Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Evgeny Kissin: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1

Evgeny Kissin plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1, Op 23: First Movement, with the Berliner Philharmonic on December 31, 1988 at its New Year's Eve concert. Herbert von Karajan is conducting. Kissin was 17, Von Karajan 80. Audio and video recordings of the concert were made by Deutsche Grammophone. This is, indeed, a wonderful and memorable moment. (A clip of the second movement can be found here and the third movement here.).

The piano concerto was first performed In Boston, Massachusetts, on October 25, 1875. Hans Bülow was the pianist, and Benjamin Johnson Lang the conductor. The Russian premiere took place in Saint Petersburg on November 13, 1875.  Gustav Kross was the pianist, Eduard Nápravník the conductor.

Here is a fine narrative, by Barbara Heninger, fleshing out Tchaikovsky's temperament and the brief history of this piece:
Yet the oft-told tale of the Piano Concerto's conception reminds us that even Tchaikovsky's melodies could fail to charm. He completed the work in December of 1874, and dedicated it to his teacher and friend, the great Russian pianist Nikolai Rubinstein.

Rubinstein's brother Anton had brought Tchaikovsky to Moscow in 1866 as a music theory teacher for the new Moscow Conservatory; Tchaikovsky roomed with Nikolai, and the brothers promoted the young composer's works in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky was not a pianist and wanted Nikolai's opinion about the suitability of his first piano concerto. So on Christmas Eve, Tchaikovsky played it for his mentor.
He described the scene in a letter to a friend: "I played the first movement. Not a word, not a remark. If you only knew how disappointing, how unbearable it is when a man offers his friend a dish of his work, and the other eats and remains silent!"

Tchaikovsky played the entire piece and then, he wrote, Rubinstein told him it was "worthless, impossible to play, the themes have been used before ... there are only two or three pages that can be salvaged and the rest must be thrown away!"
Rubinstein offered to play the piece if Tchaikovsky rewrote it, but the composer replied, "I won't change a single note," and instead gave it to the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow. Von Bülow did not share Rubinstein's distaste, and premiered the work in Boston on October 25, 1875.

Though a critic there called it an "extremely difficult, strange, wild, ultra-modern Russian Concerto," the audience was enthusiastic, as was a second audience in New York a week later, demanding an encore of the final movement.

Rubinstein later recanted and performed the piece as well, while fifteen years later Tchaikovsky made some of the changes Rubinstein had requested. Rubinstein's criticisms still have merit, for the piece is in some places nearly unplayable, while other passages for the soloist are barely audible. And the famous opening theme, for all its grandeur, is just as remarkable in its disappearance— for after storming in with blaring horns calls, sweeping strings, and maestoso ascending chords from the piano, the theme continues for only 110 measures and simply drops out of the piece, never to be heard again.


  1. Thanks a lot for the presentation, it is awesome. So much learn about piano in one post.

    Upright Pianos

  2. Thanks for the presentation, really i am felling good to read this fabulous post, thanks a lot.

    Upright Pianos

  3. Dear Shaik:
    Thank you for your comments. We are all learning.


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