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Tchaikovsky's Instrumental Works

Winter in Moscow
Key works
  • The Seasons, Op. 37b
  • Album for the Young, Op. 39
  • 18 Pieces, Op. 72

The works for solo piano, although prolific, have remained the least familiar portion of Tchaikovsky's output. With the exception of an early Sonata in C sharp minor, composed while Tchaikovsky was still a student, and the 'Grand' Sonata in G major of 1878, which is hardly among his more memorable large-scale utterances, they are polished salon miniatures. Yet from his official Opus One, the Scherzo a la Russe, to the last of the eighteen pieces Op. 72, also a Russian dance, composed in the year of his death, they are shot through with his gift for melody and fantasy. Many took on a new lease of life in Stravinsky's Tchaikovsky ballet The Fairy's Kiss (1928), another great composer's sincere homage to the lesson of the master.

The most substantial sequence is the set of twelve pieces known in English as The Seasons - confusingly, as there is one for each month. They encapsulate the full range of Tchaikovsky's volatile temperament from the nostalgia of January (a fireside reverie) and December (a graceful waltz) to the melancholy of June, a barcarolle which is a perfect example of the composer's ability to mine something memorable from a simple rising scale.

There are subtle gems, too, in the Album for the Young, showcasing Tchaikovsky's identification with childhood scenes, and a mine of useful source-material in the 50 Russian Folksongs arranged for piano duet. Tchaikovsky's arrangements were taken from the collection made by the leading Russian nationalist Mily Balakirev and include melodies used not only by Tchaikovsky himself but also by Stravinsky in his ballets The Firebird and Petrushka.

Notes © BBC/David Nice

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