TCHAIKOVSKY Pyotr Ilyich, Souvenir de Florence

Allegro con spirito
Adagio cantabile e con moto
Allegro moderato
Allegro vivace

 

For Tchaikovsky, Souvenir de Florence was the one of his chamber works that gave him the most trouble. He had promised to write a piece for the St Petersburg Chamber Music Society in 1886 when the Society made him an honorary member, but after a false start in 1887, it was not until June–July 1890 that he composed the work. He found writing for string sextet problematic, as he wrote to his brother Modest in June 1890: ‘I began it three days ago and am writing with difficulty, not for lack of new ideas, but because of the novelty of the form. One requires six independent yet homogeneous voices. This is unimaginably difficult.’ By mid-July he was much happier with progress (‘at the moment I’m terribly pleased with myself’, he wrote to Modest), but the work was revised the following year after Tchaikovsky had heard a private performance. He was clearly taken aback by the results, telling Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov that he planned radical surgery ‘to alter the string sextet, which turned out to be astonishingly bad in all respects.’ Following extensive changes to the coda of the first movement, the middle of the third movement and the fugue in the finale, he was finally happy with the results and sent the score to Jurgenson for publication at the end of January 1892. The work is only tenuously connected with Florence: Tchaikovsky sketched one of the themes there while composing The Queen of Spades, but the Sextet was mostly composed at the house in Frolovskoye (about 100 miles west of Moscow) that he rented between 1888 and 1891. The first movement begins with a vigorous theme followed by a more lyrical idea that serves as a charming contrast. The Adagio starts with a theme that resembles a slowed-down recollection of the first movement, but this gives way to an expansive melody on the first violin, accompanied by pizzicato. The wraith-like central section of this movement is remarkable for the string effects demanded by the composer. The third movement is dominated by a theme that is redolent of a Russian folk tune, and the finale is also launched with a quick folk dance which is treated in a variety of ways including a rather unexpected fugue before heading to an affirmative close.

 

Nigel Simeone

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