Tchaikovsky: The Seasons
Eleonor Bindman’s third CD issued by the MSR Classics label – her rendition of Tchaikovsky’s lyrical cycle “The Seasons” and two bravura piano transcriptions (one by Franz Liszt and one of her own) of his music to Eugene Onegin.
“You will certainly never tire of the recording by Eleonor Bindman [who] cultivates a beautifully centered full tone as she conveys to us the essential character of each of these charming pieces.” —Atlanta Audio Society
The Seasons, Op. 37b
- January: “By the Fireplace”
- February: “Carnival”
- March: “The Lark’s Song”
- April: “The Snowdrop”
- May: “May Nights”
- June: “Barcarolle”
- July: “The Reaper’s Song”
- August: “The Harvest”
- September: “The Hunt”
- October: “Autumn Song”
- November: “In the Troika”
- December: “Christmas”
- Waltz from Eugene Onegin
- Polonaise from Eugene Onegin
Solo piano arrangement by Eleonor Bindman
Tchaikovsky – Liszt
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was the first Russian composer whose works became part of the standard concert repertoire of the West. His music has always appealed to the public; it abounds in lovely, lyrical melodies, playful Russian folk tunes and vivid imagery. Although Tchaikovsky met with considerable success during his lifetime, his extremely delicate character was a constant source of internal strife; he often said that music was his only salvation from going insane. He found solace in translating the beauty of nature, as well as his turbulent emotions, into the pure language of sound.
The twelve “months” of The Seasons, commissioned by a St. Petersburg musical journal, were composed between December 1875 and November 1876. According to the composer’s brother, Modeste, Tchaikovsky ordered his servant to remind him when a certain date came around each month, in order not to miss the deadline. Upon being told that it was time to “send to St. Petersburg”, he reportedly sat down at once and wrote out the required piece without a pause.
This cycle is an example of program music, that is, music with an attached scenario. Tchaikovsky selected short verses, excerpted from larger works by well-known Russian poets, and used them as epigraphs for each month. The prevalent mood of these pieces seems to reflect the composer’s nature, described by Edward Grieg as “melancholic almost to the point of madness.”
A loose translation of the imagery:
- January: Darkness is enveloping our peaceful corner by the fireplace. The last sparks are fading and the candle has ceased burning.
- February: Soon the feast of the winter Carnival will sweep through the village!
- March: The boundless spring sky resounds with the songs of larks.
- April: The pale blue snowdrop blossom grows out of thinning snow; a farewell to bygone tears and a welcome of new happiness.
- May: What an enchanting night! After the northern storms have gone, May comes forth its all its beauty and exhilaration.
- June: Come to the seashore, where the waves will caress our feet and the stars will glow with mysterious melancholy.
- July: A peasant reaper in the fields sings: “Swing, my arm; work, my shoulder! You, southern wind, cool my face off!”
- August: The farmer families begin their harvest, mowing down the rye at the root. The haystacks crowd the fields and the music of the cartwheels squeaks all night long.
- September: It’s time, it’s time! The horns resound, the horses are mounted at the break of dawn and the hounds tug at their leashes in anticipation.
- October: Autumn has arrived. The yellow leaves of our poor garden are flying in the wind.
- November: Do not look at the road with such longing, and don’t try to catch up with the troika. Stifle the disquiet in your heart forever!
- December: Once, on Christmas Eve, maidens would make a wish, taking off their slipper and throwing it outside the gate.
The Waltz and Polonaise from “Eugene Onegin”, often performed as orchestral concert pieces, epitomize Tchaikovsky’s facility for writing fetching dance numbers. They were written for two party scenes in the opera: young Tatiana’s birthday celebration in Act II and a ball at the house of Prince Gremin, Act III. In the plot, based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, Tatiana is enamored with Eugene Onegin and writes a love letter to him, only to be rejected by the self-absorbed chap. Years later, the two protagonists meet again, during a fete at the palace of Tatiana’s wealthy husband. This time it is Onegin who declares his passion and Tatiana who sensibly cools it off. Curiously, just weeks before Tchaikovsky started working on the opera in 1877, he received a letter from a female admirer in which she implored him to marry her. The composer declined politely, but his sensitive nature was so affected after reading Pushkin’s drama that he felt obliged not to follow his heartless hero’s example. He was overcome by remorse and agreed to the marriage, which, in turn, only lasted a few weeks.
This recording is dedicated to the memory of Khana Gleyzer.
Recorded and mastered by Adrian Carr at Music Design Masters, NYC
Recorded in February – March 2002
Piano: 1897 Steinway Concert Grand