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Complete String Quartets

Volume 1

String Quartet op. 11 in D major
String Quartet op. 22 in F major

Glinka String Quartet

Catalog #S022575CD [DDD]

Program Notes

The causes which led Tchaikovsky to the composition of his First String Quartet in D major, are pathetic. Want of money was not by any means an unusual circumstance in his earlier Moscow days, and in 1871 it had reached one of its especially uncomfortable phases. This led Nicholas Rubinstein to suggest to his young friend that he should give a concert of his own compositions; but neither the means at hand nor the prospects of the enterprise warranted the engagement of an orchestra, and as such a concert could not be given without at least one work of classic dimensions, Peter Ilyich decided to write a string quartet. This occupied him during the whole of February. Although it is not one of his mature works, the piece is throughout characteristic of its author. None but Tchaikovsky could have written that opening movement, which is full of fresh and youthful fantasy. The following Andante cantabile is derived from a folk song beginning with the words "Vania sat on the divan and smoked a pipe of tobacco". It enjoys the distinction of being one of the composer's greatest popular successes. There occurs in the middle an attractive passage in which the melody is entrusted to the first violin, while the cello has a persistent figure of descending chromatic notes played pizzicato, the effect of which is both original and charming. The Scherzo is slightly Schumannish, but in the finale the composer's individuality reasserts itself with confidence, the result being a movement of unmistakable vigor and exuberance.

The Second String Quartet, in F major, was composed during the winter of 1874. It was dedicated to the Grand Duke Constantine and was first played privately at the house of Nicholas Rubinstein. It was then received with the utmost cordiality by every one present except the host's brother, Anton, who had nothing to say in its favor. On March 22, 1874 its success was publicly established at a concert of the Imperial Music Society. This success was so marked, that the original edition was exhausted before the end of the season and a reprint became necessary; but it is significant that, on inquiry, only eleven copies were found to have been sold in Russia, the rest having been ordered from abroad. Tchaikovsky himself states that this Quartet was written practically at a stretch. That being so, it must have been during one of his periods of pessimism, for not a single ray of sunshine is allowed to show itself through the entire first movement . It is an impressive movement, with all its depressing influences, and perhaps it may be attributed to the convincing manner in which the pervading gloom is expressed that the scherzo which follows is invariably received with delight. This is couched on one of the irregular rhythms in the handling of which Tchaikovsky was such a consummate master. It really consists of seven beats, but these are barred as two measures of six-eight time followed by one of nine-eight, thus greatly facilitating the execution, which otherwise would present almost insurmountable difficulties of teamwork. The Andante is a fine piece of emotional music, and the Finale abounds in evidence of Tchaikovsky's contrapuntal facility. The simple themes are juggled with a fascinating dexterity, and the vivacity with which the interest becomes more and more excited is irresistible.


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