By Flor de Liz Fierro
Album for the Young Op. 39
Tchaikovsky composed this album during the summer of 1878, during his briefly visit in Kamenka with his nephew’s family. The composer was inspired by the delightful environment of the town, as well as the nice company of his family, and was during this time, that he began composing this album as a desperate need to provide music for Russian children.
Tchaikovsky is considered the first Russian composer who wrote artistic pieces for children’s education. In some letters, Tchaikovsky has shown his interest in the subject wrote:
“Childhood is exceptionally important in everybody’s life, those artistic delights that we have received in our youth are going to be remembered during the whole life”
The twenty-four easy pieces conted in this album, have titles that describes many subjects in children’s lives like games, toys, travel stories and pranks. Most of them have a playful character. The tittles are very descriptive, like “The Little Horseman”, “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, “The New Dolly”, “The Nurse’s Tale”, “The Witch”, among others.
The album is dedicated to his little nephew, Volodya Davydov of seven years old, who showed great interest in piano at that time.
Tchaikovsky was doing the Nutcracker ballet while he was composing this cycle of pieces. For that reason, some of the pieces contain musical elements very similar to the Nutcracker music.
It is interesting to know the pedagogical, technical and musical perspectives that Tchaikovsky had on the pieces in the album. I am going to analyze the pieces No. 5 “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, No. 19 “The Nurse’s Tale”, and No. 22 “Song of the Lark.”
No. 5 “March of the Wooden Soldiers”
This piece is written in D major, in a march style. With 2/4 meter and with strict rhythmical figures that help to create an image of wooden and stiffness. It is in a ternary form (ABA). It has a lively and humorous character, and alludes a scene of a toy’s procession.
The technical difficulties are the dotted rhythms in both hands, and keeping the characteristic march style. The tenor harmonizes a third below the soprano, and the dotted eight-note is used frequently. These elements need to be emphasized and held for a full duration to acquire the character of the piece. To develop the rhythmic accuracy, it is important to focus on the sixteenth rests and articulating the sixteenth notes on the upbeat. To make the playful and stiff character, the student could play staccato.
In measure 8, the repeated notes imitate the sound of a drum, and the soldier’s steps. Here, it is recommended to the student to change the fingering (4321).
No. 19 “The Nurse’s Tale”
Composed in C major, this piece represents a magical fairy tale told by a nurse. Contains many accidentals and also tritones that creates a strange, mysterious and at the same time, a magical world. In measures 25-29 depicts scared children due to the constant C that creates an environment of tension. The piece is in ABA form. The frequent chord changes, could be hard for students at first time, as well as highlighting the voicing and dynamics. The staccatos provide a playful character. It could be good for the student to imagine the antics and humor that the story tells, and also that they are helping the nurse tell the story. That will arouse their curiosity and they will be excited to play the piece.
No. 22 “Song of the Lark”
This piece represents the lark, which is a symbol of spring. It is also one of the favorite elements used by Russian composers. It is in G major, and Tchaikovsky uses the triplets and grace notes in the first section to portray larks flying and singing in the sky. This piece is in ABA form with a little coda at the end. It has a lively and mellow character. In general, the piece provides a bright texture, but in the middle of piece, the texture changes and the melody sounds more mysterious and sad. The technical difficulties in this piece are the triplets and the grace notes. These triplets need to be played very quickly and fluently, as an imitation of the lark’s movement. The phrases usually end with staccato eighth notes, and could be played by just bouncing off the keys.
The grace notes could be played rapidly and lightly, to create that delicate, bright, and shiny sound.
This piece has the same rhythmic elements as the March “Song of the lark” in Tchaikovsky’s Seasons. It is evident that the composer relied his first work to create this major mode version of the March.
Even though Tchaikovsky’s piano music is not very well known, it is evident that this music is valuable in musical and pedagogical elements that can help with the introduction of classical music to children, as well as promoting better and easy understanding of the musical style of the composer, which can be applied from elementary, intermediate and late intermediate level.
Hao, Chenyang. “A Pedagogical Guide for Tchaikovsky’s “Album for the Young”, Op. 39.” PhD diss., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 2015. ProQuest (10012789).
Minina, Yuliya, “Russian Piano Music for Children Written from 1878 to 1917.” PhD diss., University of Washington, 2012. ProQuest 3552828.
Maria, Pisarenko, “Cultural Influences upon Soviet-Era Programmatic Piano Music for Children.” PhD diss., University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017. ProQuest 10602894.