The Kennedy Center

Sérénade mélancolique, Op. 26

About the Work

Painting of Tchaikovsky Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
© Peter Laki

Tchaikovsky's first work for violin and orchestra was written soon after the First Piano Concerto, with which it shares the somewhat unusual key of B-flat minor. It is an exquisite gem of a piece, rich in melodic invention and brilliantly orchestrated, with some delicate orchestral solos complementing the soaring voice of the solo violin.

The soloist's opening statement, which appears after a brief orchestral introduction, is a melody of the kind that is hard to get out of your head after you have heard it. Played on the lowest string of the instrument, it is certainly mélancolique but not in the sense of withdrawing into an inner world: it also reaches out to the listener like a serenade sung under someone's balcony. This intense desire to communicate a deep inner sadness is the main "program" of the work, in which the main melody is followed by a more animated (but still melancholy) middle section. Here the dynamics increase, the violin part goes into the high range of the instrument, and some bold harmonic changes occur. The main melody eventually returns with a richer orchestral accompaniment; the last time it is heard, it is played by the first clarinet, with the violin adding an ornamental second voice. At the end, Tchaikovsky writes in the score: rallentando (slowing down)-morendo (dying, fading away).