Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thinking August with Tchaikovsky

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 subtitles that set the mood for each month. August was inspired by the "song of the harvest." An additional epigraph was given based on a phrase from a poem by Aleksey Koltsov:
"The harvest has grown,
people in families cutting tall rye down to the root!
Put together haystacks,
music screeching all night from the hauling carts."


August is full of fiery intensity and can be a spectacular showpiece. This performance is by the young Natalia Bezuglova, a Russian pianist who has already started to attract attention on the competition circuit.

August oscillates. Twice the opening section shifts between the vibrant chords of the opening measures to the widely spaced bass [0:06] of the second four measures. This phrase pair then oscillates to a syncopated development [0:15] which is stretched to five four-bar phrases before returning to the first theme [0:31]. The music breaks from oscillation [0:37] to create a cadenza closing for this section.

The central section is a collision: D major appears without warning. Gentle lyricism and extended rhythms seem super-charged after the aerobic energy of the music we have heard. Oscillation is developed by altering it toward dialog, with descending lines [1:01] balanced by rising lines [1:12], then a tow-bar ideas are echoed between the hands.

The return [2:18] becomes another oscillation.

"The pipe and the Taber is now lustily set on worke," wrote English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) about August, "and the Lad and the Lasse will haue no lead on their heeles."

His entry, from "The Twelve Moneths," talks of harvests and reaping in August: "the new Wheat makes the Gossips Cake [...] and the Garland of Flowers crownes the Captain of the Reapers...In summe, for that I find, I thus conclude, I hold it the worlds welfare, and the earths Warming-pan. Farewell."

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