About The Music

Dip into our programme notes for pieces presented by Music in the Round. Covering music that is forthcoming and has been recently performed, learn more about the works and also listen to brief extracts. 

About The Music: T

TCHAIKOVSKY Piotr, Piano Trio in A minor Op.50

Pezzo elegiaco (Moderato assai. Allegro giusto) 
Tema con variazioni
Andante con moto
Finale e coda 

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio is subtitled ‘to the memory of a great artist’: a memorial to the composer’s friend and mentor Nicolai Rubinstein who died in 1881. The choice of ensemble for this piece in his memory was surprising since a year earlier Tchaikovsky had told his patron Nazdezhda von Meck, that “to my ears the acoustic combination of piano with violin or cello solo is completely incompatible. In this sonority the instruments seem to repel one another, and I assure you that any kind of trio or sonata with piano or cello is absolute torture for me.” Clearly he changed his mind, since he started work on a trio that was conceived on a positively epic scale. A year later he completed the work in Rome on 9 February 1882. 

It is an expansive lamentation in two long movements. The first, ‘Elegiac piece’, is a large sonata-form that opens with the theme that is to dominate the whole work. The second movement is an extended set of variations on a folk tune. Each of the variations is a kind of character piece, by turns elegant, charming, robustly energetic and darkly moving – at the close the music returns to a mood of despair as the opening theme returns in octaves on the violin and cello before its final transformation into a funeral march.  

© Nigel Simeone 

TCHAIKOVSKY Piotr, The Seasons

In 1875, while working on Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write a set of twelve piano pieces which were published in monthly instalments by the St Petersburg magazine Nuvellist. In November 1875, Tchaikovksy wrote to the magazine’s editor Nicolay Bernard to thank him for the commission, adding that he was ‘grateful for your courtesy and readiness to pay me such a high fee.’ And in its December issue the magazine announced that ‘Our celebrated composer P. I. Tchaikovsky has promised the editor of Nuvellist, that he will contribute to next year’s issues a whole series of his piano compositions, specially written for our journal, the character of which will correspond entirely to the titles of the pieces, and the month in which they will be published in the journal.’ The twelve pieces were composed between December 1875 and the summer of 1876. 


The composer and pianist Alexander Goedicke – a native of Moscow, student at the Conservatoire there and winner of the Anton Rubinstein Competition in 1900 – made this arrangement of The Seasons for piano trio which is particularly successful: introducing the colours of string instruments while maintaining the intimate character of Tchaikovsky’s original pieces. 


© Nigel Simeone 

TCHAIKOVSKY Pyotr Ilyich, String Quartet No.3

String Quartet in E flat minor, Op.30
Andante sostenuto – Allegro moderato
Allegro vivo e scherzando
Andante funebre e doloroso ma con moto
Finale. Allegro non troppo e risoluto 

Tchaikovsky wrote his third and last string quartet in 1876, dedicating it to the memory of the violinist Ferdinand Laub (1832–1875). Though Czech, born and trained in Prague, Laub taught the violin at the Moscow Conservatory from 1866 to 1874. Tchaikovsky loved his playing, calling him ‘the best violinist of our time’ and Laub led the first performances of Tchaikovsky’s first two quartets. 

Tchaikovsky’s Third Quartet is in the most unusual key of E flat minor, lending much of the work a pervasive quality of melancholy. After a first movement that is stern and serious – and a magnificently constructed musical argument starting with a darkly lyrical slow introduction– the second movement is lighter and brighter, a kind of Scherzo, mixing charm with some spiky surprises and harmonic quirks. The slow movement is a searing lament propelled by the remorseless tread of a funeral march, with a contrasting idea that recalls Russian Orthodox chant. According to Tchaikovsky himself, many of the audience wept openly at the first performance of this heartrending memorial. The finale maintains the serious mood, but it does so with music that is vigorous and classically proportioned, interrupting the flow for moments of tragic reflection before heading to a much brighter conclusion that finally affirms the sunnier key of E flat major. 

© Nigel Simeone  

TCHAIKOVSKY Pyotr, String Quartet No.2 in F Op.22

Adagio – Moderato assai 
Scherzo. Allegro giusto 
Andante ma non tanto 
Finale. Allegro con moto 


Tchaikovsky wrote his Second String Quartet in January 1874 and it remains a neglected work – a fate it shares with the Third Quartet of 1876 – certainly when compared with the better-known First Quartet. In his biography Tchaikovsky: the man and his music, David Brown has suggested that the F major shows Tchaikovsky trying to grapple with the economy and rigour of Beethoven’s quartets, particularly in the first movement where the thematic material is “more concise” than might be expected with Tchaikovsky, “thus facilitating far greater flexibility in what is built from it.” This is a very fair assessment of a movement that has clear debts to Beethoven in terms of structure and compositional process. The Scherzo is delightfully quirky, based on a lopsided bar of 2, 2 and 3 beats until the more stable, waltz-like Trio section. The emotional core of the work is anguished slow movement (David Brown describes this as music of pain-filled intensity). The Rondo finale that follows is effervescent and untroubled. 


© Nigel Simeone   

TRADITIONAL (Arr. Caroline Shaw), Shenandoah for cello and piano

Shenandoah was the Native American leader of the Oneida tribe who lived to well over 100 years of age and died in 1816. A folk song honouring his name had become well-known throughout north-east America, Canada and even amongst English sailors by the middle of the 19th century, and it’s believed to have first been sung by fur traders who worked on the Missouri River in Shenandoah’s realm.

This arrangement was made in 2020 by American composer Caroline Shaw for cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott, which they recorded on their album Songs of Comfort and Hope.

© Tom McKinney


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