1874: Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 2 in F major, age 34

Here is my usual disclaimer: I know nothing about string instruments. So anything I have to say about compositions for strings is just the impression of someone very ignorant of how they are played. For that reason I can’t stand listening to music for strings unless I like the music, and unless the players are very good. So when I recommend anything written only for strings, that music seems to me to be important and unusual. At the time I listened to this quartet I was absolutely buried in a huge project, going through all of Tchaikovsky’s important symphonic music. I simply saved this link with the idea to come back to it, but it continues to impress me.

Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 22

This was composed and scored in late December 1873 and January 1874 in Moscow and so appeared very close to “Winter Dreaming”, his 1st symphony.

There are four movements…

I. Adagio – Moderato assai – F major

II. Scherzo – Allegro giusto – Db major

III. Andante ma non tanto – F minor

IV. Finale: Allegro con moto – F major

Another public failure…

You have to figure Tchaikovsky had just about the worst support in musical history, or at least one of the worst. Schubert also was almost ignored during his lifetime, so perhaps his story is even worse, but again and again Tchaikovsky reported public indifference to music he was proud of:

“I consider it one of my best compositions; none has flowed out of me so easily and simply. I wrote it almost in one sitting and I was very surprised that the public did not take to it, for I find that compositions written so spontaneously normally find favour,”

Later he told Anatoly Tchaikovsky:

“If I’ve written anything in my life that flowed spontaneously from the very depths of my soul, then it was the first movement of this quartet” .

And again Rubinstein commented with his usual stupidity that:

…the style was not that of chamber music and that he could not understand it”…

What a colossal jerk he was! I may write more about this in the future, but there is one astonishingly unusual feature in the 2nd movement, which is a scherzo. The rhythm alternates between twos and threes, in something called “mixed meter”, and at that time this was quite unusual.

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