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Let’s listen to the opening of the concerto as played by Arthur Rubinstein and the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. (C.D., 1 1/2 minutes excerpt #2)

About three quarters of the way into this first movement you will find the only cadenza for the soloist. It is written out in full, which was not the custom of the time. Schumann most likely wrote it out to prevent an impromptu showing off of the soloist. It sounds more like a piano sonata than the gymnastics usually displayed by other composers of that period. The excerpt which you will hear now starts with the entire orchestra playing then flows into the cadenza. (C.D. 2 1/2 minutes excerpt #3)

The second movement or Intermezzo, has an opening motif or theme of four notes, which starts with the piano and it is passed to the string section. (Play m 1-3) Could these four notes be asking a question? Will we ever receive an answer? Is Schumann paying homage to Beethoven and his four note symphony? See what you think.

The last movement is called in Italian, Allegro Vivace. In English, it means very fast and lively. There will be no break from the second to the third movements. For the first two movements, Schumann focuses on a single or double theme idea. Now, in the third movement, his imagination runs wild with a multitude of melodies. The movement comes to a close with a calm and light touch. Let’s listen to the end of the second movement and the beginning of the third so that you can hear when the last movement begins. Listen for the clarinets to set up the bridge of moving harmonies. Once you hear the string section playing a sweeping scale, we are in the third movement. (C.D. excerpt #5 1 min 16)

After a performance in Prague in 1847, Clara wrote in her diary, “Robert’s concerto gave an extraordinary pleasure. I succeeded very well in it. The orchestra accompanied, and Robert conducted con amore, with love. And he was called out. This amused me, for when the public would not stop clamoring, I almost had to shove him out upon the stage.”

In 1888, 43 years after Schumann’s piano concerto, Tchaikovsky writes his 5th symphony. This was a success he desperately needed. It had been ten years since the triumph of the 4th symphony and the Violin Concerto. He had composed the Manfried Symphony in 1885 and wrote in his diary as “the best I have ever written,” but the work failed to make a good impression at its premiere and thus Tchaikovsky became devastated. In these ten years, his reputation was growing from an accomplished talent to an awakening giant on the international music scene.

When Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of his 5th symphony, both the critical and public receptions were cool. The neurotic Tchaikovsky immediately concluded that his efforts were a failure. In fact, it is said that Brahms attended a rehearsal in Hamburg, and told his colleague that he liked the symphony, except for the last movement. However, when the subsequent concert was a success, Tchaikovsky once again decided that he loved the work, last movement and all.

There were two women in Tchaikovsky’s life that were of great importance to him. The first being Madame von Meek who was a music loving widow of a wealthy Russian railroad tycoon. She was his patron. She made his compositions possible. The other was Antonina Miliukov, a student in one of his large lecture classes at the Moscow Conservatory. He didn’t really notice her until he started to receive love letters from her. Instead of ignoring the letters, like perhaps he should have, he decides that maybe he could continue with this woman and even proposes marriage to her some days later. He had been contemplating marriage for about a year, erroneously thinking that this would give his life some stability and also squelch the all true rumors of his sexuality. His marriage lasted 18 days. If Madame von Meek made his composing possible, it was his wife that made his compositions inescapable. The sexual inclination that brought him so much personal anguish was his creative energy. By the way, Mrs. Tchaikovsky died in 1917 still legally married to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky himself, drank a glass of unfiltered water, and died of cholera in November of 1893.

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