String Quartet No. 1

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky wrote his String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11 (TH 111 ; ČW 90) in February 1871.


Scored for 2 violins, viola and cello.

Movements and Duration

There are four movements:

  1. Moderato e semplice (D major, 183 bars)
  2. Andante cantabile (B-flat major, 184 bars)
  3. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto e con fuoco (D minor, 156 bars)
  4. Finale. Allegro giusto (D major, 432 bars)

A complete performance lasts approximately 30 minutes.


The quartet was written in February 1871 for a concert devoted to Tchaikovsky's works, which took place the following month in Moscow [1].


See Andante cantabile

The second movement was arranged by Tchaikovsky in the late 1880s for cello with string orchestra, evidently for a performance by Anatoly Brandukov, in whose archive the manuscript was discovered.


The first performance of the quartet took place in the Little Hall of the Nobles' Society in Moscow on 16/28 March 1871 at a special concert of Tchaikovsky's works. The performers were: Ferdinand Laub and Jan Hřímalý (violins), Ludwig Minkus (viola), and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (cello).

Other notable performances included:

  • Saint Petersburg, 3rd RMS quartet concert, 24 October/5 November 1872, Leopold Auer and I. Pikkel (violins), I. Beikman (viola), Karl Davydov (cello).
  • Kharkov, 6th RMS quartet concert, 15/27 March 1873, Vasily Salin and Kochubey (violins), A. Pavlovich (viola), and L. Pavlovich (cello).
  • Neustrelitz, Tonkünstlerverein concert, 26 December 1875/7 January 1876.
  • Boston, chamber music concert, 1/13 January 1876.
  • London, St. James's Hall (Musical Union Concert), 22 June/4 July 1876, Leopold Auer and Otto Bernhardt (violins), Benoit Hollander (viola), Jules Lasserre (cello).
  • Leipzig, Blüthner Hall, 27 February/11 March 1877, Adolphe Fischer (cello) (2nd movement only, arranged for cello with piano).
  • Kiev, 1st RMS chamber concert, 12 December 1885.
  • Tiflis, 5th RMS chamber concert, 30 January 1886, Konstantin Gorsky and D. Levenson (violins), E. Ressler (viola), M. Veynbreyn (cello).
  • Berlin, Philharmonic Society concert, 27 January/8 February 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (2nd movement only, played by string orchestra).
  • Paris, 23rd Colonne symphony concert, 24 March/5 April 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky (2nd movement only, played by string orchestra).
  • Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, 30 May/11 June 1891, conducted by Willem Kes (2nd movement only)
  • Odessa, 1st RMS symphony concert, 16 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky (2nd movement only, played by string orchestra).
  • Odessa, Slavonic Society free concert, 22 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky (2nd movement only, played by string orchestra).
  • Odessa, 3rd RMS symphony concert, 24 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky (2nd movement only, played by string orchestra).

Critical Reception

The quartet had great success both in Russia and abroad [2]. In 1876, the Moscow Conservatory organised a musical evening in honour of Lev Tolstoy, the programme of which included the Andante cantabile. It greatly moved the writer. In his reply to Tolstoy's letter, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I cannot express how honoured and proud I felt that my music could make such an impression on you" [3].


Tchaikovsky originally intended that Vasily Bessel should publish the quartet. He wrote of this to Hans von Bülow on 1/13 December 1876: "Regarding my quartet, about whose success you wrote to me, I would like to tell you one thing... When, some years ago, I approached the publisher Bessel in Saint Petersburg, and suggested that he should publish this quartet gratis, he consulted with Anton Rubinstein for advice on whether he should print it. 'No'—my former tutor replied—'it is certainly not worth it', and Bessel sent me his verdict and a humiliating rejection" [4].

The quartet was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1872. It was included in volume 31 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1955), edited by Anatoly Aleksandrov.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript score is now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 102) [view].


See: Discography


The quartet is dedicated "à Mr S. Ratschinsky" — Sergey Rachinsky, artist, writer and professor of botany at Moscow University.

Related Works

The main theme of the quartet's second movement (Andante cantabile), comes from an old Russian song, well-known during the 1870s, with the words "Vanya sat on the divan, pouring out a glass of rum" («Сидел Ваня на диване, стакан рому наливал»). Tchaikovsky heard this song at Kamenka in the summer of 1869 from a carpenter who was a native of Kaluga province [5], and had previously arranged it as No. 47 in his collection of Fifty Russian Folksongs for piano 4 hands (1868-69).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), pp. 366–367; and Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), pp. 88–89.
  2. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 441.
  3. Letter 527 to Lev Tolstoy, 24 December 1876/5 January 1877.
  4. Letter 443 to Hans von Bülow, 1/13 February 1876.
  5. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), pp. 366–367, and also Letter 493 to Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. It has been suggested that Tchaikovsky heard an earlier version of the song from Nikolay Kashkin, but seems unlikely since Kashkin's version had a different ending from the version included by Tchaikovsky in his collection of Fifty Russian Folksongs (1869).