Souvenir de Florence
Tchaikovsky's string sextet in D minor, Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70 (TH 118 ; ČW 94) was composed and scored in June and July 1890 at Frolovskoye, and revised at Maydanovo between November 1891 and January 1892.
Scored for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos.
Movements and Duration
There are four movements, lasting around 35 minutes in performance:
- Allegro con spirito (D minor, 769 bars)
- Adagio cantabile e con moto (D major, 204 bars)
- Allegro moderato (A minor, 260 bars) 
- Allegro vivace (D minor, 480 bars)
In response to his being awarded honorary membership of the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society , Tchaikovsky made the following pledge to Eugen Albrecht on 5/17 October 1886: "I give you my firm promise to write and dedicate to your Society some sort of chamber music work" . However, it was only in June 1887 that Tchaikovsky decided the new work should be a sextet for string instruments.
On 16/28 June 1887, while staying in Borzhom, the composer noted in his diary: "Composed a little (start of a sextet)" . "I jotted down sketches for a string sextet, but with little enthusiasm... I haven't the slightest inclination to work...", Tchaikovsky reported in a letter to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov on 20 June/2 July. "Because I have only a passing desire to compose, I'm beginning to fear that I am losing my powers of composition, and becoming angry with myself" . He also wrote about starting the sketches for the sextet to Nikolay Hubert and Aleksandra Hubert , and to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya .
Neither in his diaries or in his letters for the rest of the year are there any further references to the sextet. Summarising his recent work, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson that the Pezzo capriccioso "has been the only product of my musical endeavours all summer" . It would therefore appear that Tchaikovsky's dissatisfaction with himself meant that he quickly gave up composition of the sextet. However, the composer did not abandon the concept. On 13/25 April 1888, he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I am thinking about a new symphony, and a string sextet..." .
In the spring of 1890, Tchaikovsky again returned to the idea of the sextet: "I want to write the rough draft of a sextet for stringed instruments..." . On 12/24 June the composer told Karl Albrecht: "I have set about a sextet for stringed instruments, which long ago I promised to Yevgeny Karlovich's Quartet Society . In other letters of the same day to Aleksandr Ziloti , Modest Tchaikovsky , and Anatoly Tchaikovsky , the composer declared his intention to start work on the sextet "tomorrow", i.e. 13/25 June 1890.
On 15/27 June 1890, Tchaikovsky told Modest Tchaikovsky: "I began it three days ago and am writing with difficulty, not for wont of new ideas, but because of the novelty of the form. One requires six independent yet homogeneous voices. This is unimaginably difficult" . On the same day, the composer wrote to Aleksandr Ziloti that it was: "terribly difficult working in this new form; it seems that rather than writing for six voices, I am, in essence, composing for the orchestra, and only then arranging it for six string instruments... I will score the sextet in Tiflis" .
The same thoughts about the difficulty of the new form were expressed in letters to Anatoly Tchaikovsky of 19 June and to Modest Tchaikovsky of 21 June 1890 . However, his desire "to bring this venture to its conclusion, lest it should grind to a halt" , remained unfulfilled. "So much of my time is swallowed up by another composition, namely — a sextet", the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 21 June/3 July 1890 . On 30 June/12 July the sextet was ready in draft: "At the moment I'm terribly pleased with myself", the composer told Modest Tchaikovsky in a letter of 30 June/12 July 1890 .
On 14/26 July, after a visit to Nikolay Figner, the composer began work on the full score of the sextet . Eleven days later, on 25 July/6 August the full score was completed, and the next day Tchaikovsky sent it to Nikolay Khristoforov in Saint Petersburg for copying .
After writing the new work in a style new to him, Tchaikovsky was anxious to hear it as soon as possible: "I shall not print it until you and your companions have learned it and corrected everything that is awkward, bad, or unmusical ... Only after having heard your performance and taking into account all your amendments and advice, will I subject the sextet to a revision and allow it to be engraved. It seems to me that as music it's adequate in itself. At least, I tried terribly hard. Lord! How interesting it will be for me to hear my new offspring when you play it for me! After all this is my first attempt to break free from the quartet. The sextet is such a wonderful grouping! How convenient this turned out to be, so rich in resources! I'm dedicating the sextet to your society. Please, write to me where to send you the sextet? Where is Verzhbilovich? I cannot imagine the first cello part being performed without him", he wrote to Eugen Albrecht on 14/26 July 1890 .
Tchaikovsky wrote at greater length concerning the performance and editing of the work in a letter to Eugen Albrecht of 2/14 August 1890:
"I ask you to be frank about pointing out technical shortcomings; in this respect you may make whatever changes you please, because I am sure you have a far better understanding of these matters than I. In particular, there is one place in the finale with a six-part fugue. The theme starts with the two violins playing in unison, then the two violas, and then the two cellos. In the second bar the two voices become independent of each other, the second steadily becoming more dissonant. The preparation and resolution are absolutely correct, but I am worried that in a fast tempo the whole fugue will sound dissonant. If my fears turn out to be justified I shall change it, but I would ask you to study it first; when I arrive in Saint Petersburg you can tell me whether you think it should be abandoned or changed. This sounded awkward on the piano, but I don't know how it will be on string instruments. The theme of the fugue is as follows:
and the same crossing movements of the second instruments continue the whole time until the end of the fugue. I am very anxious about this passage. Then in the third movement I am worried about a three-part fugato (with each part doubled). I cannot decide whether this would be better detaché or legato. For the present I have left it detaché, but if you think this is too crude then leave out the detaché only up to the 2nd beat of the second bar of the theme, but otherwise play the three notes with a single stroke . I have put this:
But would it be better thus?:
The decision is yours.
To summarize, if there are places where my bowing marks are unsatisfactory or awkward, then you have my permission to change them. I have included metronome marks, but of course when playing you don't have to adhere strictly to the metronome indications. Many places can be played in a lively or slow tempo. For example, I have written the fugue in the finale to be played quickly, but in any case I have marked it tempo giusto, i.e. the metronome marking must be maintained throughout. But you might even find it necessary to begin the fugue considerably slower — I could agree to this. But where the second theme recurs, the tempo should correspond to the metronome marks.
The second movement I have called adagio (because here one crochet is no more than 58, and to me this is not Andante); however this movement has the character of an Andante, and should not be drawn out. The central section of this adagio, probably written molto piu mosso (I don't remember exactly) should be played with an improbable pppp; this should be just discernible, like summer lightning. The first movement needs to be played with great fire and passion. The second: cantabile. The third: scherzo. The fourth: brightly and enthusiastically" .
The sextet was played through at a private concert in Tchaikovsky's apartment at the Hotel Rossiya in Saint Petersburg, probably on 20 November/2 December 1890 , after which Tchaikovsky decided to revise its third and fourth movements . He wrote of his dissatisfaction to Modest Tchaikovsky on 21 December 1890/2 January 1891 , and also to Eugen Albrecht on 7/19 January 1891 . Later, in a letter of 3/15 June 1891 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Tchaikovsky expressed his intention to "radically alter the string sextet, which turned out to be astonishingly bad in all respects" .
In response to Eugen Albrecht's request to perform the sextet, he also wrote of his intention to revise it . The composer reported the same to Sergey Taneyev on 27 June/9 July 1891 . On 14/26 December 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky that he had "revised the sextet in rough. It will take a long time to copy out these corrections" . However, most of the revisions to the sextet were not carried out until January 1892.
On 9/21 January 1892, Tchaikovsky arrived in Paris, and on the next day he wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "I now have two free weeks, which I have decided to dedicate to revising my Sextet. I'm looking for somewhere to stay in Paris, where I want to try to spend this time incognito..." .
On 12/24 January, the composer wrote to Vladimir Davydov: "The revisions to the sextet, which I've brought with me, should all be done in two or three days." , but on 25 January/6 February 1892 he told Pyotr Jurgenson from Saint Petersburg: "I only enjoyed myself the first three days in Paris, while I was busy with the sextet; once I sent it to you I was beset by homesickness, and decided to leave for home as soon as possible" . It would therefore appear that Tchaikovsky was occupied with revising the sextet from 12/24 to 16/28 January 1892, after which he sent it to Jurgenson.
Comparing the surviving sketches and rough score with the fair copy of the full score shows that in the second version of the sextet the middle of the third movement was rewritten, as well as the second theme and fugue of the fourth movement (67 bars), and the coda of the first movement.
The first public performance of the sextet (in its original version) took place at the fourth chamber music concert of the Saint Petersburg branch of the Russian Musical Society on 28 November/10 December 1890, with Eugen Albrecht and Franz Hildenbrandt (violins), Oskar Gille and Bruno Heine (violas), Aleksandr Verzhbilovich and Aleksandr Kuznetsov (cellos).
The revised version was first heard at the fourth RMS chamber concert in Saint Petersburg on 24 November/6 December 1892, with Leopold Auer and Franz Hildenbrandt (violins), Emmanuel Kruger and Sergey Korguey (violas), Aleksandr Verzhbilovich and Dmitry Bzul (cellos).
In Moscow the sextet received its premiere on 3/15 December 1892 at the 5th RMS quartet concert, with Jan Hřímalý and Boris Pashcheyev (violins), Nikolay Sokolovsky and Yakov Altschuller (violas), Alfred von Glen and Modest Altschuller (cellos).
The sextet was apparently heard in New York for the first time on 1/13 January 1893 at a concert in the (Carnegie) Music Hall, in a transcription for string orchestra by Anton Seidl, who also conducted the performance.
The full score appeared in print in June 1892 in an edition by Pyotr Jurgenson, the parts in August, and a four-hand arrangement by Henryk Pachulski (made at Tchaikovsky's request)  in October the same year.
In volume 32Б of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works (1952), edited by Aleksandr Goldenweiser, The principal passages from the first version that were replaced in the second are included in an appendix.
The sextet is dedicated to the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society.
Notes and References
- Tchaikovsky's sketches show that the third movement was originally intended to be called Intermezzo (Интермеццо).
- See official letter from Eugen Albrecht to Tchaikovsky, 27 September/9 October 1886 — Klin House-Museum Archive — and also the printed minutes of proceedings of the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society.
- Letter 3066 to Eugen Albrecht, 5/17 October 1886.
- See (1923), p. 153.
- Letter 3271 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 20 June/2 August 1887.
- Letter 3270 to Aleksandra and Nikolay Hubert, 20 June/2 August 1887.
- Letter 3279 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya, 27 June/9 August 1887.
- Letter 3332 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 August/12 September 1887.
- Letter 3547 to Nadezhda von Meck, 13/25 April 1888.
- Letter 4110 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 5/17 May 1890. See also Letter 4107 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 5/17 May 1890, and Letter 4133 to Nadezhda von Meck, 2/14 June 1890.
- Letter 4141 to Karl Albrecht, 12/24 June 1890.
- Letter 4142 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 12/24 June 1890.
- Letter 4145 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 12/24 June 1890.
- Letter 4144 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 12/24 June 1890.
- Letter 4149 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 15/27 June 1890.
- Letter 4148 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 15/27 June 1890.
- See Letter 4151 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 19 June/1 July 1890, and Letter 4155 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 21 June/3 August 1890.
- Letter 4148 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 15/27 June 1890.
- Letter 4154 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 21 June/3 July 1890.
- Letter 4159 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 30 June/12 July 1890.
- See Letter 4167 to Nikolay Konradi, 6/18 July 1890; Letter 4171 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 13/25 July 1890; Letter 4173 to Eugen Albrecht, 14/26 July 1890.
- See Letter 4185 to Nadezhda von Meck, 31 July/12 August 1890, and Letter 4190 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 2/14 August 1890.
- Letter 4173 to Eugen Albrecht, 14/26 July 1890.
- Here Tchaikovsky is referring to the fugato in the original version of the third movement.
- Letter 4187 to Eugen Albrecht, 2/14 August 1890.
- The performers were: Eugen Albrecht and Franz Hildenbrandt (violins), Oskar Gille and Bruno Heine (violas), Aleksandr Verzhbilovich and Aleksandr Kuznetsov (cellos). As Lucinde Braun has observed, there is reason to doubt the date of 25 November/7 December for this private performance sometimes given in other sources, and the recent discovery of Letter 4256a to Aleksandr Glazunov, written on 17/19 November 1890, appears to be an invitation to this event on 20 November/2 December — see (2020), p. 11-12.
- (1900), p. 410.
- Letter 4275 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 21 December 1890/2 January 1891.
- Letter 4295 to Eugen Albrecht, 7/19 January 1891.
- Letter 4394 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 3/15 June 1891.
- Letter 4462 to Eugen Albrecht, 2/14 September 1891.
- Letter 4429 to Sergey Taneyev, 27 June/9 August 1891.
- Letter 4574 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 14/26 December 1891.
- Letter 4598 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 10/22 January 1892.
- Letter 4599 to Vladimir Davydov, 12/24 January 1892.
- Letter 4604 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 25 January/6 February 1892.
- See Letter 4645 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 18/30 March 1892.