Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Meditation on May by Tchaikovsky, Nicholas Breton, and Natalia Bezuglova

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.

Pianist Natalia Bezuglova catches the breathless harmonic sweep of the lyrical music that opens this piece. The diatonic melody is harmonized in an ascending scale that forms an octave frame on the dominant instead of the tonic. This is the sound of seasonal transitions, colder than one imagines, but with also filled with sweetness.

The English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) also caught this transitional side of May in his book "The Twelve Moneths."

"It is now May," wrote Breton, "and the sweetnesse of the aire refresheth every spirit: the sunny beames bring forth faire Blossomes, and the dripping Clouds water Floraes great garden.”

At [0:40] Bezuglova gazes up to absorb the darker world of B-flat major. It is a harmony that was a Tchaikovsky specialty in which an added 6th [G] feels at home, and the [F] in the bass continues the to create frictions and an unsettled peacefulness.

At [1:23] the Allegro giocoso reminds us that May is also a season of activity. The camera angle retreats from Bezuglova's hands and we see an expression of the physicality of oscillation transmitted from deep within this music in B minor.

"The tall young oke is cut downe for the Maypole," writes Breton of the active May, "the Sithe and the Sickle are the Mowers furniture, and the fayre weather makes the Labourer merry."

There is a wonderful and unexpected moment in this work when the music happens upon F-sharp major [1:51] and celebrates its own arrival in this bright key one-half step below the tonic to which we will return.

"It is the moneth wherein Nature hath her full of mirth, and the Senses are filled with delights," wrote Breton. "I conclude, it is from the Heavens a Grace and to the Earth a Gladnesse. Farewell."

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