Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 2

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Painting by Alex Katsenelson

I fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s music when I was well into my thirties. I am not talking about his ballets or even his first piano concerto. (I feel I consumed that concerto in tandem with my mother’s milk.) But I feel that I had to mature as an adult to be able to relate to the deep emotional content of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. Today I want to share with you Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto. I listened to it a few times when I was younger, but it didn’t click with me until recently.

Tchaikovsky was a symphonist. He admitted to a friend that he hated the way the piano sounded with an orchestra. In Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos the piano is often not a soloist but just another instrument. You can clearly hear this in the second movement of his second piano concerto.

There are two versions of this concerto. The first version is what Tchaikovsky originally composed; but it was long, and so it was modified (cut) by Tchaikovsky’s friend, the composer Alexander Siloti. The second movement of this concerto received most of Siloti’s knife work, allowing us to clearly see the difference between Tchaikovsky’s piece and what a by-the-book piano concerto should be like. Siloti took what sounded like a triple concerto (a concerto for violin, cello, and piano) and turned it into a concerto for piano and orchestra.

Luckily for us, both versions were preserved. Here is the (uncut) original version. It starts with a violin solo, followed by solos for cello and then piano – a typical triple concerto.

Here is Siloti’s shortened version, which clearly follows the rules of traditional piano concertos.

I love both versions equally. What about you?

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  • Eileen says:

    Do you have the Words T’s concerto # 2. “Tonight we Love”

  • Heiko says:

    I cannot help to find the original version more emotion and reveal more vulnerability. The revised version seems to be “smoothed out”.

  • Frank McDonald says:

    The exquisite complete second movement is one of my favorite pieces of music. I first heard this concerto performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2010 with Stephen Hough on piano. What a wonderful surprise to hear the piano trio prominently featured in the second movement, with William Pu on violin and the late Christopher Rex on cello, while Mr Hough sat back and enjoyed the first few minutes before it was time for him to rejoin with the piano recapitulation. Thanks for posting this article!

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