Monday, March 4, 2013

A Meditation on March by Tchaikovsky, Nicholas Breton and Lev Oborin

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.

March was nicknamed the "Song of the Lark." The elusive tune of the middle section [0:32], where graces work with syncopations to make the music seem airborne, is the passage that inspired this title from the editors. But this passage is an elaboration of the dialog between treble and bass in G minor that is not only the frame, but also an anchor that gives March meaning as a mediator between opposites.

The English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) knew of these opposites and wrote about March in his book "The Twelve Moneths." "It is now March," wrote Breton, "and the Northerne wind dryeth up the Southerne durt [...] Now riseth the Sunne a pretty step to his faire height, & St. Valentine calls the birds together [...] the Ayre is sharpe, but the sunne is comfortable, and the day begins to lengthen." Sharpe Ayre but comfortable sunne; in this juxtaposition is Tchaikovsky's G minor.

Lev Oborin (1907-1974), was the first winner of the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition when he was twenty years old. He plays March quietly but finds lively clarity in the figuration and plays the rhythmic surface with clever consideration of deeper rhythmic currents. The camera hovers above him and makes us feel like ghosts. The shot seems motionless but is not. We are moving closer. This was planned. The increase in speed corresponds with increasing development and as melodic octaves signal the return [1:11] the closeup accelerates. By [1:39] we no longer see the piano or the hands of Oborin--just a formal quality of focus and concentration. The short quickly retreats during the final cadence which does not resolve as much as it fades outside of our hearing. The camera leaves us hovering.

We awaken: Now beginneth nature (as it were) to wake out of her sleepe," writes Breton, "and sends the Traveller to survey the walkes of the world. [...] It is a time of much worke, and tedious to discourse of: but in all I find of it, I thus conclude in it: I hold it a servant of Nature, and the Schoole-master of Art” the hope of labour, and the subject of Reason. Farewell."

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