Tag Archives: Tchaikovsky “The Seasons”

“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

Tchaikovsky, a cappella choral pieces

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”

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:

Tchaikovsky, The Seasons; Чайковский, Времена года

Tchaikovsky, The Seasons; Чайковский, Времена года



Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons Op. 37a was commissioned by St. Petersburg music publisher Nikolai Matveyevich Bernard for his musical periodical Le Nouvelliste. In a letter from November 1875, Bernard asked Tchaikovsky to write a set of 12 pieces, one to be written each month from January to December. Tchaikovsky, very pleased by the commission, answered: “I take great delight in writing piano pieces at the moment.” In order to remember the agreement, he instructed his manservant to remind him to write a piano piece on a certain date in each month.

The titles of the pieces and the subject matter of each of the images were suggested by the publisher. He was a connoisseur of Russian literature, and each piece has a poetic motto, suggested by him. Thus, most of the verses are by great poets, such as Aleksandr Pushkin, Aleksey Tolstoy and Nikolay Nekrasov. From January 1876 on, the pieces appeared in each issue of Le Nouvelliste, except for the September one, when it was announced that the subscribers would receive a collective edition of all 12 pieces.

The complete cycle was published at the end of 1876 for the first time under the title “The Seasons.” In 1886 the publisher P. Jurgenson acquired the rights to The Seasons and the work has been reprinted many times.

This cycle is a good example of the characteristics of Tchaikovsky’s music, which is (similar to Prokofiev’s) deeply Russian, but also containing melodies, formal specifics and elements of Western music. Igor Stravinsky captured the essence, writing:

Tchaikovsky’s music, which does not appear specifically Russian to everybody, is often more profoundly Russian than music which has long since been awarded the facile label of Muscovite picturesqueness. This music is quite as Russian as Pushkin’s verse or Glinka’s song. Whilst not specially cultivating in his art the “soul of the Russian peasant,” Tchaikovsky drew unconsciously from the true popular sources of our race.

This definition by Stravinsky is perfect and is very well demonstrated through the 12 pieces of The Seasons.

While the Russian folk tunes are clearly recognizable in January, February (Carnival), the middle part of May (White Nights), June (Barcarolle), which bears a great similarity of melodic lines from the opera Eugene Onegin, July, October –a melancholic romance, the bells of the troika (traditional harness driving combination, using three horses abreast, pulling a sleigh) in Rachmaninoff’s favorite encore –November; pieces such as the elegant waltz-like April and December, the elegy of the singing lark in March and the virtuoso August are closer to Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin (both also masters of the miniature). Most certainly each of those pieces is a gem, creating in a few minutes a distinctive atmosphere, delicacy and enchanting sound experience. Significantly, Tchaikovsky wrote “The Seasons” at the same time as his first ballet “Swan Lake,” followed by such masterpieces as “The Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker.”

— Program Notes for Carnegie Hall performance



The Seasons Op. 37a

by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky



At the Hearth

Night has covered peace’s cosy corner
With a cloak of dark
The candle burns down lower
And the flame fades in the hearth

— – Aleksandr Pushkin




Soon the lively feast of Shrovetide
will be bubbling and boiling

— – Petr Viazemsky



Song of the Lark

The flowers of the field are rippling
Waves of light whirl in the sky
The spring larks with their singing
Fill the blue sky on high

— Apollon Maickov




Pure and blue– -a snowdrop flower
By its side the last clear snow
The very last tears of grief of old
And the very first daydreams\
Of joy soon to unfold

— – Apollon Maickov



White Nights

What a night! All is covered in bliss!
I thank you my land at midnight
From the Kingdom of ice and
blizzards and snow
How freshly and purely does your May wing its flight.

— Afanasy Fet




Let’s walk all the way to the shore
There the waves our feet will caress
And above us the stars will shine
With the mystery of ineffable sadness.

— Aleksei Pleshejev



Song of the Reaper

Take free rein O shoulder
Take full swing O hand!
Blow your scent in my face
0 wind from midday land!

— Alexey Koltzov



Harvest Time

People in families
Are ready to reap
To scythe at the root,
The tallest of rye
In plentiful stacks
The sheaves have been gathered
The carts creaky music
screeches out all night long

— Alexey Koltzov




It’s time, it’s time, the horns are blaring
The huntsmen in habit
are on horseback since dawn,
The hounds on their leashes do
strain and fawn

— Aleksandr Pushkin



Autumn Song

Autumn, our meagre garden is losing its leaves,
Yellow and faded, blown away on the breeze

— Aleksey Tolstoy




Don’t stare at the road with longing,
And don’t chase the sleigh on its way
And gnawing alarm in your heart
Quickly wave, forever, away

— Nikolay Nekrasov



Christmas Tide

One Christmas Eve
Some girls were foretelling their fate
They would take off a shoe*
and throw it over the gate

— Vasily Zhukovsky


*According to legend, the first man to pick up the shoe would become the bridegroom.



Tchaikovsky, ‘The Seasons’ – Russian lyrics

Russian lyrics are posted here as a downloadable Word document.

Русские тексты публикуются здесь как загружаемый документ Word.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2018