Tchaikovsky en route to Davos

January 19 2014

We have met Tchaikovsky in Davos in November 1884, a visit which left its mark on his Manfred symphony.

We have heard a piece of choral music which he composed there.

On the way to Davos, in Berlin in the same month, he composed this:

Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, Misha Rachlevsky, Rachmaninov Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, September 2008

Tchaikovsky left Saint Petersburg for Davos on 1/13 November. He stopped in Berlin for four days. There, on 6/18 November, the piece was completed (according to the date on the manuscript).

He called it A Grateful Greeting. It had been commissioned by the Moscow Society of Artists as part of a tribute to an actor and director, Ivan Samarin.

On 7/19 November 1884, he wrote from Munich to his brother Modest: “I stayed so long in Berlin, because I needed to be able to compose quickly […] an entr’acte for the Samarin production. The latter has been done and dispatched.”

He saw Weber’s Oberon there which, to his surprise, he enjoyed. has details of all Tchaikovsky’s travels. One could write an essay called Tchaikovsky’s hotels

A little of the ethos of those hotels lingered in 2006, when I was last there, at the Schatzalp in Davos, with its soup at mealtimes, its Tauchnitz library, its regular hours, its airy and austere rooms. I think they were still keeping your napkin for you from meal to meal. The few WEF participants who stayed there dimly suggested the international society which gathered in Swiss hotels in the belle époque.

Foreboding at Vevey (old post).

The Schatzalp was not the unnamed Davos hotel which Tchaikovsky visited. Nor, though it started as a sanatorium, was it the one where Yosif Kotek, his tubercular friend, whom he was visiting, was staying.

The first performance of the Samarin piece was conducted by Ippolit Altani at Samarin’s jubilee concert at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 16/28 December, under its original title, A Grateful Greeting.

Samarin died in the following year. Tchaikovsky published the piece in 1890 with the title Elegy and dedication In Memory of I.V. Samarin and used it as the entr’acte preceding Act IV in his music for a production of Hamlet at the Mariinskii Theatre in 1891.

There are other versions on YouTube, with the USSR Symphony Orchestra and Svetlanov, with the Academia de Muzică, Teatru și Arte Plastice of Chișinău and Patrick Strub, and with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic and Thomas Sanderling. There is also the complete Hamlet music with the Russian National Orchestra and Pletnev. (Or nearly compete. Didn’t it have a soprano song?)

Elegies belong to strings. Fauré’s and Elgar’s were for strings. Grieg wrote Two Elegiac Melodies for Strings. Stravinsky wrote one for solo viola. Tchaikovsky’s other elegy for strings is the third movement of the 1880 Serenade.

There are really two Tchaikovsky winter symphonies: the first, which I posted recently, and Manfred. The marking lugubre occurs in both. The finale of the first begins with an andante lugubre. Manfred begins with a lento lugubre. For me, Manfred is, on the evidence of Svetlanov’s reading, Tchaikovsky’s greatest orchestral composition. That is a controversial view. He wrote it at the same time as Brahms was writing his greatest, the fourth symphony.

Poulenc composed much of the Dialogues des carmélites at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes in the ’50s and talks on film somewhere about a cycle of working in his room and going down to the bar and going back to work.

From Davos Tchaikovsky travelled to Paris and thence, in December, back to Russia.

2 Responses to “Tchaikovsky en route to Davos”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The final bars of the piano trio also contain, for the piano, the marking lugubre.

    Rachmaninov used lento lugubre in his first Elegiac Piano Trio. (The second was written in memory of Tchaikovsky.) He also uses it in The Bells.

  2. […] Tchaikovsky en route to Davos. […]

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