Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Meditation on June 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.

For the month of June Tchaikovsky wrote the famous Barcarolle, a tune that has survived innumerable transcriptions with the elegant glide of its conversational grace.

Lev Oborin (1907-1974) was known for his illustrious collaborations with David Oistrakh, and for his tireless work with most of the great Soviet composers of the 20th century. Oborin shows us the how to enjoy the transitional interludes and the imaginative ending of June.

At [0:35] the sweeping melody that opens the movement has comes to a self-contained close.  As it does, the camera angle suddenly shifts to reveal Oborin's hands. The playful scale-figure is derived directly from the opening tune, but its rising energy is countered by a falling bass line, and by an F that remains ringing--attracting us with the irrational logic of June. 

The English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) also caught the interludes of June in his book "The Twelve Moneths."

"It is now June," wrote Breton, "and the hay-makers are mustered to make an army for the field...Now doth the broad Oke comfort the weary Laborer, while under his shady Boughes he sits singing to his bread and cheese."

The central section of June becomes playful [1:49]. It breaks into the syncopated major, right on the edge of dancing, until it finally gives in to dance [2:09]. "The little lads make pipes of the straw," wrote Breton, "and they that cannot dance, will yet bee hopping."

After the return of the opening section there is one surprise left in June; an ethereal codetta. The camera angle changes again to reveal that Oborin cannot help but to show how cool this passage is in the subtlest lift of his head. This floating passage is like the "coole winds" of June that Breton knew.

"The Ayre now groweth somewhat warm," wrote Breton, "and the coole winds are very comfortable: the Sayler now makes merry passage, and the nimble Footman runnes with pleasure: In briefe, I thus conclude, I hold it a sweet season, the sense perfume, and the spirits comfort. Farewell."

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