On September 26, violinist Benjamin Beilman will join Bramwell Tovey and the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for the Opening Night concert of the 2020-2021 season.
THE STORY BEHIND: Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings
Title: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op.48
Composer: Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: This is a RI Philharmonic Premiere
Peter I. Tchaikovsky reached great depths in his last symphonies. He achieved dramatic and programmatic concentration in his ballets, overtures, and opera. But for pure attractiveness, he may well have arrived at the pinnacle in his Serenade for Strings. Although normally unwilling to praise himself, Tchaikovsky immediately recognized the worth and sincerity of this music, as he wrote to his patroness, Mme. von Meck, “I composed the serenade . . . from inner conviction. It is a heartfelt piece and so, I dare to think, it is not lacking in real qualities.”
The premiere was a surprise private performance given for the composer at the Moscow Conservatory in 1880. The Serenade for Strings aroused general enthusiasm there and at the public premiere in 1882, when the Waltz movement had to be encored. Even Anton Rubinstein, who had consistently criticized Tchaikovsky’s music, finally found a piece he could endorse wholeheartedly.
Tchaikovsky’s four-movement serenade is one of his tributes to the 18th century, though not as obvious as the Rococo Variations or Mozartiana. In fact, we have hardly a hint of neo-Classicism in the stately slow introduction, which becomes something of a motto during the serenade. Yet the composer avowed that the first movement was his “homage to Mozart . . . intended to be in imitation of his style.” Cast as a sonatina form (without development), the movement features two themes that do display some 18th-century character. The first is presented in canon, and the second is a perpetual motion idea reminiscent of Italian opera buffa. The introduction returns at the end of the movement as a coda.
The second movement is one of Tchaikovsky’s most ingratiating waltzes. Occasional retards and held notes toy coquettishly with the listener. The trio section is more heroic in character, perhaps the masculine counterpart of the feminine main theme.
Four hymn-like phrases begin the Elegy. Each begins with the same upward scale, but all end differently. The captivating melody of the middle section is chiefly an interchange between the first violins and the cellos. In the return of the main section, ascending phrases are answered by descending ones, setting in motion an extended coda. There is a final upward thrust in all parts.
The “Russian Theme” of the finale is the Andante introduction. In its last phrases, the composer introduces the same descending four-note motive that began the serenade. This, in turn, generates the first motive of the witty main Allegro theme. A charming second theme offers contrast, but the main theme is the subject of development, including a fugato. As a coda or postlude, the serenade’s motto opening section returns but eventually gives way to the finale theme for a playful finish.
Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED