When Antonio Vivaldi
embarked on his portrayal of the seasons, he did so with a contemporary, yet classical approach. What subsided from this effort is probably one of the most well know pieces of music from the Baroque era. Less known, however is Pytor Tchaikovsky
’s idealism of the seasons, yet his reside in a different form – Vivaldi expressed his seasons through four string quartets, whereas Tchaikovsky does so through his comfort in the piano.
Unlike other collections based on a theme, each month was published separately through the months of 1876 in editions of the music magazine, Nouvellist
(Novelist). Because he was under only the slight pressure of deadlines, and the commissioner, he could experience each month to its fullest, and subsequently compose the appropriate material to convey the right mood. To him though, they were merely, as he put them “musical pancakes.” Still, despite his cynical approach to their design, he was by this time well established as a composer and could therefore not spend dubious amounts of time composing them, without sacrificing on quality, as he was more worried about other “more important” pieces at the time such as the “Swan Lake Ballet, Op. 20.”
Like so many other character pieces, from Johannes Brahms
to Erik Satie
’s “Sports and diversions”
Tchaikovsky’s seasons, probe at the theme its title connotes. Of the twelve, “January: By the Fireside,”
is probably one of the more illustrious, with a ternary like form, from a warm and soothing introduction, to a more subdued and unclear middle section. As well as the previous, there is “June: Barcarolle,”
another well-known episode, which at times strikes similarities with Felix Mendelssohn’s "Venetianisches Gondellied"
(Venetian Boat Song). The part contrasts its winterly beginnings with a very ghostly-like arch of melodic quality. The piece itself has been thoroughly interpreted for an array of other instruments too, from the violin to the saxophone, each of course yielding its own interesting temperament.
On top of his collection of ideas, he seems to maintain a clever authenticity to each subject theme. It certainly isn’t difficult to place oneself in the tonal landscape of each part, and envisage the surroundings which would accompany them along the way. In a nutshell, this is what makes Tchaikovsky’s Seasons such an important and bracing work to experience, because up until this point, concepts such as these had only been properly discussed by an Italian, in a completely different part of the world. Where Vivaldi’s "Spring"
celebrates the chirping or birds and flowery daybreak, Tchaikovsky’s rejoices the melting of winter ices and alike in “April: Snowdrop’s”
harmonic waters. Similarly “August”
encourages the listener to imagine the frantic disarray in the agricultural community during the time of the late summer harvest through its mish-mash of staggered notes, climbs, falls, and then a final sound resolution.
Finalising the suite are two parts which celebrate the joyful period of Christmas. “November: Troika,”
is a fabulous example of a unequalled composer’s skill to allude to sounds without using the source material, in this case, the jingle of bells glazing by. Such a piece is characteristically not unusual from a Russian composer, meaning that is could be almost placed as a part within Modest Mussorgsky
’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,”
and not be mistaken as foreign.
Like many other Russian affairs, November, and December conclude the year, as well as is began in January – so looking back it is clear that The Seasons isn’t just another suite composed for piano, but a composer’s journey through an entire year. It is also clear that Tchaikovsky’s influences played a major part while in composition for these cute works, from Robert Schumann
’s romanticism in his "Kinderzenen"
suite to his fellow Russian contemporaries such as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
, and Mussorgsky. And yet through each part the distinguished tone from Tchaikovsky’s book of ideas always present themselves both convincingly and surprisingly, even though they always seem to be overshadowed by larger scale works.