Recorded on 05/01/1993, uploaded on 04/01/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Florence was one of Tchaikovsky's favorite
vacation spots. For many of his pleasant Florentine sojourns, Tchaikovsky stayed
at a small villa owned by Nadezhda von Meck, his generous benefactress and
confidante whom Tchaikovsky, as a condition of their unusual relationship, was
never to meet. Tchaikovsky used his peaceful escapes to Florence to sketch,
orchestrate, or just relax away from music.
Tchaikovsky's last visit to Florence came early
in 1890. He was then primarily occupied with the completion of his opera Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades). In Paris later that year, Tchaikovsky had
the idea for and began to sketch a work inspired by his beloved Florence.
Tchaikovsky's conception took the fairly uncommon shape of a string sextet, which he completed in Russia that
summer. The Sextet has come to be known by its artful subtitle, Souvenir de Florence (reminiscence of Florence). A private performance
of Souvenir was given in December 1890, but Tchaikovsky was
unsatisfied and withdrew the piece for a bout of revisions and structural
A trip to America for the opening of Carnegie
Hall slowed the revising process, so Souvenir
did not attain its final form
until December 1891. A contented Tchaikovsky then wrote to his brother Modest, "What a Sextet -
and what a fugue at the end - it's a pleasure! It is awful how pleased I am
with myself; I am embarrassed not by any lack of ideas, but by the novelty of
the form." Souvenir received its public premiere on December 6,
1892 at a concert presented by the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society, to which
Tchaikovsky dedicated the piece.
The opening Allegro con spirito bursts forth
full of D minor fervor, the minor-ninth in the first bar delivering a strange and
unceremonious kick to the first theme. The texture is robust with highly active musical lines
generating a passionate momentum. The serenade-like second theme is appropriately
Italianate. The first theme's restless energy returns in the fugal development
while the second theme reveals more cantabile
richness in the recapitulation
as it is surrounded by new imitations and a myriad of telling details. The coda
employs cross-rhythms reminiscent of Dvorak as it builds to heady levels of
excitement. The Andante cantabile, D major second movement begins with an
opulent, chordal introduction. The melancholy theme that follows has the
character of a guitaraccompanied lament. The chords return before
the movement's curious Moderato central section in which the players are
instructed to play a punto
d'arco (with the pointof the bow), an effect that adds a frosty
glazing to the music's countenance. English music critic, Colin Mason describes
this passage as "an essay in sheer sound effect, without the least musical
content whatever, which is probably unique in the whole realm of [pre-twentieth
century] chamber music." After this unusual episode, the opening theme returns
with garlanding embellishments; the cello's lavish outpourings of bel canto beauty serve to remind us that this work was inspired by the
homeland of Giuseppe Verdi.
The third movement, a swaying and energetic
Scherzo in A minor, sounds more Russian than Italian. The violas playing in
unison open the brilliant Trio section filled with fanfare-like exclamations
and irradiating accompaniment. The Allegro vivace finale is in an abridged
sonata form. It starts in D minor, but the theme's pentatonic overtones are redolent
of Gypsy music. As with the Scherzo, a Slavonic tang flavors the Finale's
soaring second theme. The first theme returns to form the basis of the "fugue
at the end"about which Tchaikovsky justifiably boasted to
his brother. The frenetic, headlong rush that concludes this Tchaikovsky opus
has an especially airy feeling of melodic freedom, making the Souvenir de Florence's ending a genuine al fresco delight.
- Huw Edwards
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