Six Pieces on a Single Theme, Op. 21

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Six Pieces on a Single Theme (Six morceaux composés sur un seul thème), for solo piano, Op. 21 (TH 134 ; ČW 118 to 123) [1], were composed between the end of September [O.S.] and November 1873 in Moscow.

Movements and Duration

  1. Prelude
    Allegro moderato (G-sharp minor, 36 bars).
  2. Fugue à 4 voix
    Andante (G-sharp minor, 48 bars).
  3. Impromptu
    Allegro molto (C-sharp minor, 42 bars).
  4. Marche funèbre
    Moderato. Tempo di Marcia (A-flat minor, 92 bars).
  5. Mazurque
    Allegro moderato (A-flat minor, 220 bars).
  6. Scherzo
    Allegro vivace (A-flat major, 225 bars).

A complete performance lasts 25 to 30 minutes.


"I have completed your six piano pieces", Tchaikovsky wrote to Vasily Bessel on 28 November/10 December 1873. "Now I'm in the process of making fair copies of them, and you should receive them in the near future. All six pieces are written around one theme and will have the overall title Suite: Nos. 1) Prelude, 2) Fugue, 3) Impromptu, 4) Mazurka, 5) Marche funebre, 6) Scherzo. The whole thing is dedicated to A. G. Rubinstein. I've kept you waiting for these pieces, and for this I apologize; the fact is that I also gave my word to Jurgenson that I would write six pieces for him, amongst other things" [2].

The fair copies of the pieces were dispatched to Vasily Bessel on 8/20 December 1873 [3]. There is evidence to indicate that Tchaikovsky originally intended to write only three pieces [4], but that during the process of composition he changed his mind and decided to write six pieces on the same theme.

The title Suite was changed by the author to Six Morceaux. Sketches for the pieces are contained in the same copybook as sketches for the Nocturne and Capriccioso from the Six Pieces, Op. 19 — which were written immediately prior to the Op. 21 set. The sequence of the sketches indicates that the Mazurka was the first to be composed, and the remaining five pieces were written in the order in which they were published.


The earliest-known complete performance seems to have been given by Anton Rubinstein on 3/15 April 1883 at a recital in Saint Petersburg.


The pieces were published for the first time by Vasily Bessel in 1873. Twenty years later, the pieces came to the attention of Aleksandr Ziloti: "I recently looked over your old piano pieces and began with your 'gems' (Op. 21); I will play the Prelude and Mazurka; incidentally. these have been published by Mackar" [5].

The set was included in volume 51Б of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1946), edited by Ivan Shishov.


The manuscript scores of all six pieces are now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 112) [view].


See: Discography


The whole set is dedicated to Anton Rubinstein, who only played the pieces several years after they were published. Tchaikovsky was upset by the great pianist's indifference: "Isn't A. Rubinstein a strange fellow? Why didn't he turn his attention to my piano pieces 10 years ago? Why hasn't he played a single note until now? What did I do to deserve this! Nevertheless, I am very thankful for his sudden change of heart", he wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson on 14/26 April 1883 [6]. The following year he suggested to Nadezhda von Meck that she should hear Anton Rubinstein play the Op. 21 pieces in Paris: "He is always playing four of my six piano pieces, which some time ago I wrote and dedicated to him. Truly, these pieces could not be better played".

Related Works

The Marche funèbre (No. 4) includes quotations from the plainsong tune "Dies Irae".

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Entitled Six Pieces for Piano on a Single Theme in ČW, where some of the individual numbers have the following English translations: 1. Prelude; 2. Four-Part Fugue; 4. Funeral March; 5. Mazurka.
  2. Letter 326 to Vasily Bessel, 28 November/10 December 1873.
  3. See Letter 332 to Vasily Bessel, 6/18 December 1873.
  4. See Letter 323 to Vasily Bessel, 30 October/11 November 1873.
  5. Letter from Aleksandr Ziloti to Tchaikovsky, 19 September/1 October 1893 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  6. Letter 2263 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 14/26 April 1883.