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The One and Only
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), the Russian Romantic composer known for his ballet music and symphonies surprisingly only wrote one violin concerto, the Violin Concerto in D Major.
Shortly after Tchaikovsky’s marriage ended, he composed the piece in 1878 while staying in Clarens, Switzerland. Joined by Joseph Kotek, his composition student, they often played violin and piano together (Kotek on violin; Tchaikovsky on piano). Since Tchaikovsky was not a violinist, he valued Kotek’s suggestions about the solo part. Tchaikovsky also sought the advice of Nadezha von Meck, a patron of the arts who supported him financially. The two never met in person, but they would write letters discussing Tchaikovsky’s music as their friendship developed over correspondence. Although von Meck was not completely sold on the first movement of the concerto, Tchaikovsky defended his work.
It is rumored Tchaikovsky and Kotek’s relationship was more romantic than professional.Kotek refused to play the premiere of the concerto for fear of compromising his career, and the fact he felt the concerto would not be well-received. Leopold Auer, another violinist Tchaikovsky had previously written for, declined to perform it due to a lack of enthusiasm for the piece. Despite these challenges to find a soloist, the concerto premiered in 1881 with Adolph Brodsky as the soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic. While the piece had mixed reviews at the time, it is one of the best-known violin concertos today.