The "Grande Sonate" (1878) is Tchaikovsky's only "official" piano sonata; he never intended to publish his student Sonata in C sharp minor (1865), though that work was posthumously issued as the composer's Op. 80. The Sonata in G major, however, is a fully mature work written during the same period as masterpieces like the Fourth Symphony (1877-1878) and the Violin Concerto (1878). Still, the sonata is somewhat less successful than a work like the Violin Concerto, principally because in aspiring to produce a highly pianistic, virtuoso showpiece, Tchaikovsky failed to capitalize on his greatest strength, a singular sense of melody.
The main theme of the first movement, Moderato e risoluto, is an undeniably flashy and heroic statement characterized by bold hammered chords. The second subject, marked Tranquillo, offers some lyrical relief. These two subjects pass through several unusual modulations and meager elaborations in the long development section. The slightly truncated recapitulation is dominated to the end by the forceful, obsessive first theme.
The second movement, Andante non troppo, quasi moderato, again begins chordally, but this time the theme is far more meditative. It alternates, quasi-rondo-style, with two other sections; one, a highly Schumannesque episode in dotted rhythms, is more radiant, the other, ardently lyrical in Tchaikovsky's distinctive fashion. The brief Scherzo begins with a robust if somewhat gangly subject marked by animated passagework. The more nimble trio section features a melody atop a series of deft runs in the left hand.
The finale, a bravura rondo, hearkens to the hectoring manner of the first movement. Marked Allegro vivace, it launches with declamatory, syncopated chords and swirling runs, while a lighter staccato-chord motif tries to insinuate itself into the texture. After a lyrical episode, the first section, now stripped down, returns, only to give way to the lyrical material, this time presented more floridly and expansively. It builds to a climax, whereupon massive octaves thrust toward a recapitulation of the main theme. As the music to all appearances rushes headlong toward an extroverted conclusion, it unexpectedly pulls back to briefly recall briefly the quieter material, and the sonata ends rather abruptly with a short sequence of chords.