Despite its initial success, Tchaikovsky was not satisfied with the symphony. He revised the work extensively in 1879-80, substantially rewriting the opening movement and shortening the finale. This revision is the version of the symphony usually performed today, although there have also been supporters of the original version. Among those advocates was the composer's friend and former student, Sergei Taneyev, who was himself a noted composer and pedagogue.
Tchaikovsky wrote much of the Little Russian Symphony during his summer holiday at Kamianka (Kamenka) in Ukraine with his sister Aleksandra's family, the Davydovs. The Davydov estate had become the composer's favorite refuge. Alexandra had, in fact, encouraged the composer to make Kamenka his second home. His affection for the estate bore fruit in his using local songs in the symphony he was writing. He even once wrote, in jest, that true credit for the Little Russian's finale should have gone "to the real composer of the said work—Peter Gerasimovich." Gerasimovich, the elderly butler in the Davydov household, sang the folk-song "The Crane" to Tchaikovsky while the composer was working on the symphony.
One of Tchaikovsky's favorite anecdotes resulted from his nearly losing the sketches for the Little Russian on the way back to Moscow. To persuade a recalcitrant postmaster to hitch the horses to the coach in which he and his brother Modest had been travelling, Tchaikovsky presented himself as "Prince Volkonsky, gentleman of the Emperor's bedchamber." When they reached their evening stop, he noticed his luggage missing—including his work on the symphony. Fearing the postmaster had opened the luggage and learned his identity, he sent someone to fetch it. The intermediary returned empty-handed. The postmaster would only release the luggage to the prince himself.
Steeling himself, Tchaikovsky returned. His luggage had not been opened, much to his relief. He made small talk for some time with the postmaster and eventually asked the postmaster's name. "Tchaikovsky", the postmaster replied. Stunned, the composer thought this was perhaps a sharp-witted revenge. Eventually he learned "Tchaikovsky" was really the postmaster's name. After learning this fact, he delighted in recounting the story.
More pieces by Tchaikovsky
- Serenade for Strings in C major (Op. 48)
- Symphony No. 6, Pathétique
- Violin Concerto