Suite No. 3
(Сюита № 3)
Op. 55 (1884).
Following the production of the opera Mazepa in Moscow in February 1884, Tchaikovsky went abroad. While staying in Paris, he wrote to Praskovya Tchaikovskaya on 23 February/6 March 1884: "I'm still not feeling wholly myself due to exhaustion, and I think that without the peace and tranquillity of the countryside I shall not be able to do any work, but at the moment I feel the urge to start something new" .
It would be some time before the composer settled on the form that the new work should take, and his thoughts ranged from a projected symphony, to a piano concerto, and then to a suite. Thus, on 23 February/6 March he told Modest Tchaikovsky: "I think that in Kamenka I will be engaged in writing a symphony" .
Arriving at Kamenka around 12/24 April, the composer began sketching in rough some ideas for the future symphonic work. Surviving diary entries, letters and sketches in one of his note books from this period provide a complete record of the process of composition.
On 13/25 April, Tchaikovsky recorded: "Hit upon an idea for a concerto for piano, but it still sounded too poor and unoriginal" . The first mention of a Third Suite occurs in his diary entry for 16/28 April 1884. The composer wrote: "... conceived the seed not of a future symphony, but of a suite" . It seems that at this stage the form of the work was still not yet fixed, as Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck in a letter of 16/28 April–19 April/1 May 1884, "For the present I have still not started work, and have only been collecting some materials for a future symphonic composition, the form of which has still not been settled upon. Perhaps it will be a symphony, or perhaps another suite", he wrote on 16/28 April. "The latter form has for some time been particularly attractive to me, because of the freedom it affords the composer not to be constrained by any traditions, conventional methods and established rules". Later, on 19 April/1 May, he wrote: "... the form of my future symphonic work has been determined—it shall be a suite; I shall not be rushing it, lest it should turn out badly" .
In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 27 April/9 May, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I have begun a new composition in the form of a suite. This form is especially attractive to me, since it is uninhibited and not subject to any sort of conventions or traditions. This suite will be in five movements, the last of which will be a set of variations . According to notes in his diary, he had already by this time begun to compose the Scherzo, which was finished on 29 April/11 May. From 30 April/12 May to 3/15 May he worked on sketches for the Valse, about which Tchaikovsky wrote in his diary on 2/14 May: "Waltz squeezed out of me with enormous difficulty. No, I’m growing old ... Until almost 7 o'clock I toiled over the waltz, making no progress at all" . It seems that on 4/16 May Tchaikovsky set about making the sketches for the Andante (in the published score: Elégie), since on 5/17 May he noted: "Until 7 o'clock struggled with one place in the andante. Was tired". On 9/21 May Tchaikovsky finished the Andante. On 10/22 May, evidently, he set about the first movement of the suite, entitled Contrastes.
On 11/23 May the composer remarked in his diary: "The 1st movement of the suite, called Contrastes, with the themes:
... has become so loathsome that, after wrestling with it all day, I have decided to abandon it and to write something completely different". And later, "After dinner forced from myself the suite’s wretched movement". On 12/24 May, "... was beginning to struggle again with the loathsome Contrastes, but suddenly a new thought flashed into my head, and things sorted themselves out". Evidently dissatisfied with what he had sketched for the unsuccessful movement, Tchaikovsky decided to reject it, and to leave the suite in four movements. A note in his diary for 15/27 May shows that he had set about the variations, beginning with the final variation—"Pollacca". Among the surviving sketches for the Third Suite in one of the composer's sketchbooks is a page with the note "Polonaise trio", bearing the date "14 May 1884" [O.S.].
Working with great effort, Tchaikovsky completed the sketches of the suite by the end of May. "Finished the suite", he wrote in his diary for 23 May/4 June. He also wrote about this in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 21 May/2 June–26 May/7 June 1884. "I have finished composing the suite and am resting here, but at Grankino, as a guest of my brother Modest Tchaikovsky, I shall commence the instrumentation" . Prior to his arrival in Grankino, Tchaikovsky was occupied with arranging the suite for piano duet, starting with the variations . By 7/19 June this work was complete .
Arriving in early/mid June at Grankino, Tchaikovsky immediately set to work on the instrumentation, while simultaneously beginning to compose a Concert Fantasia, in which he made use of the rejected first movement of the suite—Contrastes .
In a letter to Sergey Taneyev of 30 June/12 July, Tchaikovsky reported: "I am presently writing my Third Suite. I wanted to do a symphony, but it wouldn’t come off. Anyway, the name doesn’t matter; in any case, I’ve written a large symphonic work in four movements, namely: 1) Andante, 2) another waltz, 3) Scherzo, 4) Theme with 12 variations. All this will probably be ready by the end of the summer, because I am working very painstakingly and diligently" . With the aim of completing work before his return to Moscow , he finished the instrumentation of the entire suite on 19/31 July (according to the autograph date on the manuscript). In letters of 1/13 August to Modest Tchaikovsky and to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky reported that the suite was already being engraved .
From the beginning of September up to December 1884, Tchaikovsky was occupied with the proofs of the suite .
The Third Suite was performed with great success for the first time in Saint Petersburg on 12/24 January 1885, at the fifth symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Hans von Bülow . In Moscow the suite was performed for the first time on 19/31 January 1885, conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer. The orchestral parts and full score of the suite were published by Pyotr Jurgenson in early January 1885; the arrangement for piano duet was issued by the same publisher in February that year.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 265–268
This page was last updated on 16 February 2013