor, has a melody for violin, flute and bassoon based on the ascending scale. This is followed by a miniature March, originally described by the composer as March of the Lilliputians, a movement he attempted to withdraw, until persuaded to retain it. The suite continues with a Scherzo and a final Gavotte. In the whole work and the chosen form he had enjoyed a freedom that the symphony would not allow, finding himself able to write the kind of music that found further expression in his ballets. Ironically the most popular of all the movements, both at its first performances in Russia and subsequently, has been the March that Tchaikovsky had once hoped to discard.
Tchaikovsky spent the earlier part of the summer of 1883 at Podushkino, near Moscow, where his brother Anatoly was staying, with his wife, Parasha, and their baby daughter. Here, comforted by the presence of his servant Alyosha, on extended leave from the military service that had for a time deprived the composer of his care, he set to work on a second orchestral suite. In September he travelled to his brother-in-law Lev Davidov's estate at Kamenka, where he continued his work on the suite, which he now orchestrated. It was completed in October and first performed in Moscow the following February, under the direction of Max Erdmannsdörfer. The work was at once welcomed by the public.
Suite No.2 in C major opens with Jeu de sons, an Andantino framing a sonata-form Allegro molto vivace in a movement of some contrapuntal activity, with a fugue at its heart. The second movement Waltz, a composition of considerable ingenuity in its subtle rhythmic variety, is followed by a Scherzo Burlesque that finds an optional place for four accordions. In marked contrast is the Rêves d'enfant, evocative and predominantly gentle music, with the unpredictable elements of a dream. The suite ends with a wild dance of typically Russian form, modelled on Dargomizhsky's orchestral fantasia Kazachok, of which Tchaikovsky had made a piano transcription in 1868. This tribute to the older composer outstrips its original.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
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