Variations on a Rococo Theme
(Вариации на тему рококо)
For cello with small orchestra, Op. 33 (1876–77).
(a) 1st version:
(b) 2nd version:
On 15/27 December 1876 the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "I’m writing variations for cello solo with orchestra" . Tchaikovsky declined an invitation from his sister, Aleksandra Davydova, to spend Christmas with her family at Kamenka, on the grounds that he "had accumulated a great deal of work, some of which are paid commissions, that should be very straightforward to finish during the forthcoming holidays" . Tchaikovsky did not manage to realise this ambition: "Many people keep dropping in here unexpectedly—it seems that everyone in Petersburg is holding me back, when I had stupidly imagined that it would be possible to take advantage of the holidays to work" . Throughout his letters of January 1877, the composer mentioned that he still had "a great deal" to do . It is not possible to ascertain exactly what Tchaikovsky wrote during the first months of 1877. It is only known that in February–April he composed the Valse-scherzo for violin, and in March–April he wrote his Fourth Symphony, and during this same period he completed some work commissioned by Nadezhda von Meck.
An examination of the two manuscripts of the Variations (the full score, and the arrangement for cello and piano) suggests that after completing the sketches, Tchaikovsky made the arrangement, which he gave for checking to the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (to whom the Variations are dedicated). The latter made some changes, mainly to the cello part, inserting them on Tchaikovsky's manuscript, and pasting over parts of the original autograph. The full score is written wholly in the composer's hand, except for a large section of the cello part (from bar six of the first variation up to the end of the fourth, and from bar seven of the fifth variation up to the end of the work), which was written by Fitzenhagen. It would therefore appear that Tchaikovsky orchestrated the work from the amended piano score.
On 18/30 November 1877, the first performance of the Variations on a Rococo Theme took place at the third symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society in Moscow, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. Nadezhda von Meck reported on this to Tchaikovsky: "At today's symphony concert, Fitzenhagen is playing your Variations" . Press comment was very favourable. Tchaikovsky missed the performance of the Variations, as he was abroad at the time.
At the request of Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, Tchaikovsky gave this composition, together with the Valse-scherzo for violin, to the Berlin publishers Leichart . It is not known when the manuscripts were sent, but it could not have been later than the early summer of 1877, since in August that year Iosif Kotek asked Tchaikovsky whether the Valse had been printed.
However, publication of the Variations was delayed, and early in 1878 Tchaikovsky asked Iosif Kotek to retrieve the manuscript from Leichart, and deliver it to his principal publisher Pyotr Jurgenson . In March 1878, Jurgenson began engraving the Variations, but it seems that this work was held up by Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who took it upon himself to edit it, on the pretext of making further improvements to the cello part, without consulting the composer.
Pyotr Jurgenson protested against this, and in a letter to Tchaikovsky of 3/15 February 1878 he wrote: "Loathsome Fitzenhagen! He is most insistent on making changes to your cello piece, and he says that you have given him full authority to do so. Heavens! Tchaikovsky revu et corrigé par Fitzenhagen!!!" .
Tchaikovsky did not prevent Wilhelm Fitzenhagen from making changes, although Anatoly Brandukov recalled that the composer viewed them unfavourably . In October–November 1878 the arrangement for cello and piano appeared in print in Fitzenhagen’s new version, which was quite unlike Tchaikovsky's original . The editor completely changed the sequence of variations and altered their structures (not to mention all the changes to the cello part), and excised the whole of the Variation VIII, completely contrary to the author's conception of the work.
Outside Russia, the Variations were performed for the first time at the Wiesbaden Music Festival on 27 May/8 June 1879, also by Wilhelm Fitzenhagen. On 1/13 June, Fitzenhagen wrote to Tchaikovsky: "It gives me great pleasure to be able to report to you that I performed your Variations to a tremendous furore! I pleased them so much that I was called back three times, and even while performing the piece, there was a storm of applause after the Andante (D minor). Liszt told me: 'You played magnificently. This is truly music!', and it is a tremendous compliment that such a thing could be said by Liszt" . Nevertheless, the Variations were played very rarely during the composer’s lifetime.
In the mid-20th century, the author's original text of the Variations was completely reconstructed, and published in the composer’s collected works under the editorship of Viktor Kubatsky . The author's original version of the Variations was performed for the first time on 24 April 1941 in Moscow, played by Danyl Shafran, conducted by Aleksandr Melik-Pashayev, and later by Sergey Shirinsky.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 320–322
This page was last updated on 16 February 2013