Sérénade mélancolique

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Sérénade mélancolique in Bb minor

Op. 26, TH56

About this work

It is safe to say that without the help of Russian violinist Adolph Brodsky, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto would not be held in nearly the popular esteem that it is today held, or at least to say that without Brodsky the work would have had to wait much longer for its day in the sun to arrive. For upon seeing the Concerto, Leopold Auer, the violinist for whom Tchaikovsky had actually composed the work and who was to have given the premiere, decreed it both unplayable and aesthetically questionable, just as Nikolai Rubinstein had done with the composer's Piano Concerto a few years earlier. It was only because Brodsky generously offered to take Auer's place as soloist that the work was heard at all. The grateful composer immediately struck Auer's name from the dedication and replaced it with Adolph Brodsky's. Most critics of the day, however, agreed with Auer's verdict; though, as it happened, Auer himself later reversed his judgment and became, through his brilliant students, the Concerto's greatest champion.

This was not the first time that Brodsky had used his immense skills in Tchaikovsky's aid when an association with Auer proved unfruitful. On January 28, 1876, Brodsky had given the premiere of another work Tchaikovsky wrote with Auer in mind, the Sérénade mélancolique for violin and orchestra, Op. 26, composed almost exactly one year earlier. In the case of the Sérénade, the dedication to Leopold Auer survives; perhaps it was only when Auer had failed him for the second time, and Brodsky had bailed him out for the second time, that Tchaikovsky grew angry enough at Auer to strike out the Concerto's dedication.

The single-movement Sérénade mélancolique is of diminutive proportions compared to the Violin Concerto. A large three-part (ABA) form is at work in the piece. In the opening strains of the first section (Andante) the violin sings a quiet tune entirely on the G string. A second theme appears (Pochissimo più mosso), related to the woodwind introduction and hinting at the realm of D flat major, but never actually manages to make a cadence to that key before the middle section proper takes off with its agitato-running eighth notes. Two massive Largamente outbursts in E and B flat major make for a rousing climax, but soon things dissolve away into a brief and very subdued violin cadenza, which in turn moves without break of any kind into the reprise of the opening section, now played with the addition of shimmering flute tremolandos. The opening bars of the piece come back at the end of the brief coda, just before the violin reflects once more, almost despondently, upon the melancholy theme of the first section, and draws the whole affair to a triple pianissimo close.