Piano Concerto No. 1
(Фортепианный концерт № 1)
Op. 23 (1874–75)
(a) 1st version:
(b) 2nd version:
(c) 3rd version:
The first reference to the concerto is found in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of 29 October/10 November 1874, when Tchaikovsky had completed work on the piano score of the opera Vakula the Smith: "I wanted to start a piano concerto—but for some reason it didn’t work out" . In a letter to Vasily Bessel of 9/21 November the composer reported: "I am again beginning to think about a new large-scale composition which, since I finished the piano score of the opera, has taken over all my thoughts" . "I’m now entirely immersed in composing a piano concerto", Tchaikovsky wrote on 21 November/3 December, and in the same letter he complained that "it’s going with much difficulty and rather badly. I’m routinely having to be strict with myself, and to compel piano passages to come into my head..." . In a letter from the composer to Modest Tchaikovsky of 28 November/10 December, we read: "I am completely bogged down in the composition of the piano concerto; it’s coming along—but very poorly" .
Between 7/19–12/24 December, Tchaikovsky visited Kiev for a production of The Oprichnik. On retuning to Moscow, he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky that he had worked "tirelessly" on the concerto, which in his words "certainly should be finished this week" . It has not been precisely established when the sketches were completed, but "this week" ended on 22 December/3 January (Sunday), and bearing in mind that the arrangement for two pianos was finished on 21 December 1874/2 January 1875 (according to the manuscript), it might be concluded that the sketches for the concerto were completed on the journey back from Kiev, i.e. in early/mid December. After returning from Kiev (11/23–12/24 December) the composer worked on the arrangement which, as has already been noted, was completed on Saturday 21 December/2 January.
On 24 December 1874/5 January 1875, Tchaikovsky played the concerto to Nikolay Rubinstein and Nikolay Hubert. Recalling this occasion, the composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "As I am not a pianist, it was essential for me to consult a virtuoso-specialist, so that he could point out to me anything that might prove to be technically difficult, awkward, ineffective, etc.". Rubinstein gave a sharply critical evaluation of the concerto, and suggested a number of amendments to the author. Deeply insulted by such severe criticism, Tchaikovsky refused to alter the concerto, declaring that it would be published exactly as it stood, as indeed it was .
According to Nikolay Kashkin and Modest Tchaikovsky, it was Tchaikovsky’s original intention to dedicate the concerto to the "colossal virtuoso force" of Nikolay Rubinstein, but the composer’s feelings were wounded so deeply [by Rubinstein’s criticism] that Tchaikovsky subsequently changed his mind. The autograph score carries a dedication to Sergey Taneyev, whose name was later struck out by the author and replaced by that of Hans von Bülow.
In January 1875, Tchaikovsky orchestrated the concerto, completing this work on 9/21 February (according to the date on the manuscript).
During the spring of 1875, Tchaikovsky sent the concerto to Hans von Bülow (it seems, in the arrangement for two pianos) and received an enthusiastic response from him, with warm gratitude for the dedication of the concerto: "Perhaps it would be presumptuous on my part, being unfamiliar with the whole scope of your works and prodigious talent, to say that for me your Op. 23 displays such brilliance, and is such a remarkable achievement among your musical works, that you have without doubt enriched the world of music as never before. There is such unsurpassed originality, such nobility, such strength, and there are so many arresting moments throughout this unique conception; there is such a maturity of form, such style—its design and execution, with such consonant harmonies, that I could weary you by listing all the memorable moments which caused me to thank the author—not to mention the pleasure from performing it all. In a word, this true gem shall earn you the gratitude of all pianists" .
On 8/20 July, in a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky asked him to send Hans von Bülow in London the full score and parts of the concerto before 1/13 September, since at around that date Bülow was leaving for a concert tour of America .
The first performance of the concerto took place on 13/25 October 1875 at the Music Hall in Boston, played by Hans von Bülow (conductor Benjamin Johnson Lang), who included it in his programme "at the first venue", hoping to repay the "complement and trust" which the composer had shown by dedicating the concerto to him . Hans von Bülow’s performance of the concerto was enthusiastically received by the audience .
On 1/13 November 1875 the concerto was performed in Saint Petersburg at the first symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, pianist Gustav Kross (conducted by Eduard Nápravník), and on 21 November/3 December in Moscow, played by Sergey Taneyev (conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein) at the third Russian Musical Society symphony concert.
It seems that directly after the first performance of the concerto in Moscow, Tchaikovsky decided to make some changes to it. Unfortunately it is not known whether this was the composer’s own idea, or a concession to others; nevertheless, he wrote about this intention to Hans von Bülow in December 1875. In Bülow’s letter of reply on 1/13 January 1876, we read: "Why did you write that you want to make changes to your concerto? Naturally I received them with great interest—but at this point I should tell you frankly that in my view no changes are necessary—except for some augmentations to the piano part in a few tutti, which I had already introduced myself, as I had done in Raff’s concerto. If I might be permitted to make another observation: the great effect of the finale is diminished if the triumphal 2nd motif, before the last Stretta, is to be played Molto meno mosso. This would have the effect of a more thrilling climax, and not so formal. Perhaps I am mistaken, but the public and some musicians favour my idea" .
On 10/22 March 1878 the concerto was performed by Nikolay Rubinstein in Moscow at a special symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, and subsequently he performed it in Saint Petersburg and Paris. On receiving the news that Rubinstein had performed the concerto, Tchaikovsky admitted to being "very, very pleased" .
Tchaikovsky always preferred his First Concerto over his other works for piano , and he included it in his concert tours of Europe and America in the 1880s and 1890s (with soloists Vasily Sapel’nikov, Aleksandr Ziloti, Emil von Sauer, and Adele aus der Ohe). The First Piano Concerto, along with the Sixth Symphony, were the last works which the author himself conducted: at a concert on 16/28 October 1893 in Saint Petersburg, with the soloist Adele aus der Ohe.
The main theme of the first movement’s Allegro comes from a Ukrainian folk song which Tchaikovsky heard from a street-singer in the Ukraine: "I heard a blind lyrical singer. He called himself ‘lyrical' after the name of the accompanying instrument—a lyre, which nevertheless had nothing in common with the traditional lyre. It’s remarkable that all the blind singers in the Ukraine play one and the same folk-melody endlessly. I partly used this tune in the first movement of my Piano Concerto" . In the finale, Tchaikovsky uses the Ukrainian song "Go on, go on Ivan" («Выди, выди, Иваньку»). Modest Tchaikovsky wrote that the middle section of the concerto's second movement employed a French song: "... in the prestissimo of the second movement there is the chanson Il faut s'amuser, danser et rire... which together with brother Anatoly we... sang constantly during the early seventies" .
The concerto was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1875 (orchestral parts in October; the arrangement for two pianos in May). The full score was not published until four years later, in August 1879, as a second edition "reviewed and corrected by the author". It was printed from the manuscript score, in which the orchestral part was written by the author, and the piano part by a copyist. The piano part in the concerto’s first movement contains differences compared with the first edition of the arrangement for two pianos, although these did not touch upon the harmonies or form of the work. These were probably the changes of which Tchaikovsky informed Hans von Bülow in December 1875, and Edward Dannreuther in March 1876 . For a time, the printed full score differed from the published arrangement for two pianos.
A third edition of the full score, "reviewed and corrected by the author", was prepared at the end of 1888, and for this the author made a number of changes to the introduction of the first movement, and also changes and a cut in the finale. Aleksandr Ziloti assisted with this edition.
On 27 December 1888/8 January 1889, in a letter from Tchaikovsky to Aleksandr Ziloti we read: "In Petersburg, Rahter gave me a copy of the full score of the First Concerto, and asked me to look through it... This copy bears your name and your notes, and it was somehow given to Rahter by Blumenfeld... it must be returned to Rahter, but meanwhile I must ask you to review it once more. In the finale, I have now altered der verfluchte Stelle ; I think it will be shorter and better; mainly because where previously there had been the strange rhythmic motif:
... this aberration has now been eliminated. I have retained your pages (i.e. the copy with my previous changes)... I saw that you have proof pages from the First Concerto. I do not understand at all whom you did these corrections for—was it Jurgenson or Rahter?" . And so it would appear that Tchaikovsky himself introduced some alterations to the new edition, while at the same time rejecting others made in 1887 for a performance of the concerto by Vasily Sapel’nikov. The third edition appeared in late 1889 or early 1890.
The Complete Collected Works  is based upon the text of the first edition, with subsequent changes included in an appendix or as ossia.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 314–319
This page was last updated on 11 April 2013