Friday, October 1, 2010

Thinking October with 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.

The editor chose subtitles that set the mood for each month. October was inspired by images of transition. An additional epigraph was given based on a phrase from Tolstoy:

"Autumn, falling down on our poor orchid,
the yellow leaves are flying in the wind."



In this wonderful live recording by Victor Goldberg, October emerges from an elusive and complex setting that floats like a falling leaf--there are turns and twists; updrafts. But settling is clear even if the dominant is delayed and resisted. There is no stillness until the very second of the arrival in D minor [0:32] which opens on the music of a new scene.

The new setting is a variation set as an operatic duet. The tune is now in the tenor. The soprano voices an unsettled sense inspired by the melodic minor scale balanced by a framing that becomes part of a chordal structure. The soprano is singing of transformation where horizontal becomes vertical.

The second half of the variation both echos and unravels, cadencing in d minor, again at the very last instant. Goldberg carries the independence of these two lines with exquisite gracefulness.

The central section [1:05] is a development that unfolds in a embedded patterning. The music unfolds in waves and echos; each measure bearing a relationship in gesture to the one before it. A central phrase is reached at [1:30] that is repeated [1:49] before the final phrase focuses us on D minor once again.

In the completion of a larger-scale embedded pattern, the music of the first section is repeated without change [2:28]. But a magical moment happens during the codetta [3:38]. The music quiets and becomes chant-like, obsessing on the sound of B-flat resolving to A, until an unexpected push up to C (the 7th scale degree) forces an unsettled close in whisper music.

"It is now October," wrote English writer Nicholas Breton (1545-1626), "and the lofty windes make bare the trees of their leaues, while the hogs in the Woods grow fat with falne Acorns."

His entry, from "The Twelve Moneths," talks of the differences between those who have harvested and those who have not: "the multitude of people raiseth the price of wares & the smoothe tongue will sell much...but the poore must not beg for feare of the stocks. Dancing and fencing are now in some use, and kind hearts and true louers lye close, to keepe off the cold: the titmouse now keepes in the hollow tree, and the black bird sits close in the bottome of a hedge. In briefe, for the fresh pleasure I find in it, I thus conclude of it: I hold it a messenger of ill newes, and a second seruice to a cold dinner. Farewell."

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