Suite No. 4, Mozartiana Op. 61

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Composed 1887

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians

A theme and its variations gave Tchaikovsky license to engage his sunny side. They turn up in The Nutcracker, his A minor Piano Trio, the Rococo Variations and this suite; in each of them, any gloominess is dispelled by the end. It’s as if the process of turning a theme through various tempos and keys led him always to a happier road. We know he could be overwhelmed with melancholia, but in these pieces, at least, it is hidden rather well.

The Fourth Suite was Tchaikovsky’s homage to Mozart, and written to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Don Giovanni. In the first two movements, Tchaikovsky worked directly from Mozart’s original works, but for the third, based on the motet Ave verum corpus, Tchaikovsky instead used a piano transcription by Franz Liszt. This included an introduction and coda to what Mozart had written. Maybe we can consider this movement to be a tribute from two composers to Mozart. Here are the works Tchaikovsky orchestrated for his suite:

  • Gigue in G, K.574
  • Minuet in D, K.355
  • Ave verum corpus, K.618
  • Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint,” K.455

The final set of ten variations takes up more than three-quarters of the work’s length, with Tchaikovsky taking the rather simple and memorable melody and orchestrating it in the primary colors of the Romantic orchestra. The first variation features the clarinet and violins; the second throws in syncopations on the cymbals; the third is a miniature fantasia for the flute; the fourth could almost be the ebullient end to a symphony; the strings take over for the measured tone of the fifth; the woodwinds are again featured in the folksy sixth; the seventh harks back to the intimate sound of the fifth; the eighth adds glockenspiel plinking out the melody over rapidfire repeated notes from the strings; the ninth variation is the longest, featuring a lyrical violin solo; and then finally in the tenth, Tchaikovsky wraps up his shiny suite with a waltz.

Marc Geelhoed ©2010