Dear Tchaikovsky scholars,
It is my understanding that the metronome markings in Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio, Op. 50 stem from
the composer, and that he was rather insistent that performers should follow
them. In preparing the piece for an imminent professional performance in Chicago,
my excellent string players and I have gotten into a good-natured debate about
the marking for Variation VII, the "prelude" to the Fuge. (Both Variations
VII and VIII are marked Allegro moderato.) All our copies of the score give
this as quarter-note = 126, which seems ponderously slow. Is this a typographical
error for HALF-NOTE = 126? Intuitively, this alternative strikes me as rather
too fast for an Allegro moderato, but my violinist loves it. (I had been using
half-note = 96 as the basis for my practicing.)
Returning to the Trio after a few years away from it, I'm finding that
most of the metronome markings seem reasonable to me now, although a few strike
me as a shade on the fast side (e.g. the opening of the Pezzo Elegiaco, the
Valse and the Mazurka.) I used to think that the marking for the variation
theme was too slow, but have revised my opinion. Any clarification from those
with access to the Complete Edition, original sources, or reliable oral history
going back to Tchaikovsky would be greatly appreciated.
Daniel Paul Horn, D.M.A.
Professor of Piano and Chair of Keyboard Studies
Wheaton College Conservatory of Music
Wheaton, Illinois 60187
You can also try to check this pdf file of complete score of Op. 50: http: //imslp.ca/images/b/b8/Tchaikovsky-trioOp50.pdf
from www.imslp.org site.
In my score for the Piano Trio
in A Minor, the eighth variation (Fuga) is marked "Allegro moderato," to which
is added, in brackets, (quarter note = half note). This would indicate that
the quarter note tempo of the Fuga variation is exactly half the speed of
the preceding Allegro moderato.
I would also like to point out that the seventh variation is in 3/2 meter,
rather than 6/4. This would indicate that the basic unit of pulse is the half
note, not the quarter note.
Thus, I would conclude that the intended tempi for the seventh and eighth
variations, respectively, are: (half note = 126) and (quarter note = 126)
In other words, I agree with your violinist.
I just took a break from practicing the two variations in question to check
on this thread. Thanks to Mr. Takac and Mr. Krusek for their responses.
Mr. Takac: I was delighted to discover the <imslp.org> site, which I had
not previously encountered. However, neither of my computers will connect
to the Trio score, although they will download most other things on the site.
Mr. Krusek: All of your indications agree with those in our scores, and
I'm strongly inclined to accept your view as to what the markings should be
in those variations. I went through the MM markings again last night; since
the indications for the Valse and Mazurka are slightly on the fast side (as
is not uncommon with composer MM markings), it would make sense for the 3/2
and Fuga variations to tend in the same direction. (If I'm a bit more comfortable
at 116–120 than at 126, adrenaline will likely make up the difference in performance.)
I appreciate the input thus far, but would still be interested in any other
insight into Tchaikovsky's tempi and his relationship with the MM.
Daniel Paul Horn
The Soviet Complete £dition (Vol. 32A, 1951) shows "Allegro moderato" with
the metronome marking (quarter note = half note). However, the editors noted
that Tchaikovsky originally wrote "L'istesso tempo (quarter note = quarter
note)" [sic] on the manuscript, but struck this through and replaced
it with the present indication. I don't know whether that helps, or simply
muddies the waters.
Tchaikovsky's metronome markings start to appear from the end of the 1870s
onwards, and are remarkably consistent, e.g. Andante is usually around quarter
note=69, Moderato = 120, Allegro is 132, Allegro molto vivace = 144, etc.
Unfortunately they tend not to be followed in performance. This is often because
they inidcate speeds rather faster than the usual indications (for example,
in the second movement of the Fifth Symphony). Sometimes—as in the suites—the speeds are extremely difficult to pull off, and with a few noble exceptions
they are normally quietly overlooked by conductors.