Twelve characteristic scenes, Op. 37a (1875–76).
No. 1. By the Hearth: January (У камелька: Январь)
No. 2. The Carnival: February (Масленица: Февраль)
No. 3. Song of the Lark: March (Песнь жаворонка: Март)
No. 4. Snowdrop: April (Подснежник: Апрель)
No. 5. White Nights: May (Белые ночи: Май)
No. 6. Barcarole: June (Баркаролла: Июнь)
No. 7. Reaper's Song: July (Песнь косаря: Июль)
No. 8. The Harvest: August (Жатва: Август)
No. 9. The Hunt: September (Охота: Сентябрь)
No. 10. Autumn Song: October (Осенняя песня: Октябрь)
No. 11. On the Troika: November (На тройке: Ноябрь)
No. 12. Christmas-Tide: December (Святки: Декабрь)
The Seasons were commissioned from Tchaikovsky by the publisher Nikolay Bernard, for publication in his journal Nuvellist, which was issued on the first day of each month. There is very little information concerning the origins of the cycle in surviving documents. Correspondence between Nikolay Bernard and Tchaikovsky concerning the commission dates from the end of 1875.
On 24 November/6 December 1875, Tchaikovsky agreed to Nikolay Bernard’s proposal that he should write the cycle The Seasons: "I have received your letter. I am most grateful for your courtesy and readiness to pay me such a high fee. So long as I am spared I shall endeavour to oblige you. I shall send you the first piece shortly, and perhaps the next two or three. If the circumstances are right then they will be done quickly—at the moment I am very much in the mood for piano pieces. Yours P. Tchaikovsky. I will retain all your titles" .
In December 1875, Tchaikovsky sent two pieces from Moscow to Nikolay Bernard. In a letter of 13/25 December 1875, the composer wrote to Bernard: "This evening, or possibly even tomorrow, I am sending you the first two pieces by post. It is not without some trepidation that I send them to you, for fear that you will think them too long or poor. I beg you to give me your candid opinion, so that I can keep in mind your requirements while composing the following pieces ... If the second piece is unsuitable, then write and tell me... If you want me to rewrite The Carnival, then please do not stand on ceremony, and you can be sure that by next time, i.e. by 15th January, I will have written you another" .
The remaining pieces in the cycle were probably composed in 1876, as indicated by Tchaikovsky’s letter to Nikolay Bernard of 23 January/4 February 1876 from Saint Petersburg: "I wanted today to ask you a favour in person, but I was too embarrassed, and so I address you by letter instead. I very much need the 200 roubles, without which I am unable to leave here. If you could let me have the fee for the remaining pieces on account, then I would be extremely obliged and grateful to you; I do not linger over my pieces, and you can always fully expect them to arrive punctually" .
It is not known exactly when pieces Nos. 3–5 were written, but Tchaikovsky wrote to Nikolay Bernard on 17/29 March 1876: "1 am very sorry that Naranovich has still not forwarded your piece, which I gave to him last Saturday the 12th [O.S.]. Apparently a telegram from me was insufficient. Tomorrow evening I shall try to find out why the piece has not been sent. Today... he assured me that it had been despatched" . Here it seems that Tchaikovsky was referring to only one piece—April (No. 4). It follows that pieces No. 3 to 5 must have been composed (and, evidently, sent to Bernard) separately, while the corresponding edition of Nuvellist was being prepared. The third number of the journal, which contained the piece March (No. 3), was approved by the censor on 17/29 February; the fourth—with April (No. 4)—on 22 March/3 April; the fifth—with May (No. 5)—on 20 April/2 May 1876.
The last seven pieces (from Barcarolle to Christmas-Tide) were certainly written at the same time, since they are all found together in a single copy-book, and could not have been separated. Each of them have various notes by the publisher (e.g. for the piece November. "Nuv[ellist] No. 11"). It is natural to conclude that Tchaikovsky began work on them in April, after finishing the instrumentation of the ballet Swan Lake (completed on 10/22 April), and finished composition no later than 15/27 May 1876, since the Barcarolle (June) was published in No. 6 of the journal, which was passed by the censor on 18/30 May 1876. Evidently, Tchaikovsky hastened to write the pieces before his journey to the Ukraine and abroad, which took place at the end of May/beginning of June. On 23 October/4 November 1876 the collection was approved by the censor for separate publication.
In the light of the aforementioned evidence, it is difficult to substantiate the version of events described in the reminiscences of Nikolay Kashkin , namely that each month Tchaikovsky sat down to write a single piece, after being reminded to do so by his valet Aleksey Sofronov.
The aforementioned letter from Tchaikovsky to Nikolay Bernard of 24 November/6 December 1875 suggests that the titles, and subsequently the epigraph for each piece, were suggested by the publisher to the composer.
In the surviving manuscript scores, only two pieces from The Seasons have epigraphs: By the Hearth (January)—to Pushkin’s poem Dream—and Lark Song (February)—to Apollon Maykov’s verses On the Volga. In both cases the epigraphs were written out by Nikolay Bernard, and not Tchaikovsky. None of the remaining pieces have epigraphs in the manuscript scores.
The Seasons was published for the first time in 1876 in the journal Nuvellist. Their publication was preceded by a framed announcement in bold type on the cover of the December 1875 issue (No. 12): "Our celebrated composer P. I. Tchaikovsky has promised the editor of Nuvellist, that he will contribute to next year’s issues a whole series of his piano compositions, specially written for our journal, the character of which will correspond entirely to the titles of the pieces, and the month in which they will be published in the journal..."
At the time of publication in Nuvellist, the names of the months were not given before the title. In the manuscript score, pieces Nos. 8 and 12 have subtitles: The Harvest (Scherzo) and Christmas-Tide (Waltz) respectively. On the manuscript score of Christmas-Tide, someone (perhaps the publisher?), crossed out Tchaikovsky’s indication that the start should be completely repeated in the reprise (as with The Harvest, The Hunt, etc.), and written: "'D. C. al segno e poi la coda" instead.
From: Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 400–403
This page was last updated on 12 February 2013