Op. 50 (1881–82).
Composed in Rome between December 1881 and late January 1882.
In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 24 October/5 November 1880, Tchaikovsky responded to her question—“Why don't you write a trio?”—with a detailed explanation for his reasons for his antipathy towards this genre, on the basis that the piano and string instruments formed an unnatural combination. “The thing is”, he wrote, “that to my ears the acoustic combination of piano with violin or cello solo is completely incompatible. In this sonority the instruments seem to repel one another, and I assure you that any kind of trio or sonata with piano or cello is absolute torture for me... But is it not unnatural to combine three such individual instruments as violin, cello and piano? The qualities of each of them are lost. The lyrical and wonderfully warm timbres produced by the violin and the cello can be accompanied by the king of instruments, but the latter tries in vain to show its ability to sing against its rivals... But you know the term trio implies a homogeneity, whereas here there are instrumental solos on the one hand, and the piano on the other. It is not just that the piano trio is inevitably manufactured, each of the three playing their instrument continually, but also the difficulties this represents for the author in distributing his musical ideas between the voices” .
Nevertheless, at the end of the following year in Rome, the composer decided to write a trio. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 15/27 December 1881, he referred to his “antipathy for this combination of instruments”. Tchaikovsky told her: "In spite of this antipathy, I am thinking of experimenting with this sort of music, which so far I have not touched. I have already written the start of a trio. Whether I shall finish it and whether it will come out successfully I do not know, but I would like very much to bring what I have begun to a successful conclusion... I won't hide from you the great effort of will required to set down my musical ideas in this new and unusual form. But I should like to overcome all these difficulties...” .
Some days later the composer wrote to her again about his work on the trio: “Do not think, my dear friend, that I am exhausting myself by composing the trio. At first I had to force myself to write something and for my mind's ear to become accustomed to this combination of instruments. But now I am working with interest and enthusiasm, but I think that the trio will provide you with some pleasure, and I am stepping up my efforts with great fascination” . References to the unusual nature of his work, and the difficulties this presented in its early stages, also crop up in other letters .
On 8/20 January 1882, Tchaikovsky wrote: “This morning I finished the rough sketches of my trio” . However, after completing the sketches he decided to set aside work on the trio for a time: “Let the trio rest a while: it will do it good. I shall add the finishing touches later...” .
Tchaikovsky evidently completed the final stage of composition around 13/25 January, when he wrote: “I have completed my trio and made the fair copy with great care. Now that the thing is written, I must say I am quite sure that this composition has not turned out at all badly. My only concern is that I may have left it too late to try my hand at this new sort of chamber music, and that some aspects of my writings for orchestra will show themselves. In short, I am unsure whether this is really symphonic music just arranged for a trio, rather than being specifically designed for them. I took great pains to avoid this, but I don’t know that it has turned out this way” .
In a letter of 18/30 January, Tchaikovsky promised Pyotr Jurgenson that he would send him the trio within weeks. “I have already copied out the first movement—the second (Andante with 12 variations, of which the twelfth and last, also serves as a finale) I will begin to copy out tomorrow” . A week later in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky mentioned that the trio was “absorbing all my time and energy” .
“My trio is coming along, and working on it is very pleasant”, Tchaikovsky wrote on 30 January/11 February. “The trio will comprise two movements. The second movement is a theme with many variations, of which the last will be a finale to the whole piece” . Evidently by then Tchaikovsky had already put the finishing touches to the trio, since the autograph date on the fair copy of the score reads: “Roma 28 J[anvier]–9 f[evrier] 1882". On 30 January/11 February the manuscript was despatched to Pyotr Jurgenson . “The trio is dedicated to [the memory of] Nikolay Grigoryevich. It has a somewhat funeral and mournful tone. I would like it very much if this piece, written in memory of Nikolay Grigoryevich appeared in a particularly splendid edition. I have asked Taneyev if he would play the trio, keeping precisely to my metronome markings. I want the first performance of the trio in the next season to be by Sergey Ivanovich” .
Tchaikovsky made a note concerning the performance of the trio, which was included in the full score. Sergey Taneyev wrote of this to Pyotr Jurgenson in an undated letter (probably from the autumn of 1882): “I took the manuscript of the trio to Fitzenhagen, and I would like you to send him the pages of proofs. He asked me to write to you to see if you can find space at the bottom of the first page of the full score of the trio, for the following sentence, written on the manuscript: “Les artistes et les amateurs, qui se donneront la peine de jouer cette composition, sont bien priès de se conformer tres exactement aux indiquations métronomiques de l'auteur. Pour l'emploi de pédale l'auteur s'en remet au goût eclairé des artistes et amateurs, qui executeront la partie du piano” .
On the fair copy of the trio, the author wrote: “I asked S. I. Taneyev to perform this trio with Messrs. Hřímalý and Fitzenhagen, who together suggested certain emendations, which were subsequently accepted by myself”. These changes were considerable, and were later explained in full in letters to Pyotr Jurgenson.
In a letter of 2/14 March, written shortly before Tchaikovsky’s return to Moscow, he asked Pyotr Jurgenson: “Would it be possible upon my arrival to go through my trio?” . The first performance took place in the composer's absence at the Moscow Conservatory on 11/23 March 1882, on the first anniversary of Nikolay Rubinstein's death. In a letter of 17/29 March 1882, Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck: “I received news in a telegram from Moscow that on the day Nikolay Grigoryevich died (11 March) my trio was performed at the conservatory, which was very appropriate. I am very pleased” .
At the end of March/beginning of April, Tchaikovsky returned to Russia. In April the trio was performed in Moscow in the presence of the composer, after which he made some modifications . The nature of these changes was described in a much later letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest Tchaikovsky: “The finale of the trio (Variazione finale e coda), is now in separate sections, but previously there was no break before the Andante . All of us who performed this trio quite easily persuaded Pyotr Il’ich that there should be a break before the finale, because the preceding Andante has a natural conclusion, making it possible to play it separately from the final part” . The fair copy of the score also shows that Tchaikovsky rewrote the end of the finale.
In the text there are many emendations and corrections, with some places written anew and pasted into the full score (sheets 5, 9, 13, 19, 22, 48, 64 and 65). The greatest change involved the coda, in which the piano part was completely rewritten. After performing the trio, Sergey Taneyev rewrote the piano part in the eighth variation . According to Aleksandr Gol'denveizer, the author approved of Sergey Taneyev's changes.
Work on correcting Jurgenson's proofs of the trio took place in August 1882. On 17/29 August, after a ten-day visit to Moscow, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that he was leaving for Kamenka “completely exhausted”. “I painstakingly checked two sets of proofs of my trio” . In a letter of 15/27 September 1882 to Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky expressed his displeasure that the proofs had been forwarded to Wilhelm Fitzenhagen: “All my works should be sent to me, and me alone; from now on any proofs corrected by others should be ignored” .
The trio appeared in print in October. On 20 October/1 November, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: “I am sending you the copy of the trio which I received with great satisfaction. It seems to me that none of my other works have appeared so impeccably. The elegant simplicity of the title page is quite charming” .
The first public performance of the trio took place in Moscow on 18/30 October 1882 at a quartet concert of the Russian Musical Society. Tchaikovsky gave his response to this in a letter to Sergey Taneyev, together with his overall verdict on the trio: “Your enthusiasm for my trio gives me great, great pleasure. I have great respect for you, and your praise has greatly increased my pride in my work...” .
In Tchaikovsky's collected works , the trio was published under the editorship of Aleksandr Gol'denveizer, in a reconstruction of the original text with all the original tempo and dynamic markings. All subsequent changes were included in an appendix.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 373–378
This page was last updated on 14 February 2013