PYOTR I. TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1993)
Serenade for strings, Op. 48 (1880, '26)
Pezzo in forma di sonatina: Andante non troppo - Allegro moderato
Valse: Moderato. Tempo di Valse
Elegie: Larghetto elegiaco
Finale (Tema Russo): Andante - Allegro con spirito

The music of Tchaikovsky creates an illusion that it arrived in this world absolutely effortlessly (like the music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky's favorite composer). It is indeed so at times, but far not always, and the supremacy of the results of his numerous revisions, from corrections to major rewrites, convincingly illustrate Tchaikovsky's saying that "the muse doesn't come without being called". The Serenade for String Orchestra (the correct Russian title, although in the West it is customarily called "Serenade for Strings"), written in a relatively short time in September - October 1880 (simultaneously with the 1812 Overture), was definitely one of those happy instances: ".. it poured from the heart" wrote Tchaikovsky. Another lucky moment was the immediate and unanimous success of this work.

The Serenade quickly rose to the top tier of the works Tchaikovsky was scheduling for the concerts he conducted himself, and under his baton was heard in many major European music centers as well as in his 1891 visit to the States, where he conducted it in Baltimore and Philadelphia. It seem that the composer himself was nearly embarrassed for the affection he felt for this work: (from his letter to Nadezhda von Meck, his pen-friend and patroness): "The first movement is my homage to Mozart, it is intended to be an imitation of his style, and I should be delighted if I thought I had in any way approached my model. Do not laugh, dear lady, at my zeal for standing up for my latest creation. Perhaps my parental feelings are so warm because it is the youngest child of my fancy".

While the whole composition is heard on a single breath, so to speak, the two inner movements are extraordinary. The Waltz is exquisite, and the Elegy is one of the most moving, heartfelt statements in music. Again, from Tchaikovsky's letter to Nadezhda von Meck: "It is often said that good actors never perform for a whole audience. They choose one person in the theater who appears to be a compassionate soul and perform the entire piece with the aim of pleasing only him or her". There are not too many scores that can rival this Elegy as a medium to address "a compassionate soul".

Two points about Serenade which I learned recently, while not being anything significant, are amusing, and I will share them with you. In his letter to Jurgenson, his publisher, Tchaikovsky revealed that he first conceived this work as a symphony, then thought that his sketches could be appropriate for a string quartet or an orchestral suite, and finally decided ("inspired", as he wrote) on Serenade for String Orchestra.

And again, from Tchaikovsky's letter to Nadezhda von Meck, written after the Serenade was completed, but did not yet have its official premiere performance: "I wish you could hear my Serenade performed properly. It loses so much played at the piano, and I think that the middle movements played by the violins would win your heart". On the piano? Yes, a very common practice before the invention of the phonograph, and even some time after. In the summer of 1881 von Meck hired a 18-year-old Paris Conservatory student to play four-hand piano pieces with her as well as to give piano lessons to her children. He also did some transcriptions on her request, and the excerpts from Swan Lake became his first published scores. The name of a young man? Claude Debussy.