Our music for this week is the String Quartet No. 1 in D Major by Tchaikovsky, performed by the Borodin Quartet.
The Borodin Quartet was a product of the very influential Russian School of music. It was originally led by the renowned violinist Mikael Kopelman, who is now a professor at Eastman Conservatory. Although most of the original members are no longer part of the quartet, the group’s legacy is continued through the efforts of a younger generation of Russian musicians.
This quartet is the first of three quartets that Tchaikovsky wrote. It is by far the most popular work of chamber music by Tchaikovsky, due in large part to the unforgettable second movement. Tchaikovsky based the melody of this movement on a folk song that he heard while visiting his sister in the Russian countryside. It is said that Leo Tolstoy, upon first hearing this melody, immediately burst into tears. At its first performance, the quartet was warmly received by the public and became an immediate favorite of that era’s Russian nobility.
In the first movement, listen for the very rich and dense melody that the violins introduce in the first few bars. In the second movement, listen not only for the famous first melody but also the secondary melody that you will hear in the cello and first violin’s conversation later on in the piece. In the third movement, listen for the dance theme that is introduced in the Trio section about halfway through the movement. Finally, in the fourth movement, listen for a re-exploration of two themes from earlier in the quartet. Tchaikovsky places both themes in new and different tonalities, forcing the listener to hear these familiar melodies in a new light.