Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Meditation on January by 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.

It is a month of surprises and unexpected deflections in the Tchaikovsky setting, and even the innocent opening phrase leans obliquely into A major. Developmental continuation [0:27] is accelerated [0:35] using tasty half-diminished sevenths in a strange sequence from A-flat to C major and culminates [0:43] in a quickly articulated sequence of flat-ninth chords. We just barely make the return [0:50].

"It is now January," wrote English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "& Time beginnes to turne on the wheele of his Reuolution." His entry, from "The Twelve Moneths," becomes filled with thoughts of sleep and of food:

"The Hedgehogge," writes Breton, "rowles up himselfe like a football. [...] Downe beds and quilted cappes are now in the pride of their seruice."

"The Hare after a course makes his hearse in a pye: the shoulder of a hog is a shooing horne to good drink."

Tchaikovsky seems to think in the dualities of January in the sexy central section beginning at [1:13]. We hear C major and E minor juxtaposed in radically different figurations. We are missing the resolution of the augmented sixth chord that would provide logical connection between the two. Ideas are repeated in disbelief.

This music swirls like an echo of the first section's deflection and ends in the mists of Schumann. Restatement [2:09] sounds as cold as it did before, though this time we find the dominant of E minor [2:29] which becomes V/V for our return [2:53].

"To conclude," writes Breton, "I hold it a time of little comfort, the rich mans charge and the poore mans misery. Farewell."

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