Suite No. 2

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 2 in C major, Op. 53 (TH 32 ; ČW 29), subtitled Suite caractéristique, was written and orchestrated between June and October 1883.


The Suite is scored for an orchestra consisting of 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A, C), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (C, E), 3 trombones, tuba + 4 timpani, tambourine, triangle, cymbals, bass drum + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses.

The Scherzo burlesque includes parts for four accordions ad libitum, and Tchaikovsky's note at the head of this movement reads:

To receive the proper effect of this piece, accordions are very much desirable, but not essential. They should be in the key of E and with 10 keys. The performers of the first and second accordion parts should use their right hands for the 6th and 7th stops, and the performers of the third and fourth parts on the 2nd and 3rd. In both cases the left hand should be used for both large stops. The large notes relate to the sounds produced with the right hand, and the small notes to the bass chords produced by pressing with the left hand.

Movements and Duration

There are five movements:

  1. Jeu de sons [1]. Andantino un poco rubato—Allegro molto vivace (C major, 427 bars)
  2. Valse. Moderato (A major, 355 bars)
  3. Scherzo burlesque [2]. Vivace con spirito (E major, 382 bars)
  4. Rêves d'enfant. Andante molto sostenuto (A minor, 136 bars)
  5. Danse baroque (Style Dargomigsky). Vivacissimo (C major, 306 bars)

A complete performance lasts approximately 35 to 40 minutes.


"Mazepa is completely finished; now I shall take a long holiday", Tchaikovsky told Karl Davydov on 31 May/12 June 1883 upon his arrival at Podushkino [3]. However, the autograph date in the notebook containing sketches for the Second Suite reads: "Podushkino. 1 June. Evening", indicating that the day after writing to Karl Davydov, Tchaikovsky began to work on his Suite. On 15/27 June he told Nadezhda von Meck: "Idleness is already taking its toll on me; I have rested enough, and am thinking about a new composition, and think about composing something new, probably in a symphonic mould" [4].

Although at that time he was occupied with the publisher's proofs of his opera Mazepa, Tchaikovsky managed to write a little of his new orchestral composition, which by this time had already been designated a Suite. But its composition dragged greatly. Around 3/15–4/16 July, in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky, he wrote: "Instead of resting from composition, I suddenly took it into my head to write a suite. But there is no inspiration; every day I write a little and am disappointed afterwards" [5].

This statement is borne out by the large number of crossings-out in the notebook containing his sketches. On 10/22 August, Tchaikovsky told his brother Modest: "I am now sitting over a suite. My accursed disposition means that I don't have the ability to relax, although I should like to someday" [6].

That same day, he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that he hoped over the next few days to finish the Suite in rough, and to set about its instrumentation at Kamenka [7].

In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 23 August/4 September, he reported on the Suite: "The reason I should like to finish it quickly is that if I fail to orchestrate it before the winter season, then I won't manage to hear it played while I am in Moscow, and it is something I would very much like to hear, since I have made use of some new orchestral combinations, which I think are very interesting" [8]. In the same letter he said that while at Kamenka he was determined to rest; evidently the rough sketches had been completed.

The disposition of the sketches in his notebook indicates the sequence in which the composer worked on each movement. These sketches relate to the first, second, third and fifth movements of the Suite. It would appear that the sketches for the first movement were made first of all, with a large number of rejected variants; next were sketches for the Scherzo, a variant of the theme of the Andante, then sketches for the waltz, alternating with the main theme of the Danse baroque; even after working on the scherzo and the waltz, the composer returned afresh to the first movement.

Arriving in Verbovka, on 7/19 September Tchaikovsky then set about the orchestration of the Suite [9].

The composer wrote about the new orchestral combinations employed in the Suite in letters to Pyotr Jurgenson and Modest Tchaikovsky. In a letter to Jurgenson of 12/24 September 1883. he wrote: "Bear in mind that one number of the suite requires 4 accordions with 10 stops in the key of E major" [10]. Writing to Modest on 26 September/8 October he reported: "My suite is coming along very quietly, but I think on the whole it will be a success, and I am almost certain that the Scherzo (with the accordions) and the Andante (child's dreams) will please" [11].

During September he wrote about the instrumentation of the Suite in a number of letters to Anatoly Tchaikovsky and Modest Tchaikovsky.

On 3/15 October, the fourth movement had been completed and despatched to Pyotr Jurgenson, together with the second and third movements and their arrangements [12]. "I still have to do the finale", he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky. "I am very pleased with this suite and I'm sure it will also please you, particularly Child's Dreams [13].

On 13/25 October, the finale of the Suite was completed and on its way to Pyotr Jurgenson (according to the date on the manuscript) [14].


While engaged in orchestrating the Suite, the composer simultaneously made the arrangement for piano duet (4 hands), which he considered necessary so that the full score and the arrangement could be printed at the same time. This urgency led him to entrust Aleksandra Hubert with making the arrangement of the Suite's first movement, but he wanted to arrange the other movements himself [15]. The arrangement was made in September and October 1883.


On 22 November/4 December, Tchaikovsky played through his Suite on the piano in Moscow to a group of Muscovite musicians, and it received unanimous approval [16].

It was performed for the first time in Moscow on 4/16 February 1884, at a special concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer [17]. Owing to exhaustion, Tchaikovsky did not attend the concert, earning him a harsh rebuke from the conductor [18]. In order to make amends he later dedicated his Third Suite to Max Erdmannsdörfer [19].

The first performance of the Suite in Saint Petersburg took place much later, on 5/17 March 1887, at a Philharmonic Society concert, conducted by the composer [20]. Other notable early performances include:

  • Kiev, 2nd RMS symphony concert, 18/30 March 1888, conducted by Yevgeny Ryb
  • London, Queen's Hall, 21 August/2 September 1899, conducted by Henry Wood
  • Liverpool, Philharmonic Society Concert, 9/22 October 1901, conducted by Frederick Cowen


From early/mid-November, Tchaikovsky corrected the "unbearably tedious" proofs of the Suite for publication [21]. Either at this stage, or during the preparation of a second edition, the composer shortened the third, fourth and fifth movements (mainly by excising repeats), with an overall loss of 327 bars. These cuts — which were made both in the full score and in the piano duet arrangement — were not mentioned in the composer's correspondence, but Jurgenson's engravers' markings in both manuscripts shows that they must have been made after the suite was originally engraved [22].

In January 1884, the full score and piano duet arrangement were published by Pyotr Jurgenson in Moscow.

The full score and piano duet arrangement of the Suite were published in volumes 19Б (1948) and 49 (1956) of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Boris Karpov. The passages excised by Tchaikovsky in November 1883 are included in appendices to both volumes.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript full score (ф. 88, No. 75) [view] and arrangement for piano duet (ф. 88, No. 76) [view] are now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow.


See: Discography


To Praskovya Tchaikovskaya (1864–1956), wife of the composer´s brother Anatoly, with whom Tchaikovsky was staying at Podushkino when he composed the Suite.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. In the manuscripts of the full score and piano duet arrangement and on some early printed editions of the arrangement, the title of the first movement is given as Jeu de tons. Evidently the incorrect version “tons” was Tchaikovsky's error, later corrected by his publisher, despite the composer's claim to the contrary to Nadezhda von Meck in Letter 2488, 9/21 May 1884.
  2. In the printed arrangement for piano duet, the title was given as Scherzo humoristique.
  3. Letter 2297 to Karl Davydov, 31 May/12 June 1883.
  4. Letter 2302 to Nadezhda von Meck, 15/27 June 1883.
  5. Letter 2308 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 3/15–4/16 July 1883.
  6. Letter 2326 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 10/22 August 1883.
  7. See Letter 2325 to Nadezhda von Meck, 10/22 August 1883.
  8. Letter 2334 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 August/4 September 1883.
  9. See Letter 2339 to Nadezhda von Meck, 6/18 September 1883.
  10. Letter 2346 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 September 1883.
  11. Letter 2354 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 26 September/8 October 1883.
  12. See Letter 2359 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 5/17 October 1883.
  13. Letter 2357 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 3/15 October 1883.
  14. See Letter 2370 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 17/29 October 1883.
  15. See Letter 2346 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 September 1883.
  16. See Letter 2394 to Nadezhda von Meck, 23 November/5 December 1883.
  17. See Letter 2419 to Nadezhda von Meck, 3/15 February 1884.
  18. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 2 (1901), p. 621.
  19. See Letter 2493 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 21 May/2 June 1884.
  20. Diary entry for 5/17 March 1887.
  21. See letters 2382, 2387 and 2389 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 3/15, 8/20 and 11/23 November 1883.
  22. The aforementioned cuts were discovered in the 1950s by Boris Karpov by comparing the first edition of the Suite with the autograph. After the end of the trio of the Scherzo burlesque (bar 333), there are 45 extra bars in the manuscript, followed by a repeat of bars 41–158, rejoining the published score at bars 336–381; this was then followed by 49 bars of coda based on the theme of the trio (ending ppp with clarinet and pizzicato strings). After bar 11 of the Rêves d'enfant, the autograph contains 32 extra bars, followed by a variant of bars 12–16 in Jurgenson's edition before rejoining the published score at bar 17 of the movement. The Danse baroque is also considerably longer: after bar 218 there are an additional 17 bars, leading to a repeat of bars 41–83; these are followed by another 30 bars, rejoining the published version at bar 222. Reconstructions of the original versions of these movements can be heard on our "First Thoughts" page.