Piano Trio

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (TH 117 ; ČW 93), subtitled "In Memory of a Great Artist" (Памяти великого художника), was composed in Rome in December 1881 and January 1882, and revised in April 1882. It commemorates his friend Nikolay Rubinstein, who died in March 1881, aged just 45.


Scored for violin, cello and piano.

Movements and Duration

There are two movements, the second of which is in two parts:

  1. Pezzo elegiaco. Moderato assai—Allegro giusto (A minor, 478 bars)
  2.  a. Tema con variazione [1]. Andante con moto (E major, 544 bars)
     b. Variazione finale e coda. Allegro risoluto e con fuoco (A major)—Andante con moto (A minor, 298 bars)

A complete performance lasts between 45 and 50 minutes.


In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 24 October/5 November 1880, Tchaikovsky responded to her question—"Why don't you write a trio?"—with a detailed explanation for his reasons for his antipathy towards this genre, on the basis that the piano and string instruments formed an unnatural combination. "The thing is", he wrote, "that to my ears the acoustic combination of piano with violin or cello solo is completely incompatible. In this sonority the instruments seem to repel one another, and I assure you that any kind of trio or sonata with piano or cello is absolute torture for me... But is it not unnatural to combine three such individual instruments as violin, cello and piano? The qualities of each of them are lost. The lyrical and wonderfully warm timbres produced by the violin and the cello can be accompanied by the king of instruments, but the latter tries in vain to show its ability to sing against its rivals... But you know the term trio implies a homogeneity, whereas here there are instrumental solos on the one hand, and the piano on the other. It is not just that the piano trio is inevitably manufactured, each of the three playing their instrument continually, but also the difficulties this represents for the author in distributing his musical ideas between the voices" [2].

Nevertheless, at the end of the following year in Rome, the composer decided to write a trio. Writing to Nadezhda von Meck of 15/27 December 1881, he referred to his "antipathy for this combination of instruments". Tchaikovsky told her: "In spite of this antipathy, I am thinking of experimenting with this sort of music, which so far I have not touched. I have already written the start of a trio. Whether I shall finish it and whether it will come out successfully I do not know, but I would like very much to bring what I have begun to a successful conclusion... I won't hide from you the great effort of will required to set down my musical ideas in this new and unusual form. But I should like to overcome all these difficulties..." [3].

Some days later, the composer wrote to her again about his work on the trio: "Do not think, my dear friend, that I am exhausting myself by composing the trio. At first I had to force myself to write something and for my mind's ear to become accustomed to this combination of instruments. But now I am working with interest and enthusiasm, and the thought that the trio will provide you with some pleasure makes my task all the more fascinating" [4]. References to the unusual nature of his work, and the difficulties this presented in its early stages, also crop up in other letters [5].

On 8/20 January 1882, Tchaikovsky wrote: "This morning I finished the rough sketches of my trio" [6]. However, after completing the sketches he decided to set aside work on the trio for a time: "Let the trio rest a while: it will do it good. I shall add the finishing touches later..." [7].

Tchaikovsky evidently completed the final stage of composition around 13/25 January, when he wrote: "I have completed my trio and made the fair copy with great care. Now that the thing is written, I must say I am quite sure that this composition has not turned out at all badly. My only concern is that I may have left it too late to try my hand at this new sort of chamber music, and that some aspects of my writings for orchestra will show themselves. In short, I am unsure whether this is really symphonic music just arranged for a trio, rather than being specifically designed for them. I took great pains to avoid this, but I don't know that it has turned out this way" [8].

In a letter of 18/30 January, Tchaikovsky promised Pyotr Jurgenson that he would send him the trio within weeks for publication. "I have already copied out the first movement—the second (Andante with 12 variations, of which the twelfth and last, also serves as a finale) I will begin to copy out tomorrow" [9]. A week later in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky mentioned that the trio was "absorbing all my time and energy" [10].

"My trio is coming along, and working on it is very pleasant", Tchaikovsky wrote on 30 January/11 February. "The trio will comprise two movements. The second movement is a theme with many variations, of which the last will be a finale to the whole piece" [11]. Evidently, by then Tchaikovsky had already put the finishing touches to the trio, since the autograph date on the fair copy of the score reads: "Roma 28 J[anvier]–9 f[evrier] 1882". On 30 January/11 February the manuscript was dispatched to Pyotr Jurgenson [12]. "The trio is dedicated to [the memory of] Nikolay Grigoryevich. It has a somewhat funereal and mournful tone. I would like it very much if this piece, written in memory of Nikolay Grigoryevich appeared in a particularly splendid edition. I have asked Taneyev if he would play the trio, keeping precisely to my metronome markings. I want the first performance of the trio in the next season to be by Sergey Ivanovich" [13].

Tchaikovsky made a note concerning the performance of the trio, which was included in the full score. Sergey Taneyev wrote of this to Pyotr Jurgenson in an undated letter (probably from the autumn of 1882): "I took the manuscript of the trio to Fitzenhagen, and I would like you to send him the pages of proofs. He asked me to write to you to see if you can find space at the bottom of the first page of the full score of the trio, for the following sentence, written on the manuscript: "Les artistes et les amateurs, qui se donneront la peine de jouer cette composition, sont bien priès de se conformer tres exactement aux indiquations métronomiques de l'auteur. Pour l'emploi de pédale l'auteur s'en remet au goût eclairé des artistes et amateurs, qui executeront la partie du piano" [14].

On the fair copy of the trio, the author wrote: "I asked S. I. Taneyev to perform this trio with Messrs. Hřímalý and Fitzenhagen, who together suggested certain emendations, which were subsequently accepted by myself". These changes were considerable, and were later explained in full in letters to Pyotr Jurgenson.


In a letter of 2/14 March, written shortly before Tchaikovsky's return to Moscow, he asked Pyotr Jurgenson: "Would it be possible upon my arrival to go through my trio?" [15]. The first performance took place in the composer's absence at the Moscow Conservatory on 11/23 March 1882, on the first anniversary of Nikolay Rubinstein's death. In a letter of 17/29 March 1882, Tchaikovsky told Nadezhda von Meck: "I received news in a telegram from Moscow that on the day Nikolay Grigoryevich died (11 March) my trio was performed at the conservatory, which was very appropriate. I am very pleased" [16].

At the end of March/beginning of April, Tchaikovsky returned to Russia. In April, the trio was performed in Moscow in the presence of the composer, after which he made some modifications [17]. The nature of these changes was described in a much later letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest Tchaikovsky: "The finale of the trio (Variazione finale e coda), is now in separate sections, but previously there was no break before the Andante [18]. All of us who performed this trio quite easily persuaded Pyotr Ilyich that there should be a break before the finale, because the preceding Andante has a natural conclusion, making it possible to play it separately from the final part" [19].

The fair copy of the score confirms that Tchaikovsky rewrote the end of the finale. In the text there are many emendations and corrections, with some places written anew and pasted into the score (sheets 5, 9, 13, 19, 22, 48, 64 and 65). The greatest change involved the coda, in which the piano part was completely rewritten. After performing the trio, Sergey Taneyev rewrote the piano part in the eighth variation [20].

The first public performance of the trio (in its revised version) took place in Moscow on 18/30 October 1882 in the first quartet concert of the Russian Musical Society, played by Sergey Taneyev (piano), Jan Hřímalý (violin), and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (cello). Tchaikovsky gave his response to this in a letter to Sergey Taneyev, together with his overall verdict on the trio: "Your enthusiasm for my trio gives me great, great pleasure. I have great respect for you, and your praise has greatly increased my pride in my work..." [21].

In Saint Petersburg the trio was first heard at the first RMS quartet concert on 27 December 1882/8 January 1883, with Sergey Taneyev (piano), Stanisław Barcewicz (violin), and Aleksandr Verzhbilovich (cello).

Other notable performances included:

  • Leipzig, Old Gewandhaus, 25 December 1887/6 January 1888, Aleksandr Ziloti (piano), Konstantin Galler (violin), Karl Schröder (cello)
  • Tiflis, 4th RMS chamber concert, 13 February 1888, Ivan Saradzhev (piano), Iosif Pribik (violin), Konstantin Gorsky (cello)
  • London, 6/18 May 1888, Charles Hallé (piano), Wilma Norman-Neruda (violin), Franz Neruda (cello)
  • Kiev, 3rd RMS chamber concert, 28 January 1889, Grigory Khodorovsky-Morzov (piano)
  • Paris, Salle Érard, 25 April/7 May 1889, Louis Diémer (piano), Martin Pierre Marsick (violin), Anatoly Brandukov (cello)
  • Kharkov, 5th RMS chamber concert, 12 January 1890, Sergey Taneyev (piano), Ludwig Spohr (violin), Alfred von Glenn (cello)
  • New York, Metropolitan Opera chamber concert, 8/20 May 1891
  • Saratov, 1st RMS quartet concert, 31 October 1892, Stanislav Eksner (piano), Onisim Chaban (violin), San-Dok (cello).


Work on correcting Jurgenson's proofs of the trio took place in August 1882. On 17/29 August, after a ten-day visit to Moscow, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that he was leaving for Kamenka "completely exhausted". "I painstakingly checked two sets of proofs of my trio" [22]. In a letter of 15/27 September 1882 to Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky expressed his displeasure that the proofs had been forwarded to Wilhelm Fitzenhagen: "All my works should be sent to me, and me alone; from now on any proofs corrected by others should be ignored" [23].

The trio appeared in print in October. On 20 October/1 November, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "I am sending you the copy of the trio which I received with great satisfaction. It seems to me that none of my other works have appeared so impeccably. The elegant simplicity of the title page is quite charming" [24].

In volume 32A of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1951), the trio was published under the editorship of Aleksandr Goldenweiser, in a reconstruction of the original text with all the original tempo and dynamic markings. All subsequent changes were included in an appendix.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score is preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 101) [view].


See: Discography


To Nikolay Rubinstein, virtuoso pianist, and founder of the Moscow Conservatory (1835-1881).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. On the title page of the manuscript score the original title of the second movement was "Andante con variazioni".
  2. Letter 1617 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 October/5 November–27 October/8 November 1880.
  3. Letter 1912 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26–15/27 December 1881.
  4. Letter 1916 to Nadezhda von Meck, 22 December 1881/3 January 1882–23 December 1881/4 January 1882.
  5. See Letter 1920 to Anna Merkling, 27 December 1881/8 January 1882, and Letter 1923 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 29 December 1881/10 January 1882.
  6. Letter 1927 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17–6/18 January 1882.
  7. Letter 1927 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17–6/18 January 1882.
  8. Letter 1932 to Nadezhda von Meck, 13/25 January 1882.
  9. Letter 1939 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 18/30 January 1882.
  10. Letter 1947 to Nadezhda von Meck, 25 January/6 February–26 January/7 February 1882.
  11. Letter 1949 to Nadezhda von Meck, 30 January/11 February 1882.
  12. See Letter 1952, 30 January/11 February 1882, and Letter 1954, 1/13 February 1882, both to Pyotr Jurgenson.
  13. Letter 1952 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 January/11 February 1882.
  14. "Artists and amateurs when performing this composition are asked to comply exactly with the author's metronome markings. The author has indicated exactly where the pedal should be employed in the piano part". See undated letter from Sergey Taneyev to Pyotr Jurgenson, State Central Archive for Literature and the Arts.
  15. Letter 1983 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 2/14 March 1882.
  16. Letter 1990 to Nadezhda von Meck; see also letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 2/14 March 1882 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  17. See Letter 2009 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 April–26 April/8 May 1882, and letter from Sergey Taneyev to Tchaikovsky, 9/21 April 1882 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  18. Sergey Taneyev referred to the whole of the final variation as the "Andante".
  19. Letter from Sergey Taneyev to Modest Tchaikovsky, 7/20 April 1902 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  20. Autograph of Sergey Taneyev formerly in the possession of Aleksandr Goldenweiser, published in an appendix to the published trio in П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том 32А (1951).
  21. Letter 2148 to Sergey Taneyev, 29 October/10 November 1882.
  22. Letter 2078 to Nadezhda von Meck, 17/29–18/30 August 1882.
  23. Letter 2108 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 15/27 September 1882.
  24. Letter 2141 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 October/1 November 1882.