TCHAIKOVSKY: Seasons / Chanson triste

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PyotrIl'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Les Saisons (The Seasons), Op. 37b (1876)

Chanson triste in G minor, No. 2 from 12 Morceaux, Op. 40 (1878)

Song Without Words in A minor, No. 6 from 12 Morceaux, Op. 40(1878)

Nocturne in C sharp minor, No. 4 from 6 Morceaux, Op. 19 (1873)

Song Without Words in F major, No. 3 from Souvenir de Hapsal, Op.

2 (1867)


Pyotr Il'yichTchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russian composers, hismusic offering certain obvious, superficial attractions in its melodies and inthe richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more to Tchaikovsky thanthis, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement because of whatsometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.

Born inKamsko-Votkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer, Tchaikovsky hadhis early education, in music as in everything else, at home, under the care ofhis mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he was a pupil atthe School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing his course there in1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years hedeveloped his abilities as a musician and it must have seemed probable that hewould, like his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin,keep music as a secondary occupation, while following another career.

For Tchaikovskymatters turned out differently. The foundation of the new Conservatory of Musicin St. Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him to study there as afull-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as a member of thestaff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein's brotherNikolay. He continued there for some ten years, before financial assistancefrom a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory anddevote himself entirely to composition. The same period in his life brought anunfortunate marriage to a self-proclaimed admirer of his work, a woman whoshowed early signs of mental instability, and could only add further toTchaikovsky's own problems of character and inclination. His homosexuality wasa torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled withphysical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous break-down.

Separation fromhis wife, which was immediate, still left practical and personal problems to besolved. Tchaikovsky's relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, however, providednot only the money that at first was necessary for his career, but also the understandingand support of a woman who, so far from making physical dernands of him, nevereven met him face to face. This curiously remote liaison only came to an end in1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, Nadezhda von Meck discontinued anallowance that was no longer of importance, and a correspondence on which hehad come to depend.

The story ofTchaikovsky's death in St. Petersburg in 1893 is now generally known. It seemsthat a member of the nobility had threatened to complain to the Tsar about analleged homosexual relationship between Tchaikovsky and his son. To avoid openscandal a court of honour of Tchaikovsky's old school-fellows met and condemnedhim to death, forcing him to take his own life. His death was announced as theresult of cholera, and this official version of the event was, until relativelyrecently, generally accepted.

As a composerTchaikovsky represented a happy synthesis of the West European or German schoolof composition, represented in Russia by his teacher Anton Rubinstein, and theRussian nationalists, led by the impossibly aggressive Balakirev. FromRubinstein Tchaikovsky learned his technique, while Balakirev attempted timeand again to bully him into compliance with his own ideals. To the nationalistsTchaikovsky may have seemed relatively foreign. His work, after all, lacked theprimitive crudity that sometimes marked their compositions. Neverthelessacceptance abroad was not universal. Hanslick, in Vienna, could deplore the"trivial Cossack cheer" of the violin concerto and other works, whilewelcoming the absence of any apparent Russian element in the last of the sixsymphonies. In England and America there had been a heartier welcome, and inthe latter country he had been received with an enthusiasm that exceeded eventhat at home. In his diary of the American concert tour of 1891 he remarked onthis and on the curious habit of American critics, who tended to concentratetheir attention on the appearance and posture of a conductor, rather than onthe music itself. At the age of 51 he was described in the American press as"a tall, gray, interesting man, well on to sixty".

Throughout hislife Tchaikovsky wrote music for the piano, much of it to supply the demands ofan amateur market. Among the earliest such pieces are the three grouped underthe title Souvenir de Hapsal, Op. 2, the third of which, the most famousSong Without Words in F major, concludes the present collection. In 1867Tchaikovsky and his brother Modest spent some six weeks at Hapsal with theDav?»dovs, the family of his sister Sasha's husband. Sasha's sister-in-law VeraDav?»dova showed some interest in Tchaikovsky, feelings that he was unable toreciprocate. He nevertheless dedicated the three pieces to her after his returnto St. Petersburg.

The 6Morceaux, Op. 19, were completed early in November, 1873, in Moscow, whereTchaikovsky was also occupied with scoring his Shakespearian Tempest,which was first performed on 3 December, bringing the composer a welcome 300roubles. He sent Tolstoy, who had been deeply moved by a performance in Moscow of the String Quartet No. 1, a copy of the pieces, with a piano duet arrangement ofthe Symphony No. 1. The Nocturne of the Op. 19 set was later transcribedby Tchaikovsky for cello and orchestra.

Les Saisons (The Seasons), Op. 37b,were written between December 1875 and November 1876 in response to acommission from Nikolay Bernard, editor of the periodical Nouvelliste.

Each monthly issue was to contain an appropriate piece by Tchaikovsky. who hadinstructed his servant to remind him when each was due. The resultingcollection, however reluctant the composer may have been, has much charm, as ittakes the listener through the year, from the fireside in January, through Carnival,the song of the lark, April snowdrops and the nights of May. to the Barcarolle

of June, the cutter of the hay, harvest, hunting. October autumn, the November Troika

and to Christmas, offering occasional challenges to the technical proficiencyof the amateurs for whom the pieces were intended.

The 12 Morceaux

of moderate difficulty, Op. 40, were written between February and May 1878,followed immediately by the Album for the Young, published as Op. 39, 24little pieces in the manner of Schumann. 1877 had brought Tchaikovsky near todeath, but after the breakdown of his marriage his fortunes had changed as aresult of the pension offered him by Nadezhda von Meck and the prospect ofrelease from his burdensome 26 hours a week of teaching. On his doctor's ordersTchaikovsky had taken refuge abroad towards the end of the year and seven ofthe pieces that make up Op. 40 were written in Italy and in Clarens, where,with the young violinist Kotek, he had been busy with the composition of the ViolinConcerto. The set was completed at his brother-in-law's estate at Ka
Item number 8550233
Barcode 4891030502338
Release date 12/01/2000
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Prunyi, Ilona
Prunyi, Ilona
Composers Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich
Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich
Disc: 1
Song Without Words In F
1 January: By The Fireside
2 February: Carnaval
3 March: Song Of The Lark
4 April: Snowdrop
5 May: May Nights
6 June: Barcarolle
7 July: Song Of The Reaper
8 August: The Harvest
9 September: The Hunt
10 October: Autumn Song
11 November: Troika
12 December: Christmas
13 Chanson triste in G minor, Op. 40, No. 2
14 Song Without Words In A Minor
15 Nocturne In C Sharp Minor
16 Song Without Words In F
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