Piano Concerto No. 2

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2, in G major, Opus 44 (TH 60 ; ČW 55), was composed in October–December 1879 at Kamenka and Paris, and orchestrated at the end of April 1880 at Kamenka. For many years this concerto was known mainly in a version edited by Aleksandr Ziloti after Tchaikovsky's death.


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

Movements and Duration

There are three movements:

  1. Allegro brillante (G major, 668 bars)
  2. Andante non troppo (D major, 332 bars)
  3. Allegro con fuoco (G major, 560 bars)

A complete performance lasts approximately 40 to 45 minutes.


After completing work on the proofs of the opera The Maid of Orleans, Tchaikovsky decided he should take a complete break, and travelled to his sister's estate at Kamenka on 29 September/11 October 1879 with the intention of doing nothing [1]. Even so, on 7/19 October he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I continue to enjoy my entitlement to dolce far niente [2], but a new musical idea is starting to take shape in my head" [3]. Soon after this, firmly convinced that he was "absolutely incapable of going for long without working", Tchaikovsky took up his new composition. "Today I started to do something, and the boredom just flew away" [4]. On 12/24 October he told Nadezhda von Meck: "I have begun to write a concerto for piano. The work will not be rushed, and there is not the least chance that I should strain or tire myself out" [5].

"My new musical offspring is beginning to grow...", Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck on 15/27 October 1879, "... and little-by-little its character is forming. I am writing with great enthusiasm, but deliberately and carefully, rather than with a feverish urgency which is always detrimental to my works" [6]. On 20 October/1 November, Tchaikovsky informed Pyotr Jurgenson: "I have begun to make sketches for the first movement of a piano concerto. Poor Jurgenson! Even so, it won't be ready before the spring" [7].

On 9/21 November, the composer arrived in Paris, where on 17/29 November he began working on the finale of the concerto [8]. Despite constant complaints that the concerto was "progressing, but with much difficulty" and that he was pausing, "so that the inspiration for work might come to me" [9], on 23 November/5 December Tchaikovsky wrote: "This morning I worked very successfully, and the finale is near to completion; after finishing it I shall write out the andante, which already exists in my head" [10]. By 2/14 December the sketches of the concerto had been completed: "My concerto is ready in draft, and I'm quite pleased, particularly with the andante 2nd movement" [11]. In a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 30 November/12 December, Tchaikovsky reported: "If only I could orchestrate it with the speed of a Roman candle and send it to you, but that's unlikely to be ready before the spring, since there's no hurry" [12].

On 5/17 December Tchaikovsky left Paris for Rome, where during December 1879 and January 1880 he was occupied with other work (revising the Second Symphony and composing the Italian Capriccio).

In late January/early February 1880 he began to make a "fair copy" of the Second Concerto [13], and by 20 February/3 March the arrangement for two pianos and four hands was ready. On that same day he wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "In early March I shall be in Saint Petersburg ... There I will orchestrate the concerto, which is now completely ready in its version for two pianos... I'm still very satisfied and proud of this concerto ..." [14]. Tchaikovsky arrived in Saint Petersburg on 7/19 March, and in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 10/22 March he told her that he wanted to orchestrate the concerto before leaving for Kamenka [15]. But while staying in Saint Petersburg his time was taken up with other matters (correcting the vocal-piano reduction of the opera The Maid of Orleans, preparations for its production at the Mariinsky Theatre, etc.) and Tchaikovsky's intention was not carried out. Nor did he manage to orchestrate the Second Concerto while he was staying in Moscow. Only at Kamenka, during late April/early May, did Tchaikovsky work at the orchestration, which was finished on 28 April/10 May (according to the date on the manuscript). On 2/14 May, the full score was on its way to Jurgenson for printing [16].

Following the first performances Tchaikovsky was upset by the concerto's relative lack of popularity [17], as he considered it to be among his best works, and one with which he had worked with pleasure. In the late 1880s he made some alterations and cuts, as many pianists considered the concerto to be too long [18] (see below, under "Publication").


Tchaikovsky's arrangement of the concerto for two pianos was begun on 2/14 February 1880 [19], and was completed on 20 February/3 March 1880 [20].


As with its predecessor, the premiere of the concerto took place in the United States: at a Philharmonic Society concert in the New York Academy of Music on 31 October/12 November 1881; soloist: Madeline Schiller; conductor: Theodore Thomas [21].

The first Russian performance only took place on 21 May/2 June 1882 in Moscow, in the first symphony concert at the Arts and Industrial Exhibition. The soloist was Sergey Taneyev, and the orchestra was conducted by Anton Rubinstein [22].

Other notable performances in the composer's lifetime were:

  • Manchester (England), Hallé Orchestra concert, 16/28 October 1886, Charles Hallé (piano/conductor) (2nd and 3rd movements only)
  • Saint Petersburg, Philharmonic Society concert, 5/17 November 1888, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Prague, 18/30 November 1888, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Moscow, 5th Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 10/22 December 1888, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • London, Crystal Palace, 14/26 April 1890, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by August Manns
  • Kiev, Amateur Musicians' Society concert, 15/17 December 1890, N. A. Listovnichy, conducted by Wilhelm Harteveld
  • Paris, 23rd Colonne symphony concert, 24 March/5 April 1891, Vasily Sapelnikov (piano), conducted by Tchaikovsky


During the course of July–September 1880, Tchaikovsky worked on the proofs of the concerto, which was subsequently published by Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow [23]:

  • Arrangement for two pianos — October 1880
  • Full score — February 1881
  • Orchestral parts — February 1881.

When in 1888 Pyotr Jurgenson wanted to reprint the concerto, Aleksandr Ziloti proposed to Tchaikovsky a number of fundamental changes to the first and second movements. Tchaikovsky did not agree with these, and decided only to make changes to the piano part: "I absolutely cannot agree to your cuts, and especially those in respect of the first movement... my author's sensibilities strongly riled by your displacements and changes, and it is impossible for me to agree to them. I want the Second Concerto in the form I had Sapelnikov play it [24], and I have marked your copy accordingly... your idea of transferring the cadenza to the end left a bitter taste, and made my hair stand on end" [25]. In his letter of reply of 1/13 January 1889, Ziloti wrote: "Of course I will play the Second Concerto in the way you indicated, with the big violin solo in the second movement completely cut!" [26]. The concerto was not reprinted in the 1880s.

In 1891, Tchaikovsky returned to the idea of reprinting the concerto. In a letter to Pyotr Jurgenson of 30 March/11 April 1891, he wrote: "The Second Concerto is also impossible in its current form. I recall that you wanted to reprint it—but I don't know your position now. It contains many blunders of mine, but the number of mistakes in the parts is, in a word, disgraceful. I have endured many torments with this concerto at rehearsals" [27].

However it was not until 1893 that Aleksandr Ziloti began to prepare the concerto in a revised edition, with the agreement of the author. Under intense pressure from Ziloti, Tchaikovsky agreed to many changes, while being careful to preserve its overall form and protect his original concept:

No, my dear Sasha, I'm not completely happy with your projected changes in the Andante. You would have it that the melody occurs twice, and then for no rhyme nor reason an inexplicably long coda at the end. This structure seems somehow very odd and curtailed! On the other hand, with my cut there is at least a brief piano cadenza which serves to separate the shortened andante from the coda [...] And so in my opinion, one should use either 1) my earlier cuts or 2) your version, but preserving pages 68 and 69. Later on page 71 your cut is absolutely fine [...] As for the small changes in the other movements, for various reasons I cannot quite reconcile myself to them [...] So let all your corrections appear in the form of ossia, i.e. as one chooses.

Cuts are unnecessary in the 1st movement, and if you have your way then it would turn out as something terribly odd and incomplete in form. The repeat of the main section after the recapitulation is absolutely essential in sonata form—otherwise the listener might not catch on, and will be surprised and confused that the end has come so abruptly. Would you really play this concerto in such a state? I don't know. And so, sweet, kind, dear Sasha, thank you for your interest and attention to this unfortunate second concerto, which, however, I like far more than the first. And I shall be terribly grateful to you for your proofs to come. And do not be angry that I do not completely agree with you about the changes and cuts [28].

Notwithstanding the fact that Tchaikovsky rejected many of the proposed changes, Aleksandr Ziloti significantly altered the concerto, introducing cuts and transpositions to which the author had not given his consent[29]. This version of the concerto was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1897, after the composer's death: the full score and orchestral parts in September and the arrangement for two pianos in October.

In 1955, the original version of the concerto was published in volumes 28 and 46 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Aleksandr Goldenweiser, in which the author's text was reproduced from the autograph full score and arrangement for two pianos.

See also: Piano Concerto No. 2: Scores


Tchaikovsky's manuscript full score (ф. 88, No. 91) [view], which omits the piano part, and his arrangement for two pianos (ф. 88, No. 92) [view] are now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow.


See: Discography


The Second Concerto is dedicated to Nikolay Rubinstein. He was to have premiered the concerto in Moscow, but died shortly before the scheduled performance.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. See Letter 1305 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 4/16 October 1879.
  2. "Blissful idleness".
  3. Letter 1307 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17–7/19 October 1879.
  4. See Letter 1310 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 10/22 October 1879.
  5. Letter 1311 to Nadezhda von Meck, 12/24 October 1879.
  6. Letter 1313 to Nadezhda von Meck, 15/27–16/28 October 1879.
  7. Letter 1318 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 October/1 November 1879.
  8. See Letter 1339 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 16/28 November 1879, and Letter 1341 to Nadezhda von Meck, 18/30 November 1879.
  9. See Letter 1351 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 November/4 December–23 November/5 December 1879.
  10. See Letter 1351 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 November/4 December–23 November/5 December 1879.
  11. See Letter 1366 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15–4/16 December 1879.
  12. Letter 1363 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 November/12 December 1879.
  13. See Letter 1419 to Nadezhda von Meck, 31 January/12 February–2/14 February 1880.
  14. Letter 1430 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 February/3 March 1880.
  15. Letter 1444 to Nadezhda von Meck, 10/22 March 1880.
  16. See Letter 1486 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 April/12 May 1880.
  17. See Letter 1926 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 4/16 January 1882.
  18. See Letter 2059 to Sergey Taneyev, 11/23 July 1882, and Letter 3751 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 27 December 1888/8 January 1889.
  19. See Letter 1419 to Nadezhda von Meck, 31 January/12 February–2/14 February 1880.
  20. Letter 1430 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 February/3 March 1880.
  21. See Philharmonic Society Concert, New York Times (13 November 1881).
  22. See letter from Sergey Taneyev to Tchaikovsky, 18/30 June 1882 — Klin House-Museum Archive — and Letter 2059 to Sergey Taneyev, 11/23 July 1882.
  23. See Letter 1534, 12/24-15-27 July 1880, and Letter 1561, 9/21-18/30 August 1880 to Nadezhda von Meck; also letters 1555, 1556, 1559, 1562, 1563 and 1566 to Pyotr Jurgenson, August 1880.
  24. These cuts were bars 319-342 in the first movement, and in the second movement bars 247–287, 310–326 (piano) and 310–327 (orchestra).
  25. See Letter 3751 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 27 Decembe 1888r/8 January 1889.
  26. Letter from Aleksandr Ziloti to Tchaikovsky, 1/13 January 1889 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  27. Letter 4361 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 March/11 April 1891.
  28. Letter 4989, 26 July/7 Auguat 1891, and Letter 4994, 1/13 August 1891, to Aleksandr Ziloti.
  29. See letters from Aleksandr Ziloti to Modest Tchaikovsky, 19/31 October and 21 October/2 November 1897 — Klin House-Museum Archive.