top of page


Andante cantabile

from String Quartet No. 1, Op.11 (1871,1888)

If there is power in music to bring light in the darkest, most deafening of human experiences, Tchaikovsky's Andante cantabile is a resounding beacon, a mirror for humanitarianism in times of war and peace. 


Hidden amongst Tchaikovsky's renowned catalog of large-scale symphonic works, symphonies, concertos, ballets, and operas is a hidden gem of the intimate chamber music world. Tchaikovsky composed very little for small forces; his complete oeuvre of chamber works are countable by hand. Composed in 1871, his String Quartet No.1 in D major, Op.11, was well-received, with high praise of the second movement's Andante cantabile. In his diary, Tchaikovsky wrote, "Probably never in my life have I been so moved by the pride of authorship as when Lev Tolstoy, sitting by me and listening to the Andante of my Quartet, burst into tears." Tolstoy wouldn't be the only one moved by the soulful movement. 


During an American tour in 1916-17, the celebrated Zoellner Quartet encountered deafblind author, activist, and lecturer Helen Keller. Testing if she could sense music, she asked the quartet to play. They performed the Andante. Keller lightly pressed her fingertips to a wooden table and felt the vibrations through her sense of touch. She exclaimed, "It is beautiful…a miracle is wrought, sight is given the blind, and deaf ears hear sweet, strange sounds." Keller interpreted the Andante as though she was standing beside a great sea with winds blowing on her face. No one had told Keller details about the music, but her interpretation was spot-on. 


For the central theme, Tchaikovsky adapted the Russian shanty Song of the Volga Boatmen, having heard it during a visit to Ukraine. The old folk tune sung by barge-haulers was first published in 1866 in a collection by Mily Balakirev. Many composers, including Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky Korsakov, Stravinsky, and Glenn Miller, also used the song, often under progressive discourse. In 1922, Spanish composer Manuel de Falla's arrangement under the title Canto de los remeros del Volga, was performed at the League of Nations, aiding in the fundraising for millions of displaced Russian refugees of World War I.


Much beloved, the B-flat major Andante has a life separate from the quartet and has also been re-arranged for different instrumentation. In 1888, Tchaikovsky arranged the 8-minute second movement with cello and string orchestra for Anatoly Brandukov.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Kamsko-Votkinsk, and died on November 6, 1893, in St. Petersburg. © MTF

(Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai)


2019 National Sphinx Competition winner Sterling Elliot and maestro Dane Lam join forces with your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in a program with six degrees of separation. A lost treasure rediscovered, Mahler's Blumine, once part of the mammoth First Symphony, sounds once more along with Popper's electrifying Hungarian Rhapsody, Brahms's radiant Symphony No. 2, and the spellbinding Clockwerk of Australian composer Maria Grenfell.

bottom of page