Monday, November 1, 2010

Thinking November 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. Collected in publication later the work became "The Seasons," Op. 37a.

The editor chose subtitles that set the mood for each month. November was inspired by images of carriage rides. It is called Troika, which was a distinctive carraige drawn by drawn by three horses that were harnessed side-by-side. An additional epigraph from Nikolay Nekrasov adds a sense of the cautionary:

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.

Lev Oborin (1907-1974) was the winner of the inaugural International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition in 1927. He studied with Busoni, and is known to most music lovers for his collaborations with violinist David Oistrakh.

This is the cold war November. One is reminded at [0:17] and again in the strange symmetry of forced naturalness at [2:34]. One imagines the finale of Shostakovich's fifth symphony--a sense of forced consensus, forced enjoyment: "Suppress at once and forever the fear of longing in your heart."

This performance sings the pentatonic folksiness of the opening tune, and develops balanced discourse into the texture during the counterstatement at [0:29]. The celebratory restatement at [0:50] is where the sense of sadness woven into into this occasion seems most discordant with the music itself.

"It is now November," wrote English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "and according to the prouerbe, Let the Thresher take his flayle, and the ship no longer sail: for the high winds and the rough seas will try the ribs of the shippe, and the hearts of the sailors."

His entry, from "The Twelve Moneths," talks of the "countrey people" coming to market, and of the onset of the cold. "Schollers before breakfast haue a cold stomacke to their bookes...the Winds now are cold, and the Ayre chill, and the poore die through want of Charitie. In summe, with a conceit of the chilling cold of it, I thus conclude in it: I hold it the discomfort of Nature, and Reasons patience. Farewell."

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