The Seasons

Alexander Glazunov

The Seasons

Op. 67

About this work

Alexander Glazunov's ballet The Seasons, Op. 67, was composed for the Russian Imperial Ballet troupe, and first staged in February 1900 at the Mariinsky Theatre under the choreographic direction of Marius Petipa. The work is not, however, a ballet in the conventional sense, lacking as it does any clearly defined scenario. Instead, Glazunov's The Seasons is cast in the form of a series of (appropriately) four tableaux, each of which is further subdivided; this model is similar to that of Tchaikovsky's piano work of the same name, written a quarter-century earlier.

The ballet opens with a brief introduction, leading to the depiction of winter; its individual dances portray frost, ice, hail, and snow, respectively. Frost takes the form of a vigorous Polonaise, after which the violas and clarinets present a short dance suggesting ice. Hail takes the form of a scherzo, followed in turn by the waltz of the snow. Two gnomes then manage to dispel winter's grip by lighting a fire, in readiness for the arrival of spring, on the harp, to the gentle accompaniment of the zephyr, wild birds, and flowers. Following dances for each, the roses, the birds, and indeed the spring itself pass by, as the heat of high summer now approaches.

Summer's tableau is set amid the ripening corn, which dances along with wild poppies and cornflowers; all collapse exhausted in the heat, and as they rest, a group of water-bearing naiads arrive, dancing a graceful barcarole. A further dance follows, invoking the spirit of the corn, with an important clarinet solo. During the coda, fauns and satyrs try to carry off the spirit of the corn, but their attempts to do so are curtailed by the zephyr. Autumn is the season of new wine, and the fruits of the harvest. It is presented now by a wild dance to Bacchus, the god of the vintage. We hear fleeting references to themes from the earlier seasons, before the bacchanal of autumn returns, only to be eventually subdued as the leaves begin to fall from the trees. Finally, as the stage darkens, the stars of the heavens encircle the earth, a token of changeless, timeless eternity as the work draws to a close.