Commentary on "The Seasons" and the "Concerto"

Hi,

My name is Catherine (also known as CatherineC from fsu) and I’m from Riga, Latvia, which is a tiny nation in north eastern Europe. I’m studying music theory and music history at Latvia’s best music school as well as playing flute and piano there. I’ve studied there since the age of five, so it’s been kind of long road.

When Misha (the owner of this blog) asked me if I could share my thoughts about Tessa and Scott’s music choices, I definitely said, “yes!”. I had already written a bit on this topic over at fsu (it’s on the blog here), and since everybody liked it, I was eager to write more. After I agreed, I started listening to the pieces again. This time, I didn’t want to write about the theoretical side of these pieces as I did before. I just wanted to express my feelings.

I hope you’ll like it—enjoy!

Glazunov’s “The Seasons”

Let’s talk about the best part of this composition: in one word, waltzes!

About half of the ballet is in waltz tempo. The whole spring section is in this tempo and the summer section is full of little waltzes too—just the coda isn’t a waltz. There are several waltzes in the winter and autumn sections too. Since Tessa and Scott gave us a hint that they will be waltzing in their free dance, I’ll write out the timings of all the waltzes in this ballet, so you can listen to them using the video below.


glazunov's the season

Overall, there are seven waltzes. My favourites are the following:

06:49–07:38 (winter: snow)
15:50–17:54 (summer: scene)
19:53–22:02 (summer: barcarolle)
10:00–15:50 (spring)
17:55–19:52 (summer: waltz of cornflowers and poppies)
22:03–23:06 (summer: variations)

The seventh waltz is slower and, at first, it might not sound like a real waltz tempo. It seems like this waltz is in 3/4, while the other ones are in 6/8, which is why it sounds a bit different—but, still, it counts as a waltz, so I’ll include it too. It takes place from 03:39–04:38 (winter: frost).

There’s a feeling among fans that they need to choose “Petit Adagio” from the autumn section (31:03–34:47), and that’s also one of the best parts of the ballet. It’s slow, beautiful and really mature. In past interviews, Tessa and Scott have spoken about how important it is to show their maturity in these upcoming programs, so the “Petit Adagio” would be a great choice for them.

The fact that it starts with winter and ends with autumn is interesting to me. Maybe it doesn’t seem important which seasons Glazunov starts and ends with, but it is. Winter means famine in nature. Autumn means abundance. With this progression, it seems like he wants the composition to grow—and it does. In fact, the piece is 40 minutes long and it seems to just grow and grow, with no hanging. It starts with shy music in piano, but ends with brave in forte.

It seems like the whole ballet is in a major scale. In music, composers use the major scale to make the music sound happy and they use the minor scale to show sadness. What Glazunov has done with “The Seasons” is interesting: he composed 40 minutes of happiness. Because of this, when I listen to this composition, I’m thinking just of the good parts in the nature, like wind, sun and snow. In those 40 minutes, I feel like there are no storms, earthquakes, vulcanoes or other destructive forces. ... I couldn’t write 40 minutes of major without any minory elements. I guess Glazunov had been in a good mood.

And that’s precisely why Tessa and Scott need Scriabin: his composition is in the minor scale.

Scriabin’s “Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor"

Think of a piece of tar thrown in a lake. Think of Carmen, with Mahler thrown in. That’s what Scriabin’s “Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor” adds to Gluzunov’s “The Seasons”. I think it’s a wonderful addition since it’ll show their maturity.

The emotions of grief, madness and pain are not found in their 2010 “close to heaven” Mahler free dance and if their new free dance only had Gluzunov’s “The Seasons”, then those emotions wouldn’t be found here either. Yet life has those complicated moments. We’ve seen that Tessa and Scott already know that there’s no life without madness, fights and conflict. And if they want to have a program which shows a life between two people, they'll need a bit of sadness. Because that’s life. So, Scriabin makes the difference. I think, with the addition of this concerto, they’ll be able to show how much they’ve grown.

Now, it may seem like I hate Glazunov, but I don’t. In fact, I feel like if they had just used Scriabin, this free dance would have been a variation of Carmen. That would have been a big risk with the judges and the program might not be widely understood, which is what happened to Carmen last year.

What are the best parts from Scriabin’s “Concerto”? Many will disagree, but I just melt when hearing the passionate, angsty and expressive moments in first movement from 01:33–01:44 and 05:20–05:30. I’d love to see them using it while performing some straight line/curve lifts, but I have a feeling that they’ll use music just from second movement, since the music would suit the Glazunov piece more. But if we’re talking about the second movement, my favourite part definitely is the theme (08:27–10:01). And in third movement, I LOVE the parts from 19:00–20:10 and 25:36–26:00. I don’t know about you all, but while listening these, I have a feeling, like I’m on the top of Everest. I also love the culmination, found between 22:39–23:18. These timings work on the video below.


scrabin's piano concerto in f-sharp minor. 

Combining the two pieces into a free dance score

Right now, we can only guess at which parts they’ll use. That said, if we're talking about music cuts, my perfect combination would be Glazunov-Scriabin, because Scriabin has more power to end the program. Also, the combo of Glazunov-Scriabin and then ending with Glazunov’s “Petit Adagio” would be good because, as far as I can see, that’s the only piece from Glazunov that can really end the program. To add, I think that the middle of the program would be a perfect place for Glazunov’s waltzes.


“Finding Mahler was so easy because Marina Zoueva just took us out to her car, played the piece of music, and it fell into our laps. This year was much different. We’ve spent months composing and compiling every note so it’s perfect.”

tessa speaking to the london free press about their new free dance


I can see why Tessa and Scott are getting a special arrangement for their free dance. They will have to make a great transition from Glazunov to Scriabin that's imperceptible, but they’ll really need to rely on their music designer to create this. The two pieces are beautiful but they do not easily segue into each other. One piece doesn’t have a piano while second does, and these pieces are definitely NOT in the same scale, even not in relative or parallel scales. In their previous dances, we have seen transitions that allow one piece to flow into another with relative ease. For example, in their “The Waltz Goes On” short dance, the waltz was in G minor. The polka was in G major (which is a parallel scale to G minor), so the transition between them was almost imperceptible. The short dance then transitions back to the waltz easily because that part of the waltz is in G major. But “The Seasons” and “'Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor” are very different and I’m looking forward to see what they to do to transition between them.

Putting this free dance in perspective

I think Tessa and Scott chose great music because there’s something for everyone. Those who preferred Mahler will see those “true love” waltzes in Glazunov. Those who liked Carmen will see the grief-filled variations in Scriabin more. And those who love Tessa and Scott’s programs in particular will see the full spectrum of emotions and how good they are at managing them, all in one four-minute dance. I believe that they’ll balance these pieces in a way that will delight everyone. Maybe, if this program is truly designed to become their “program of all the programs”, we’ll even see shades from their other dances, such as fragility from Valse Triste, true love from Umbrellas of Cherbourg, modernism from Pink Floyd, perfection from Mahler, passion from Mujer Latina, enthusiasm from Funny Face and madness from Carmen.

Let’s also remember that “The Seasons” is a ballet. This particular ballet is known for being light, airy and letting the ballerinas take flight. In fact, when they’re not dancing on stage, the ballerinas are high in the air, performing the most beautiful moves. Choreographers also focus on picking soloists who really feel the music and convey it with every part of their body—and if Tessa and Scott stay true to this, then the movements in this free dance will be extraordinary.

If I had to describe this upcoming program with one word, it’d be “bittersweet”. If you asked me to explain why, I’d give you two explanations. The first one is simple: Scriabin is “bitter” and Glazunov is “sweet”. The second one is deeper ... Most likely this is Tessa and Scott’s last free dance. On one hand, because I’m eager to see the free dance, I want this moment to come quickly. I want to see the new lifts. I want to see what they’ve done over this summer. I want to see how they’ve grown. Do they feel connected enough to the program? On the other hand … I don’t want this to be over.

This has been an incredible journey for them, for us, for everyone. It’s been so long, with so many ups and downs, but I … I don’t want to say goodbye. I don’t want to. Not yet. As they finish their events over the season, there will this tickling thought on my mind—“this is their last Skate Canada, their last Trophée Eric Bompard …” Maybe that’s why Tessa said in their last interview that “they don’t know what they’ll do for next season”. Even they can’t bring themselves to make each competition feel like their last. They don’t want this feeling and neither do we. Last season, just before Worlds, I remember how newspapers used headlines like "Virtue and Moir at their last Worlds" or something like that and every fan had a little heart attack. The end of this journey is close and there’s nothing we can do. So, to me, “bittersweet” suits them, this season, and the free dance perfectly.


notes

- if you want to watch Carmen, Valse Triste or any of the other Tessa and Scott programs mentioned in this post, then click here.

- if you want to read about one of figure skating's best music designers, Hugo Chouinard, then read his interview with Icenetwork here and his interview with World Figure Skating here. Tessa and Scott worked with him for Carmen.