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The Weekend Vote

V.com weekend vote: How do you like your Tchaik?

August 22, 2008 at 8:49 PM

Well, since Andrew Sords suggested it in a discussion thread earlier this week, I just couldn't resist.

First, a little background: Tchaikovsky wrote his famous violin concerto in 1878, and when he offered it to the great violinist Leopold Auer, the violinist famously rejected it as "unplayable." The concerto was premiered three years later in Vienna, by Adolf Brodsky.

Auer eventually changed his mind about the concerto and became one of its biggest champions. He also revised it, and his revisions are what we are talking about today. There are small edits throughout the piece, but I'd like to focus on just two of the most obvious and bigger ones: one in the first movement and one in the last.

In the first movement, (after letter E, if you have your score), Auer wrote a double-stop scale lick to replace Tchaikovsky's barriolage passage. Here is an example of David Oistrakh playing the first movement with Tchaikovsky's original barriolage, which occurs 6:45 minutes in. Here is an example of Jascha Heifetz playing the first movement, with the Auer double stops in said passage, which occurs 5:09 minutes in.

In the third movement, towards the beginning, is the "tastefully repetitive" passage or the "broken record" passage, depending on how you look at it. Here is an example of Maxim Vengerov playing the third movement with the original Tchaikovsky repetitions, which occur 59 seconds into this recording. Here is an example of our very own Jessica Hung playing the third movement, with the Auer cuts, which occur 56 seconds in. (And by the way today on V.com "Concert Clips" we're featuring Judith Ingolfsson who does to the original Tchaik in the third movement. Beautiful playing!)

I listened to a few of my recordings, and made notes on who did and didn't do the aforementioned Auer cuts in the first movement, and in the third. Here are the results:

David Oistrakh, All-Union Radio Orchesta, 1939:
First movement: Auer double stops at letter E
Third movement: Auer cut, no repeats

Jascha Heifetz, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Reiner, 1957:
First movement: Auer double stops at letter E
Third movement: Auer cuts, no repeats

Joshua Bell, Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy, 1988:
First movement: Tchaik barriolage at letter E
Third movement: Auer cuts, no repeats

Gil Shaham, Philharmonia Orchestra, Sinopoli, 1993:
First movement: Tchaikovsky barriolage at letter E
Third movement: Tchaikovsky repeats

Maxim Vengerov, Berliner Philharmoniker, Abbado, 1995:
First movement: Tchaikovsky barriolage at letter E
Third movement: Tchaikovsky repeats

How do you play it, or which do you prefer? Have your tastes or opinions changed on this matter over the years? Tell us about it!


From Brian Hong
Posted on August 22, 2008 at 9:34 PM
My view on this is:

If Tchaikovsky wrote this concerto and he liked it, then there must have been some reason. He was one of the greatest composers of all time, and why must someone change what he wrote? I personally also don't like the cuts.

From Charles C
Posted on August 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM
The Auer double stops are just awesome. Especially when Heifetz plays them.
From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on August 22, 2008 at 10:46 PM
I prefer the barriolage, I think it adds much more drama - crossing the strings back and forth - than the double stops do. But the original third movement most of the time does sound like a broken record to me.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 23, 2008 at 12:13 AM
Tchaikovsky is my favorite concerto. I love this concerto so much, that I really don't care who does what version, or what cuts. As long as it is played well, that is what counts!

I was taught to do the original in the 1st mvt, but the cuts in the 3rd.

My favorite recording is the Oistrakh/Konwitschny/Staatskapelle Dresden recording, on DG!

From Nicole Stacy
Posted on August 23, 2008 at 5:41 AM
I've achieved notoriety! :)
From Rosalind Porter
Posted on August 23, 2008 at 6:52 PM
Personally I think Auer was a little bit cheeky to make the alterations he did - and re-reading that biography of Brodsky makes you realise he was a very fine violinist, so if it was OK for him at the premiere then I don't think there is any real justification for Auer to come along and alter things. Maybe Auer wasn't too good at bariolage?!

As for the last movement, surely the challenge is for the violinist - and the conductor/orchestra too - to make the repetition interesting in their interpretation - perhaps with some subtle variation in tone colour/bowing etc etc (not got my score to hand and too lazy to stand up and go look for it...!) so that the listener isn't "bored"? So no cuts for me please.

From Brian Allen
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 3:08 AM
I am afraid that I grew up listening to David Oistrach play it with Auer cuts and I didn't even know the difference until I was an adult. The original now sounds so repetitive to me. I like the Auer cuts.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 10:30 AM
I like the barriolage so much better than the double stops. The barriolage is unusual, keeping a light and lyrical sound. The double stops sound too heavy, ordinary, and chunky for my taste.

I also like the version with repetitions. The theme is so pretty that I like to hear it repeated. The repetition gives a sense of unification and a reassuring feeling that you can always go back to that place and it will always be good.

Jessica, you sound great!

From Ian Andrew S
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 2:00 PM
Something else to ponder - Tchaikovsky's Meditation was the original second movement of the concerto. Would it have been worth keeping?
(My $0.02 - YES!)
From Deborah McCann
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 2:38 PM
I actually like both ways, but it depends on the violinist. If the performer does not buy into the edition, then they don't express as well in their playing. As the Auer was what we mainly heard growing up, it ended up being accepted, but the original is more in the Romantic era style. Long yes, but that was a part of what made Romanticisim what it was especially in the later part of the era.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 4:26 PM
I love the Tchaik Meditation. Though I'm not sure how it would go over, in the middle of the piece! It stands by itself quite nicely.

I totally don't see the point of the repetitions, and it could be that I just heard it so many times the other way that I can't.

I would say this, though: no composer is perfect, and no work of music is complete without its performer. Music is meant to mutate!

From Jim Tsai
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 1:35 AM
Heifetz's version sounds very dated and too flashy for the character of the concerto.
From David Teitelbaum
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 1:28 AM
Here is how I see it: first off, the fact that Heifetz and not many others afterwards play that Auer version in the first movement is a blessing. It sounds constipated, anti-climactic (at a crescendo that happens to be one of the mightiest in the bulk of violin repertoire; I can only think of the tensed entrance of the violin in the Brahms concerto as a partner to the brilliance of musical drama. The Auer KILLS that entirely), and in the hands of Heifetz, as usual, dead.

If there was to be a recording someplace of Oistrakh, even the great and mighty Oistrakh, the climax would be DOA. Thank God Oistrakh didn't waste his years in the salon of Auer so he wasn't fed a bunch of trash that he would have probably unlearned later on like so many of the other star pupils of Auer's class did.

The original Tchaikovsky first movement is just about perfect when matching it to the most perfectly written music over the centuries and it has proven through time to be a favorite among all violin music lovers and casual listeners; and I'm quite certain that at that crucial half a minute nothing other than that which Tchaikovsky wrote can "do the trick!"

Of course the arrogance of Auer, to go and edit a work he had shoved in the composer’s face, is in itself unbelievable; on the one hand he’s too incompetent to play it and insults Tchaikovsky, whom I’m sure it dealt a great blow, knowing how sensitive and fragile a man he was, and on the other hand he takes unheard of liberties to SCREW IT UP!

That being said, I do understand his take on the finale, though I do not agree with them on a musicological footing. I heard the versions of the repetitions and I heard the versions of the Auer: if the violinist knows how to play he’ll play the original and it’ll sound marvelous; if he’s/she’s a hack—like most of the recorded violinists today—it won’t be worth the plastic it is burned upon either way.

But Auer created a problem in the first movement that is thankfully dead; something that can unfortunately not be said about, say, the Rococo Variations. Here too, some second rate hack, with nay his teeth in his mouth much less the marbles in his brain, who screwed up the work to the point that its musical integrity can never be the same due to confusion.

Wilhelm Fitzenhagen set the precedent to taking well thought out and well planned works of Tchaikovsky and butchering them. Look up the story and the effect it had on the ‘cello world; it still stirs controversy and nothing like this spat on the Auer revisions.

From Jim Tsai
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 3:11 AM
hehe, i was careful not to go that far. but now prepare to hear it from the Heifetz defenders....
From David Teitelbaum
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 4:20 AM
Bring it on, m'boy, bring it on...
From Graham Clark
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 9:09 AM
I prefer the originals of both sections.

Re mov 1. Arpeggiating through barriolage is one of the violin's great sounds, and it spreads the harmonic content of those chords through time, giving the listener more time to hear what is going on. Heifetz is playing the Tchaik at a very high speed. Note that Heifetz also squashes the broken triplet chords into triple stops at the end of the Chacconne. I don't think he should have done.

Re mov 2. The repetition again allows the listener to hear the development of the piece. We need to be given fast material more than once if we are going to "get it", otherwise it slips past our ears and it might as well not have been written in the first place. Also, Vengerov plays the repeat with quite a different sound from the first statement.

With the cut, it sounds to me as though it has changed too soon.

All music is a balance between repetition and change. One of the composer's (and improviser's) hardest tasks is to decide how much repetition is needed before the listener gets bored, or when to change in order to keep the listener interested.

gc

From Chris Rogers
Posted on August 25, 2008 at 2:31 PM
Definitely with Joshua Bell on this one. Tchaikovsky's original in the first movement makes perfect musical sense, whereas Auer's version just sounds flashy. In the last movement though, I think Tchaikovsky's repetitions in this section are a misjudgement. No composer is perfect and above making mistakes!
From Andrew Sords
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 12:30 AM
Fabulous, Laurie. :) Great poll idea... :)
From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 26, 2008 at 1:11 AM
Indeed! ;)

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