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MET CONCERT #3 2019

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich (1840 – 1893) Souvenir de Florence Op. 70
  1. Allegro con spirit
  2. Adagio cantabile e con moto
  • Allegretto moderato
  1. Allegro vivace

Owing to his great popularity as a composer in Russia, Tchaikovsky was elected for honorary membership to join the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society in 1886. The Society requested the Tchaikovsky compose a piece for its members, but it wasn’t until a trip to Florence in 1890 that he discovered suitable inspiration for this new string sextet. Tchaikovsky had a lengthy stay in Florence, where he composed the majority of his opera Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades), however the Souvenir de Florence that he took home with him was a beautiful melody that evolved into the slow, second movement.

Despite dedicating a great deal of time and energy to finish this piece for the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society, Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother:

I started working on it three days ago and am writing with difficulty, handicapped by lack of ideas and the new form. One needs six independent but, at the same time, homogenous voices. This is frightfully difficult. Haydn never managed to conquer this problem and never wrote anything but quartets for chamber music.

The initial version of the Souvenir de Florence was performed at a very private reading of the St Petersburg Chamber Music Society, and the result was far from successful. Tchaikovsky spent until 1892 working on the sextet, where the revised public premiere was received with great enthusiasm. Orchestrated initially for pairs of violins, violas and celli, the work was expanded for string orchestra.

The first movement is in a typically Classical in both structure and sound, being in sonata form. The Souvenir de Florence forms the melody in the Adagio cantabile e con moto second movement, which is followed by a lively, contrasting Scherzo for the third movement. This lively feel continues with the energetic Allegro Vivace finale which contains influences of traditional Slavic folk melodies, and rounds out with a boisterous and energetic coda to conclude the work.