Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1, Op.23 (En)



Tchaikovsky’s first concerto was not only the composer’s first piano concerto, but also the first significantly recognized piano concerto in Russian music. Understanding the responsibility of writing not only “musical history”, but also the history of Russia, Tchaikovsky invested a huge amount of imagery, emotions, and art paintings in this concerto, foresaw his own destiny, and, in many respects, felt the fate of Russia. Behind every popular musical motive that makes him beloved by the masses, there must necessarily be a strong, deep thought that every listener will feel. The “message” laid down in the sounds determines the popularity of the melody, of any musical thought. The simpler and more intelligible the deep, “universal” thought, is expressed, the more people will understand the seriousness of the “musical statement”. At the same time, the listeners do not need to “know for sure” and understand exactly what thought is embedded in the music. If it is very strong, deep and concisely stated, the listener perceives the importance and significance of the musical statement at the subconscious level. Composers do not like to give verbal transcripts to their musical statements, preferring to be “guessed” by the listeners and performers themselves. This is done in order to prevent a simplification or a narrowing of the horizon of the artistic perception of the music by a concrete verbal statement.

The Concerto’s opening horn Fanfare is the second one of the two most popular motifs on our planet. The first is the “theme of fate” from Beethoven’s fifth symphony, and the second is the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s first concerto. It so happened that for a long one and a half centuries after writing the concerto, the theme is loved by everyone and the whole world knows it, but it has not yet been“revealed” literary and philosophically, even though it appears as an open book, very simple and obvious. Composers often love to give the most exalted pure thoughts and artistic images to the horn. This is due to the purity and sound of the instrument. Herein this remarkable creation of human musical thought, we hear the horn cry, revealing a powerful musical picture. Tchaikovsky writes his first concerto, the first Russian concerto, and brings to life a “creation” of his own musical and philosophical cosmos. His is in an extraordinary strain of moral and intellectual forces. In connection with this situation, a completely obvious thought comes to his mind – to identify himself with the “Creator”; With the biblical God who created the universe and all life in seven days. Therefore, we hear exactly seven times – the call of the French horn, as an illustration of the first phrase of the Bible – “At first there was the word”. The short call of the horn is accompanied by a powerful beat of the orchestra. This is the symbol of the “creation of the world” on the first day. The first beat of the orchestra, as the “first day of creation.” Seven beats – seven days of creation. And the magnificent majestic theme of the strings, symbolizing the beginning of life, begins; the Babylonian rivers flowed in the music of Peter Ilyich. His cosmos was created, by analogy with the bible – in seven days, seven beats of the orchestra opening the concert. The first cadenza of the piano repeats the “cry of the Lord” and the ascending passages of the piano symbolize the lightning and thunder accompanying a similar planetary scale of events. All the entry can be safely called – “The Creation of the World.” Tchaikovsky’s world, as a composer, and as a Russo-piano-symphonic new world, which did not exist before Tchaikovsky.

This powerful scene, like an overture in a theater, is accompanied at the end by the opening of a curtain to the fading sounds of horns. And on the “proscenium” the author himself appears. The famous impetuous main theme that the nervous, intermittent octaves of the pianist plays – “Allegro con spirito” sounds. So the dialogue begins, which will become the basis of the entire concerto. The author’s dialogue with the” higher powers” and the forces of secular society, into which he has to go, but feels that he will perish from them. It happened in the life of Peter Ilyich. As he foresaw, and what he was afraid of, but he could not retreat from, his mission to be in society as a “prophet-composer”, and as he was a man – frail, courageous, vulnerable, who do not fit into the framework of public norms – so there is a nervous, impetuous dialogue of the author with the world of higher forces, and the surroundings get injected with a sub-theme, which shows the author’s tender soul, full of love. The middle part takes place in a “deadly confrontation” with external forces and circumstances, where only for a few moments the theme of repose and hope arises, between two tragic abysses threatening death and torment. The author is begging the higher forces to withdraw from him the “punishing hand of death.” This dialogue rises to the level of examples of the highest values of human culture, the best comparable example to which would be the Greek tragedies. All this is so vividly depicted in music, that it does not need commentary. The fine art of Tchaikovsky in this concerto reaches the best examples of his symphonic creativity.

The piano cadenza repeats the same thoughts and images that precede it – the feeling of tragedy, the fear of death, the inevitability of fate. The first part ends with the theme of hope, which appeared in the middle of the part between two terrible dramas. The second part opens with a pastoral picture of a Russian village. Old peasant-landlord life. Nobody presented these pictures better than Tchaikovsky. In the music, we “see” the silence and patriarchal nature of the rural way of life, unhurried peasants, horses — everything is drawn with music with the precision of a cinematic reel.

The middle part takes us to Paris. The entire middle section is built on a real old French waltz. Here we have the thoughts of the author himself about France and, at the same time, musical sketches for future compositions, where there will be plots concerning France and Paris. The French waltz ends with a “shot” of the orchestra and the dramatic solo cadenza of the piano, which is very similar to scenes from future operas, to the scene of the duel from “Eugene Onegin”. The part ends with an even greater pacification of the landscapes of the pastoral village.

The third part is a mosaic of funny and vibrant folk and secular scenes. The finale is opened by the music of the famous Ukrainian folk song “Vesnyanka”. It obviously symbolizes youthful beauty. Turning into a fiery dance called a gopak. Which, in turn, is replaced by the theme of a girl’s tender beauty. The middle part of the scherzo is an outline of the typical ballet music of the composer. The flight to the climax recalls the plots of fairy tales, Ukrainian Christmas plots, upon which Tchaikovsky conceived and wrote the opera (The Cherevichki). The finale ends with a solemn palace polonaise, in which the author is clearly present among the “guests”. The culmination of the polonaise is the very obvious appearance of a royal persona. The concert ends with the Ukrainian gopak, fiery dance rhythms, based on the music of the first theme of the finale.

Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris

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