Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 23

by Max Derrickson

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky     (b Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka province, 25 April 1840; St Petersburg, 25 Oct. 1893)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 23
1. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
2. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I
3. Allegro con fuoco

Tchaikovsky’s better known works are creations that once heard, one hardly needs to know anything more, so sweepingly beautiful are his melodies and orchestral palettes.  Such is the case with the extraordinarily imaginative opening to his Piano Concerto No. 1 composed in 1875.  Beginning with a famously profound horn call, followed by those wave-crashing piano chords and then soaring magically into melody, once heard, who could forget it or imagine it any other way?

What seems to often go unnoticed, however, is the brilliance with which Tchaikovsky clothes his memorable themes.  For example, the first movement to the Concerto is structurally remarkable as, not long into the first theme, a second theme is almost secretly introduced, upon which Tchaikovsky then creates a brilliant double exposition.
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The third movement, Allegro, fast, jaunty and lyrically infectious, is rather standard in its structural approach, but then again is not.  It is a rondo, but is also
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a task that Tchaikovsky does with stunning agility.

But what one is ultimately aware of when listening to this extraordinary concerto is how youthfully fresh, exciting and beautiful the music is.  We hardly hear Tchaikovsky’s clever formal structures, or that the balance between virtuosity and expressiveness in the piano part is so seamless and natural.  And arguably this is what makes Tchaikovsky one of the greatest composers and his first concerto one of the repertoire’s greatest gems, that we are thrilled, charmed, wooed and smiling at its jubilant ending.