Tchaikovsky (1840-93) - Variations on a Rococo Theme
for 'Cello and Orchestra (“Fitzhagen Edition”)
Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, perhaps the most charming, graceful
and popular of all works for ’cello and orchestra, is virtually unknown.
Daft, but true: the work you will hear is not Tchaikovsky’s - well,
not entirely. Confused? Let me explain.
Wilhelm Fitzhagen, ’cellist in the premières of Tchaikovsky's string
quartets, to thank for commissioning the Rococo Variations, one
of the composer's sympathetic dalliances with past musical styles. Unfortunately,
that’s not all we have to thank Fitzhagen (a little ungrammatically) for.
1876 Fitzhagen, having agreed some emendations to the solo part of Tchaikovsky’s
short score, performed it late in 1877 while Tchaikovsky was abroad getting
over his abortive marriage. Subsequently Fitzhagen further altered his
part, and substantially modified the whole. However, he neglected to consult
Tchaikovsky, in whose continuing absence he took his “edition” to the publisher
Jurgenson, falsely claiming the changes were “authorised”. Jurgenson, clearly
unconvinced, wrote to Tchaikovsky exclaiming, “Loathsome Fitzhagen! He
is determined to ’cello-ise your piece.”
Jurgenson nevertheless published Fitzhagen's “edition”. Tchaikovsky, noting
numerous “errors”, was neither amused nor perceptibly mollified by Fitzhagen's
reports of favourable comment from Liszt. Bizarrely, the full score published
in 1889 was also Fitzhagen's “edition”! This time, Tchaikovsky was livid,
finally snorting, “The devil take it. Let it stand as it is!” (this may
have lost something in translation). And so it stood, for over fifty years.
Even today Tchaikovsky's original score is - for some inexplicable reason
- still rarely heard.
were Fitzhagen’s sins? First, what did Tchaikovsky write? His layout,
- Theme - v1 - v2 - cadenza - v3 - v4 - v5 - v6 (inc. cadenza) - v7 - v8
a nest of interlocked patterns. The parallel halves incorporate pairs of
balanced slower/livelier variations. Cadenzas subdivide each half, each
cadenza introducing a lyrical adagio, the latter of which (nodding to Romantic
tradition) furnished the climactic “big tune”. The subsidiary tune linking
Theme and v1 was progressively developed, its reprise following v6 providing
an important structural beacon.
was purely to maximise his own exposure. He repeated both halves of the
Theme and shovelled around variations and endings. Then, finding that he’d
juxtaposed two similar variations, and the cadenzas, he omitted the “less
impressive” v8 and simply left the cadenzas adjacent. Preposterously, the
linking tune’s reprise now preceded its developments!
matter? Yes. Unlike, say, Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, this isn’t a
matter of “final” versus “original” thoughts. Tchaikovsky apparently intended
his work as an affectionate tribute to the pure art of Mozart, a composer
he idolised. So, quite properly for a classical work, he made formality
a paramount consideration. Fitzhagen’s gratuitous shuffling obviously ignored
this (see the table below for a comparison of the two “versions”).
the very popularity of Fitzhagen’s corrupt edition demonstrates a high
“residual value”. Fortunately (unfortunately?) the dazzling invention
invested in the individual variations, admittedly allied to largely enforced
ignorance of the original, effectively (and ironically) blinded audiences
to Fitzhagen’s vandalism. That the music not only survived such hacking,
but actually flourished in spite of it, speaks volumes for Tchaikovsky’s
genius. Try the original and decide for yourself, but for now just marvel
at this “mere” miracle of music.
and Theme: Clipped phrases hint at the theme. Pizzicato strings and
a brief horn cadenza preface the soloist’s exposition of the theme - a
sprightly, slightly prim “drawing-room march”. A subsidiary tune, passing
from woodwind to strings to ’cello, bridges to . . .
1: The soloist immediately launches a highly decorative elaboration,
accompanied by the theme in the violins. The bridging tune returns . .
2: The soloist’s free-running chains of shortened phrases are echoed
by the orchestra. A variation of the bridging tune is drawn out by the
3: The “big tune”, as romantic as a candle-lit dinner for two. Tchaikovsky’s
lyric genius transforms his (comparatively) dowdy caterpillar into a gorgeous
butterfly while we mere mortals can only gape in wonderment. Strings take
up the bridging tune, passing it to woodwind and ’cello - and thence into
4: Now lilting, the theme acquires little tenuto cherries atop its
icing. Having descended basement-wards, it emerges in agile acrobatics
on a perky ’cello, the bridging tune being drawn in.
5 (including cadenza): Haloed by fanciful trills from the soloist,
a flute plays the theme straight. Fulsome strings interject, while the
soloist contributes a brief cadenza. A further variant of the bridging
tune leads to . . .
A (dare I say?) predictable showcase of precipitous runs, trills, double-stopping,
poised pizzicati, and some of the ’cello’s hallmark throbbing passion.
6: Over pizzicato strings the soloist, answered by woodwind, sings
a lovely, leisurely variation. The bridging tune, appropriately soulful,
ebbs away over a tenuto ’cello, which finally ascends to somewhere beyond
7 and Coda: Chuntering bass strings provoke a runaway chitter-chatter
of soloist and treble strings, with some really neat woodwind counterpoint.
The music seamlessly spills into the coda, racing off to a thoroughly bracing
- Comparison of Order of Movements
that in the Fitzhagen version endings of movements have also been moved
where these precede relocated variations, to maintain continuity with these
subsequent variations. This continuity is indicated by ellipses.
(as commonly performed)
Order of Original Movements
2, with ending from 6
6, incorporating cadenza, with ending from 2 ...
6 - incorporating Cadenza
||[Variation 8 out
on its elbow]
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
for use apply. Details here
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