[Video ►] Tchaikovsky: behind the music #1

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Piotr Tchaikovsky once said, “I want and long for interest in my music, I love when it’s loved and praised”. And, as we all know, that is exactly how it went for Piotr Ilyich.

Right? Not quite.

On a cold Christmas Eve in 1874, Tchaikovsky plays his brand-new piano concerto No. 1 to Nikolai Rubinstein, his mentor.

“I dedicate it to you. I want you to be the first one to play it. What do you think of my music?” Rubinstein expressed a keen interest in the concerto, said he loved it, and praised it.

Right? Not quite.

“Your concerto is worthless! It cannot be played. The passages are trite, clumsy and awkward. Nothing could make them better. You clearly stole this part from here and that one from there. To cut a long story short, it’s just rubbish, and that’s it. Either rewrite the whole thing or just drop it altogether. Anyway, there’s no way I’ll ever play it”. And he never did.

Right? Not quite.

Tchaikovsky didn’t expect such a reaction and took it badly: “What ?!” he said. “I won’t change a single note”. But he did change the dedication of his manuscript:  Rubinstein. Hans von Bülow. Bülow was flattered and said: “It’ll take a lot of effort to master this piece, but it’s totally worth it. I’ll play it on my tour of the United States this September”. And he did. It turned out that the concerto was a masterpiece. And it was loved. And praised.

And guess who conducted it in November that year? Here’s a hint: the same person who performed it as a pianist shortly after.

That’s right. Nikolai Rubinstein.