The Seasons (Tchaikovsky)
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|by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky|
|Native name||Времена года|
|Catalogue||Op. 37a, Op. 37b|
The Seasons, Op. 37a (also seen as Op. 37b; Russian: Времена года; published with the French title Les Saisons), is a set of twelve short character pieces for solo piano by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Each piece is the characteristic of a different month of the year in Russia. The work is also sometimes heard in orchestral and other arrangements by other hands. Individual excerpts have always been popular – Troika (November) was a favourite encore of Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Barcarolle (June) was enormously popular and appeared in numerous arrangements (including for orchestra, violin, cello, clarinet, harmonium, guitar and mandolin).
In 1875, Nikolay Matveyevich Bernard, the editor of the St. Petersburg music magazine Nouvellist, commissioned Tchaikovsky to write 12 short piano pieces, one for each month of the year. Bernard suggested a subtitle for each month's piece. Tchaikovsky accepted the commission and all of Bernard's subtitles, and in the December 1875 edition of the magazine, readers were promised a new Tchaikovsky piece each month throughout 1876. The January and February pieces were written in late 1875 and sent to Bernard in December, with a request for some feedback as to whether they were suitable, and if not, Tchaikovsky would rewrite February and ensure the remainder were in the style Bernard was after. March, April and May appear to have been composed separately; however the remaining seven pieces were all composed at the same time and written in the same copybook, and evidence suggests they were written between 22 April and 27 May. The orchestration of Swan Lake was finished by 22 April, leaving the composer free to focus on other music; and he left for abroad at the end of May. This seems to put the lie to Nikolay Kashkin's published version of events, which was that each month the composer would sit down to write a single piece, but only after being reminded to do so by his valet.
The epigraphs that appeared on publication of the pieces were chosen by Bernard, not by Tchaikovsky. In 1886 the publisher P. Jurgenson acquired the rights to The Seasons and the piece has been reprinted many times.
Tchaikovsky did not devote his most serious compositional efforts to these pieces; they were composed to order, and they were a way of supplementing his income. He saw the writing of music to a commission as just as valid as writing music from his own inner inspiration; however, for the former he needed a definite plot or text, a time limit, and the promise of payment at the end. Most of the pieces were in simple ABA form, but each contains a minor melodic masterpiece.
The 12 pieces with their subtitles are:
- January: At the Fireside (A major)
- February: Carnival (D major)
- March: Song of the Lark (G minor)
- April: Snowdrop (B-flat major)
- May: Starlit Nights (G major)
- June: Barcarolle (G minor)
- July: Song of the Reaper (E-flat major)
- August: Harvest (B minor)
- September: The Hunt (G major)
- October: Autumn Song (D minor)
- November: Troika (E major)
- December: Christmas (A-flat major)
Orchestral and other arrangements
A number of musicians have orchestrated Tchaikovsky's pieces. Aleksandr Gauk arranged The Seasons for symphony orchestra in 1942. A Czech composer Václav Trojan did so as well. Morton Gould retained the piano part for many of the pieces and orchestrated the work throughout, recording it with himself at the piano in 1951 for American Columbia. In 1965, Kurt-Heinz Stolze orchestrated a number of the pieces as part of the music for John Cranko's ballet Onegin. More recent orchestral versions have been produced by David Matthews (1989, for symphony orchestra), Peter Breiner (for solo violin and symphony orchestra), and Georgii Cherkin (for solo piano and symphony orchestra). French composer Philippe Sarde arranged the Barcarolle as a main theme for the 1988 movie The Bear. Aleksandr Gedike made an arrangement for piano trio. Slava and Leonard Grigoryan recorded an arrangement of The Seasons for two guitars, in 2011 (arranged by their father Eduard Grigoryan). In 2011, Sergei Abir created a new orchestra version. And in 2020, Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth premiered a new arrangement with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on January 25, 2020, under the direction of Vadim Gluzman.
Following is a translation of some of the poetic epigraphs contained in the Russian edition (all chosen by the publisher Nikolay Bernard):
- Janvier (January): Au coin du feu (At 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)
- Février (February): Carnaval (Carnival)
- At the lively Mardi Gras
- soon a large feast will overflow.
- (Pyotr Vyazemsky)
- Mars (March): Chant de l'alouette (Song of the Lark)
- The field shimmering with flowers,
- the stars swirling in the heavens,
- the song of the lark
- fills the blue abyss.
- (Apollon Maykov)
- Avril (April): Perce-neige (Snowdrop)
- The blue, pure snowdrop — flower,
- and near it the last snowdrops.
- The last tears over past griefs,
- and first dreams of another happiness.
- (A. Maykov)
- Mai (May): Les nuits de mai (Starlit Nights)
- What a night! What bliss all about!
- I thank my native north country!
- From the kingdom of ice, from the kingdom of snowstorms and snow,
- how fresh and clean May flies in!
- (Afanasy Fet)
- Juin (June): Barcarolle (Barcarolle)
- Let us go to the shore;
- there the waves will kiss our feet.
- With mysterious sadness
- the stars will shine down on us.
- (Aleksey Pleshcheyev)
- Juillet (July): Chant du faucheur (Song of the Reaper)
- Move the shoulders,
- shake the arms!
- And the noon wind
- breathes in the face!
- (Aleksey Koltsov)
- Août (August): La moisson (Harvest)
- The harvest has grown,
- people in families cutting the tall rye down to the root!
- Put together the haystacks,
- music screeching all night from the hauling carts.
- (A. Koltsov)
- Septembre (September): La chasse (Hunting)
- 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.
- (A. Pushkin, Graf Nulin)
- Octobre (October): Chant d'automne (Autumn Song)
- Autumn, our poor garden is all falling down,
- the yellowed leaves are flying in the wind.
- (Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy)
- Novembre (November): Troïka (Troika)
- In your loneliness do not look at the road,
- and do not rush out after the troika.
- Suppress at once and forever
- the fear of longing in your heart.
- (Nikolay Nekrasov)
- Décembre (December): Noël (Christmas)
- Once upon a Christmas night
- the girls were telling fortunes:
- taking their slippers off their feet
- and throwing them out of the gate.
- (Vasily Zhukovsky)
- Tchaikovsky Research
- Swan, Katherine; Swan, A. J. (April 1944). "Rachmaninoff: Personal Reminiscences – Part II". The Musical Quarterly. 30 (2): 174–191. JSTOR 739451.
He had to answer numberless curtain calls and play more encores: the Troika of Tchaikovsky, ...
- Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man
- "The Seasons: Recordings - Tchaikovsky Research".
- "Seasons, the | Faber Music".
- "Tickets & Concerts".