Tchaikovsky and the violin – surely everyone first thinks here of his splendid violin concerto, long since available, of course, in the Henle Urtext edition (HN 685). But violinists also love his other, smaller works for violin and piano now being gradually added to our catalogue in reliable Urtext editions.
The fact that precise philological effort is also worthwhile for these supposedly “less imposing” works can be seen exemplarily in the case of the Valse-Scherzo op. 34. Tchaikovsky wrote this sparklingly witty virtuoso piece in 1877 for the violinist Josef Kotek, a close friend and pupil.
In the preface to our edition (HN 1273), our editor Alexander Komarov, the Russian Tchaikovsky specialist, knowledgeably describes the intricate history of the work’s genesis and documents it with many quotations from previously unpublished letters. For his edition he has drawn on all the printed editions appearing during the composer’s lifetime (autograph sources are lost).
Comparing the first edition during the editorial process with modern editions currently found on the market revealed something amazing: virtually none of these new scores reproduces the original music text of the first edition, retaining not even two thirds of its original length, and the violin part shows countless differences. How could this happen?
The “culprit” is the Russian violinist Wassili Besekirski who published his arrangement of the Valse-Scherzo as early as 1914 with the Moscow publisher P. Jurgenson. Besekirski, probably well-intentioned and wanting to make the work of 569 measures “more digestible”, shortened the piece to 332 measures, radically slashing the reprise especially, though also making cuts in many other spots. At the same time, Besekirski altered the violin part at many places by adding double stops, octaves, etc., to show it to advantage more effectively in a virtuoso manner. Several examples:
The Besekirski edition was so influential that many of the classic audio recordings of the work rely on this abridged arrangement and so have given a wrong impression of Tchaikovsky’s composition right down to the present day. Among these, for instance, is also the reference recording by David Oistrakh:
The wonderful Julia Fischer shows, on the other hand, that the Valse-Scherzo is a feast for the ears, even with its “heavenly length” of 569 measures and the original, leaner violin part – and it is not a second too long when played like this:
We hope that in the future violinists will refocus on the original version as – and only as – Tchaikovsky wanted it and published it. Perhaps our new edition can make a small contribution to bringing this about!