Tchaikovsky - May (The Seasons)


Tchikovsky's work, The Seasons, was commissioned by the publisher, Nikolai Bernard in 1875 and the entire cycle was completed the following year - a period in his life (1840 - 1893) where he held the post of professor of theory and composition at the Moscow Conservatoire.

His ballet, Swan Lake, may well be one of his best known works, alongside one of his most famous themes from the first piano concerto, but his acceptance as a composer of quality was not always immediate and certainly not unreserved.

The Seasons should be fully explored for the many other lovely pieces herein.

Pupil Match & Suitability

This will suit a student with flair and sensitivity.

The middle section needs to be played with quite a keen sense of pace and students will need to be able to get around the notes with ease.

Sensitivity and imagination are needed in order to bring out the colour and mood of the outer sections.

This will die in the hands of someone who does not have the capacity to play with a sense of poetry and to lift the notes from the page and to transform them into something of intrinsic musical worth.

Some pieces may work within the bounds of a literal transcription from notation to piano keys. This will not.

Style & Tempo

An opulent, expressive style with two distinctly different tempi and moods.

Plenty of rubato will feature in the playing here. Sculpt the line much as a singer would and you are likely to be moving in the right direction.

Imagine the breathing points needed, the effortless floating of tone and the soaring forwards in the allegro giocoso, all of which does not rely upon nor is grounded by the regularly recurring barline.

This is the music of a free, expressive spirit.

Phrasing & Articulation

Imagination is needed to translate what looks like a very static piece of music on paper into a sensitive and beautifully shaped line. Thinking beyond the notes has to be the starting point.

Singing is a good way to experience the less percussive qualities of piano tone. Listen to some of the instrumental examples in the background section and analyze how they go about creating a sense of freedom within the lyrical line.

It is easy to end up with accentuation where either none is needed or where it gets in the way of the natural flow of the line.

Tone & Texture

This is split into the two sections - Andantino and Allegro:


Technique should not be viewed as something separate from musicianship.

However, there are some principles here which need careful attention if the right kind of sounds are to be achieved and if musical fluency is the goal.


There is often little choice and much which is fairly straightforward.

However, choice of fingers can be crucial in achieving a good tone and in places for avoiding undue tension.


The pedalling is not complicated here, but its effects can be varied and subtle.

The harmonic changes are fairly clear and obvious and this indicates the basis of the pedalling. However the exact point at which the pedal is depressed can make substantial differences to the tonal effects.

Listen to these effects in examples 1 and 2, which show the different qualities of the single chord:

Teaching Strategies

The two main difficulties likely to be encountered here will be down to the technical difficulties which the RH 4ths are likely to bring up along with the LH stretches, both of which at speed demand a good degree of suppleness, lack of tension, and detail in the practice and pedal application.

Practice Tips

It is always a good idea to start working at the hardest section ahead of the easier ones.

Following a concert, a famous pianist was being congratulated on his playing of a notoriously difficult passage. He was somewhat bemused by this remark and made the response: "well obviously I have practised that the most !"


Deciding upon the reasons that lie behind any particular problems is an important factor in resolving outstanding difficulties.

Consider whether an underlying problem is down to:

(i) lack of correct technique
(ii) lack of musical awareness
(iii) lack of motivation

Final Performance

An excellent performance will sound spontaneous and exude charm. The outer sections will have sensitive tonal colouring and a feeling of repose and beauty whilst the more lively middle section will flow with ease and lightness of texture.

Achieving a variety of tonal colour and good balance between the parts is crucial for a musical interpretation and there will be evidence of this taking place in a good performance. The subtlety and detail of an excellent performance may not yet happen with the consistency needed, but there will be expressive qualities and some lovely nuances along the way.

In a sound performance there should be a sense of unity about this performance. At this level, playing the notes alone, without sufficient understanding, is insufficient to gain recognition above the pass line or into what adjudicators may consider an acceptable level.

Musical understanding may well be present but the tonal control might lack the kind of certainty needed for it to move beyond this category.

It is always possible to play expressively, but without quite the detail and control required. This kind of playing would be the kind of performance which sat fairly squarely into this category.

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