Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Meditation on April by Tchaikovsky, Nicholas Breton, and Daniela Negrini

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.

April was nicknamed after after the flower called "snowdrops" which are grown from bulbs and appear quickly in the spring, not long after real snowdrops disappear. But Tchaikovsky's April seems a juxtaposition of an exterior and interior expressions. It is music that obsesses and occasionally gets stuck in its own patterns. It is a delight:

The exterior quality of the music is expressed in the first phrase as the bass and treble lines push away from one another in gentle contrary motion. Watch carefully as Daniela's hand slowly drift apart during the first twelve seconds of this video. She instinctively pulls her hands off the keyboard.

Now the music turns inward. Literally. The melody [0:14] emerges from the thumbs as is set within the harmony. Eccentric melodic gaps are developed from the octaves that cadenced the first phrase. These gaps are windows. They allow the music from one phrase to see, and almost touch the music from the other. At [0:26] music from the second phrase is repeated creating a song-like [ABB] structure.

The English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) did not include conflicted ideas when he wrote about April in his book "The Twelve Moneths."

"It is now April," wrote Breton, "and the nightengale begins to tune her throat against May: the sunny showers perfume the aire, and the bees begin to goe abroad for honey."

He writes of the "Shepheards pipe [that] entertaines the Princesse of Arcadia." Maybe Tchaikovsky imagined a similar pipe in the central section of April [0:39]. The music oscillates between G minor and D minor over eight measures before further expanding upon the characteristic gaps [0:52] that are so much a part of the sound of this movement.

"Faith and troth make the true lovers knot," writes Breton, " and the youthfull cheeks are as red as a cherry: It were a world to set downe the worth of this moneth: But in summe, I thus conclude, I hold it the Heavens blessing, and the Earths comfort. Farewell."

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