Mourning the Best Violinist of Tchaikovsky’s Time

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Sweet pain. © Charles Thibo

Andante, 78 bars – a long introduction. A funeral music, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky knew exactly what he was doing. He was mourning a friend, Ferdinand Laub, the violinist of the Russian Musical Society’s string quartet (“Moscow Quartet”) who had performed Tchaikovsky’s first two string quartets at their premiere. This was the composer’s third string quartet in E flat minor, Op. 30. Tchaikovsky wrote it in a very short time span, in January and February 1876 “I rush at full speed to finish my quartet”, he wrote to his brother Modest on February 10, 1876. Eight days later the score was ready, the premiere took place on March 2 at the Moscow Conservatory.

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A Contemplation Inspired by Liszt

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Brilliance. © Charles Thibo

As you may well know, sometimes I stumble over a name that makes me curious or that makes me remember something  have read, I look a few things up and – oh boy! I find a little treasure. That’s what happened two weeks ago. I stumbled over the name of Sergey Lyapunov, I remembered he was part of Mily Balakirev’s “Mighty Five”* and I fell in love with his 12 “Etudes d’exécution transcendante”, Lyapunov’s hommage to Franz Liszt, modeled on Liszt’s own 20 “Etudes d’exécution transcendante”. However Liszt had planned to write such “Etudes” in all major and minor keys, a project he did not finish. Working down the circle of fifth* with parallel keys, Liszt reached as far as B flat minor. Lyapunov wrote his “Etudes” in the keys Liszt did not use.

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Glinka’s Italian Sextet with a Russian Touch

Southern brilliance. © Charles Thibo

Here is a piece for the heart, radiant, full of light and optimism, and an excellent contrast to the dark moods à la Kafka and Shostakovich, that I have bothered you with. In 1832 Mikhail Glinka, the Russian composer considered as the father of Russian classical music, wrote his Grand Sextet in E flat major (IMG 15), a piece in three movements and scored for two violins, viola, cello, double bass, piano. It was published by the Moscow editor P. Jurgenson in 1881 and ranks among the best known works of this composer.

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Trying to Escape Convention and Banality

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Orchestral or chamber music? © Charles Thibo

“It does seem to me, though, that if you insist, with relentless consistency, in sticking to the same compositional techniques when writing symphonies, string quartets, and operas, the results will hardly be as successful. However, I truly do not know. All I know is that you have a great talent, a lot of intelligence, and a whole sea of hatred for everything that is conventional, banal, and to be had cheaply, and that as a result of this we must sooner or later expect to see rich fruits.” Thus the master spoke. Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote on April 14, 1884, in a letter to Sergei Taneyev, his former pupil, what he thought of Taneyev’s latest work, a cantata. Taneyev was fascinated by counterpoint technique and naturally applied it to his multiple choral works.

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