Tchaikovsky Activity Page

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Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Nationality: Russian

Born – Votkinsk, Russia, May 7, 1840

Died – St. Petersburg, Russia, November 6, 1893

Period: Romantic


Our Music Memory selection for the Romantic Period this year is the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. This movement is marked “allegro vivacissimo,” Italian words that when referring to music, mean “fast” and “very lively.”    Tchaikovsky wrote the Violin Concerto in D Major in 1878. It is one of the best known concertos for violin, and it is considered to be one of the most technically difficult concertos ever written for the violin.During the Classical and Romantic periods, the concerto for solo instrument and orchestra normally had 3 movements. Generally, the first movement was fast, the second movement, slow, and the third movement, very fast.During the concerto, the variation in tempo and mood of the first two movements gives the audience the opportunity to hear the beauty of the instrument and admire the skill of the soloist. The 3rd and final movement of the concerto is a true showcase for the soloist. When played well, the extraordinary technical demands of the 3rd movement allow the soloist to dazzle the audience, bringing everyone to their feet, shouting “bravo” and “bravissimo”!MUSIC MEMORY SELECTION:


The video you will see is a truly international collaboration. Here is American violinist, Joshua Bell, accompanied by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra of Sweden, directed by the Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo!



Improvisation and the Concerto Form

You probably thought that only jazz musicians improvise the melodies they play. Surprise!  Composers of classical music also provided soloists an opportunity to improvise, and it’s in the concerto form that we find good examples.

There is a very interesting website from Education Scotland that will help you better understand the concerto form, and specifically where, during the concerto, the soloist was given an opportunity to improvise. You can access the “concerto” page here. Read through the explanation and listen to the examples with your teacher.

So, how does a jazz musician improvise? Basically, one part of the musician’s brain recalls the basic harmonic structure of the piece, while another part of the brain creates a spontaneous, new melody that is in complete sync with that structure. In other words, musical ideas in improvisation are spontaneous, but in creating a spontaneous new melody, the musician never loses track of the original melodic and harmonic structures of the piece he is playing.

Listen to the great New Orleans jazz trombonist, Delfeayo Marsalis, as he “improvises” a melody by Louis Armstrong: “What a Wonderful World.” Delfeayo will play the melody straight a couple of times so you can hear the original as written by Louis Armstrong. Then, once we have the original melody in mind, he begins his improv.



What about a classical musician? Basically, the process is pretty much the same. However, you’ll remember that when Delfeayo Marsalis was improvising, his band continued to play the chords and rhythm of the piece behind his improv. Hearing the backup band play helps Delfeayo stay on track and not stray into an unrelated harmony or rhythm that doesn’t fit the original pattern.

In an orchestral piece, rather than accompany the soloist, the common practice in the Classical Period was to stop the orchestra at the “cadenza,” allowing the soloist to improvise without any orchestral backup.

Here then is an example of classical improv. The soloist is Rex Richardson playing with the Slovenian State Theatre Orchestra. Notice what happens when the soloist reaches the cadenza in the 1st movement of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. First, the conductor stops the orchestra, waits for the soloist to improvise the cadenza, and then brings the orchestra back in to finish the piece.





concerto / vivacissimo / allegro / cadenza / improvise / crescendo / decrescendo / coda / homophony / polyphony / cacophony / bravo /


  1. What do you think would be the result if jazz musicians simply improvised without hearing the original melody and harmony of the piece in their minds as they improvised?
  2. In the Trumpet Concerto you just watched, the soloist improvised the cadenza on his own, without any backup from the orchestra. If Haydn had composed music for the orchestra to play during the cadenza, could the soloist still have “improvised” the cadenza? 

GAMES: Play the Canon and Cymbal in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture!

Fire the cannon in Tchaikovsky's ear-bursting 1812 (the game)
by Kyle Macdonald

This brilliant new game allows you to unleash your inner percussionist by bashing your keyboard to the greatest finale of all.

Ever wanted to be in the percussion section of an orchestra for the epic final bars of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture? Who wouldn't? All those firing cannons, thundering drums and crashing cymbals are just fantastic. Not to mention the full orchestra and rapturous audience in front of you.

This game lets you control the greatest percussive cacophony in music history. Hit your computer's 'L' key to crash the cymbals, and 'A' to fire the all-important cannon. You're even scored on your ability to do it all in time.

So, earplugs in, and eyes on the conductor – the finale's about to begin… Start the game by clicking here.

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