(Duration: 20 min)
In 1886, when the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society awarded Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky an honorary membership, he promised to write a new work for them, but it ended up taking six years and many course corrections before their score was ready. Around the time he made his first sketches in the summer of 1887, he confessed his pernicious self-doubt in a letter, lamenting, “I’m beginning to fear that I am losing my powers of composition, and becoming angry with myself.”
Picking up the score again in 1890, which he had decided to construct as a string sextet in the mold of Johannes Brahms, he wrote to a fellow composer that he found it “terribly difficult working in this new form; it seems that rather than writing for six voices, I am, in essence, composing for the orchestra, and only then arranging it for six string instruments.” He gathered musicians to perform a draft that he appraised as “astonishingly bad in all respects,” and he put it down again until a quiet few weeks in Paris during the winter of 1891–92. Finally happy with the score, Tchaikovsky gave it the fond title Souvenir de Florence, a tribute to the city where, early in 1890, he jotted down the melody that would become the basis of the slow movement.
Souvenir de Florence makes an arresting entrance, launching immediately into a melody that starts with an unstable harmony and a crunchy four-note chord attacked fortissimo by the first violin. This fast and spirited opening movement in the key of D-minor turns out to be more frisky than fierce, maintaining a dance-like lift in its three-beat pulse.
After a tapering introduction, the slow movement presents the Florence-born theme, played dolce cantabile (sweet and singing) by the first violin over effervescent plucking, a texture that approximates the character of an Italian mandolin or guitar accompanying a love serenade. In a letter to his contact at the Chamber Music Society, Tchaikovsky wrote that this movement should be “played with great fire and passion.”
Traces of folksong color the scherzo as well as the lively finale. Tchaikovsky used the full resources of the sextet to craft these themes into more than just memorable tunes, amassing rustic textures and sophisticated layers of counterpoint on the way to a thrilling conclusion. Alongside his symphonic swan song from the next year, the Symphony No. 6, Souvenir de Florence stands as the pinnacle of what Tchaikovsky was able to achieve when he married his abundant gift for melody with a hard-earned mastery of formal structures.
Aaron Grad ©2023
About This Program
Join the SPCO and Flat Earth Brewing Company for a unique concert experience! Hang out by the bar or pull up a chair to listen to Tchaikovsky’s stunning Souvenir de Florence performed by a sextet of SPCO musicians and guests in Flat Earth Brewing Company’s historic tap room. Sample locally crafted beer throughout the concert, followed by a tour of the brewery. There will be time for more beer sampling after the tour, and growlers of Flat Earth’s delicious brews will be available for sale.
Please note: This event is now SOLD OUT. Click here to be added to the waiting list, and a Ticket Office Associate will contact you if space becomes available.
Tickets: $25 (ticket price includes beer sampling, chamber music concert and brewery tour)
Seating is general admission, with some seats and some standing room. Must be 21 to attend and present valid ID at the door.
This special event is not eligible for the club2030 discount, voucher redemption, season ticket exchanges or concert membership redemption and cannot be included as part of a create-your-own series.