Selections from The Seasons, Op. 37
TCHAIKOVSKY (orch. MATTHEWS)
Length: c. 21 minutes
About this Piece
Tchaikovsky is known and loved through so many types of compositions, mostly large symphonies, the B-flat-minor Piano Concerto, three ballets, the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, operas, and the Violin Concerto. But he wrote relatively few works for solo piano, particularly for a Romantic-era composer. Tchaikovsky was clearly not partial to the piano as a vehicle for his particular kind of expressiveness. Still, among his relatively small collection is a series of 12 character pieces known as The Seasons, which were adapted by David Matthews for full orchestra.
In 1876 the composer was commissioned by the publisher Nikolay Bernard to write a piece each month that would be published in the St. Petersburg magazine Nuvellist. Tchaikovsky was eager to take what he considered a generous rate for the commission and wrote back that he was “very much in the mood for piano pieces at this moment.” How dutiful he was in turning in his assignment, though, is the subject of some debate. According to the correspondence of music critic and teacher Nikolay Kashkin, Tchaikovsky waited to actually start writing the pieces until his valet would prod him each month and tell him it was time for another piece. If that was the case, the system worked well; when he got the word a monthly piece was due, Tchaikovsky went to work and very quickly wrote a selection for the publication.
Each of the 12 pieces includes a descriptive title and epigraph that the magazine publisher collaborated on with Tchaikovsky. These help set what the composer called the “characteristic scenes” connected to that month.
January, By the Fireside
A little corner of peaceful bliss / The night dressed in twilight; / The little fire is dying in the fireplace, / And the candle has burned out. (Alexander Pushkin)
February, The Carnival
At the lively Mardi Gras / Soon a large feast will overflow. (Pavel Vyazemsky)
The blue, pure snowdrop-flower, / And near it the last snowdrops. / The last tears over past griefs, / And first dreams of another happiness. (Apollon Maykov)
Let us go to the shore; / There the waves will kiss our legs. / With mysterious sadness / The stars will shine down on us. (Aleksey Pleshcheyev)
July, Song of the Reapers
Move the shoulders, shake the arms! / And the noon wind breathes in the face! (Aleksey Koltsov)
September, The Hunt
It is time! The horns are sounding! / The hunters in their hunting dress / Are mounted on their horses; / In early dawn the borzois are jumping. (Alexander Pushkin)