Piano Concerto No. 1

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, in B-flat minor, Opus 23 (TH 55 ; ČW 53), was composed between November 1874 and February 1875, and revised in 1879 and 1889.


The concerto is scored for solo piano and an orchestra comprising 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in F), 3 trombones + 3 timpani + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are three movements:

  1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso [1] (D-flat major)—Allegro con spirito (B-flat minor, 865 bars)
  2. Andantino semplice (D-flat major, 170 bars)
  3. Allegro con fuoco (B-flat major, 301 bars) [2]

A complete performance of the concerto lasts approximately 35 minutes.


First version

The first reference to the concerto is found in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of 29 October/10 November 1874, when Tchaikovsky had completed work on the piano score of the opera Vakula the Smith: "I wanted to start a piano concerto—but for some reason it didn't work out" [3]. In a letter to Vasily Bessel of 9/21 November the composer reported: "I am again beginning to think about a new large-scale composition which, since I finished the piano score of the opera, has taken over all my thoughts" [4]. "I'm now entirely immersed in composing a piano concerto", Tchaikovsky wrote on 21 November/3 December, and in the same letter he complained that "it's going with much difficulty and rather badly. I'm routinely having to be strict with myself, and to compel piano passages to come into my head..." [5]. In a letter from the composer to Modest Tchaikovsky of 28 November/10 December, we read: "I am completely bogged down in the composition of the piano concerto; it's coming along—but very poorly" [6].

Between 7/19–12/24 December, Tchaikovsky visited Kiev for a production of The Oprichnik. On returning to Moscow, he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky that he had worked "tirelessly" on the concerto, which in his words "certainly should be finished this week" [7]. It has not been precisely established when the sketches were completed, but "this week" ended on 22 December/3 January (Sunday), and bearing in mind that the arrangement for two pianos was finished on 21 December 1874/2 January 1875 (according to the manuscript), it might be concluded that the sketches for the concerto were completed on the journey back from Kiev, i.e. in early/mid-December. After returning from Kiev (11/23–12/24 December), the composer worked on the arrangement which, as has already been noted, was completed on Saturday 21 December/2 January.

On 24 December 1874/5 January 1875, Tchaikovsky played the concerto to Nikolay Rubinstein and Nikolay Hubert. Recalling this occasion, the composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "As I am not a pianist, it was essential for me to consult a virtuoso-specialist, so that he could point out to me anything that might prove to be technically difficult, awkward, ineffective, etc.". Rubinstein gave a sharply critical evaluation of the concerto, and suggested a number of amendments to the author. Deeply insulted by such severe criticism, Tchaikovsky refused to alter the concerto, declaring that it would be published exactly as it stood, as indeed it was [8].

In January 1875, Tchaikovsky orchestrated the concerto, completing this work on 9/21 February (according to the date on the manuscript).

During the spring of 1875, Tchaikovsky sent the concerto to Hans von Bülow (it seems, in the arrangement for two pianos) and received an enthusiastic response from him, with warm gratitude for the dedication of the concerto: "Perhaps it would be presumptuous on my part, being unfamiliar with the whole scope of your works and prodigious talent, to say that for me your Op. 23 displays such brilliance, and is such a remarkable achievement among your musical works, that you have without doubt enriched the world of music as never before. There is such unsurpassed originality, such nobility, such strength, and there are so many arresting moments throughout this unique conception; there is such a maturity of form, such style—its design and execution, with such consonant harmonies, that I could weary you by listing all the memorable moments which caused me to thank the author—not to mention the pleasure from performing it all. In a word, this true gem shall earn you the gratitude of all pianists" [9].

On 8/20 July, in a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky asked him to send Hans von Bülow in London the full score and parts of the concerto before 1/13 September, since at around that date Bülow was leaving for a concert tour of America [10].

Second version

It seems that directly after the first performance of the concerto in Moscow, Tchaikovsky decided to make some changes to it. Unfortunately it is not known whether this was the composer's own idea, or a concession to others; nevertheless, he wrote about this intention to Hans von Bülow in December 1875. In Bülow's letter of reply on 1/13 January 1876, we read: "Why did you write that you want to make changes to your concerto? Naturally I received them with great interest—but at this point I should tell you frankly that in my view no changes are necessary—except for some augmentations to the piano part in a few tutti, which I had already introduced myself, as I had done in Raff's concerto. If I might be permitted to make another observation: the great effect of the finale is diminished if the triumphal 2nd motif, before the last Stretta is to be played Molto meno mosso. This would have the effect of a more thrilling climax, and not so formal. Perhaps I am mistaken, but the public and some musicians favour my idea" [11].

When Jurgenson published the full score in 1879, the piano part in the concerto's first movement contained differences compared with the first edition of the arrangement for two pianos, although these did not touch upon the harmonies or form of the work. These were probably the changes of which Tchaikovsky informed Hans von Bülow in December 1875, and Edward Dannreuther in March 1876 [12]. For a time, the printed full score differed from the published arrangement for two pianos.

Third version

See also The Authenticity of the "Third Version"

During the late 1880s, Tchaikovsky began corresponding with the Leipzig-based publishing firm of Daniel Rahter concerning a new edition of the concerto, and his correspondence shows that he consulted with others (including Aleksandr Ziloti) about possible changes.

On 27 December 1888/8 January 1889, in a letter from Tchaikovsky to Ziloti we read: "In Petersburg, Rahter gave me a copy of the full score of the First Concerto, and asked me to look through it... This copy bears your name and your notes, and it was somehow given to Rahter by Blumenfeld... it must be returned to Rahter, but meanwhile I must ask you to review it once more. In the finale, I have now altered der verfluchte Stelle [13]; I think it will be shorter and better; mainly because where previously there had been the strange rhythmic motif:

3751 ex1.jpg

... this aberration has now been eliminated. I have retained your pages (i.e. the copy with my previous changes)... I saw that you have proof pages from the First Concerto. I do not understand at all whom you did these corrections for — was it Jurgenson or Rahter?" [14]. And so it would appear that Tchaikovsky himself introduced some alterations to the new edition, while at the same time rejecting others made by Ziloti.

In 1889, Rahter began to advertise the new edition of the concerto, described as "Neue, vom Componisten revidirte Ausgabe" ('new edition, revised by the composer'). At around the same time, Tchaikovsky's principal publisher Jurgenson (who worked closely with Rahter) announced his own '3me édition revue et corrigée', which corresponds to the version we are familiar with today.


Tchaikovsky arranged the concerto for 2 pianos (4 hands) in December 1874. This was revised at the same time that changes were made to the full score in 1879 and 1888-90.


The first performance of the concerto took place on 13/25 October 1875 at the Music Hall in Boston, played by Hans von Bülow (conductor Benjamin Johnson Lang), who included it in his programme "at the first venue", hoping to repay the "compliment and trust" which the composer had shown by dedicating the concerto to him [15]. Hans von Bülow's performance of the concerto was enthusiastically received by the Boston audience [16], for whom it was repeated with the same participants on 18/30 October 1875. Bülow then moved on to New York, where on 10/22 November and 15/27 November he gave further performances of the concerto under the direction of Leopold Damrosch.

On 1/13 November 1875, the concerto was performed in Saint Petersburg at the first symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, pianist Gustav Kross (conducted by Eduard Nápravník), and on 21 November/3 December in Moscow, played by Sergey Taneyev (conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein) at the third Russian Musical Society symphony concert.

On 10/22 March 1878, the concerto was performed by Nikolay Rubinstein in Moscow at a special symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society (with Eduard Langer conducting), and subsequently he performed it in Saint Petersburg and Paris. On receiving the news that Rubinstein had performed the concerto, Tchaikovsky admitted to being "very, very pleased" [17].

Tchaikovsky always preferred his First Concerto over his other works for piano [18], and he included it in his concert tours of Europe and America in the 1880s and 1890s (with soloists Vasily Sapelnikov, Aleksandr Ziloti, Emil von Sauer, and Adele aus der Ohe). The First Piano Concerto, along with the Sixth Symphony, were the last works which the author himself conducted. Notable performances during his lifetime include:

  • London, Crystal Palace, 28 February/11 March 1876, Edward Dannreuther (piano), conducted by August Manns.
  • Wiesbaden, 1st Allgemeiner deutscher Musikverein concert, 24 May/5 June 1878, Hans von Bülow (piano/conductor).
  • Paris, Trocadero Hall (International Exhibition), 1st Russian Concert, 28 August/9 September 1878, Nikolay Rubinstein (piano), conducted by Édouard Colonne.
  • Moscow, 1st Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 3/15 November 1878, Nikolay Rubinstein (piano).
  • New York, 1st Philharmonic Society concert, 10/22 November 1879, Franz Rummel (piano), conducted by Theodore Thomas.
  • Meiningen, 5th subscription concert, 27 March/8 April 1883, Franz Mannstaedt (piano)
  • Saint Petersburg, 2nd Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 17/29 November 1884, Natalya Kalinovskaya-Chikhacheva (piano), conducted by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov [possibly the first performance using the 1879 version of the score].
  • Moscow, special Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 19/31 January 1885, Hans von Bülow (piano), conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer.
  • New York, Metropolitan Opera House (232nd Philharmonic Society concert), 2/14 January 1888, Rafael Joseffy (piano), conducted by Theodore Thomas.
  • Hamburg, 6th Philharmonic Society Concert, 8/20 January 1888, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Berlin, Philharmonic Society concert, 27 January/8 February 1888, Aleksandr Ziloti (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Prague, Rudolfinum, 7/19 February 1888, Aleksandr Ziloti (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Kiev, 2nd Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 18/30 March 1888, Natalya Kalinovskaya-Chikhacheva (piano), conducted by Yevgeny Ryb.
  • Dresden, 5th Philharmonic Society concert, 8/20 February 1889, Emil von Sauer (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • London, Saint James's Hall (3rd Philharmonic Society concert), 30 March/11 April 1889, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Moscow, 3rd Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 11/23 November 1889, Aleksandr Ziloti (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Moscow, 10th Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 23 February/7 March 1891, Nikolay Lavrov (piano), conducted by Leopold Auer.
  • New York, [Carnegie] Music Hall, 27 April/9 May 1891, Adele aus der Ohe (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Baltimore, Lyceum Theatre, 3/15 May 1891, Boston Festival Orchestra, Adele aus der Ohe (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 6/18 May 1891, Boston Festival Orchestra, Adele aus der Ohe (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Brussels, 2/14 January 1893, Franz Rummel (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Saint Petersburg, 1st Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 16/28 October 1893, Adele aus der Ohe (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
  • Vienna, 4th Philharmonic Society subscription concert, 18/20 December 1896, Ossip Gabrilowitsch (piano), conducted by Hans Richter.


See also: Piano Concerto No. 1: Scores

The concerto was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1875 (orchestral parts in October; the arrangement for two pianos in May). The full score was not published until four years later, in August 1879, when it included revisions to the piano part in the first movement, thereby comprising the second version of the concerto.

A new edition "reviewed and corrected by the author" was published in late 1889 by Daniel Rahter in Hamburg, simultaneously with a "3e édition, revue et corrigée" by Jurgenson in Moscow. The fact that Jurgenson's editions of the score retained the same plate numbers for the various (undated) versions led to some uncertainty regarding their date of publication [19]. However, there is now conclusive evidence that the score published in 1889 is the version that we know today (see 'The Authenticity of the "Third Version"').

The editors of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works used Tchaikovsky's autograph score as the basis for their edition, noting differences with the edition published in 1879 in an appendix or as ossia . None of the revisions made after 1879, except for the cut in the finale, were taken into account, on the grounds that "they cannot be proved to originate from Tchaikovsky himself" [20].

Series 3, Volumes 1 to 4 of the Academic Edition of the Complete Works, edited by Polina Vaidman and Ada Aynbinder (2015), include the full scores and two-piano arrangements of the 1875 and 1879 versions of the concerto only.


Tchaikovsky's autograph full score (ф. 88, No. 89) [view] and two-piano arrangement (ф. 88, No. 90) [view] of the concerto are now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow. The piano part in the full score was inserted by a copyist, and there are numerous alterations by Tchaikovsky and others.


See: Discography


According to Nikolay Kashkin and Modest Tchaikovsky, it was Tchaikovsky's original intention to dedicate the concerto to the "colossal virtuoso force" of Nikolay Rubinstein, but the composer's feelings were wounded so deeply by Rubinstein's criticism that Tchaikovsky subsequently changed his mind. The autograph full score carries a dedication to Sergey Taneyev, whose name was later struck out by the author and replaced by that of Hans von Bülow (1830–1894).

In 1880, Tchaikovsky decided to dedicate his Second Piano Concerto to Nikolay Rubinstein, for his "magnificent" playing of the First Concerto [21].

Related Works

The main theme of the first movement's Allegro con spirito comes from a Ukrainian folksong which Tchaikovsky heard from a street-singer in the Ukraine: "I heard a blind lyrical singer. He called himself 'lyrical' after the name of the accompanying instrument—a lyre, which nevertheless had nothing in common with the traditional lyre. It's remarkable that all the blind singers in the Ukraine play one and the same folk-melody endlessly. I partly used this tune in the first movement of my Piano Concerto" [22].

Modest Tchaikovsky wrote that the middle section of the concerto's second movement employed a French song: "... in the prestissimo of the second movement there is the chanson Il faut s'amuser, danser et rire... which together with brother Anatoly we... sang constantly during the early [eighteen] seventies" [23]. The text of this chanson stems from Scene X of the vaudeville La Corde sensible, written by Lambert-Thiboust (pseudonyme for Pierre-Antoine-Auguste Thiboust, 1826-1867) and Louis Clairville (pseudonym for Louis-François Nicolaïe, 1811-1879), performed for the first time on 8 October 1851 [N.S.] at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris [24]. "M. Montaubry" is indicated as author of this "air nouveau" which is sung again in the final vaudeville of the play. He can be identified as Jean-Baрtiste-Edouard Montaubry (1824-1883) [25].

So far, the music of the air Faut s'amuser, danser et rire is only accessible in a contemporary Danish edition for piano and voice [26]. Tchaikovsky used the refrain of the song and transformed it to a more pianistic idiom.

In the finale, Tchaikovsky uses the Ukrainian song "Go on, go on Ivan" (Выди, выди, Иваньку) for the main theme, while the second subject may have been derived from the Russian folksong 'I'm Coming to the Capital' (Пойду, пойду, во Царь-город), which Tchaikovsky had arranged in 1869 as No. 30 of Fifty Russian Folksongs [27].

External Links

Notes and References

  1. In Tchaikovsky's arrangement for two pianos the opening tempo marking is "Andante non troppo e molto maestoso".
  2. 313 bars in the early editions.
  3. Letter 367 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 29 October/10 November 1874.
  4. Letter 369 to Vasily Bessel, 9/21 November 1874.
  5. Letter 372 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 21 November/3 December 1874.
  6. Letter 373 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 26 November/8 December 1874.
  7. Letter 375 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 16/28 December 1874. See also Letter 376 to Vasily Bessel, 17/29 December 1874.
  8. See Letter 736 to Nadezhda von Meck, 21 January/2 February–22 January/3 February 1878; Letter 383 to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, 4/16 January 1875; Letter 385 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 9/21 January 1875. See also Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 111–113.
  9. Letter from Hans von Bülow to Tchaikovsky, 1/13 June 1875 (original in French) — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  10. Letter 408 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 8/20 July 1875. A manuscript copy of the full score dating from 1875 was found in autumn 2012 in the personal archive of Hans von Bülow in the Music department of the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) — see L[ucinde] B[raun], 'Partiturabschrift des 1. Klavierkonzerts op. 23 aus dem Nachlass Hans von Bülows', Tschaikowsky-Gesellschaft Mitteilungen (2013), p. 204 (http://www.tschaikowsky-gesellschaft.de/index_htm_files/082-128%20Mitt%202016%20Besprechungen%20Mitteilungen.pdf). The copy ordered for the Tchaikovsky State Museum Klin is accessible in the digital archives of the Staatsbibliothek: http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN733554849
  11. Letter from Hans von Bülow to Tchaikovsky, 1/13 January 1876. Tchaikovsky's earlier letter proposing the changes has not survived.
  12. See Letter 455 to Edward Dannreuther, 18/30 March 1876.
  13. "the accursed place".
  14. Letter 3751 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 27 December 1888/8 January 1889. See also correspondence with Aleksandr Ziloti from January, February and March 1889 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  15. See letter from Hans von Bülow to Tchaikovsky, 1/13 June 1875 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  16. See Letter 418 to Hans von Bülow, 19 November/1 December 1875.
  17. See Letter 781 to Karl Albrecht, 9/21 March 1878.
  18. See Letter 2043 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 June 1882.
  19. Plate numbers 2590 for the full score, 2591 for the parts, and 2592 for the two-piano arrangement.
  20. П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том 28 (1955) and том 46 (1954).
  21. See Letter 1337 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26–15/27 November 1879.
  22. See Letter 1174 to Nadezhda von Meck, 6/18–13/25 May 1879.
  23. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 466.
  24. Lambert-Thiboust and Louis Clairville, La Corde sensible. Vaudeville en un acte (Paris : Magasin théâtral illustré, 1851) (http://www.mdz-nbn-resolving.de/urn/resolver.pl?urn=urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb10056494-9). See La Terre promise. Frankreich im Leben und Schaffen Cajkovskijs (2014), p. 418-426, and Академическое полное собрание сочинений П. И.Чайковского, серия III, том 3 (2015), p. lii-lv.
  25. See Arthur Pougin, Biographie universelle des musiciens de F.-J. Fétis. Supplément et complément, tom 2-me (Paris: Mesniil 1880), p. 233–234, and Joël-Marie Fauquet, Dictionnaire de la musique en France au XIXe siècle (Paris, 2003), p. 814.
  26. Published in: Lucinde Braun, La Terre promise. Frankreich im Leben und Schaffen Cajkovskijs (2014), p. 425.
  27. See The Piano concertos of Peter Tchaikovsky (1994), p. 133-134. We are grateful to Mr Hans de Korver for bringing this to our attention.