Program 2

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Nocturne for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 19, No. 4

Composed for solo piano in 1873; arranged for cello and orchestra in 1888.

Tchaikovsky was far from happy with his teaching duties at the Moscow Conservatory, which left him less time for composing than he wished. One of the positive aspects of the job, however, was that he was able to meet some fine musicians in the course of his work, one of whom was the sonorously named German professor of cello at the school, Wilhelm Carl Friedrich Fitzenhagen, the principal cellist of the Imperial Orchestra in Moscow and a noted chamber musician. (He played in the first performances of Tchaikovsky’s three string quartets.) Fitzenhagen, like Tchaikovsky, was rather shy and introverted, and a nice friendship sprang up between them; it was for Fitzenhagen that Tchaikovsky composed his Rococo Variations in 1876. In 1888, Fitzenhagen asked Tchaikovsky to add something more to his solo repertory, and he obliged by arranging the Andante Cantabile from his String Quartet No. 1 and a melancholy Nocturne from the Op. 19 Pieces, the fourth of a set of miniatures for piano he had composed in 1873, for cello and small orchestra. The Andante Cantabile became well known in its new guise, but the Nocturne languished; the score was not published until 1956.


Pezzo Capriccioso for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 62

Composed in 1887.

Premiered on February 28, 1888 in Paris, conducted by the composer with Anatoly Brandukov as soloist.

Among Tchaikovsky’s friends during his later years was the brilliant cellist Anatoly Brandukov (1856-1930), whom the composer met when Brandukov enrolled in his harmony class at the Moscow Conservatory. Brandukov’s other principal teacher at the school was Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a close friend of Tchaikovsky and dedicatee of his 1876 Rococo Variations. Brandukov made a fine career for himself as a virtuoso following his first European tour, in 1878. He was thereafter based mostly in Paris until 1906, when he returned to Moscow to serve as Director of the Philharmonic Institute, and, from 1921 until his death nine years later, Professor of Cello at the Conservatory. In August 1887, while he was in Aachen tending his mortally ill friend Nicholas Kondratyev, Tchaikovsky composed for Brandukov the brief Pezzo Capriccioso (“Caprice Piece”). (Tchaikovsky filled additional tedious hours in Aachen by writing his Mozartiana Suite, finished immediately before he undertook the Pezzo Capriccioso.) Composer and cellist gave the work’s premiere in Paris on February 28, 1888 with Colonne’s orchestra. The Pezzo Capriccioso, Tchaikovsky’s last work for solo instrument and orchestra, consists of two large musical paragraphs — one lyrical and melancholy, the other energetic and virtuosic — each played once and then repeated in shortened form.

Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33

Composed in 1876.

Premiered on November 30, 1877 in Moscow, with Wilhelm Fitzenhagen as soloist.

The style of the Rococo Variations may be traced to Tchaikovsky’s reverence for Mozart, whom he called “the greatest of all composers” and even “the Christ of music.” Tchaikovsky’s interest in the Salzburg master extended beyond mere matters of musical technique, however, to other of the sensitive composer’s concerns, especially the sense of social dislocation caused by his homosexuality, as John Warrack noted: “The rococo represented for Tchaikovsky a world of order and balance that seemed hopelessly lost. He is by no means the only Romantic composer to feel an ache for the rejected classicism — it is, indeed, one of the typically contradictory ingredients of Romanticism. But in him the reaction was as usual acutely personal, a dramatization of his sense of being cut off from a once-familiar security and delight. He was often to find in his music occasion for what he frankly regarded as escape from his real situation of unhappiness to which the world had no answer. In these Variations he turned again to the rococo for consolation.” This is a work of deliberate grace, charm and elegance that plumbs no great emotional depths nor reveals any of those melancholy corners of Tchaikovsky’s soul that were to be exposed in the Fourth Symphony, composed only a few months later. “The Variations,” according to Edward Garden, “were from a world of happy make-believe where the frustrations and terrors of the present existence could be forgotten for a time in the contemplation of the past.”

The theme of the Variations, original with Tchaikovsky, is prefaced by a subdued introduction. After a brief, vaguely Oriental interlude for double reeds that looks forward to the nationality dances in The Nutcracker, the cello presents the first of the seven variations. The opening two variations are decorated versions of the theme, each ending with a strain for double reeds. Variation 3 presents a long-breathed cantabile in a new key and tempo. The fourth variation resumes the earlier tempo, and includes some dazzling, airborne scale passages that exploit fully the tone, agility and range of the solo instrument. The next variation allots the cello a trilled accompaniment to the theme, played by the flute; a cadenza closes this section. The penultimate variation slips into a minor mode that both balances the preceding tonalities and creates a good foil to the virtuosic closing variation that immediately follows.


Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

Composed in 1885.

Premiered on March 23, 1886 in Moscow, conducted by Max von Erdmannsdoerfer.

One of the highlights of Berlioz’s second visit to Russia, in 1867-1868, was the performance of his composition inspired by Byron’s Childe Harold, the symphony Harold in Italy. The Russian passion for Byron was still strong after it had largely run its course in the rest of Europe, and Berlioz’s colorful, programmatic work created a considerable stir among both public and musicians. Harold in Italy was the direct inspiration for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Antar Symphony of 1868 and also caused Vladimir Stassov (the influential journalist and philosophical shepherd of the group of nationalistic composers known as “The Five”) to concoct a literary program for a four-movement symphony based on another of Byron’s writings, Manfred. Stassov sent his précis to Mili Balakirev, one of the members of “The Five,” who, finding the sketch “not in harmony with my intimate moods,” chose not to set it to music. Balakirev elaborated Stassov’s outline, and sent it to Berlioz with the hope of inspiring a sequel to Harold in Italy. He even suggested the use in the proposed work of an idée fixe — a melody heard in every movement — a technique that had proven successful in the Symphonie Fantastique. Berlioz, tired, ill and nearing the end of his life, declined. Balakirev’s scenario lay fallow for fourteen years.

In 1882, Balakirev wrote Tchaikovsky a letter full of praise for the tone poems The Tempest and Francesca da Rimini and thanking him for the recent dedication of the revised version of Romeo and Juliet, whose form and subject Balakirev had originally suggested. He took the occasion to offer Tchaikovsky the long-dormant Manfred program. Tchaikovsky replied that the plan seemed too close to the Berlioz model to allow for much originality, and told Balakirev that he was not interested. Two years later, Balakirev met Tchaikovsky at the first performance of Eugene Onegin at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theater, and again urged him to consider Manfred. Tchaikovsky, having become more familiar with the poet’s works since Balakirev first suggested the topic, arrived at the realization that this might indeed be a subject for him. Balakirev sent him a revised version of the scenario, even suggesting keys, moods and forms, and Tchaikovsky took it and a newly purchased copy of the original poem with him on a visit to Switzerland. He decided to go ahead with the project, despite reservations about composing to a literary plan. (“It is a thousand times pleasanter to compose without a program,” he confided to a friend.) He made sketches for Manfred during his spring 1885 travels, and settled down to serious work on the score when he returned home in the summer.

Though Byron called Manfred a drama, he never intended that it be staged, but rather read as a poetic recitation. He wrote to his publisher that it was “quite impossible to stage,” and that negotiations with the Drury Lane Theatre to mount a production “have given me the greatest contempt.” In 1817, Byron described the haunted, illusionary world of Manfred: “It is in three acts, of a very wild, metaphysical, and inexplicable kind. Almost all of the persons — but two or three — are spirits of the earth and air, or the waters; the scene is in the Alps; the hero is a kind of magician, who is tormented by a species of remorse, the cause of which is left half unexplained. He wanders about invoking these spirits, which appear to him, and are of no use; he at last goes to the very abode of the Evil Principle, in propria persona, to evocate a ghost, which appears and gives him an ambiguous and disagreeable answer; and in the third act he is found by an attendant dying in the tower, where he had studied his art.”

The symphonic plan that Stassov and Balakirev wove around Byron’s play contains four scenes, which are faithfully mirrored by Tchaikovsky’s music.

“I. Manfred wanders over the Alps,” begins Balakirev’s outline. “His life is ruined; many burning questions remain unanswered; nothing remains to him but memory. The form of the ideal Astarte floats before his fancy; in vain he calls to her; only the echoes of the rocks give back her name. His thoughts and memories burn his brain and eat out his heart; he seeks and pleads for oblivion which none can give him.

“II. Scherzo fantastique. The spirit of the Alps appears to Manfred in the rainbow of the waterfall.

“III. A mood entirely different from the earlier movements. Program: the customs of the Alpine huntsmen, patriarchal, simple and kindly. With these customs Manfred comes into contact, and is in sharp contrast. Naturally, you must first of all have a little hunting motive, only here the greatest caution is necessary so as not to fall into triviality.

“IV. Finale. A wild Allegro depicting the caves of Arimanes, to which Manfred has gone to seek a meeting with Astarte. The contrast to this infernal orgy will be given by the appearance of Astarte’s shade. The music must be light, clear and maidenly. Then a repetition of the pandemonium; then sunset and the death of Manfred.”

In composing Manfred, Tchaikovsky not only followed Balakirev’s program but also adopted the technique of idée fixe that he suggested. The idée fixe melody, symbolizing Byron’s romantic protagonist, is presented at the Symphony’s outset, and occurs in every movement. The work, especially in its opening movement, does not follow traditional symphonic forms, and it is perhaps for that reason that Tchaikovsky did not include it among his numbered symphonies, considering it rather a multi-movement symphonic poem.

So truly do the individual movements reflect the literary scheme given above that they need little further comment. Manfred is one of Tchaikovsky’s most colorful orchestral pictures, exhibiting a richness and variety of instrumental sonorities unsurpassed by any of his other compositions. “Of all Tchaikovsky’s works, it is Manfred which has least deserved its fate,” wrote John Warrack in his biography of the composer. “He constructs a form of his own that is remarkably successful as an expression of his program.... It is a musical portrait, as strongly drawn as Berlioz’s Harold, of the guilty, doomed sensibility which was perhaps the aspect of Byron which most vividly appealed to the Russians.”

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

August Symphony Series performance location

Door Community Auditorium - Fish Creek 

The Peninsula Music Festival - 10347 Highway 42

Unit B Green Gables Shops 

P.O. Box 340, Ephraim, Wisconsin  54211


Phone: (920) 854-4060