PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY

PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: about 35 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1874–75/1876–79/1888 (three versions)
World Premiere: October 25, 1875 (first version) / November 29, 1884 (second version) / January 20, 1888 (third version)

Table of Contents

Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in 5 Sentences

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is one of the most famous pieces of classical music ever written. After completing the first version, Tchaikovsky played the work to his friend and mentor, the Russian pianist Nikolai Rubinstein. However, the latter strongly criticized Tchaikovsky’s composition. Tchaikovsky then sent his concerto to the German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, who had a completely different opinion than Rubinstein. Hans von Bülow then also played the premiere of the work on October 25, 1875 in Boston.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Highlight 1: Beginning of the first movement

This is one of the most famous beginnings in classical music – the opening theme is played by the orchestra and accompanied by the piano with full-throated chords:

Highlight 2: End of the first movement

The first movement ends with this virtuosic final sequence:

Highlight 3: Beginning of the second movement

The second movement begins particularly delicately: a melody performed solo by the flute is taken up by the piano. A chamber music-like passage develops in which various orchestral instruments enter into dialogue with the piano:

Highlight 4: End of the third movement

Let’s face it: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is one of the most difficult challenges for pianists, even today. The first two movements are very virtuosic – but it is the third movement that regularly sweeps audiences off their seats. The last 2 minutes of this concerto are simply tremendous:

3 Questions and Answers about Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Question 1: To whom was Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto dedicated?

Tchaikovsky actually wanted to dedicate his 1st Piano Concerto to the Russian pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, but he strongly criticized the work. Tchaikovsky then dedicated the work to the German pianist Hans von Bülow, who also premiered it in Boston in 1875.

Question 2: How many piano concertos did Tchaikovsky write?

Tchaikovsky wrote three piano concertos, but only the first two have survived in their entirety.

Question 3: How many versions are there of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1?

There are three versions of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. After the premiere of the first version (1875), Tchaikovsky made changes to the piano part (second version, premiere: 1884), and later he deleted ten measures in the third movement (third version, premiere: 1888).

2 Recommended Recordings of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Recording 1: Anna Fedorova, Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, Yves Abel

This is a stirring recording with Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova:

Recording 2: Khatia Buniatishvili, Israel Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta (Live, 2016)

Unlike Anna Fedorova, Georgian-French pianist Khatia Buniatishvili takes more dynamic and agogic liberties in her interpretation:

1 Quote about Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

I played the first movement. Not a word, not a remark ... I found the strength to play the concerto all the way through. Silence continued. Well?" I asked as I rose from the piano. Then a stream of words poured out of Rubinstein's mouth. Softly at first, as if he wanted to gather strength, and finally erupting with the force of Jupiter Tonan. My concerto was worthless, completely unplayable. The passages were so fragmentary, disjointed and poorly composed that not even improvements were necessary. The composition itself was bad, trivial, vulgar. Here and there I would have stolen from others. Perhaps one or two pages were worth saving; the rest had to be destroyed or completely recomposed.

Tchaikovsky in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck about Rubinstein's reaction to the Piano Concerto No. 1

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