Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich: Marche Slave, Op.31

In my last post, I mentioned that during the second semester of my freshman year at college in 1974, I took a piano class. This, I thought, would be my big chance. Since I loved classical music so much, I reasoned, I’d have no trouble mastering this instrument and play the pieces I loved so dearly. Pieces like Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies or Rachmaninoff’sPrelude in C Sharp Minor.

This is one of the benefits of youth: you really think you can do anything. Unfortunately, for some reason, I turned out to be quite inept. I did learn all the major scales in both hand, but I couldn’t quite memorize the notes. It was as if I was back in 6th grade band class with my clarinet all over again trying to figure out something that didn’t make any sense to me. It would be easy to blame it on the teacher, trying to learn in a group, or the basic instruction book we used, which contained pretty uninspired pieces.

Deep down, I suspect it was just because I set such unrealistic expectations for myself and the class. I remember, shortly after starting the class, sitting down with my copy of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, and just staring at the music. I could not figure out how to translate what we had gone over in class to what was on the page. It was even more frustrating trying the Satie, since that piece is slow and sounds so simple. What I didn’t understand is that it might take years training one’s mind to keep track of every finger and two feet.

Think about what happens when a person plays the piano. In any one time slice, you could have every finger on a different key. A fraction of a second, those ten digits have to rearrange themselves to form the next chord. At the same time, your mind has vary the time each one hits, the downward pressure and the upward release. Try tapping out one rhythm with one hand. Then add a different rhythm in the second. Multiply that by 5 and you get an idea of how complex. It’s almost like you have to have ten separate consciousnesses. You must train yourself to do that (through hours and hours of practice) so that it becomes automatic, so that you don’t have to think about it for thinking about it would trip you up.  Since I wasn’t polydextrous, I gave it up after that semester.

As I said, I could blame the book, but it did contain one classical piece, which was fun to play. That was an excerpt from today’s piece, Tchaikowski’s Marche Slave. As the name suggests, it is a wonderfully Slavic sounding piece. You could imagine yourself on a boat going down the Neva River watching a troop of Cossacks ride by. It shares that wonderfully ponderous and lumbering feeling with other Russian music.

It wasn’t until some twenty years later, however, that I actually heard the full orchestral version. It is a kind of pastiche of various melodies. The first part is based on that single Russian theme, which in a not very creative way, Tchaikowsky repeats and varies about 14 times. A second section reminds you a bit of parts out of the 1812 Overture and fortunately he switches to a different tune–this time based on the Russian national anthem. The feeling of that section is at times more pensive and begins to hint at some of the beauty of his later works. Unfortunately, he slips back to the opening melody once or twice. In the final session, he does pick up the tempo a bit, repeating the national anthem and then launching into a brisk march, sounding, at times, a bit like a patriotic parade.

Nowadays, I tend to eschew such propagandistic pieces. Still, Tchaikowsky was fairly young when he wrote this and so was I when I learned to play it in Eijnar Krantz’ piano class nearly 40  years ago.

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

2 Responses to Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich: Marche Slave, Op.31

  1. I recently tried to relearn the piano (never having got beyond grade II), I managed to keep going for over a year, but my progress was miserable, the complexity of action and understanding seemed to be beyond my ageing brain. I have slowly lapsed though I still occasionally spend time with my favourite tunes (Opera Made Easy etc).


  2. kurtnemes says:

    I’ve been trying to learn the guitar for about 10 years. Just can’t find the time to devote to it. Would I had listened to my parents.


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