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Tchaikovsky’s wrong note: A Russian pianist gets sharp

Six weeks ago, we brought you Stephen Hough’s startling discovery of a ‘wrong’ flute note in the Tchaik first piano concerto. A day later, we brought you Stephen’s even more startling retraction. And there the matter should have rested.

But you know how it is with pianists: they can’t let a dead score lie. So Kirill Gerstein has got to grips with the early manuscripts in Moscow. And reported his conclusions in the New York Review of Books. (Must be a quiet month for books.) Read him here.

hough lebrecht

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  1. What an amazing number of experts we have :) One thing for sure is that, either way, Stephen knows how to play the thing. Enjoy!!

  2. Byron Hanson says:

    It’s refreshing in any case to read a reasoned, non-confrontational discussion rather than pontification – thank you one and all! Another matter comes to mind wherein we might debate why the composers did what they did, and this time I’m comparing the first movement of the Tchaikowsky concerto to that of Schumann’s B-flat symphony, the “Spring”. The opening motif in each work reappears a third higher or a third lower — in the concerto, a minor third higher, and in the symphony, a major third lower.

    Schumann’s justification for beginning his symphony on the mediant has been explained as the desirability of enabling the brass instruments to play the motif entirely on the natural partials of their B-flat harmonic series rather than beginning on the tonic and requiring the less resonant “G” and “A” required when the motif reappears in the Allegro. Yes, brass instruments with valves did exist at that time, and Schumann would write extravagantly for valved horns a decade later, but by 1841 these “modern improvements” were not universally accepted by the players, just as many string artists were to resist the practical advantages of steel strings well into the 20th century. As with our “F or B-flat” discussion there may be reasons to refute my explanation — my door is always open!

  3. Miles Golding says:

    Stephen Hough wrote:
    “a composer rarely presents a theme in a variant form at the very start, especially a theme which then appears numerous times in unvaried repetition.” and asks: “Can anyone think of one pre-20th century example?”

    I can, and a fabulously simple and imaginative one. L van B when he was learning to write string 4tets at a mere 30 yrs of age – the last mvt of Op 18/2. (Allowing for normal developmental variation, and the same variant form at the Recapitulation)

    • Jonathan Z says:

      Norman – I think this link isn’t working. Instead of reading Kirill Gerstein’s contribution you get taken to the original Hough humble pie post.


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