The String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Opus 11, was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's first completed string quartet of three string quartets, published during his lifetime. (An earlier attempt had been abandoned after the first movement had been completed.) Composed in February 1871, it was premiered in Moscow on 16/28 March 1871 by four members of the Russian Musical Society: Ferdinand Laub and Ludvig Minkus, violins; Pryanishnikov, viola; and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, cello.
If one is searching for an extra-musical heading under which to bracket the con- tent of the Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one cannot really avoid the word “fate”. Personal fate, to be exact. Thus his Symphony No. 4 (1876-78) was a frank confession straight from the soul, a subtle psychological portrait printed on paper. In a letter to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, he talked of “fate, this disastrous power, which prevents our urgent desire for happiness from achieving its objective”. After this, a further 11 years passed before Tchaikovsky attempted to compose another “purely” symphonic work – his Symphony No. 5.
Following the completion of the 4th’s subtle psychography, 11 years would pass before Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikowsky would return to the composition of a ‘purely’ symphonic work – the 5th Symphony (the composer considered his mighty Manfred Symphony dating from 1885 as his only explicitly programmatic symphony). Despite having just returned from a spectacularly received European concert tour, he commenced the project in a state of complete exhaustion, self-doubt & uncertainty. From his new country residence in Klin, he wrote in the spring of 1888: “I frequently have doubts about my own abilities & wonder if it is not time to stop, & if my creativity has not been stretched to the limit.” His comments in a letter to his benefactor, Nadeshda von Meck, in June, are similar; he fears that “the well may be dry.”
The world premieres of Iolanta and The Nutcracker took place on 18 December 1892 at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre. “The execution of both,” wrote the composer to his brother Anatoly the next day, “was magnificent, and that of the ballet perhaps too magnificent – its brilliance made one’s eyes tired.” Gustav Mahler conducted the first performance of the one-act opera outside Russia on 3 January 1893 in Hamburg and also directed the Viennese premiere of Iolanta on 22 March 1900.
Nowadays, Tchaikovsky’s 1st 3 symphonies seldom appear on the concert programmes, whereas his symphonies 4 to 6 – in other words, the symphonies generally recognized as masterpieces – are regularly included. Thus the 3 early symphonies share a fate that none of them have necessarily earned. After all, each in its own individual way is a worthwhile symphony: the composer certainly did not consider them to be preliminary works, a type of precursor to the later symphonies. From 1866 to 1878, Tchaikovsky taught harmony at the Moscow Conservatoire & during this period, he composed – among other works – his 1st 3 symphonies, namely in 1866, 1872, & 1875. For Tchaikovsky, the journey leading to the symphony was not easy: on the contrary, he trod a painful path before tapping into this high-end genre.
Following the long & rocky road to the 1st Symphony, on which, due to his teaching duties at the Moscow Conservatory, Tchaikovsky had been forced to work at night, the 2nd Symphony was composed mainly in the summer of 1872, hot on the heels of his 2nd opera, The Oprichnik. At this time, Tchaikovsky was once again taking a holiday on the country estate of his sister Aleksandra, located near the Ukrainian town of Kamianka, in the Kiev Governerate. Numerous anecdotes report Tchaikovsky’s touching assertion that he was not the true creator of the work, but rather, that it actually had been composed by a Pyotr Gerasimovich, 1 of the older servants in the household of his sister & her husband, Lev Davydov, for it was Pyotr Gerasimovich who had sung the folksong, The Crane, to him, which provided the basis for the work’s finale.
Swan Lake was the first of Tchaikovsky's three great ballets– works which added a new level of depth and sophistication to what had been a purely superficial art form. Today the music is so well-known and popular that it's impossible to comprehend the difficulties the composer experienced at early performances. Audiences found the music "too symphonic," and the dancers were put off by the prominence given to the orchestra which, they felt, distracted ballet fans from the action on stage. Of course, all of these supposed "defects" are precisely what we admire about the music today, and this elegant but exciting performance reveals the music in all of its glory.