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  


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