“The Seasons,” Tchaikovsky; a piano concert … Roger’s musings









I attended a concert by Bulgarian pianist Maria Prinz at Carnegie Hall last evening. It consisted of:

Tchaikovsky, The Seasons, op. 37a

Prokofiev, Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, op. 75

I had third row center seats. I felt keenly aware of what a difference it makes to hear a piece live. Somehow this seems especially true — or at least very applicable — with the piano. The sonorities of same. The percussive effect. And so on. I wish I could comment more knowledgeably and articulately — I am neither a pianist nor an expert.

A typically great New York audience. The hall was almost full on a weekday evening. Everyone totally into the music. No one claps inappropriately between individual pieces.

You would never see such a performance being given in a concert hall anywhere else in the USA.




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The twelve pieces that make up Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons are so evocative of the words, so descriptive and expressive. I wish more Tchaikovsky pieces “in miniature,” so to speak, could be heard. These ones are gems.

May I suggest, if you are in the mood, that you try Tchaikovsky’s a cappella choral pieces (settings of texts by Pushkin, Lermontov, Tsiganov, Ogarev; the composer, Tchaikovsky; and others), a beautiful LP record of which is posted on this site at




The Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet pieces are brilliant and captivating. Yet they leave me sort of cold: In other words, while I was impressed and intrigued by the arresting rhythms and melodies, they left me at bottom unsatisfied, speaking as a listener.

Ms. Prinz plays with great conviction and mastery, yet there is no showmanship. It is the music that matters and the music which comes through.






A Digression


In a previous post of mine, “last night’s concert”




I wrote:

It’s okay for the mind to wander even with … great music because music both fixes the attention and engages you … while, at the same time, stirring up thought in all directions and energizing the mind, so that at one moment I am totally focused on “musical ideas” and my mind seems fused with the piece, its “inner logic,” and then, seconds later, I am thinking … of [something else which] there was no particular reason for me to associate with the piece.

I was also thinking about the concept of “unconflicted interest,” a term used by former therapist, Ralph Colp, Jr., MD. Having and experiencing this type or level of engagement, so to speak, with something such as an area of study or a cultural or learning experience can revive one from dullness or apathy. I was tired at the end of a long day in the City which began with a dentist’s appointment. The concert revived me.





It is notable (and does not need commenting upon) how music stirs the listener up: the notes and harmonies; the crescendos; the forward momentum. One’s thoughts are also stirred up.

The mind wanders into bypaths, entertaining thoughts both commonplace and (perhaps) profound, and calling up a train of associations.

For example: I was thinking, as often occurs to me when I have the opportunity to experience Russian music or literature, of how glad I am that I learned Russian (though I never mastered it).

I did it because I wanted to. (Motivation is everything.) Yet I almost failed on the first try. I took Russian again at Columbia, which had an excellent Russian department, and succeeded on the second try.

This shows the importance of having an instructor/teacher, or a mentor or coach, who doesn’t underestimate or give up on oneself. Or perhaps the converse, your sticking with the pursuit of a goal.

Then, with the Prokofiev, I thought about Shakespeare. Leading to a digression — I guess one would say, another one — a digression upon a digression.

In Romeo and Juliet, there are robust young males: Romeo’s friend Mercutio, for example; and his cousin and best friend Benvolio. And, in Hamlet, Hamlet’s friend Horatio. Our high school English teacher, Mr. _______, used to say that Horatio was the quintessential true blue friend and good guy.

My mind wandered into another byway: a thicket comprised of thoughts about the teacher and my relationship with him, and a recent exchange I had by email with my brother.





I told my brother that I felt our English teacher — who was one of the best teachers in the school and was respected if not revered, because of his intellect and mastery of the subject matter (he was not “dictatorial,” but he was a teacher whose teaching you did not take lightly) — favored him. Favored my brother, that is. Was partial to him. And, couldn’t help showing it.

I always felt inhibited in his classroom (though I learned so much, as much as I ever did in any other school or class). I worked very hard, and the teacher respected my intellect and writing ability. But he would sometimes give me lower grades than I deserved, it seemed. This did not bother me that much — I was not grade conscious and would never complain — but I sometimes felt that he was hard on me. Though not always. He once gave me an A plus on a paper. My grades in his class kept getting better each term. He praised my writing highly at least once and appreciated my contributions to class discussions.

But he became lifelong friends with my brother. He once told my mother, at a parent-teacher night (she told me what he said), that my brother and I were completely different personality-wise. I didn’t know what this meant. And, something I noticed was that sometimes the teacher out of the blue would show irritation with me or pick on or make fun of me for no reason.

After years of wondering, I think I know. The mystery of why our English teacher never quite took to me as a person seems to be cleared up (in my mind).

Sometimes he (the teacher) would make an offhand remark and I would sort of tense up. This was because I feared him (as an authority figure, among other things) and found it hard to relax in his presence. It seemed (or seems to me, in retrospect) that the teacher was annoyed because I was not quite in step with him and didn’t get his jokes or witticisms, or couldn’t get into it with him. Some of the jokes were at my expense. At other times, I knew quite well what he was saying, but I felt stiff and self-conscious nevertheless and found it hard to relax and be convivial.

I emailed my brother just recently:

Mr. _______ thought that, as well as you being a good student whom he had great success with, you were a REGULAR GUY. And I was not (in his view). I think Mr. ______ could be petty, narrow minded, and judgmental about people. And cruel about what he perceived to be obvious weakness. He underestimated me, though he did give me credit for intellectual ability.

He acknowledged that I was intelligent. He underestimated me totally as a person.

He saw me as a sort of shallow cipher. Like a character, Robert Shallow in Henry IV, Part 2. Whereas you were a Prince Hal or like Hamlet’s friend Horatio.

You did not experience this. I did.

My brother was not sympathetic. “I think you obsess too much about former teachers,” he wrote back. “If he gave you credit for intelligence, of which you have plenty, what did he underestimate?”

My brother missed the point.





Some people think I tend to obsess over the past and ruminate too much on past events, slights, and abuses (as I perceive them). What I think occurs with thoughtful, sentient persons — and I believe it is a healthy thing; or at least a sign of intellect, of reflection (my former therapist said, “The life of the mind. It’s like breathing.”) — is that their mind never stops churning over the past and reinterpreting it, or interpreting it anew, never stops making new “discoveries” about oneself and others, including the long departed. Something will occur that induces the mind to recall something long buried in the consciousness, and, then, by analogy, the mind makes a connection; and, often, a clarification, a new “discovery.” It’s akin to what presumably occurs, optimally, in therapy or when a writer creates a work of fiction based on his or her own experience.

A further thought: People’s judgments of others can be superficial, not well founded, and hurtful if not cruel. My English teacher thought I was an uptight, rigid sort of person, an earnest student but not quite a regular guy. Not the type you would want to have a beer with. This was wrong. We write off people with such superficial judgments. We often do them a disservice. It often seems that this happens in the workplace or at school or in some such setting where people form quick judgments when encountering you in a larger group and deciding whom they would like to be friends with or get to know.

Often such judgments are superficial and misleading. A girlfriend of one of my college roommates once told a group of their friends in a bull session that she found me to be a sort of cold fish who never showed any feeling. One of my roommates, John Ferris (who later became a psychiatrist and is still in practice), responded angrily to her. (He recounted the conversation to me shortly afterwards.) He told her: “You are absolutely wrong. Roger is a very demonstrative person.” My roommate’s clueless girlfriend took modesty and reserve on my part for lack of any emotional awareness.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 1, 2018






Addendum: Here is one of Beethoven’s variations on a setting of an Irish folksong, “The last rose of summer,” by George Thomson. It is performed in an arrangement for flute and piano by Ms. Prinz and the flautist Patrick Gallois.







Addendum: See my post of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons at:


About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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