The Russian magazine "Nouvellist" commissioned Tchaikovsky to write twelve short piano pieces inspired by the each of the twelve months. The corresponding music appeared in each publication in 1876.
The editor chose the subtitles that set the mood for each month. July was inspired by the "song of the reaper." An additional epigraph was given based on a phrase from a poem by Aleksey Koltsov:
"Move the shoulders, shake the arms!
And the noon wind breathes in the face!"
Tchaikovsky wrote dance music built on a collision between formal and informal movement.
There is an elegant and restrained quality in the opening 7-bar phrases. The music is almost processional. Metric groupings shift to keep one off-balance: [3+2+2], [3+2+2]. The opening 3-patterns of both phrases are expanded by attaching a one-measure "bow" [0:04, and [0:20] to an otherwise two-bar metric pattern.
Pletnev takes a great deal of time [0:27-0:30] between sections in this
live performance to create more space for transition between musical
ideas. This delay eliminates collision and normalizes the music: too
The music shifts suddenly into C minor [0:31] and sports a backbeat. This is music of diabolical fun with rustic figuration in the bass. Three fanfares culminate this section [0:42, 0:49, and 0:55]. Each fanfare is followed by a solistic break--the middle one in rising contour and the outer ones falling.
The return [1:06] introduces a curious triplet figuration in the tenor that becomes a parody of the formality of the opening section. There is a brief codetta [1:31] that allows the triplets to extend into ever-higher registers to create a closing for this first part of the piece.
"Now doe the Reapers try their backs and their armes," wrote English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) about July, "and the lusty Youthes pitch the sheafes into the Cart."
His entry, from "The Twelve Moneths," shares the sense of contrasts in July that caught Tchaikovsky: "The Souldier now hath a hot march, and the Lawyer sweats in his lyned Gowne...In summe, I thus conclude of it, I hold it a profitable season, the Labourers gaine, and the rich mans wealth. Farewell."