Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's piano piece Impromptu-Caprice, in G major (TH 144 ; ČW 181), was composed in September 1884 at Pleshcheyevo.

Movements and Duration

There is one movement: Andantino (G major, 58 bars), lasting around two minutes in performance.


On 3/15 September 1884, Louis de Fourcaud, music critic of the French newspaper Gaulois, approached Tchaikovsky in a letter he had also sent to a wide range of famous composers [1]. Tchaikovsky related this to Nadezhda von Meck on 18/30 September 1884: "I received from the editor of the Paris newspaper Gaulois a request to contribute to the publication of an album in aid of poor musicians. To refuse would have been awkward, and I spent the whole of today on composing a piece for this album" [2]. The same day he sent the completed piano piece, named Impromptu-Caprice, to Fourcaud [3], who on 2/14 October 1884 thanked Tchaikovsky in very warm words [4]. The composer answered in rather short terms:

Sir, I hope you will excuse me for being so tired by the rehearsals of my opera that I can only send you these few lines in response to your good and kind letter. I am deeply touched by your kindness towards me, and I thank you from my heart for your good wishes. As it is likely that in a fortnight I will have left for Moscow, it is to there that the proofs of my piece should be sent. I promise you that I shall correct and return them to you forthwith [5].

In a subsequent letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 9/21 September 1886, Tchaikovsky described the Impromptu-Caprice and his other piano piece Dumka (composed in February 1886), as "trifles, written for special occasions" [6], and in his own words, not meriting serious consideration.


Arthur Meyer, the chief editor of Gaulois, announced the new Album to his readers on 24 November 1884 [N.S.] and invited them to order it in time as a Christmas and New Year gift [7]. The album was advertised for sale from 15 December 1884 [8]. This date also appears in Meyer's preface to the album, and so the year of publication of the Impromptu-Caprice was 1884, rather than 1885 (as has often been stated).

The cover title of the album was A ses abonnés—le Gaulois, and inside: Album du Gaulois. Prime 1885. A copy of the elegant volume is preserved in the composer's personal library at Klin. Tchaikovsky's contribution was published as No. 4, following piano pieces by Franz Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and Giovanni Sgambati, which shows his high ranking among 61 composers from all over Europe. He was introduced to the Parisian public by a not entirely accurate, but very cordial biographical note:

We recall the remarkable effect produced, at the first Russian concert given at the Trocadéro palace, during the Universal Exposition of 1878, of Monsieur Tchaikovsky's piano concerto, played by Nikolay Rubinstein. The author was already known for a range of instrumental compositions performed by Monsieur Pasdeloup and by Monsieur Colonne; but his concerto was a great sensation with the public. Since then the author's reputation has increased still further. Unfortunately we are unfamiliar with his dramatic scores, which are, it seems, his most important. Monsieur Tchaikovsky is currently the director of the Moscow Conservatory; he has just had a new opera, Eugène Onéguine, played in Saint Petersburg, which we hear has many admirable pages [9].

The Impromptu-Caprice appears to be the only one of Tchaikovsky's compositions to have received its first publication in Paris. The score was reprinted by Pyotr Jurgenson in August 1886. Since the autograph score of the piece is lost, the version in the Album du Gaulois deserves attention as primary source of this work. Compared with the edition offered by Jurgenson, the French score has fewer misprints [10].

The score was reprinted by Pyotr Jurgenson in August 1886, and it appears in volume 53 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1949), edited by Anatoly Drozdov.


The manuscript score of the Impromptu-Caprice has been lost.


See: Discography


In Russian editions by Jurgenson the piece is dedicated to the publisher's wife, Sofiya Jurgenson.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Klin House-Museum archive (a4, No. 4556). The letter is almost identical to that directed to Edvard Grieg — see Tchaikovsky Research Bulletin No. 2 (2011), p. 45.
  2. Letter 2549 to Nadezhda von Meck, 13/25–18/30 September 1884. The two main themes also appear in Tchaikovsky's sketchbook for 1884, under the heading "Imitation Russian Song". We are extremely grateful to Mr Simone Mantelli for this observation.
  3. Letter 2550a to Louis de Fourcaud, 18/30 September 1884.
  4. See Lucinde Braun, La Terre promise. Frankreich im Leben und Schaffen Cajkovskijs (2014), p. 183.
  5. Letter 2567 to Louis de Fourcaud, 12/24 October 1884.
  6. Letter 3042 to Nadezhda von Meck, 9/21 September 1886.
  7. Arthur Meyer, 'L'Album-prime du Gaulois', in Le Gaulois, 24 November 1884 [N.S.], p. 1.
  8. Le Gaulois, 15 December 1884 [N.S.], p. 1.
  9. Album du Gaulois (Paris, 1884), p. 2. See also La Terre promise. Frankreich im Leben und Schaffen Cajkovskijs (2014), p. 178-185.
  10. See La Terre promise. Frankreich im Leben und Schaffen Cajkovskijs (2014), p. 183.