A TRIBUTE TO TCHAIKOVSKY
The pieces in this recording were selected to be heard as a single composition, greater than the sum of its parts. Conceived as a tribute to a composer of genius, it mingles some of Tchaikovsky's well known works for piano with others that are less familiar, but no less splendid.
Tchaikovsky wrote a great deal of piano music, beginning in his teens and continuing until the last year of his life. Among these works there are only a few large compositions: three concertos, a sonata, and a trio. His output resembles that of Chopin in this regard. It is intimate salon music filled with very personal feelings that should be communicated as such. This music does not require a concert hall. It should be played and shared between friends, or simply recollected in solitude.
Both by choice and in response to commissions, Tchaikovsky wrote extensively for young people. Most of this music is of only moderate difficulty, but some of his works intended for grownups are technically difficult and uncomfortable to play. Tchaikovsky was a great composer, but not a great pianist. By contrast, the works of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff are much easier to play because their authors were truly great pianists.
Dumka in C minor, Op. 59 (Scène rustique russe) was written in 1886. The Dumka is very popular and rightly so. There is everything here that a choreographer could want: melancholy, nostalgia, joy, wild dancing, celebration of the pleasures in life, and then a melancholy tune of indescribable sadness (besishodnost in Russian) before beauty returns. It is a very Russian "scene" indeed! The Dumka ends unexpectedly with two dramatic chords.
Thème original et variations Op. 19 in F major was written in 1873.The influence of Schumann is evident here. The simple and unpretentious theme is written with a common melodic structure - 4 and 4 bars, 2 and 2 bars, and 4 bars again. Each of the twelve variations is a character piece of sorts with contrasting moods - lyrical and, playful, active and dreamy (Florestan and Eusebius?), elegant and flamboyant. The brilliant coda reminds us of some of Schumann's finales, with a hint of Liszt, and the piece ends with vigor and panache.
Nocturne Op.10 was written in 1871. This is a charming work with sensual melodic lines, written in simple A-B-A-B form. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate - a story told in a quiet voice without any tension or reservations. There are some fluid harmonic sequences in the middle and at the end. The Nocturne begins to hush towards the end and then simply stops.
Romance Op. 5 in F minor was written in1868. Tchaikovsky was very pleased with this work: "It seems that I finally found my voice in this Romance". The form is A-B-A-B again. The theme is meditative - something between a barcarole and a lullaby. The vigorous middle episode is in the rhythm of a Russian dance (gopak).The main theme returns, skillfully enriched with inner voices, and sings its tune again. Before the end, the middle episode returns briefly in a subdued fashion and stops as if unable to continue. The Romance ends with a simple farewell phrase.
Romance Op. 51 No. 5 in F major was written in 1882. Although this is a larger and more complex work than its namesake in F minor, the two Romances are related thematically. In addition to the shared key of F, they have similar melodic lines. Melody and harmonies are fluid and sensuous; one could easily be seduced by such song. The form, A-B-A (with a coda), is not very sophisticated, but Tchaikovsky (like Chopin) had an amazing ability to use simple formal structures to good advantage and to successfully recycle his musical material. The extended middle section is agitated and develops into a passionate recitative bringing back the main theme, which this time sounds heroic clad in octaves (a theatrical but effective choice). The Romance ends simply and peacefully with the main theme played for the last time in octaves again, but piano.
Valse sentimentale Op. 51 No. 6 in F minor (1882) is just that - a lovely, unpretentious sentimental waltz. The wistful theme with its clear nostalgic overtones is repeated nine times and the theme from the middle episode (A-B-A again) is repeated eight times. This waltz and the Romance in F major are immediate neighbors in the Op. 51 set and work well together.
Rêverie interrompue Op. 40 No. 12 in A flat major was written in 1887. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, sent from Florence, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have decided that each morning I shall write something new. Yesterday I wrote a romance, and today a piano piece..." Out of this resolve materialized the twelve pieces of Op.40. The beginning of No. 12 is unusual; it starts with a recitative and rich harmonic sequences with melodic fluctuations reminiscent of Wagner and foreshadowing Mahler. This emotionally charged introduction leads to the simple and benign tune of the main episode, which is repeated again and again until it fades away. Tchaikovsky said that this tune came from a street singer in Venice. It reappears in the last piece (L'orgue de barbarie) in his "Album for the Young". The contrast between the introduction and the main episode of the Rêverie seems a bit odd.
Capriccio Op. 8 in G flat major was written in 1870. This brilliant, witty and technically challenging work is rarely played. The first and last episodes are written in a syncopated rhythm mostly off the beat. This brings a certain ambiguity to the strong and weak beats and is quite tricky to execute. The middle section is a thing of beauty - a vocal melody accompanied by broken chords, it is clearly an Italian serenade with guitar accompaniment. The Capriccio proper returns and propels itself to a triumphant ending.
Tchaikovsky wrote the eighteen pieces for piano Op. 72 in April of 1893. These works and the 6th symphony are the final two major instalments in his musical legacy. His life ended in November of 1893 at the peak of his creative powers. He was 54.
Dialogue Op. 72 No. 8 in B major tells a love story, a story of persuasion, seduction and surrender. It is one of the most explicitly sensuous works in all of western music. The theme is split between two voices; at first the upper is the active one and the lower is cautious and hesitant. But after a while the roles are reversed and the cautious voice becomes the pursuer. The passions rise and reach an intense emotional climax, repeated twice. The two voices finally unite and sing together in octave. As the tension and excitement gradually subside, the lovers seem unable to speak, sobbing and sobbing. Finally all is calm, and our lovers are at rest.
Berceuse Op. 72 No. 2 in A flat major. The influence of Chopin's Berceuse is palpable; a changeless pattern, minimalist in its simplicity, with an alternating middle voice C-B and a melody on top that is presented differently every time -- in another words a set of variations. Tchaikovsky departs from Chopin's model in the middle episode, which introduces a new tune and takes us away from A flat in the bass for six bars. No need to worry, A flat returns with two more variations, two more mesmerizing fluctuations of the light before it finally fades away.
Tendres reproches Op. 72 No. 3 in C sharp minor is an intimate work, filled with tenderness. The main theme opens without hesitation, an imploring gesture that sets this piece in motion. This theme is repeated in the bass right away. Before the middle episode there is a very expressive melodic sequence given in stretto - the reproaches are becoming intense and passionate. The middle episode is playful, filled with mischievous scales running downward again and again. The main theme returns, this time skipping its middle part and going quickly to the passionate sequence. There is a 16 bar coda on the tonic that puts all reproaches to rest.
Méditation Op. 72 No. 5 in D major is one of Tchaikovsky's finest works. It opens with an expansive phrase that immediately pulls us in. This opening phrase (five notes) repeats itself, gently pushing the work forward. The second part of the theme introduces a different tune, but the opening formula remains rhythmically intact. A charged and dramatic middle episode enters unexpectedly. Double and triple forte dynamic indications herald a passage typical of Tchaikovsky - a descending scale, an effective dramatic gesture that he often used in his orchestral works. The climax is intense but quickly subsides, sliding down and repeating the opening phrase, which now turns dark and tragic. The main theme returns in the middle voice, surrounded by elegant embroidery. It quickly develops into another emotional outburst with the now familiar descending scale, which brings us home to D major. From this point until the end, D stays put in the bass. Tchaikovsky uses his favorite chord, the super dominant, again and again, perhaps unwilling to say goodbye to this amazing work. Méditation ends with a trill on top that becomes quieter and quieter and finally dissolves into the last chord.
Chant élégiaque Op. 72 No.14 in D flat major is another masterpiece. The structure of the main theme is similar to that of Mèditation - one rhythmical formula is used as a foundation in both works. Although the formula itself is different, the development is similar. This work was dedicated to the memory of Volodya (affectionate for Vladimir) Sklifosovsky, a young man (son of a famous Moscow surgeon) whom Tchaikovsky met by chance during his travels - they witnessed a volcanic eruption together - and to whom Tchaikovsky became attached in the brief time they spent together. Sklifosovsky died soon afterward and Tchaikovsky wrote Chant élégiaque for him four years later. The whole piece stays in D flat with a very brief departure in F sharp minor in the middle episode. Tonality becomes a powerful expressive tool, a meditation in itself. The main theme appears twice - first plain and then dressed up with arpeggios. The middle and last episodes (the form is A-B-A-B) are very precious. A lullaby-like tune gently rocks, hesitates for a moment, and rocks again. At the end there is a simple sequence of two ascending chords - the tonic and super dominant, so beloved by Tchaikovsky.