Accompanied by the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra), the Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, for cello and orchestra. Conductor: Anja Bihlmaier. This performance was recorded on November 3, 2023, at the hr-Sendesaal Frankfurt.

Accompanied by the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra), the Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, for cello and orchestra. Conductor: Anja Bihlmaier. This performance was recorded on November 3, 2023, at the hr-Sendesaal Frankfurt.

Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme

The Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, for cello and orchestra, was the closest Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ever came to composing a full concerto for cello and orchestra. The style, inspired by Mozart, Tchaikovsky’s role model, clearly reflects Tchaikovsky’s deep admiration for the Classical style. Contrary to what the title might suggest, the theme is not of Rococo origin but is an original theme crafted in the Rococo style.

Tchaikovsky wrote this piece with the assistance of Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a German cellist and fellow professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Fitzenhagen premiered the work in Moscow on November 30, 1877, with Nikolai Rubinstein conducting. This premiere was likely the only performance of the Variations as Tchaikovsky originally composed them until 1941 when it was performed in Moscow without Fitzenhagen’s later standard emendations.

The piece is scored for a reduced orchestra consisting of pairs of each of the four basic woodwind instruments, two horns, and the usual strings, akin to the typical late 18th-century orchestra but without trumpets or percussion.

Composed between December 1876 and March 1877, immediately following his tone poem “Francesca da Rimini,” the piece exhibits a new elegant classical detachment compared to the vehemence and intensity of “Francesca.” The theme, while Tchaikovsky’s own, clearly reflects the classical style he had in mind.

Structure and Overview

Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme comprises a theme and eight variations (seven in Fitzenhagen’s version), lasting about 20 minutes. Its continuous and prolonged format, without extended orchestral tuttis, poses a challenge for the soloist, who must often play in the high register using the thumb position.

  1. Moderato assai quasi Andante – Thema: Moderato semplice. The orchestra introduces the piece, followed by the solo cello stating the simple, elegant theme, repeated four times. A brief conjunctive passage, used to link Variations I and II (and again an octave lower between Variations VI and VII), follows.
  2. Variation I: Tempo della Thema. The first variation features lively triplets, with the orchestra restating the theme.
  3. Variation II: Tempo della Thema: In the second variation, the theme is nearly doubled in speed with a conversational section between the orchestra and the soloist. It includes a modified conjunction leading into a brazen cadenza filled with chords.
  4. Variation III: Andante: This melancholy variation in D minor is the only minor key variation in the piece. The conjunction appears at the end, varied in D minor.
  5. Variation IV: Allegro vivo. The fourth variation returns to A major, characterized by its blazing 32nd notes. It ends with a graceful Mannheim Rocket (a swiftly ascending passage typically having a rising arpeggiated melodic line together with a crescendo).
  6. Variation V: Andante grazioso. Here, the theme’s opening pickup becomes the downbeat. Tchaikovsky cleverly mixes the conjunction figure into the variation, concluding with a flourish and long trill.
  7. Variation VI: Andante. The sixth variation develops an accompanimental line from the previous trill, featuring a solo flute rendition of the theme and a grand fall by the solo cello. A cadenza and original conjunction lead into C major.
  8. Variation VII: Andante sostenuto. In the seventh variation, the piece shifts contemplatively towards E major using a fractured conjunction figure, landing on a harmonic E.
  9. Variation VIII e Coda: Allegro moderato con anima. The final variation opens with a graceful cello solo, based on a mordent. It transitions into a playful mixture of scales and the mordent theme. The coda contrasts dramatically with the variation, reintroducing the theme and several variations, concluding gloriously in A major.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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