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First, Russian, piano


On December 3 (old style – November 21) in 1875, for the first time in Moscow, the First Piano Concerto for Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was performed. A new composition in the symphony assembly of the Imperial Russian Musical Society was presented to Muscovites by the young pianist Sergei Taneyev and the orchestra conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein.

Hard to be first

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky did not at all strive to be first in everything. But in the case of three serious musical genres, it turned out by itself. The First Symphony (1866), the First Quartet (1871) and the First Piano Concerto (1875) were the first not only in the composer’s list of works, but also in the history of Russian music. In this case, “first” means the first artistically vivid pattern.

There were Anton Rubinstein’s piano concerts, Milia Balakirev’s concert … However, only Tchaikovsky Concerto put time into the first place. It seemed to confirm the correctness (and surprising sensitivity!) Of Taneyev, who, after meeting this genius of music, congratulated his acquaintances with the first Russian piano concert.

Although the beginning of work on this essay did not foreshadow such a high assessment.

On October 29, 1874, in a letter to brother Modest, the composer announces his intention to start a concert. That the new work was begun, he writes to Brother Anatoly on November 21 of the same year: “I am now all immersed in the composition of the piano concerto. I want by all means that Rubinstein in his concert played it; it is very tight and bad. ”

Difficulties in the work were associated primarily with the writing of virtuoso piano passages. The composer so trusted the brothers Anatoly and Modest that he honestly wrote them about all the creative problems. But in none of the letters to them, Tchaikovsky writes about the difficulties with the main musical themes of the Concert or their development.

December was the time of the most intensive work, and on the 21st the Concert was over. It remained only to sit down for the orchestral score. But before that, Tchaikovsky decided to show the new work to Nikolai Grigorievich Rubinstein.

December 24, Pyotr Ilyich plays the Concert of Rubinstein. At a kind of closed premiere was also attended by music critic, professor of the Moscow Conservatory Nikolai Albertovich Hubert. Both are Tchaikovsky’s friends. He very much trusts Rubinstein and Hubert, so he goes to meet them with enthusiasm.

Thunder judgment

Having played the Concert to the end, Tchaikovsky stood waiting for a reaction.

Alas, he heard what he was completely unprepared to hear from loved ones. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, the composer describes this sad scene: “From the mouth of Nikolai Grigorievich a stream of speeches flowed, at first quiet, then more and more turning into the tone of the thunderous Jupiter. It turned out that my concert was worthless, that it was impossible to play it … that as a composition it was bad, it went that I stole something from there, and from there, that there were only two or three pages that could be left. <…> An outsider, who would have fallen into this room, would have thought that I was a maniac, a worthless and meaningless stuffer, who had come to the famous musician to pester with his rubbish. ”

It is surprising that in this letter, written three years after the “failure”, the resentment is still so vividly felt. For Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein’s opinion, supported by Hubert, was a cruel blow.

After a while, the insult will be forgotten. Nikolai Rubinstein will change his attitude towards the Concert and will turn to him more than once as a pianist and as a conductor.


But so far the thought of initiating Rubinstein’s work has been rejected. The first hand-written page of the score reads well: “Dedicated to Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev.” Probably, Tchaikovsky thus wanted to thank the musician who was to become the first performer of the Concert. But the world premiere was played by German pianist Hans von Bulow: Tchaikovsky sent him a score on the recommendation of his conservative colleague Carl Klindworth. The notes already had a dedication to von Bulow.

The pianist was flattered by such a gift. He was seriously preparing for the debut. The concert was first performed on October 25, 1875 in Boston (conductor Benjamin Lang). The audience met Tchaikovsky with enthusiasm.

Von Bülow writes to Peter Ilyich about the Concert: “By ideas it is so original without pretentiousness, so noble, so powerful, so interesting in details, which by their abundance do not harm clarity and unity of common sense. <…> I would be tired of listing all the qualities of your work, qualities that force me to congratulate equally the writer and all those who will enjoy this work. ”

In Russia, the Concert was performed for the first time in St. Petersburg on November 1, 1875, a week after the Boston premiere. It was performed by Gustav Cross, a former classmate of Tchaikovsky, at the conductor’s stand – the famous conductor Edward Napravnik. The composer was unhappy with the performance.



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