By Gabriel Prynn, cellist
Part 2/4: Our star transcription: The Seasons by Tchaikovsky – a grand première for Montreal’s music lovers!
A transcription means the act of adapting a musical composition for other instruments than those for which it was originally intended.
This is an important practice in the history of music. In some cases, such as the four-hand piano versions of orchestral and chamber works, the goal was mainly to promote a specific piece, to make it accessible to the public at a time when radio and recordings did not yet exist and professional concerts only took place in major cities.
This was the case with Brahms, for example, who always insisted that his chamber music works be published simultaneously in their original scoring and in a version for piano four hands.
It was the best way for him to develop his audience: music lovers of the middle class, who could enjoy his most recent compositions by playing these transcriptions in the comfort of their own living rooms.
Even in the 20th century, the legendary composer Pierre Boulez recalls how in 1945, just after the Liberation when he was studying at the Paris Conservatoire, four-hand piano arrangements were the only way to get to know the great works of Stravinsky such as Petrushka or The Rite of Spring.
Another motivation for producing transcriptions is of course to pay homage to a work we admire, giving it new life and new colors.
Indeed transcriptions can serve to bring out unexpected or hidden aspects of a piece. Liszt’s transcriptions for solo piano of the Beethoven symphonies, Busoni’s of the solo violin works of Bach, and the orchestral arrangement of Brahms’s first piano quartet by Schoenberg remain fine examples of this.
Tchaikovsky is known for his vivid musical landscapes, full of charm and passion. In his solo piano work The Seasons of 1876, he applied his formidable talents to conjuring up distinctive musical images characterizing each month of the year.
This is a unique work that we have always found particularly fascinating; the Christmas waltz for December is especially appealing.
So when we stumbled upon a masterful arrangement for piano trio of The Seasons by Tchaikovsky, made by a certain Alexander Goedicke – a Russian composer active in the early 20th century who was considered one of the leading Russian organists of his time (the international organ competition of the Moscow Conservatory still bears his name) – we jumped at the chance to play it.
Therefore in this concert the audience will hear, certainly for the first time, the version for piano trio of the twelve months of the year translated into music by the great Russian master.
But … our mission to present this fine work by the spiritual father of Russian music, as you’ve never heard it before, proved to be a much more complicated task than we had anticipated…
Reviving the great master
Needless to say, Goedicke’s transcription of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, written nearly a century ago, does not exist in any modern edition, which makes this discovery even more rare and exceptional.
Being particularly stubborn, we finally decided to lovingly restore the trio score, using the original version for solo piano as a reference.
We finally succeeded, after long hours of work and experimentation as you can imagine, in bringing back to life this beautiful complete piano trio version of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons.
The work is now ready for its first ever public outing in North America, as part of our Christmas concert on November 27th, for the great pleasure of us all.