I was amped to play Strauss' Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite last weekend, and I'm amped to play Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence in its original sextet form tonight and tomorrow night at the Knoxville Museum of Art at 7:00 as part of the “Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends” Concertmaster series. This is a high-amp month, with Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony coming right up next week. The one great thing about music is that the music itself doesn't care when we move on to something new-- We can say “we love it,” but it's okay to say that we love another piece just as much. One week's favorite must necessarily give way to the next piece, otherwise, why not just play the same work over and over?
Why Florence? In rehearsals for the sextet, I've been keeping an ear peeled for hints of things which might evoke the way Florence looks, sounds or smells, but having never been to Florence, I'm not really sure what I'm looking for. The commission for this sextet, issued by the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society, came in 1886, but in true Tchaikovsky fashion, it took a while for Tchaikovsky's muse to kick in. It wasn't until 1890, when he was in Florence composing his opera The Queen of Spades that the idea for the bel canto second movement theme sprang into his head. And that's it! Nothing else in the piece particularly evokes Italy; it is more about Tchaikovsky telling the world how much he loved to be in Florence.
After a somewhat unsuccessful premiere in December of 1890 (the composers Liadov and Glazunov were in attendance, and agreed that the last two movements “needed some work”) and consequent massive revisions to the third and fourth movements, Tchaikovsky was quite pleased with what he had written, particularly the fugato passage at the end of the finale. Only then did the title of the work come to be given. It is the last multi-movement work by Tchaikovsky save for the 6th (Pathetique) symphony.
The concert will start in Italy, with Vivaldi's Winter concerto from his Four Seasons “concerto cycle.” Gabe will be accompanied by an orchestrina of 10 players. I have learned this is called a “decet.” Following that, Gabe and pianist Kevin Class will perform five movements from Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet, those movements being Waltz, Gavotte, Passepied, Winter Fairy and Mazurka.