Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Not Just a Sugar Plum Fairy

So, really, what would a Russian Studies blog be without the inevitable post on Russia's signature composer, Tchaikovsky? Somebody has to do it - enter yours truly.
First of all, let me assure everyone that there is much more to Tchaikovsky than The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, two ballets which have been so overplayed as to make one ill. The Seasons, for example, are a series of twelve lovely miniatures intended for the amateur (a.k.a. myself). They were created on commission to be published, one each month, in the St. Petersburg music magazine, Nouvelist. These pieces aren't much compared to Tchaikovsky's other, grander works. In fact, the composer himself referred to the task as "baking musical pancakes," but he welcomed it as a supplement to his salary as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory.
The pieces are short and simple in form, but they succeed in capturing the romanticism of each season. October, my personal favorite, is, I think you'll agree, unmistakable Russian (as far as stereotype goes, at least). Sad, dreary, cold...but at the same time hauntingly beautiful. Not many pieces are able to evoke such a clear image in my mind, in this case of a hard country amidst a dying year.
Octobre: Chant d'automne is preceded, not by a vowel that induces softness in the preceding consonant, but by a short epigraph in the Russian edition:

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

I'm no music major, so go easy on me ;).


Dr. Michael A. Denner said...

lovely, caity. you are prodigiously talented.

i never know what to think about tchaikovsky. his music is so easy to like, i sometimes feel guilty about liking it... kind of like oreos. this is true for me about rakhmaninov, too.

do you know/like scriabin?

LiveBreatheMusic said...

Caity! That was fabulous!!!