The piece is scored for solo cello and an orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in B-flat), 2 bassoons + 2 horns (in F) + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.
There is one movement: Andante (D minor, 60 bars), lasting approximately 5 to 7 minutes in performance.
Tchaikovsky arranged his piano piece Nocturne for a performance by Anatoly Brandukov in Paris in February 1888. It appears that the orchestration was itself based on Wilhelm Fitzenhagen's a transcription of the movement for solo cello with piano .
The orchestral version was transposed to the key of D major; the piano piece is set in C-sharp minor.
The first performance appears to have been at a private concert in Paris at the home of Marie de Benardaky on 16/28 February 1888, by members of Édouard Colonne's Orchestra, with Anatoly Brandukov as the soloist, conducted by the composer. Five days later, on 21 February/4 March 1888, the piece was given its public premiere at the 16th Châtelet concert in Paris, with the same soloist and conductor, and this was repeated at the 17th Châtelet concert exactly a week later.
The cello version of the Nocturne was heard for the first time in Russia in Moscow on 6/18 November 1891, in a concert organised by Aleksandr Ziloti, once again with Anatoly Brandukov (cello), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
The score was published for the first time in volume 30Б of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1956), edited by Viktor Kubatsky.