Tchaikovsky and the UPPER OCTAVE

Edited: November 15, 2022, 1:19 AM · A small question about the violin concerto, but one that has bothered me for years and I am sure somebody in our community can shed some light on it. It’s this: in the Canzonetta, when the soulful melody returns after the middle section, it is decorated by solo clarinet and flute figures that have a wonderful effect. As a listener, I grew up with the Francescatti/Mitropoulos recording, which is still my reference; however, unlike Francescatti, many famous soloists jump to the upper octave for parts of the melody, which for me, undermines the effect. The melody is almost folk music, and by this stage (we have already heard it five times) an audience could sing it correctly.

Tchaikovsky is a brilliant orchestrator, masterful in lower, middle and upper ranges, and knows that by now the tune alone is not the point; the bird-like calls are the interest here. I have had a look at the manuscript on ISMLP and cannot find justification for moving up an octave. Hearing the concerto last week (Javier Comesaña/RTVE SO/Pablo González) I experienced some tension as this moment approached, and was thrilled when he let the woodwind work their magic. Can anybody help me with this issue?

Replies (5)

November 15, 2022, 2:05 AM · nowaday soloists tend to play as it is writes in the manoscript. In this case I am not disturbed for moving up an octave , what disturbed me is Auer's change in first movement where litterally he changes the notes and the sense of music.
Edited: November 15, 2022, 9:36 PM · My son and his teacher have been arguing over this one for a while. These days, most players are not playing the upper octave, and it isn't included as an option in the Urtext we have. It definitely is not what Tchaikovsky intended.

However, I feel it is possible to make a musical argument for including it, as it does create a much greater peak and climax for the movement, if one thinks that is warranted. This is especially true if you are playing it with piano.

November 15, 2022, 5:40 PM · Here's another vote for the upper octave. I agree that it gives the piece an extra build-up, rather than being just another repetition of what we've already heard. Mind you, we're strongly influenced by the first recording we hear of a piece, and I first heard it by David Oistrakh, who took the octave - and quite nicely too, I believe.
Edited: November 15, 2022, 6:16 PM · I wonder if Leopold Auer moved it up an octave. In his edited version of Mozart's G major concerto, he used an octave leap on the second A before the E natural whole note trill, which gives some brilliance to the solo part over the crescendo but doesn't integrate as well with the following Tutti.
November 16, 2022, 4:21 PM · Thank you all for your answers and ideas. It does seem that Auer was the instigator of the octave jump. From what you say, Raymond, he seems to have liked the effect. Susan, I think your point about the piano reduction is a good one. It would be great to hear your son perform the concerto one day! Charlie, I agree that we are shaped as listeners by the recordings we hear first: we are somewhat enslaved to the gramophone and the radio and their successors. However I disagree with 'just another repetition'; that's why Tchaikovsky added the woodwind calls, and to my subjective taste he wanted the rich contralto tone of the violin's lower register to continue. But it's a free world so let's all enjoy our canzonettas in our own way!


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