String Quartet No. 1 (Tchaikovsky)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 in D major Op. 11 was the first of his three completed string quartets that were published during his lifetime. An earlier attempt had been abandoned after the first movement was completed.[1]

Composed in February 1871, it was premiered in Moscow on 16/28 March 1871 by four members of the Russian Musical Society: Ferdinand Laub and Ludvig Minkus, violins; Pryanishnikov, viola; and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, cello.[2] Tchaikovsky arranged the second movement for cello and string orchestra in 1888.


The quartet has four movements:

  1. Moderato e semplice (D major)
  2. Andante cantabile (B major)
  3. Scherzo. Allegro non tanto e con fuoco – Trio (D minor)
  4. Finale. Allegro giusto – Allegro vivace (D major)

The melancholic second movement, which has become famous in its own right, was based on a folk song, likely the Song of the Volga Boatmen, the composer heard at his sister's house at Kamenka[3][4] whistled by a house painter.[5] When the quartet was performed at a tribute concert for Leo Tolstoy, the author was said to have been brought to tears by this movement: “…Tolstoy, sitting next to me and listening to the Andante of my First Quartet, burst into tears".[6][7] When the Zoellner Quartet, at her request, performed the second movement for Helen Keller, who rested her fingertips on a resonant tabletop to sense the vibrations, she, too, reacted strongly.[8] The melody from second theme of the Andante cantabile, in D major, was also used as the basis for the popular song "On the Isle of May", popularized by Connee Boswell in 1940. This movement ends with plagal cadence.


  1. ^ Langston, Brett (ed.). "Tchaikovsky Research: String Quartet in B-flat major". Tchaikovsky Research. Retrieved June 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ John Warrack, Tchaikovsky, p. 275
  3. ^ Catherine Steinegger's Notes to Recording of Keller Quartet (Erato, 2292-45965-2) states: ‘Based on a folksong which the composer had heard at Kamenka, while he was staying with his sister’
  4. ^ André Lischke's Notes to Recording of Quatuor du Moscou (CDM, RUS 288 101) states: ‘…Russian folk tune that Tchaikovsky had noted down in 1869, well before the composition of the Quartet’
  5. ^ Kashkine's Recollections of Tchaikovsky The Musical Times Vol. 38, No. 653 (Jul. 1, 1897), pp. 449-452 "... the Russian song, forming the first theme, was written down from the voice of a plasterer who had awakened him with his singing on several consecutive mornings..."
  6. ^ Alexandra Orlova: Tchaikovsky, a self-portrait quotes this as originating from “Diaries, 211” OUP, 1990, ISBN 0-19-315319-X
  7. ^ Galina von Meck (with notes by Percy M Young) An Autobiography of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Letters to his Family also mentions this in the footnote to Letter 131 (Alexandra Davydova, 8/11/1876, Moscow) Stein & Day 1973/1981/1982 ISBN 0-8128-6167-1
  8. ^ Scrapbook clipping attributed to Musician, Volume 22, April 1917, page 303, accessed June 4, 2012.

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