Robert Greenberg described that is a perfect work but I have to disagree. In the same lectures Robert Greenberg described how Tchaikovsky modifies the sonata form structure. Instead of the traditional development section. Tchaikovsky believed that the thematic material is so perfect that it can't be broken down to motific fragments and hence he used the development section in a pseudo-theme and variations manner doing variations with the opening theme. first with the orchestral tutti variation and then with the soloist variations
What makes sonata form great is that a) perfect balance between melodic virtuosity and harmonic virtuosity. Melody with the exposition and harmony with the development section/transitional modulation bridge)
b) gives a piece a dramatic arc by following the Three act structure - Introduced characters, send the characters into conflict and then resolution of conflict. All sonata form pieces are implicitly narrative based music even if there is no literal story given to the piece. It's a perfect balance between absolute music and program music because it's music that makes sense from a pure music point of view while at the same time tells a story and narrative even if it is only implied and not explicit.
THe decision Tchaikovsky made underminded this.
First the idea that melody is so exquisite you can't develop this seems lazy excuse, all melodies can be broken down to individual motifs. Mozart an equally tallented melodist has no issues with developing his themes. Having great melodies never been a barrier for motivic development before and this tips the balance of sonata form too much towards melody.
Now it may be surprising to hear after me denouncing the development section that the highlight of the first movement is the orchestral tutti variation of the development section. The whole orchestra coming in playing that theme is an amazing euphoric moment of the concerto and the music perfectly build up with this.
Now if there was a proper development section after this that would have been amazing. In fact it would have been an awesome innovation within the sonata form within the context of the solo concertos. This would have been a reversal of the double exposition form by having the orchestral exposition following the solo exposition instead of traditionally having the orchestral exposition opening the piece and the solo exposition joining afterwards.
My issue with double exposition form is that often the orchestral exposition is so perfectly written when the soloist comes in, there is an immediate drop of volume and intensity by having a quiet orchestra behind a soloist. No matter how well written the soloist line is there is an immediate deflation and as a result instead of having a piece build up you have a dip in intensity and damages the dramatic arc IMO. This is part of the reason why I consider solo concertos outside piano concertos to be inherently inferior genre of music to symphonies.
Having the piece start with the solo exposition and then build up to the orchestral exposition completely fixes that problem and the build up to the fanfare of the orchestral version of the opening theme could have potentially been a game changer in solo concertos history for the benefit.
Unfortunately after this gorgeous orchestral tutti variation we ended up having soloist variations that may be virtuosic and may be stunning to visually watch the soloist play but in my ears completely deflate the intensity of the work, completely unnecessary. We already heard the soloist play the theme by itself and then we heard the orchestra played the theme by itself, this soloist variation seems overly flashy/virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity and doesn't have the beauty of the original theme and deflates all the intensity from the orchestral version of the theme.
Right where in the sonata form structure where you will have the dramatic climax, the moment of truth of the piece, it all takes a backseat to watch some violin player engaging in virtuosic playing.
When the recapitulation happened with the flute playing the opening theme (a brilliant orchestration decision by Tchaikovsky), I just can't help but think that this moment would have been more powerful if there was a proper development section and emotional climax to the piece preceding this.
What should have happened is after the orchestral variation, have a proper intense development section
Now apparently Tchaikovsky may have had technical limitations to be able to write a german like developmental section in the veins of Mozart/Beethoven/Haydn/Brahms and that was the reason why he "innovated" with his own version of sonata form. If he was incapable of doing this and had to write music within his limitation as a composer, what Tchaikovsky should have done is completely excised the development section. Have the orchestral tutti play their own variation, a brief transition and straight to the recapitulation and the piece would have been better. Sure there would have been less virtuosic playing but you would still have a piece that maintains the dramatic arc of sonata form, introduction/climax/resolution even if it lacks a formal development section. That would have still been better than what actually happen in the piece.
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