Thursday, August 31, 2017

October 15, 1875: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 performed for first time

Last updated August 31, 2018.

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

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (composer)

Composed: 1875

First Performed: 10/15/1875

Van Cliburn’s Recording: 5/30/1958

Sales: 2.5 million (Van Cliburn)

Peak: 17 (US – Van Cliburn)

Quotable: --

Genre: classical > piano concerto


  1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
  2. Andantino simplice – Prestissimo
  3. Allegro con fuoco

Average Duration: 34:00


Tchaikovsky composed his first piano concerto between November 1874 and February 1875. He wanted pianist Nikolai Rubinstein to perform the piece and played it for him in an empty classroom on Christmas Eve 1874. Rubinstein was highly critical of the work, responding with a list of demanded changes before he would play it. Tchaikovsky was devastated by the criticism, but wrote to Rubinstein, “I shall not change a single note, and I shall publish the concerto as it is now.” WK

While he did make some changes, none were substantial and the concerto debuted in Boston on October 15, 1875 with Hans von Bülow performing. WK Tchaikovsky would later revise it in “in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888,” WK which is usually the version now played. Rubinstein later retracted his criticisms and championed the work. WK

Form-wise, the concerto is lopsided with “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.” JS Tchaikovsky surprises the listener “by going straightway into a full-fledged cadenza for the piano solo, a powerful treatment of the theme.” JS

“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.” JS

“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.” JS

In 1958, pianist Van Cliburn’s recording of the concerto topped the Billboard album charts, selling an estimated 2.5 million copies. Both Van Cliburn and Arturo Toscanini’s recordings of the concerto have been named to the Grammy Hall of Fame and Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August 30, 1969: Documentary filmed of Franz Schubert's Trout Quintet

Last updated August 29, 2018.

Quintet for piano, violin, viola, cello & double bass in A major ("Trout"), D. 667 (Op. posth. 114)

Franz Schubert (composer)

Composed: 1819

Filmed for Documentary: August 30, 1969

Sales: --

Peak: --

Quotable: --

Genre: classical > chamber music


  1. Allegro vivace
  2. Andante
  3. Scherzo: Presto
  4. Theme: Andantino
  5. Finale: Allegro guisto

Average Duration: 35:42


“In the summer of 1819, Schubert traveled with the famous baritone Johann Michael Vogl to the river town of Steyr, where there was an abundance of musical activity. Schubert and Vogl’s performance of the some of the composer’s songs – especially Erlkönig (Schubert himself taking the part of the father!) and Die Forelle (The Trout) – attracted the notice of Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy mining executive and an accomplished cellist, who then commissioned Schubert to write a quintet based on ‘The Trout’ (and perhaps patterned after a work by Hummel that he had in his collection). The resulting ‘Trout’ quintet – scored for the unusual combination of piano, violin, viola, violoncello, and double bass – has become one of Schubert’s more enduring chamber works, and it is typical of his early style. A notable feature is the integration of the piano part into the musical texture, on equal terms with those of the string players. In his own writing, Schubert referred to typical piano music as "damnable thumping" and insists in this work, as in his others, that it behave as an orderly and equal member of an ensemble.” AMG

“The first movement is disproportionately long at 13 minutes, nearly a third of the length of the entire five-movement work. It is a joyful movement in sonata-allegro form, propelled forward by piano arpeggios and triplet figures in the strings. A lyrical andante follows, sweetly expressive in the minor mode, and avoiding any sense of melancholy. It features three themes, one of which allows for an extended piano solo.” AMG

“The brief third movement, a presto, begins aggressively but becomes a sort of ‘dance poem’ containing Austrian folk tunes. The rhythmic impetus is unflagging.” AMG

“This leads to the work’s signature movement, the theme and variations on ‘Die Forelle (The Trout).’ Potentially tedious, the theme and variations form is ingenious and satisfying in Schubert’s hands – each variation is both individually engaging and integral to the whole. As in the first movement, the piano is thoroughly intermingled with the strings and the resulting sound is nearly symphonic (an exception to this is the third variation, which is a swirling piano cascade with subdued string accompaniment).” AMG

“The final movement is simple and light with a swirling, almost ‘gypsy’ sound that can be reminiscent of Dvorák at times. Like the third and fourth movements, the last seems to be broken into smaller units, in the style of a set of dances. Although he had already written 11 string quartets by the time of the ‘Trout’ Quintet, this composition represents Schubert’s first truly significant chamber work. His ability to blend and balance this combination of instruments seems instinctive and the piece is rightly considered one of his most popular and best early works.” AMG

No dates were found for a premiere performance, but a documentary, The Trout, captured five musicians – Daniel Barenboim (piano), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Pinchas Zukerman (viola), Jacqueline du Pré (cello) and Zubin Mehta (double bass) – coming together to play the famed quintet on August 30, 1969. The Guardian called it “one of the best-loved and most successful classical music documentaries ever made.” CN

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