Tchaikovsky's Elegy (Элегия) in G major, for string orchestra (TH 51 ; ČW 48), originally entitled A Grateful Greeting (Привет благодарности) , was written in November 1884 for the jubilee celebrations of the veteran actor Ivan Samarin.
The Elegy is scored for a string orchestra consisting of violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.
There is one movement: Andante non troppo (G major, 103 bars), lasting approximately 7 or 8 minutes in performance.
Towards the end of 1884, the Moscow Society of Artists decided to mark Ivan Samarin’s fifty years as a performing artist. On 12/24 October, Nikolay Kashkin informed Tchaikovsky that: "You have probably received or will shortly receive a letter from Ostrovsky with a request to participate in I. V. Samarin’s jubilee", he wrote. "The jubilee will include something specially written by [Nikolay] Vildye, his former colleague Ostrovsky, and a number of tableaux enacted by Makovsky, Pryanishnikov, and others—a balletic divertissement, and the final act from Ostrovsky's The Forest. The organizers of the jubilee want you to write some sort of musical entr’acte" .
While in Saint Petersburg Tchaikovsky duly received the letter referred to from Aleksandr Ostrovsky . Replying on 18/30 October 1884, Tchaikovsky told Ostrovsky that he was deeply moved to learn of the celebrations to honour Ivan Samarin and "could not feel more strongly about taking part in them, and I hereby accept your commission". However, at this time he was wholly preoccupied with the production of the opera Yevgeny Onegin in Saint Petersburg . Nevertheless, he promised to do something as soon as he returned to Moscow, and provided the jubilee was no earlier than 20 November/2 December, he hoped to manage to complete the entr'acte on time.
On 1/13 November, Tchaikovsky left Saint Petersburg for Davos, where his friend Iosif Kotek was gravely ill . On the way he stopped off in Berlin for four days. Here, on 6/18 November, the piece was completed (according to the date on the manuscript). On 7/19 November 1884, he wrote from Munich to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I stayed so long in Berlin, because I needed to be able to compose quickly ...an entr'acte for the Samarin production. The latter has been done and dispatched" . Initially, according to the title page of the manuscript, the piece was entitled A Grateful Greeting.
The first performance of the Elegy was conducted by Ippolit Altani at Ivan Samarin's jubilee concert at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 16/28 December 1884, under its original title of A Grateful Greeting.
Other notable early performances included:
- Brooklyn, Brighton Music Hall, 28 July 1891, Metropolitan Orchestra, conducted by Anton Seidl
- Odessa, Slavonic Society free concert, 22 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
On 7/19 November 1884, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "From Berlin I sent Kashkin the entr'acte for Samarin's benefit. For God's sake, don't print this rubbish: I won't give my consent for this" .
However, in 1890, five years after Samarin's death, Jurgenson persuaded Tchaikovsky that the piece was worthy of publication. On 15/27 November 1890 Tchaikovsky observed: "The Samarin piece needs a new title. Should it not be called Elegy? This would seem more appropriate, and above it the dedication in memory of I. V. Samarin" . The first edition of the Elegy was issued by Jurgenson the following month, although the original designation of A Grateful Greeting was retained as a sub-title..
In May 1891 the same publisher issued an arrangement of the Elegy for piano solo, made by Theodor Kirchner, and an arrangement for piano duet (4 hands) made by Eduard Langer.
The Elegy was published in volume 26 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1961), edited by Irina Iordan.
- See: Elegy: Recordings
The Elegy was also used as the Entr'acte (Act IV, No. 9) from the incidental music to Hamlet (1891).
Notes and References
- Entitled 'Thankgreeting' in ČW.
- Letter from Nikolay Kashkin to Tchaikovsky, 12/24 October 1884 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
- The whereabouts of Ostrovsky's letter are unknown.
- Letter 2570 to Aleksandr Ostrovsky, 18/30 October 1884.
- See Letter 2584 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 3/15 November 1884.
- Letter 2586 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 7/19 November 1884.
- Letter 2587 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 7/19 November 1884.
- Letter 4256 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 November 1890.