Critical Notes Series: Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme

We are celebrating our new release of Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme Urtext Edition.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–93) remains, arguably, the most famous Russian composer from the 
Romantic Era. His Variations on a Rococo Theme reflect his lifelong passion for Mozart’s music. The Variations bear a striking resemblance to Franz Danzi’s variations on Mozart’s “La ci darem la mano” from the opera Don Giovanni. Danzi included his variations as the finale to his Cello Concerto No. 1, in A major, the same key as Tchaikovsky’s Variations. 

The history of the Variations is often made out to be more dramatic than it really was. This work started its life in a piano score in Tchaikovsky’s hand in late 1876 or early 1877. Composed for the cellist Wilhelm (Guillaume) Fitzenhagen, Tchaikovsky naturally relied on Fitzenhagen to help him make the work more idiomatic for the instrument. Fitzenhagen made the necessary corrections to the piano score, which Tchaikovsky then orchestrated. The manuscript of the orchestration in Tchaikovsky’s hand reflects all Fitzenhagen’s suggestions. The cello part in the orchestra score is almost entirely in Fitzenhagen’s hand; however, this is not out of the ordinary, as the orchestra score to Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso contains the cello part in the hand of Anatoly Brandukov, Pezzo’s dedicatee. 

The disagreement between Tchaikovsky and Fitzenhagen arose when Fitzenhagen submitted the work to 
Tchaikovsky’s publisher, Jurgenson. Jurgenson complained that Fitzenhagen was trying to rewrite the Variations, namely that he wanted to cut the final variation (No. 8) and to reorder the others. There is no reason to believe that the complaint extended beyond this major change. Any other changes, like slurring, and minor articulation, and dynamic adjustments in the cello part were inconsequential to the performance of the work. It is evident from the manuscript of the orchestra score that the final variation is crossed out in pencil, and pencil marks redirect the order of the variations. However, the entire score remains intact and was used for the cello part of our edition. The fair copy of the piano score, mostly in Tchaikovsky’s hand, with Fitzenhagen’s suggestions, was used as the source of the piano score in the present edition. Because the piano score of Variation No. 4 does not exist in the version parallel to the orchestra score, we used the same variation from the first edition (1878), with minor adjustments to the dynamics as well as the variation’s 
ending from the orchestra score. 

Tchaikovsky’s tempo-marking spelling errors were corrected without comment. Editorial marks are noted with brackets and dashed lines. We believe that our edition is the first to reflect Tchaikovsky’s desires without the need to rely on Victor Kubatsky’s mid-1900s reconstruction, which he sought through dubious means with the help of a criminologist. 

The Schott "Urtext" edition even claims the following: 

The music of the present edition of the original score version is based on the edition by the cellist Victor L. Kubatsky (1891–1970), one of Anatoly Brandukov's students, in volume 30b of the Old Tchaikovsky Complete Edition (Moscow, 1956). (Before V. L. Kubatsky reconstructed the original version, the Scientific Research Institute of Criminology, MVD, in the USSR had been asked to analyse the damaged, changed and pasted parts of the piano autograph score as arranged by Fitzenhagen, as well as the autograph score. The file of the expert, A. I. Purtow, is dated 3 July 1955).

We would have hoped that an Urtext edition would have used the manuscript as the source instead of a reconstruction from 80 years after the work's composition.

The sources were graciously provided by the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow. 

A special thank you to Phillip Gaskill for offering his help in proofreading this project. 

Enjoy other titles we publish by Tchaikovsky:

Pezzo Capriccioso, Op. 62 (Urtext Edition, Cello and Piano)
October, from The Seasons, Op. 37b, No. 10 (Transcribed for Cello and Piano)
Nocturne Op. 19, No. 4 for Cello and Piano (original key: C# minor)
Cello Concerto, TH 249 (Piano Reduction and Solo Part)
Aveu Passionne (Transcribed for Cello and Piano)
Andante cantabile, from Symphony No. 5 (Transcribed for Cello and Piano)
 

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