Album Release

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tchaikovsky: Autumn Song

Coldness in Berlin last week during a visit to my friend Ari and her sister (and baby Max). Christmas Markets, glüwein, tons of sugary temptations, coffee, and snow. I think I came out one too many for wieners consumed. 

Short visit to Berlin last week... it is NO LONGER Autumn there, wow. No leaves on the trees. Fresh snow every morning. Buuurlin. Lots of Christmas markets, Glüwein, sleds, mittens, and sugary snacks. 
There are, however, 6 remaining leaves lingering on the tree outside my bedroom in Cabris... and two more autumn pieces I’ve been wanting to blog about. I’m going to try to get them in before this chapter closes and winter officially begins... going by the books, that would be December 21st. 
This blog entry looks at Tchaikovsky’s “October: Autumn Song.” 
It’s amazing to me how some composers are able to start and finish a work in one single sitting. It happens in different ways in all kinds of music. Beck created the entire album “Sea Change” in one week. Mozart apparently composed the Overture to Don Giovanni in 3 hours. This piece is a taste of the same.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky (Russia, 1840-1893) wrote a piano solo for each month of the year, each one  of them created in a single day (as the story goes). He was commissioned for this cycle by a monthly musical journal in Saint Petersburg, Le Nouvelliste (Why is this in French?) for 1876.
There’s a great quote about this commission from his friend and colleague listed in the Urtext preface:
“Tchaikovsky accepted the commission and carried it out with his habitual punctiliousness. He himself found the task very simple and inconsequential, and in order to maintain the prearranged delivery schedule he instructed his servant to remind him about the commission on a particular day each month. The servant followed this order to the letter and reminded him each month on a particular day: ‘Peter Ilyich, it’s time for your shipment to St. Petersburg’. Peter Ilyich then sat down, wrote the piece in a single sitting, and sent it off. Despite the obvious nonchalance of its creation, the cycle of piano pieces cam off magnificently.”
                 
I imagine him finishing up his coffee, sharpening his pencil, sitting down to the piano, and quietly searching within him for the inspiration to produce these short pieces. 
The original publisher/editor was the one that added the subtitles and threw in little epigrams by Russian poets... “October” has the subtitle “Autumn Song” with an epigraph by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy:
Осень, осыпается весь наш бедный сад,
Листья пожелтелые по ветру летят...
Autumn, falling down on our poor orchard,
the yellow leaves are flying in the wind...
I can see that image when playing this piece- an orchid being tossed around by the autumn wind in slow motion. “Andante doloroso e molto cantabile,” with a dose of lament and sorrow. 
I first came across this piece when searching for Autumn tunes long before this project became official. The intention was to transcribe it for harp and publish it in dedication to one of my students back in West Texas- Katherine Kappelmann. She’s been gracious to bear with many drafts and editions over the past months. 
It’s such a transparent and expressive piece--- and lays so well on the harp! There were only 2 notes that had to be nixed somewhere in the B section; I was a dollar short in the C natural category.
Full moon tonight, and clear skies here. Making out a moonlit orchid in my mind. 

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