Pezzo capriccioso is scored for solo cello and an orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F) + 2 timpani + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.
The piece is in one movement: Andante con moto (B minor, 208 bars), lasting approximately 7 minutes in performance.
The composition of the piece was begun at Aachen after 8/20 August 1887. On 12/25 August, Tchaikovsky noted in his diary: "Worked on a cello piece". On 14/26 August he noted: "Finished the cello piece in rough" .
In a letter to Anatoly Brandukov of 13/25 August, Tchaikovsky reported: "I have written a small cello piece, and would like you to look through it, and put the final touches to the cello part" . By 15/27 August he had begun to make the cello-piano arrangement of the piece, and on 19/31 August he began the instrumentation . Staying at Aachen with the seriously-ill Nikolay Kondratyev (whom Tchaikovsky had come especially to see) took a considerable toll on the composer's morale. Having awaited the arrival of Kondratyev's nephew, Tchaikovsky left for Russia on 25 August/6 September. From Berlin he wrote to Brandukov: "I did not manage to finish the piece at Aachen. I shall put it aside until I can confer with you in Saint Petersburg, or when we meet in Moscow". He added: "The piece seems to have turned out rather poorly." .
On 28 August/9 September, Tchaikovsky arrived in Saint Petersburg, and on 30 August/11 September he sent Pyotr Jurgenson the finished piece, in piano arrangement and full score, asking that the arrangement be given to Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, so that he "might look over the cello part and suggest any markings specific to the soloist. I've written the full score anyway, and I don't mind whether or not you print it or the parts; but I would be very glad if you print the piano arrangement. This piece is the single fruit of my musical spirit from the whole summer" .
As noted above, Tchaikovsky also arranged the work for cello and piano, between 15/27 August 1887 and 30 August/12 September.
The first performance of the Pezzo capriccioso took place on 16/28 February 1888 at the home of Marie de Benardaky, during Tchaikovsky's visit to Paris; the cello part was played by Anatoly Brandukov, and the piano part by the author. The first performance with orchestral accompaniment was given by Anatoly Brandukov in Moscow at a special concert of the Russian Musical Society on 25 November/7 December 1889, conducted by Tchaikovsky.
The Pezzo capriccioso was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in 1888: the orchestral parts in January, and the arrangement for cello with piano in March. Publication of the full score was delayed because Tchaikovsky had taken the manuscript abroad with him, and only returned it to Jurgenson on 24 April/6 May 1888 . The full score was printed in July the same year.
Tchaikovsky's manuscript full score (ф. 88, No. 98 [view]) and arrangement for cello and piano (ф. 88, No. 99 [view]) are both now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow. In the full score most of the cello part is written in Anatoly Brandukov's hand.
To Anatoly Brandukov (1856–1930).