Grand Sonata

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Grand Sonata (Grande Sonate) in G major, Op. 37 (TH 139 ; ČW 148) [1] was written in March and April 1878 on his sister's estate at Kamenka.

Movements and Duration

There are four movements, lasting 30 to 35 minutes in performance:

  1. Moderato e risoluto (G major, 301 bars)
  2. Andante non troppo quasi Moderato (E minor, 152 bars)
  3. Scherzo. Allegro giocoso (G major, 217 bars)
  4. Finale. Allegro vivace (G major, 484 bars).


We find the first reference to work on the sonata in a letter to Anatoly Tchaikovsky of 3/15–4/16 March 1878: "I'm working on a sonata for piano...", and its composition "does not come easily". Further on, Tchaikovsky noted: "I worked unsuccessfully, with little progress... I'm again having to force myself to work, without much enthusiasm. I can't understand why it should be the case that, in spite of so many favourable circumstances, I'm not in the mood for work... I'm having to squeeze out of myself weak and feeble ideas, and ruminate over each bar. But I keep at it, and hope that inspiration will suddenly strike" [2].

However, an idea for a Violin Concerto was forming in the composer's mind, and he set to work on this on 5/17 March. At this point, Tchaikovsky discontinued work on the sonata. "The sonata and concerto are keeping me very busy. For the first time in my life I have started something new without finishing its predecessor... And so that it is that... for the time being I have set aside my sonata", he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck, on 7/19 March [3]. In other letters dating from around this time only the concerto is mentioned.

On 11/23 April, Tchaikovsky arrived at Kamenka, where he was able to devote himself to composition. On 23 April/5 May, he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that he was finishing off the sonata [4], and on 27 April/9 May he reported to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "My work is going very well. Since you left I've written three movements of the sonata, a waltz and other odd pieces" [5].

Anatoly Tchaikovsky had left Kamenka on 23 April/5 May. In view of this, it might be presumed that one movement of the sonata had been written by that date, and the remaining three between 23 April/5 May and 27 April/9 May; in all probability, all movements had been sketched out in rough at Clarens [6]. On 30 April/12 May, Tchaikovsky confirmed that "The sonata is completely ready" [7].

On 27 May/8 June, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I have written, besides the violin pieces, 6 romances, almost a dozen piano pieces, an album of 24 short pieces for children, a Grand Sonata, and the whole Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. It will take a long time to put in order and copy out the last one-and-a-half months of hard labour" [8]. Work on putting in order and copying out the sonata was begun on 15/27 June [9]. On the manuscript score the completion date is given as "26 July [O.S.] Verbovka". However, on 4/16 July, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that "the sonata has been ready for a while" [10], and on 13/25 July he reported: "Already three new opuses (or four, counting my Brailov violin pieces) are ready. Now I shall make a start on my collection of children's pieces, then my neglected correspondence, before resting" [11].


The Sonata was performed for the first time on 21 October/2 November 1879 in a quartet concert of the Russian Musical Society, played by Nikolay Rubinstein, in the presence of the author. According to Nikolay Kashkin, "The Sonata was performed... with such unattainable perfection, that I could not have stayed to listen to anything more, so I left the hall completely enraptured" [12]. Tchaikovsky heard Nikolay Rubinstein perform the sonata in a domestic setting. Tchaikovsky wrote of his impressions to Nadezhda von Meck on 29 October/10 November 1879: "I was at N. G. Rubinstein's, where he asked me to listen to him play my sonata. He played it excellently... I was simply astounded by his artistry and amazed by his energy, in playing this somewhat dry and complicated piece" [13].


The score was first published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1879. It was included in volume 52 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1948), edited by Anatoly Drozdov, and in volume 69b of the New Complete Edition of Tchaikovsky's works (2001), edited by Thomas Kohlhase.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score of the sonata is preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 113 [view]).


See: Discography


The Sonata is dedicated to Karl Klindworth, although this name does not appear on the manuscript score, and was only added later while the first edition was being prepared.

Related Works

The first movement uses the plainsong tune "Dies Irae" (bars 96-105, 248-254 and 290-299).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'Grande Sonate' in ČW.
  2. Letter 776 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 2/14–4/16 March 1878.
  3. Letter 778 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17 March 1878.
  4. Letter 817 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 April/5 May 1878.
  5. Letter 819 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 27 April/9 May 1878.
  6. See Letter 858 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 16/28 June 1878.
  7. See Letter 820 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 April/12 May 1878.
  8. Letter 843 to Nadezhda von Meck, 27 May/8 June 1878.
  9. See Letter 856 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 15/27 June 1878.
  10. Letter 866 to Nadezhda von Meck, 4/16 July 1878.
  11. Letter 871 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/325 July 1878.
  12. Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 145.
  13. Letter 1320 to Nadezhda von Meck, 21 October/2 November–22 October/3 November 1879.