String Quartet No. 1 (Tchaikovsky)

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The String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Opus 11, was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's first completed string quartet of three string quartets, published during his lifetime. (An earlier attempt had been abandoned after the first movement had been 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]


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 Andante cantabile movement, which has become famous in its own right, was based on a folk song the composer heard at his sister's house at Kamenka [3] [4] whistled by a house painter.[citation needed] 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" [5] [6]

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.[7]

Since the time of the composer, the Andante cantabile movement has frequently been performed in arrangements for string orchestra. The melody from the 2nd theme of the Andante cantabile, in D-flat major, was also used as the basis for the popular song "On the Isle of May", popularized by Connee Boswell in 1940.


  1. ^ Langston, Brett (ed.). "Tchaikovsky Research: String Quartet in B-flat major". Tchaikovsky Research. Retrieved June 2015. 
  2. ^ John Warrack, Tchaikovsky, p. 275
  3. ^ Catherine Steinegger, 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, 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. ^ Alexandra Orlova: Tchaikovsky, a self-portrait quotes this as originating from “Diaries, 211” OUP, 1990, ISBN 0-19-315319-X
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Scrapbook clipping attributed to Musician, Volume 22, April 1917, page 303, accessed June 4, 2012.

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