Performed by Shen Yun Artists
Rachel Chen, Viola
Milen Nachev, Conductor
Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra
When Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky completed the Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello and orchestra, in 1877, the musical world had long moved on from the refined Classical period. Romantic period composers were more interested in passion and drama.
This work, however, overflows with veneration for Mozart, one of Tchaikovsky’s most beloved composers. Its buoyant, elegant air exemplifies the rococo style of the late eighteenth century.
As Tchaikovsky’s first work for cello and orchestra, it was dedicated to the acclaimed cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, the composer’s colleague and close friend. The sparkling virtuosity of the piece actually results from Fitzenhagen’s extensive edits to Tchaikovsky’s original manuscript.
While Tchaikovsky would often work with soloists in his compositions, Fitzenhagen went above and beyond. He changed much of the solo part, cut out a variation, and rearranged the sections to his liking. The audience liked it too—Fitzenhagen’s Rococo performances found wild success throughout Europe for the piece’s “vintage” atmosphere and technical fireworks.
In this performance, the cello’s diminutive cousin takes up the challenge: The viola presents an alto version of the Variations on a Rococo Theme.
Note: Some cellists might find it surprising that this piece is played on viola. For violists, though, it is not at out of the ordinary to borrow compositions originally written for other instruments to play. While Variations is not yet considered a standard transcription for violists, it has become increasingly popular over the last few decades.