Suite No. 3

Tchaikovsky Research
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Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3 in G major, Op. 55 (TH 33 ; ČW 30), was written and orchestrated between April and July 1884. It is the longest and best known of his four orchestral suites.


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

Movements and Duration

There are four movements:

  1. Élégie. Andantino molto cantabile (G major, 298 bars)
  2. Valse mélancolique. Allegro moderato (E minor, 326 bars)
  3. Scherzo. Presto (E minor, 361 bars)
  4. Tema con variazioni. Andante con moto (G major, 627 bars) [1]

A complete performance lasts around 40 to 45 minutes.


Following the production of the opera Mazepa in Moscow in February 1884, Tchaikovsky went abroad. While staying in Paris, he wrote to Praskovya Tchaikovskaya on 23 February/6 March 1884: "I'm still not feeling wholly myself due to exhaustion, and I think that without the peace and tranquillity of the countryside I shall not be able to do any work, but at the moment I feel the urge to start something new" [2].

It would be some time before the composer settled on the form that the new work should take, and his thoughts ranged from a projected symphony, to a piano concerto, and then to a suite. Thus, on 23 February/6 March he told Modest Tchaikovsky: "I think that in Kamenka I will be engaged in writing a symphony" [3].

Arriving at Kamenka around 12/24 April, the composer began sketching in rough some ideas for the future symphonic work. Surviving diary entries, letters and sketches in one of his notebooks from this period provide a complete record of the process of composition.

On 13/25 April, Tchaikovsky recorded: "Hit upon an idea for a concerto for piano, but it still sounded too poor and unoriginal" [4]. The first mention of a Third Suite occurs in his diary entry for 16/28 April 1884. The composer wrote: "Walked around the garden and came up with the seed not of a future symphony, but of a suite" [5]. It seems that at this stage the form of the work was still not yet fixed, as Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck in a letter of 16/28 April–19 April/1 May 1884: "For the present I have still not started work, and have only been collecting some materials for a future symphonic composition, the form of which has still not been settled upon. Perhaps it will be a symphony, or perhaps another suite", he wrote on 16/28 April. "The latter form has for some time been particularly attractive to me, because of the freedom it affords the composer not to be constrained by any traditions, conventional methods and established rules". Later, on 19 April/1 May, he wrote: "... the form of my future symphonic work has been determined—it shall be a suite; I shall not be rushing it, lest it should turn out badly" [6].

In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 27 April/9 May, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have begun a new composition in the form of a suite. This form is especially attractive to me, since it is uninhibited and not subject to any sort of conventions or traditions. This suite will be in five movements, the last of which will be a set of variations" [7]. According to notes in his diary, he had already by this time begun to compose the Scherzo, which was finished on 29 April/11 May. From 30 April/12 May to 3/15 May he worked on sketches for the Valse, about which Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary on 2/14 May: "'Managed to make headway on the waltz only with the greatest effort. No. I am becoming old [...] I tinkered with the waltz almost until 7 o'clock and made no progress at all" [8]. It seems that on 4/16 May Tchaikovsky set about making the sketches for the Andante (in the published score: Elégie), since on 5/17 May he noted: "Until 7 o'clock I fussed over one place in the andante. Tired ". On 9/21 May Tchaikovsky finished the Andante. On 10/22 May, evidently, he set about the intended first movement of the Suite, entitled Contrastes.

On 11/23 May the composer remarked in his diary: "The 1st movement of the suite entitled contrasts with the themes:


has become so obnoxious to me that, having spent the entire day tinkering with it, I decided to abandon it and write something entirely different". And later, "After lunch I spent some time squeezing out of myself the unsuccessful movement for the suite. What is the reason? How hard I'm finding it to work! Is old age finally catching up with me?". On 12/24 May, "... was beginning to struggle again with the loathsome Contrastes, but suddenly a new thought flashed into my head, and things sorted themselves out". Evidently dissatisfied with what he had sketched for the unsuccessful movement, Tchaikovsky decided to reject it, and to leave the Suite in four movements. A note in his diary for 15/27 May shows that he had set about the variations, beginning with the final variation—"Pollacca". Among the surviving sketches for the Third Suite in one of the composer's sketchbooks is a page with the note "Polonaise trio", bearing the date "14 May 1884" [O.S.].

Working with great effort, Tchaikovsky completed the sketches of the Suite by the end of May. "Finished the suite", he wrote in his diary for 23 May/4 June. He also wrote about this in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 21 May/2 June–26 May/7 June 1884. "I have finished composing the suite and am resting here, but at Grankino, as a guest of my brother Modest Tchaikovsky, I shall commence the instrumentation" [9].

Arriving in early/mid-June at Grankino, Tchaikovsky immediately set to work on the instrumentation, while simultaneously beginning to compose a Concert Fantasia, in which he made use of the rejected first movement of the Suite—Contrastes[10].

In a letter to Sergey Taneyev of 30 June/12 July, Tchaikovsky reported: "I am presently writing my Third Suite. I wanted to do a symphony, but it wouldn't come off. Anyway, the name doesn't matter; in any case, I've written a large symphonic work in four movements, namely: 1) Andante, 2) another waltz, 3) Scherzo, 4) Theme with 12 variations. All this will probably be ready by the end of the summer, because I am working very painstakingly and diligently" [11]. With the aim of completing work before his return to Moscow [12], he finished the instrumentation of the entire Suite on 19/31 July, according to the autograph date on the manuscript.


Tchaikovsky arranged the Suite for piano duet (4 hands) before he began the orchestration, starting on 25 May/6 June with the variations [13]. By 7/19 June this work was complete [14].


The Third Suite was performed with great success for the first time in Saint Petersburg on 12/24 January 1885, at the fifth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Hans von Bülow [15]. In Moscow the Suite was performed for the first time on 19/31 January 1885, conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer. Other notable early performances were:

  • Saint Petersburg, 5th Russian Musical Society concert, 12/24 January 1885, conducted by Hans von Bülow
  • Moscow, special Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 19/31 January 1885, conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer
  • New York, Metropolitan Opera House, 12/24 November 1885, conducted by Theodore Thomas
  • Hamburg, 6th Philharmonic Society concert, 8/20 January 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • Prague, Rudolfinum, 7/19 February 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • Prague, National Theatre, 9/21 February 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • Paris, 16th Châtelet concert, 21 February/4 March 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • Paris, 17th Châtelet concert, 28 February/11 March 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • London, St. James's Hall, 2nd Philharmonic Society concert, 10/22 March 1888, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • Cologne, 8th Gürzenich concert, 31 January/12 February 1889, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Frankfurt-am-Main, 9th Museum concert, 3/15 February 1889, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Moscow, special Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 25 November 1889, conducted by Tchaikovsky (4th movement only)
  • Saint Petersburg, Patriotic Institute charity concert, 3/15 February 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Paris, 23rd Colonne symphony concert, 24 March/5 April 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • New York, [Carnegie] Concert Hall, 25 April/7 May 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Kiev, Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 21 December 1891/2 January 1892, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Kiev, Russian Musical Society symphony concert, 22 December 1891/3 January 1892, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Warsaw, 2/14 January 1892, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Brussels, 2/14 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • London, Queen's Hall, 3/15 May 1897, conducted by Henry Wood
  • Manchester, 8/20 October 1898, Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Charles Hallé
  • Vienna, 7th Philharmonic Society subscription concert, 8/20 February 1898, conducted by Hans Richter


In letters of 1/13 August to Modest Tchaikovsky and to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky reported that the Suite was already being engraved [16]. From the early/mid-September up to December 1884, Tchaikovsky was occupied with checking the proofs of the Suite [17].

The orchestral parts and full score of the Suite No. 3 were published by Pyotr Jurgenson in January 1885; the arrangement for piano duet was issued by the same publisher in February that year. For copyright reasons the same editions, but with different covers and imprints, were simultaneously issued by Bote & Bock in Berlin.

In 1891, Tchaikovsky asked Jurgenson if it would be possible to issue a second issue of the score, "as I perform it when on tour, i.e. with various cuts and changes to the orchestration?" [18]. At around this time Jurgenson brought out a new edition of the full score ("nouvelle édition revue et corrigée par l'auteur"), which contained cuts in the the second and fourth movements [19], as well as changes to some of the tempo and metronome indications, but without any alterations to the orchestration. Because the new edition used the same plate numbers as the original, it is not possible to determine precisely when it was issued [20].

The full score and piano duet arrangement of the Suite were published in volumes 20 (1946) and 49 (1956) of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Ivan Shishov and Boris Karpov respectively. The passages excised by Tchaikovsky in 1884 are included in both volumes.


Tchaikovsky's autograph full score is now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 77) [view], except for the pages containing variations VII to IX in the Finale, which are held at the Klin House-Museum Archive (a1, No. 297).

The original manuscript of Tchaikovsky's arrangement of the Suite for piano duet is also preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 78) [view].


See: Discography


The Suite is dedicated to the German conductor Max Erdmannsdörfer, to make amends for the composer's absence when Erdmannsdörfer conducted the premiere of the Second Suite in February 1884 [21].

Related Works

The themes of the abandoned first movement — Contrastes — were re-used in the second movement of the Concert Fantasia (1884).

The central section of the fourth variation in the finale quotes from the plainsong tune "Dies Irae".

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Bar numbers and tempo markings are taken from the second (revised) edition. In the autograph full score, the first movement was marked 'Andante molto cantabile', and the Scherzo — "Molto vivace". In the Theme with Variations, the tempo of Variation 4 was changed from 'Pochissimo meno animato' to 'Tempo del tema'; Variation 5 from 'Allegro vivo' to 'Allegro risoluto'; Variation 7 from 'L'istesso tempo' to 'Moderato'; Variation 8 from 'Adagio' to 'Largo'; and Variation 12 from 'Moderato maestoso e brillante' to 'Moderato assai'.
  2. Letter 2443 to Praskovya Tchaikovskaya, 23 February/6 March 1884.
  3. Letter 2444 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 23 February/6 March 1884.
  4. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), p. 12.
  5. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), p. 13.
  6. Letter 2467 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 April–19 April/1 May 1884.
  7. Letter 2474 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24–27 April/6–9 May 1884. See also Letter 2478 to Praskovya Tchaikovskaya, 27 April/9 May 1884.
  8. See Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), p. 16 ff.
  9. Letter 2494 to Nadezhda von Meck, 21 May/2 June–26 May/7 June 1884.
  10. See Letter 2505 to Nadezhda von Meck, 16/28 June 1884.
  11. Letter 2512 to Sergey Taneyev, 30 June/12 July 1884.
  12. See Letter 2518 to Nadezhda von Meck, 14/26–17/29 July 1884.
  13. See diary entries for 25, 28, 29 and 30 May, and 1 and 2 June 1884 [O.S.]Дневники П. И. Чайковского (1873-1891) (1923), pp. 25–27.
  14. See Letter 2502 to Nadezhda von Meck, 7/19 June 1884.
  15. See Letter 2638 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17 January 1885.
  16. See Letter 2526 to Modest Tchaikovsky, and Letter 2525 to Nadezhda von Meck, 1/13 August 1884.
  17. See Letters 2555, 2559 and 2563 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 September/2 October, 25 September/7 October, and 3/15 October 1884; Letters 2610 and 2636 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 30 November/12 December 1884 and 1/13 January 1885.
  18. Letter 4361 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 March/11 April 1891.
  19. In the Valse mélancolique, 16 bars were cut after bar 213, and a further 92 bars (which included an exact repeat of bars 2–92) were cut after bar 240, and replaced by bar 241. In Variation 10 of the Theme with Variations, 5 bars were cut after bar 52, and in the twelfth variation, 10 bars were cut after bar 163.
  20. The new edition of the full score ran to just 223 pages, whereas the original contained 236 pages.
  21. See Letter 2493 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 21 May/2 June 1884.