Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

A Little Monday Music: Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale

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Tchaikovsky

The Valse Sentimentale is the last movement in Tchaikovsky’s work Six Pieces (Op. 51) for solo piano, composed in 1882.

You can read the history of the creation of this set of six pieces here (if you’re a Tchaikovsky fan, this website is a wealth of information; here’s the main page).  Here you can see the manuscript of the pieces in Tchaikovsky’s own hand (click on the book icon in the middle of the page).

Here is Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale performed by pianist Lucas Debargue.

There’s an interesting story behind the solo piano video presented above.  The French pianist in the video, Lucas Debargue, was awarded fourth place by the judges in the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition.  Of six finalists, there was one gold, a joint silver, a joint bronze, and fourth place.  Yet his performance was widely acclaimed, leading some to question the judges’ decisions (first place was awarded to Russian Dmitri Masleev).

Conductor Valery Gergiev, chairman of the competition, made the bold move of insisting that Debargue play at the concert showcasing the winners of the competition, and that is the performance presented above.  You can read more about the competition and the controversy here and here and here, from one of the judges.

I’m not going to get into that debate.

But I suppose if you disagree with an interpretation, any interpretation, it makes you think about how you believe it should be interpreted.  It makes you think about the music.  And that is always a good thing.  I can’t help but recall Leonard Bernstein’s disagreement with Glenn Gould over the Brahms Piano Concerto No 1, in which the two had widely differing opinions about how the piece should be played.

Interested in hearing more from the International Tchaikovsky Competition?  Want to be an unofficial judge?  The performances of participants in the piano, cello, violin, and voice competitions can be found here.  This might be the soundtrack of your Monday!

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Image attribution: Photograph of Tchaikovsky [public domain] from book Tchaikovsky by Edwin Evans.  London:  J.M. Dent & Co., New York:E.P. Dutton & Co., 1906   https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATchaikovsky_1906_Evans.PNG

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2 thoughts on “A Little Monday Music: Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale

  1. What an interesting post, Chris! The nested issues of composer/performer (or composer vs. performer) are always interesting and fun to play with. To merely say “de gustibus…” is a cop-out, IMO; there are (hard-to-define) limits or parameters within which performers may agree to differ- but at some point, in my view, an “interpretation” sometimes becomes a distortion, an ego-trip for the performer. All this makes us think of Wanda Landowska’s famous riposte to Sylvia Marlowe (dueling over a Bach interpretation)- “Fine; you play him your way- I’ll play him his way.” One can think of an “interpretation” as a translation- but: “Traduttore – traditore.” (to translate is to betray). Dangers abound- but that’s part of the fun of making music! Good work giving us the Tchaik performance and its back-story (to my personal taste, this particular performance travels well over the perform/distort line into a kind of egoistical showing-off- “look how sensitive I am- God, I’m sensitive!”)- but that’s just one person’s reaction. I have a similar set of reactions to the (in)famous Gould/Bernstein Brahms- but it’s interesting to hear again Bernstein’s uncomfortable and somewhat self-serving talk (about a really interesting issue-set that is special to concertos), and this (to my ear) ponderous and glacial performance of a piece that’s really long and hard to control to begin with. But of course Gould is a very special case, and here we have a classic clash of oversize egos.

    Good fun- thanks!

    Tom

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  2. You are right, of course, there is a line beyond which an interpretation (or a translation) is just plain wrongheaded…but where that line falls makes for an interesting discussion. Except for the case of not following the notes (or in the case of translation, words) on the page, which is more clear-cut, and wrong is more easily defined. I thought this performance was interesting because it diverged significantly from what seemed to be the consensus. Perhaps too far? I leave it to the readers to judge. I would like to see this fellow play this same piece ten years from now.

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