The piece is scored for solo cello and string orchestra (violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses).
There is one movement: Andante cantabile (B major, 176 bars), lasting approximately 7 minutes in performance.
The second movement of Tchaikovsky's First String Quartet was one of his most famous compositions, and evidently the composer made this arrangement for a performance by Anatoly Brandukov in Paris in February 1888. It appears that the orchestration was itself based on Wilhelm Fitzenhagen's a transcription of the movement for solo cello with piano .
The orchestral version was transposed to the key of B major; in the quartet the movement is set in B-flat major.
The first performance appears to have been at a private concert in Paris at the home of Marie de Benardaky on 16/28 February 1888, by members of Édouard Colonne's Orchestra, with Anatoly Brandukov as the soloist, conducted by the composer . Five days later, on 21 February/4 March 1888, the piece was given its public premiere at the 16th Châtelet concert in Paris, with the same soloist and conductor.
The Andante cantabile was heard for the first time in Russia in Moscow on 6/18 November 1891, in a concert organised by Aleksandr Ziloti, once again with Anatoly Brandukov (cello), conducted by Tchaikovsky.
The score was published for the first time in volume 30Б of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1956).
Tchaikovsky's manuscript score (which omits the cello part) is now preserved in the Tchaikovsky House-Museum Archive at Klin (a1, No. 69).