Concert Fantasia

Tchaikovsky Research

The Concert Fantasia in G major, Op. 56 (TH 61 ; ČW 56) [1], was Tchaikovsky's third work for piano and orchestra, written between April and September 1884.


The Fantasia is scored for solo piano and an orchestra consisting of 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in D), 3 trombones + 3 timpani, tambourine + keyboard glockenspiel + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are two movements:

  1. Quasi Rondo (G major, 306 bars)
  2. Contrastes. Andante cantabile—Molto vivace (G minor–G major, 722 bars)

A complete performance lasts approximately 25 to 30 minutes. However, Tchaikovsky also provided an alternative ending to the first movement so that it could be played independently if desired [2], reducing the playing time to around 15 minutes.


Returning from foreign travels at the beginning of March 1884, Tchaikovsky decided to spend the spring months with his sister at Kamenka. However, this trip was delayed by urgent modifications to the opera Mazepa. On 13/25 March 1884, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck from Saint Petersburg: "I am feeling a surge of energy, and an impatience to set about something new" [3]. But Tchaikovsky did not manage to start any new work in Saint Petersburg. Only after arriving at Kamenka on 12/24 April, did Tchaikovsky set to work. Initially he was uncertain what the composition would turn out to be. "For the present I have still not started work, and have only been collecting some materials for a future symphonic composition, the form of which has still not been settled" [4]. Captivated by the playing of the pianist Eugen d'Albert, who gave concerts in Moscow during the 1883/84 season, his thoughts turned to a new piano concerto [5].

In the composer's diary entry for 13/25 April 1884, we read: "I stopped playing around and came up with something new. Hit upon an idea for a concerto for piano, but it still sounded too poor and unoriginal". On 14/26 April, Tchaikovsky remarked in his diary: "Long period of idleness, without the slightest inspiration". On 16/28 April: "Both in the Trostyanka [woods] and at home after dinner, tried to decide on the foundations for the new symphony, but it was all unsatisfactory... Walked in the garden and came up with the seed not of a future symphony, but of a suite" [6]. On 17/29 April and 18/30 April, Tchaikovsky wandered in the Trostyanka woods and noted down, in his own words: "wretched ideas" [7]. "Very disappointed with myself that everything that comes into my head is banal", the composer noted on 19 April/1 May. Nevertheless, on the same day, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "Over recent days the form of my future symphonic work has been determined—it shall be a suite" [8].

After completing the sketches and piano arrangement of the Third Suite in June, while staying at Grankino, Tchaikovsky returned to composing the Concert Fantasia. "Besides orchestrating the Suite, I have taken up a new composition, namely a concerto for piano", Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck on 16/28 June 1884 [9], but on 14/26 July he told her: "The piano concerto, about which I wrote to you, I want to write in the autumn, or even winter" [10]. In the second movement of the Concert Fantasia, Tchaikovsky included material from Contrastes, the rejected first movement of the suite. Sketches for Contrastes, written in an orchestral variant, date from 10/22–12/24 May 1884. It seems that at this time the form of the composition was still not quite clear to the author. In the majority of his letters he called it a "concerto", and in a letter to Sergey Taneyev of 30 June/12 July, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have an idea for a concert piece for piano in two movements" [11]. The term "piece" was used in other letters from this same period.

On 20 July/1 August 1884, Tchaikovsky left Grankino for Skabeyevo, near Podolsk, where he spent the summer with Anatoly Tchaikovsky and his family. Here he arrived with the firm intention of starting work on the proposed piano concerto, which until now had existed only as sketches. A new difficulty presented itself when he opened his baggage, since he could not "find the full score of my suite and sketches for the piano concerto" [12]. He was worried by the prospect of working at Skabeyevo without an instrument: "Occupying myself here will be difficult, if not quite impossible... there is no piano, and I came here to work on a piano piece", Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother Modest [13]. But at Tchaikovsky's request, Pyotr Jurgenson arranged for a piano to be brought to him while he was staying at Skabeyevo.

On 1/13 August, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck of his intention to "remain the whole month in the country, reading and steadily working on my piano concerto" [14]. But on 8/20 August he reported: "My work is going very well. The piano concerto is almost prepared in rough and before long I shall commence the instrumentation" [15].

On 15/27 August, Tchaikovsky wrote that the concerto had been finished in draft, and that he had set about the orchestration, which he was hurrying to finish so that it could be played before the end of the year [16].

He remained at Skabeyevo until late August/early September. It seems that during a day's visit to Moscow on 26 August/7 September, Tchaikovsky discussed the Concert Fantasia with Sergey Taneyev, and arranged to meet with him on 2/14–3/15 September in Moscow, when Tchaikovsky played his new work to Taneyev [17]. On 3/15 September, Tchaikovsky arrived at Pleshcheyevo. There on 5/17 September [18], he resumed working on the Concert Fantasia, orchestrating it and at the same time making the arrangement for two pianos. This work went well up to 15/27 September. Then he again returned to Moscow in order to collect the proofs of the suite, and "to see Taneyev, who has already begun to learn the concerto" [19]. On 24 September/6 October, Tchaikovsky finished the full score (according to the date on the manuscript). Evidently he had already sent the first movement to Pyotr Jurgenson, and on 25 September/7 October he despatched the second movement—Contrastes.

In a letter to Jurgenson of 25 September/7 October, Tchaikovsky for the first time referred to his new work as a "fantasia for piano" [20]. On 1/13 October, Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck: "I have finished all my work" [21].

Some time later [22] Tchaikovsky added an appendix to the manuscript containing an alternative ending to the first movement for performers who wished to play this separately.


The fantasia was also arranged for 2 pianos (4 hands) by Tchaikovsky in September 1884, simultaneously with the orchestration.


The performance of the Concert Fantasia was originally scheduled for 15/27 December 1884. For this performance, Sergey Taneyev had already begun to learn the Fantasia in September, in consultation with Tchaikovsky [23]. But owing to the indisposition of the conductor Max Erdmannsdörfer, the performance was postponed. The Concert Fantasia received its first performance on 22 February/6 March 1885 at the tenth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow, played by Taneyev and conducted by Erdmannsdörfer. Tchaikovsky, who attended the concert, wrote to his brother Modest on 25 February/9 March: "I heard a superb performance of the Fantasia by Taneyev and the orchestra, with which I was delighted. It had great success with the public" [24].

In Saint Petersburg, the Concert Fantasia was performed for the first time on 4/16 April 1886 in the tenth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Hans von Bülow, soloist Sergey Taneyev. Other notable early performances included:

  • Moscow, 2nd Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 14/26 November 1887, Sergey Taneyev (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Moscow, special Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 15/27 November 1887, Sergey Taneyev (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Paris, 16th Châtelet concert, 21 February/4 March 1888, Louis Diémer (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Paris, Trompette chamber society concert, 4/16 March 1888, Louis Diémer and Tchaikovsky (in Tchaikovsky's arrangement for two pianos)
  • Saint Petersburg, 4th Russian symphony concert, 10/22 December 1889, Polina Bertenson-Voronets (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • New York, [Carnegie] Music Hall, 31 December 1891/12 January 1892, Julie Rivé-King (piano), Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Nikisch.
  • Moscow, Russian Musical Society charity concert, 14/26 February 1893, Sergey Taneyev (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Arnhem, Musis Sacrum, Concert St. Caecilia, 8/20 March 1893, Sophie Menter (piano), conducted by Willem Kes
  • London, 5th Philharmonic Society concert, 12/24 May 1894, Sophie Menter (piano), conducted by Alexander Mackenzie


During October and November 1884 the Concert Fantasia was rapidly engraved, since it had to be ready for the aforementioned RMS concert in December, in which it was to be performed by Sergey Taneyev [25].

In early/mid October 1884, Tchaikovsky left Pleshcheyevo for Saint Petersburg, in order to attend rehearsals of the opera Yevgeny Onegin. Proofs of the Suite and the Fantasia were taken to him in Saint Petersburg [26].

The composer's unexpected departure for abroad on 1/13 November to see his dying friend Iosif Kotek upset his plans. The second and third sets of proofs were entrusted to Nikolay Chrysander, so that they could be given to Sergey Taneyev [27]. Nevertheless, on his return from abroad straight to Saint Petersburg on 7/19 December, and then to Moscow on 17/29 December, Tchaikovsky was still engaged in the task of correcting the proofs of both works[28].

The Concert Fantasia was published by Pyotr Jurgenson: the arrangement for two pianos and four hands was brought out in December 1884, the orchestral parts in January 1885, and the full score in March 1893.

In 1954 the full score and two-piano arrangement of the fantasia were published in volumes 29 and 46Б respectively of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Aleksandr Goldenweiser.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score (which includes the piano reduction of the orchestral part) is now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 94/1) [view], together with the separate appendix containing an alternative ending to the first movement (ф. 88, No. 94/2) [view]


See: Discography


The arrangement of the Fantasia was printed with a dedication to Anna Yesipova, and the full score to Sophie Menter. Neither name appears on the autograph score, and the dedication is not mentioned in any of the composer's know correspondence.

Related Works

The second movement, Contrastes, was based on two themes noted down by Tchaikovsky in May 1884 for the Suite No. 3, but which were not subsequently used in that work.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'Concert Fantasy' in ČW.
  2. i.e. 30 bars, replacing bars 278–280. Tchaikovsky's note in the manuscript score (in Russian, French and German) reads: "If it is desirable to confine the performance of the present fantasia to only the first movement, it is suggested that the first bar of the last line on page 28 [of the two-piano arrangement] should be followed by the present appendix".
  3. Letter 2454 to Nadezhda von Meck, 13/25 March 1884.
  4. Letter 2467 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 April–19 April/1 May 1884.
  5. Letter 2518 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26–17/29 July 1884.
  6. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), pp. 12–13.
  7. See diary entries for April and May 1884 — Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), pp. 12–20.
  8. Letter 2467 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 April–19 April/1 May 1884.
  9. Letter 2505 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 June 1884.
  10. Letter 2518 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26–17/29 July 1884.
  11. Letter 2512 to Sergey Taneyev, 27 June/9 July 1884.
  12. Letter 2519 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 July/4 August 1884.
  13. Letter 2520 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 23 July/4 August 1884.
  14. Letter 2525 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13 August 1884.
  15. Letter 2528 to Nadezhda von Meck, 8/20 August 1884.
  16. See letters 2529 and 2533 to Nadezhda von Meck, 11/23–15/27 August 1884 and 21 August/2 September 6884, and also Letter 2538 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 1/13 September 1884.
  17. See Letter 2537 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 August/11 September, and Letter 2538 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 1/13 September 1884.
  18. See Letter 2542 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 4/16 September 1884.
  19. See Letter 2554 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 20 September/2 October 1884.
  20. Letter 2559 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 25 September/7 October 1884.
  21. Letter 2562 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13–3/15 October 1884.
  22. It is not known exactly when Tchaikovsky wrote this appendix, but since it directly references the page numbers in the printed edition of his arrangement for two pianos, it could not have been written before this had been engraved in November 1884. The appendix was not included with the two-piano arrangement (published in December 1884) or the orchestral parts (January 1885), and it only appeared when the full score was eventually published in March 1893. So it is possible that the appendix was written as late as 1893, when Jurgenson was preparing the full score of the fantasia for publication.
  23. See Letter 2554 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 20 September/2 October 1884.
  24. Letter 2662 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 25 February/9 March 1885.
  25. See correspondence with Pyotr Jurgenson from September–November 1884.
  26. Exceptionally, Tchaikovsky worked on these proofs through the night—see Letter 2568 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 October 1884.
  27. See Letter 2577 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 26 October/7 November 1884.
  28. See Letter 2635 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13 January 1885, and letters 2636 and 2637 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 1/13 and 2/14 January 1885.