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Tchaikovsky composed his Piano Concerto No. 1 during an intensive period of composition at the end of 1874, with the orchestrations then written in the February of the following year. However, after this very productive period, Tchaikovsky evidently wasn’t happy: the work was updated some four years later and then revised again as late as 1889.
The thunderously triumphant opening chords of this mighty concerto are among the most famous in all classical music. At the time of composition, though, they were by no means universally loved. When Tchaikovsky played them to the pianist Nicolai Rubinstein, Rubinstein declared it to be "bad, trivial and vulgar!"
All three movements of this deeply expressive concerto are sublimely romantic – with both a lower-case and an upper-case R. The expansive, sweeping opening movement is showy; the middle movement, meanwhile, contains soulful melodies with some beautiful interplay between the soloist and orchestra; and the edge-of-your-seat finale is an electrifying thrill from start to finish.
Some eighty-odd years after Tchaikovsky sketched out his initial ideas for his Piano Concerto No. 1, it became the first piece of classical music to sell a million records when, in 1958, the pianist Van Cliburn wowed the world with his impassioned recording of the piece.