Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    Although Tchaikovsky was already an accomplished composer (having already produced his first two symphonies, a string quartet, and two notable tone poems, all of these successful and enduring works), he still sought the approval of mentors such as Balakirev and Nicolas Rubinstein. On Christmas Eve 1874 he played the concerto for Rubinstein (its intended soloist) in an empty classroom. Rubinstein responded with a torrent of castigation, made famous by Tchaikovsky's own recollection. Tchaikovsky slunk off in despair. Later Rubinstein called him back and detailed a list of changes that must be made by a certain date if Rubinstein were to perform it. Tchaikovsky wrote that he responded, "I shall not change a single note, and I shall publish the concerto as it is now." He continued in his reminiscence, "And this, indeed, I did." Well, not entirely. Although there are no really substantial changes, he did subject the concerto to some minor revision before it was printed, as happens with most compositions. The premiere fell to Hans von Bülow, who played it first in Boston, October 15, 1875. The audience was enraptured and demanded a repeat of the entire final movement. Von Bülow took the concerto back to Europe, where it was quickly added to the repertoire of other leading pianists; even Rubinstein started playing it in 1878. It has been a giant success, virtually the epitome of the romantic piano concerto, ever since.

    The form of the concerto is lopsided: possessing a notably large scale introduction, the broad melodies of the first movement run its length out to nearly 25 minutes, more than the length of the two remaining movements combined. Its arresting opening horn call, with bold orchestral chords interrupting, leads immediately to one of the most recognizable and beloved of classical melodies, played by strings with rich harmonic support from the piano solo. Tchaikovsky initiates a great formal surprise by going straightway into a full-fledged cadenza for the piano solo, a powerful treatment of the theme. The strings then reassert the melody in its original form -- and all this is only the introduction to the first movement proper. A lengthy introduction to be sure (106 measures), but once it ends, that's the last time in the concerto this music is used in any way. The movement proper is a full-scale sonata-allegro treatment of two themes, one reputedly a Ukrainian folk theme, the other a gentle romantic theme. There is great drama and passion in its working out; when it is all over one realizes that there is also a minimum (for Tchaikovsky) of angst and pathos.

    The second movement is tender, beginning with pizzicato chords so quiet as to be almost whispers. A flute melody of young adolescent tenderness is the main theme of the movement. There is a central section with a delicate waltz.

    The finale opens with a rushing string figure and a powerful drum stroke. The main theme is an arresting, galloping dance made up of many short phrases. Yet another romantic theme provides contrast.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso - Allegro con spirito
    2. Andantino semplice - Prestissimo
    3. Allegro con fuoco

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    BIS
    BIS 2381
    2019
    Decca
    4834942
    2018
    Menuetto Classics
    2018
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    8501207
    2018
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    Brilliant Classics
    95520
    2018
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    CHSA 5216
    2018
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    566891
    2018
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    566686
    2017
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    TXA 17096
    2017
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    0190295886691
    2017
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    GRAM 99130
    2017
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    PRD 250388
    2017
    CuGate Classics
    CGC 034
    2017
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    ARB 164
    2017
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    2017
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    DACOCD 781782
    2017
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    0028947980
    2017
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    2017
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    BG 417
    2016
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    MELCD 1002386
    2016
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    88875119792
    2016
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    002894795516
    2016
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    88875177312
    2016
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    88875032272
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    SIGCD 441
    2016
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    80
    2015
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    4795448
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    4794350
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    4794155
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