Theme with Variations

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky wrote his Theme with Variations (Тема с вариациями) in A minor (TH 121 ; ČW 96), for solo piano, while he was a student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, probably in 1864.

Movements and Duration

The work consists of a theme and nine variations:

  • Tema. Andante semplice (16 bars)
  • Variation I. Andante (22 bars)
  • Variation II. Un poco più mosso (22 bars)
  • Variation III. Allegro scherzando (31 bars)
  • Variation IV. Allegro con fuoco (42 bars)
  • Variation V. Allegro moderato (26 bars)
  • Variation VI. Andantino (56 bars)
  • Variation VII. Presto (93 bars)
  • Variation VIII. Adagio (36 bars)
  • Variation IX. Allegro (38 bars).


The manuscript of this piece was discovered by Modest Tchaikovsky some fifteen years after the composer's death. In a letter to Sergey Taneyev of 5/18 November 1908, Modest Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have found some variations for piano, written by Petya in 1865–66. I am very, very pleased with it—perhaps because it brings back pleasant memories for me. Besides Anatoly and myself, no-one else has seen it yet, and I would like you to be the first" [1].

Sketches for the theme and an unused variation are found on the manuscript of Tchaikovsky's orchestration of Schumann's Symphonic Studies, which is known to date from 1864.


After the discovery of the manuscript, Modest Tchaikovsky began negotiations with the firm of P. Jurgenson to publish the Theme with Variations. Sergey Taneyev was engaged to put the work in order. In a letter of 2/15 January 1909, Boris Jurgenson informed Modest Tchaikovsky that Taneyev "brought us the corrected and edited manuscript of the Theme with Variations. The only problem is that he was unable to sort out the last variation (at the end of the manuscript), numbered as "(var. 5)". He said that in view of this, he could either devise another version of the fifth variation, or transfer another variation to the end, since there are others with more character. Sergey Ivanovich thought that perhaps that the original manuscript might help to resolve this uncertainty. Where is it now?" [2].

In the edition published by Jurgenson in 1909, the latter variation became No. 9, but with a note in smaller type "(var. 5)" in square brackets. Jurgenson's edition gives the date of composition as 1863–1864.

In 1945, the score was included in volume 51А of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Ivan Shishov.


The manuscript score was lost around the time of publication, and its subsequent whereabouts remain unknown.


See: Discography

Related Works

The theme and first variation were re-used in the Introduction to the first act of Aleksandr Ostrovsky's historical chronicle Dmitry the Pretender and Vasily Shuysky (1867).

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Letter from Modest Tchaikovsky to Sergey Taneyev, 5/18 November 1908 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  2. Letter from Boris Jurgenson to Modest Tchaikovsky, 2/15 January 1909. See also letters of 7/20 and 12/25 January 1909 — Klin House-Museum Archive.