First I must say that I admire your work on one of my favourite
composers. There is one little problem that you didn't solve for me: you
describe Souvenir de Florence
as a string sextet, but I only know it as a works for string orchestra. Is
this Tchaikovsky's own arrangment, or someone else's? From what year is
Up to know I failed to find a picture of P.I.T.'s villa near Firenze,
Tuscany. I would very much like to see the house. Could you include a
photo, however meager, in you answer?
Thans you in advance
Hans de Jongste
Schiedam / The Netherlands
The Souvenir de Florence
was written by Tchaikovsky for String Sextet (2 violins, 2 violas and 2
cellos), and that is how it was performed and published in Russia during
his lifetime. The earliest performance by a string orchestra seems to have
been on 13 January 1893 at Carnegie Hall, New York, conducted by Anton
Seidl. But no special arrangment is required to adapt the work for string
orchestra — it can be done by dividing the viola and cello sections into
two halves, accompanied by the first and second violins.
I don't know if a picture is available of Tchaikovsky's
residence in Florence that inspired the work, but if I find one then I will post it
Tchaikovsky's sextet Souvenir de Florence
was composed mostly in June-July 1890 at Frolovskoe (near Klin), where the
composer rented a house. He had spent the first three months of 1890 in Florence working on the opera
The Queen of Spades. He stayed at the Hotel Washington in Florence, and here is a picture of the composer sitting on the bench near
the river and hotel.
I always feel it is a mistake to play the Souvenir de Florence on a
string orchestra. I looses all its rythmic excitement and invites
comparison with the
Serenade for Strings, which is in all but name a symphony. The
greatness of the work lies in the medium and its gritty sound. On an
orchestra it sounds slushy and becomes a weak companion to the Serenade.
All Tchaikovsky's chamber works are masterpieces in my view, including
the early B flat quartet.
It is a pity he wrote no more quartets after the Fourth Symphony.
Quartets 1 to 3 are I think the true precursors to the late syphonies;
more so than the early symphonies, they contain great pyschological depth
and have convincing musical structure. In material and message No 3 is the prelude to the
Fourth Symphony and may even be greater. It is concise and free from
melodrama and a true spiritual journey, culminating in a finale that is
both vigorous and menacing. No
2 is astonishing in its fluency, wit and excitment. No 1 is, like Beethoven's
7th, a masterly essay in rhythm.
I had the opportunity to play the Souvenir of Florence last summer at a
Orchestral Studies program, in a large string orchestra, and while I
understand how some of it's nuance may get lost with the size, the piece
is still one of extraordinary energy and power when performed with a
string orchestra. The last movement of the piece is one of the most
cathartic melodies that I've ever played.
What is also of interest is how the Souvenir of Florence can hardly be
called one of Tchaikovsky's most popular works, yet it is such an
impeccable example of chamber music.
I am told that if someone wants to find the true persona of a composer
look to the chamber music because it is often written for the composers
closest colleagues and friends to perform. I'm aware that it was written
for the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society in gratitude for making him a
honorary member, and that work began on it, obviously during his trip to Florence. However, is that all that is to be said about it? Later on, did
Tchaikovsky have any affinity for the piece that he didn't have for pieces
like the "Overture to 1812" or "The Nutcracker"?
Thanks for any help.
John. A. Miller