Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Sérénade mélancolique
Sérénade mélancolique was composed in early 1875 by Tchaikovsky at the request of violinist Leopold Auer. Scored for solo violin and orchestra, it was the first work of its kind that Tchaikovsky composed. It was composed at the same time as his iconic Piano Concerto No.1, which shares the same key as Sérénade mélancolique.
Auer and Tchaikovsky would have known each other by reputation, with Auer working as Professor of Violin at the Imperial Conservatory in St Petersburg in the 1860s and Tchaikovsky working as Professor of Music at the Moscow Conservatory. Tchaikovsky had seen Auer perform in public before, with him commenting that “the great expressivity, the thoughtful finesse and poetry of the interpretation” was a particular highlight of his style.The two met formally at a reception in 1875 hosted by Nikolai Rubinstein. It is not exactly sure whether Auer commissioned the work, but the end product became what we know as Sérénade mélancolique.
The work was published in February 1876 and was dedicated to Auer. Interestingly, however, Auer did not give the premiere of the work. Adolph Brodsky took to the stage to perform the work in Moscow. Auer played it some months later in St Petersburg in November 1876. Just two years later Tchaikovsky composed his Violin Concerto in D Major. Tchaikovsky had initially dedicated the work to Auer after their good working relationship on Sérénade mélancolique. However, Tchaikovsky was extremely offended by Auer’s criticisms of the concerto and his refusal to perform it on stage so much so he withdrew the dedication. The concerto was subsequently premiered by Adolph Brodsky once more, which then saw Tchaikovsky to remove Auer’s dedication off of Sérénade mélancolique as well.
Sérénade mélancolique is a showpiece for the violin. Full of expression and character, the piece diverges from the usual bravura of a violin concerto. After a delicate opening from the orchestra, the violin takes over the melancholy melody. The richness from strings used on the violin here create a richness in timbre which showcases the powerful sound of the instrument.
There atmosphere is dark and mournful, with the lyrical solo line being accompanied by the celli and basses, who often play pizzicato to change the texture. As more instruments from the orchestra join in, Tchaikovsky’s signature rich orchestrations begin to shine through. The music begins to build towards the slightly faster and more animated middle section.
Duets between the soloist and the horn, clarinet and oboe support the development of the melody. The atmosphere begins to open up more here, with Tchaikovsky keeping the intensity, whilst also expanding ranges and exploring changes in orchestration. A short interlude from the soloist leads back into the main melody. Now with a more grounded and richer accompaniment, the soloist is able to showcase the powerful and regal sound of the instrument.
As the music heads to the conclusion, we hear the melody one final time as Tchaikovsky marks the music to slow down whilst also fading away. This poignant ending wraps the piece up with the dignity it so deserves.
Ⓒ Alex Burns