an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Howler! Pianist finds glaring wrong flute note in Tchaikovsky concerto

My neighbour Stephen Hough is king of the hood this morning. He has got to the bottom of an exposed flute note that has bothered him every time he plays the Tchaik first piano concerto. It’s at the opening of the second movement and it’s an F in all printed editions.

Only in the composer’s original version, which Stephen has tracked down, it’s a B-flat. Result!

Share Stephen’s exultation here. UPDATE: And read his unshamefaced adjustment here.

tchaik piano

Opening of the 2nd movement, with correction in blue pencil

Watch Martha here:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Aw, shucks!

    I loved that F … it’s special because it is (was) the only time the melody goes that way. I’m going to miss it! :(

  2. Nuno Ivo Cruz says:

    The novelty is the manuscript. That change has been tacitly done ever since the first time I played it. Of course, that was done with bad “urtext conscience”, which the manuscript now happily alleviates.

  3. TuttiFlutie says:

    Very satisfying to see that a pianist is so aware of what’s going on in the flute part & conscientious about making it right. This is a hellacious flute part. I mean it’s truly a pain to have to play. Rhythmically, technically, musically this flute part has it all. If you do it right, the pianist gets all the glory. If you screw anything up, you REALLY hear it. I watched the last Tchaikovsky Competition streaming with tremendous admiration for the Russian flute players who had to play it over and over again.

    There are orchestral parts to certain concerti that, given their importance or difficulty really deserve acknowledgement by the soloist. This happens to be one of them. I am very glad that Mr. Hough has given this part such consideration.

    I hope that every pianist who performs this piece from now on will be more aware of the solo flute part, and realize that while the soloist is getting the applause, the attention, the flowers, and usually the big bucks, the solo flute player is back there working pretty hard, too. And thanks to Mr. Hough, we will now also be playing the right notes!

    • I agree that it is probably one of the more difficult flute parts — deceptively simple-sounding, yet treacherous. Even if the flute is 100% on pitch and not too high, the pizzicato string accompaniment will almost always sound lower than the a’ from the piano, making the flute sound even higher. And if it is a little too high to begin with … :(

      • Actually, that Bb tends to be low on most flutes. So playing it sharp is unlikely to be an issue.

  4. John Gallatt says:

    Finally! This has always bothered me…

  5. I kinda like the F… It’s like the Flute says something and the rest of the orchestra spends the rest of the movement correcting him/her! I’m sure it’s a mistake though…

  6. I feel a bit jealous I must say. After recording the complete Isaac Albéniz’s piano music, I have corrected dozens of wrong motes and no congratulations in return!! Yes, dozens…

  7. Peter Metrinko says:

    I’ll never listen to this section the same way again. I like the F myself.

  8. It is corrected in the 1950s Decca recording by Julius Katchen and Pierino Gamba.

  9. I heard it played with the B-flat decades ago. Ever since the F has always sounded suspicious to me.

  10. Trudy Kane says:

    I always felt that was wrong also. Glad the truth has come out…..

  11. OK, everyone please calm down. Does anyone know Mr. Hough’s whereabouts right now? Apparently he was holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room as recently as June 8 but had since dropped out of sight for two weeks while he prepared to disclose this shocking and sensitive information. Will Mr. Hough be seeking asylum in Ecuador, or perhaps Iceland?

    Obviously the incident has wider implications too: Will foreigner pianists guilty of performing the wrong note while in the U.S. be eligible to have that crime waived under the proposed U.S. Immigration Bill? Has anyone performed a realistic damage assessment given the international implications of Mr. Hough’s unauthorized disclosure?

    From a historical perspective, can anyone shed any light about whether previous world leaders – including Paderewski, Truman or Nixon – have been perpetuating this dark state secret, and if so, for how long? I hope we’ll all take time to digest the news and wait until we get all the facts before we jump to irrevocable and irresponsible conclusions that would likely affect musical life for generations to come.

    • Michael Antrobus - Oslo/Norway. says:

      Ha Ha Ha! Classic! My side are aching with uncontrollable laughter. Sometimes “Slipped Disc” needs such banter. Thanks M.H.Z.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      I suppose a flautist could be described as a whistleblower…

  12. So the 6th(!) edition of the piece “reviewed and corrected by the author,” and which has the F, is to be ignored? Surely after 5 previous editions and a 2-piano arrangement he himself made, Tchaikovsky would have caught this, if the F was not his real intention, regardless of the contents of the autograph. Jeez, you’d think this was a Bruckner symphony. Reminds me of well-intentioned but misguided attempts to “correct” the “wrong” harmonies under the flute part in the trio of Haydn’s Clock Symphony. Making things consistent is a classic example of an Emersonian hobgoblin.


    • Michael J Stewart says:

      I just posted a response about the two piano version by the composer – sorry didn’t see this first time. I totally agree by the way – it’s an F.

  13. Chapeau. If the composer writes a B flat, it’s a B flat, end of story. It has always been a strange deviation that the first time the theme appears in a different form. Nowadays flutists can easily master the tone quality of that pitch.

    IN the video, mrs Argerich plays the middle section too fast and too hectic: it should have elegance and a butterfly-like quality, not angry aggression.

  14. Sandrey Date says:

    One of my first LPs was a Vox of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 with the Violin Concerto on the back – unique in those days. I still have it. It was really my first experience of the Piano Concerto (Monique de la Bruchollerie, Municipal Philharmonia Orchestra, Rudolf Moralt, 1957), and the flute played the B flat not the F in the slow movement. This has always felt right, but I have never heard anyone else play a B flat since this recording. I didn’t know about Julius Katchen. Will the rest of the world now catch up?

  15. Agree with those who like the F and would miss it. Surely, the phrase sounds “correct” and more consistent with the B-flat, but there was something charming in the F, precisely because it was different from other statements of the theme. Besides, the second A-flat seems to acquire a slightly different tonal character when it arrives after F, while after B-flat it sounds the same as the first one and therefore the phrase becomes less interesting.This is one correction that may be not as necessary as most. Is it possible that Tchaikovsky was aware of the F in the first edition and chose to leave it in because he liked it there? Consistency in music is not always the absolute virtue.

  16. The Bb sounds too optimistic for the opening of the slow movement, the F more introspective and fits better.

  17. I have to agree with MarK. The F is also more flutistic. It falls easier on the instrument – it’s a smaller interval and easier to make a smooth phrase with the F. Tchaikowsky was by all reports himself a flute player and maybe he had this in mind. And as MarK points out, consistency is not necessarily the rule in music. I like that perhaps Tchaikowsky took the piano line and modified it by changing that note for the flute. I also prefer the F.

  18. Michael Hurshell says:

    When I did the piece on a Hungarian tour (in the 90′s, I don’t go anymore) the orchestra asked which version I prefer. So it’s not exactly a new thought. Good to have on the record, though.

  19. Michael J Stewart says:

    We do of course have another authoritative source, namely the composer’s own 2 piano arrangement, which clearly states on the title page: ‘Neue, vom componisten revidirte ausgabe’. (New edition by the composer). In this source the note in question is clearly an F.

    Not conclusive evidence perhaps, but I’ve always felt the F to be right myself, even though it’s Bb in all remaining repetitions. Mainly because, when you hear it played Bb for the first time it actually sounds like a response to something that has actually happened yet. With the F first, the piano Bb makes much more sense. A tiny variation which makes the episode more like a dialogue.

    Tchaikovsky was a real stickler for two piano and four-handed arrangements of his works. He was even critical of Rachmaninov’s piano duet version of Sleeping Beauty proclaiming it to be “absolutely lacking in courage, initiative and creativity!!!”.

  20. maybe it’s my eyesight …… but does anybody else think that the 3rd printed note in that manuscript is neither B flat nor an F … but a G flat ??? I have looked at it over and over and am not convinced that it was actually an F …

  21. It is definitely an F — see comments under “Tchaikovsky’s wrong note? Latest: It wasn’t Tchaikovsky’s…” from June 27.

an ArtsJournal blog