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32. Tchaikovsky: 1st Piano Concerto

[…] I’m listening to
Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto number one
and the beer bottles are on the floor
and ash from my cigarettes covers my cotton underwear 
and my gut,
I’ve told all my girlfriends to go to hell.

Excerpt from Up Your Yellow River by Charles Bukowski 

During the cold winter of 1874, Tchaikovsky worked around the clock to complete his first piano concerto. He was pleased with the result and granted piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubintein the opportunity to perform it at its premiere. Their meeting would become one of the most intriguing chapters in Tchaikovsky’s biography.

When he delivered the sheet music to Rubinstein, the latter played it in complete silence. After a short pause at the end, he looked Tchaikovsky in the eye and told him that it sucked harder than a bar slut with an eviction notice.

Tchaikovsky left the room with murder on his mind. On his bed he suddenly remembered he was a succesful composer who hadn’t come there for advice, but to do the guy a favor. Rubinstein meanwhile had written down a long list of alterations that - according to him - would make the piece ‘acceptable’. He visited Tchaikovsky, stating he was willing to perform the piece if Tchaikovsky was willing to alter it. Tchaikovsky read the list in complete silence. After a short pause he looked Rubinstein in the eye and told him to go to hell.

Tchaikovsky never changed a single note and throughout time all relevant soloists have added his first Piano Concerto to their repertoire.

Recommended recording:
Sviatoslav Richter, Herbert von Karajan & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Martha Argerich’s recordings with Kondrashin and Abbado both stand out. But a golden rule in classical music and beer pong says it takes a Russian to fully understand a Russian, so Richter is my man.



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