Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations
Recording with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, September 8 2022, Gothenburg Concert Hall.
Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme represents noble classicism in a romantic costume, here reflected in all its loving playfulness by the Gothenburg Symphony’s solo cellist Claes Gunnarsson. Tchaikovsky composed his works at a time when his right to live honestly and love the one he wanted was so questioned that he tried to end his own life. Music, and this work in particular, was Tchaikovsky’s way of dealing with an inner struggle, and a reality that limited his freedom.
Of all the composers in the history of music, Tchaikovsky ranked Mozart the highest. This admiration also made itself visible in several of Tchaikovsky’s own compositions, among others in the opera The Queen of Spades, where there is a longer element with purely classical features, and in the fourth orchestral suite, the one that actually goes by the name Mozartiana. 1876 he received an order for a work for cello and orchestra, and reconnected with the Rococo spirit of the 18th century. The order came from the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who had left a brilliant European soloist career to become a professorial colleague of Tchaikovsky at the Imperial Conservatory of Music in Moscow. By this time, he had already participated in the premieres of all three of Tchaikovsky’s string quartets. Tchaikovsky gladly accepted the order and composed his new work in a version for cello and piano.
Not until the soloist had carefully studied the notes and suggested technical changes in the solo part did he deal with the instrumentation. The one-movement composition came to consist of an introduction and a theme with eight variations – and it was first performed at a private performance. When Fitzenhagen later played the piece in public for the first time, he had made a number of changes to the music. Among other things, he had changed the order of the variations, and in that design the music also found its way to the publisher’s printing press, to Tchaikovsky’s despair. More recently, the original version has been sought out, which has also been played from time to time. However, it is in Fitzenhagen’s version that the work has become known and loved all over the world.