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Work of the Week – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor

On 12 November, the Czech Philharmonic will perform Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor at the Mondavi Center in Davis, California, with Kirill Gerstein as soloist and Semyon Bychkov conducting. The version performed is the second, revised version from 1879, which has recently been re-published as part of the new Academic Edition of the Complete Works of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

After Tchaikovsky completed the concerto in 1874, his colleague and esteemed pianist Nikolai Rubinstein heavily criticised the work and described it as unplayable, yet Tchaikovsky however refused to make any significant changes. He had the concerto printed and dedicated to Hans von Bülow, who played the world premiere in October 1875 in Boston. Despite his aversion to Rubenstein’s opinion, Tchaikovsky revised the concerto in 1879 on the recommendations of other pianists. The 1879 changes are minor, and Tchaikovsky went on to revise the concerto twice more. The new Academic Edition of Tchaikovsky’s collected works critically illuminates each of the four complete versions.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor: an aural deception

Tchaikovsky’s concerto follows a traditional three movement structure, but deviates from sonata form convention by beginning in the relative major of D flat, misleading the listener to believe it is the tonic key. The first movement, Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso, has an expansive introduction and makes up over half of the entire concerto. This is followed by the second movement Andantino semplice, which begins with a solo flute melody that is passed to the piano. The third movement, Allegro con fuoco, is a rondo inspired by Ukrainian folk dance music.

I composed the piano concerto over two months with great difficulty, but unfortunately the work did not please Mr Rubinstein and Mr Gubert, who expressed their disapproval in a very unfriendly and offensive manner. Nevertheless, I want to have it printed. – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Alongside the concerto, the Czech Philharmonic will also perform Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for strings op. 43 and Francesca da Rimini.