Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thinking September with Tchaikovsky; the Summers farewell

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. September was inspired by the hunt. An additional epigraph was given based on a phrase from a poem by Pushkin:

"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."

September is set in fanfares and blazing sound.

The theme appears first in the bass. Its excitement is set in conflicts: measures cast in triplets alternate with measures in duple rhythms. Harmonies in inversion surprise where one would expect to hear root position. "It is time," says the poem, and this is music in motion.

A restatement is given with the melody set an octave higher [0:15]. An E-flat surprises us with bright augmented color in the left-hand that remains no less startling as it resolves to D. Energy scatters and reforms as the hands are set against one another [0:22]. One final octave transformation leads the melody into a grand fanfare [0:32] that is also restated [0:38] before culminating in a passage of reflections.

The central section of September [0:58] is more development than other central sections we have heard over the last several months. It allows the triplet gestures to be placed together in longer strings, first heard as a bass passage [1:14] and later as melodic figuration [1:18].

The final section [1:44] is an echo of the first modified only for the final two chords. September is focused, deliberate, and intensely active.

"It is now September," wrote English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "and the sunne begins to fall much from his height, the medowes are left bare, by the mouthes of hungary cattell."

His entry, from "The Twelve Moneths," talks of preparations: "Paper, pen & inke are much in request [...] Coales and wood make toward the chimney...In briefe, I thus conclude of it, I hold it the Winters forewarning, and the Summers farewell. Adieu."

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