About this work
Tchaikovsky intended these 24 easy pieces to be played "by" children, rather than "for" them. They're extremely short, all but two clocking in at well under a minute.
No. 1 is a slow, tender "Morning Prayer" in 3/4 time. Things pick up with the second item, a moderately-paced but stimulating "Winter Morning." No. 3 is a brisk, highly staccato 3/8 picture of a "Little Horseman." No. 4 is "Mama," an expressive, lingering portrait. A balance for such feminine material comes with No. 5, a sprightly "March of the Wooden Soldiers." All may be quiet on the battle front, but there's trouble back home. The sixth piece, "The Sick Doll," is a languishing Lento in G minor. The unfortunate sequel is "Dolly's Funeral," a C minor march marked, appropriately, Grave. Something of a wake comes with No. 8, a lively waltz. Then, the nursery being a fickle place, "The New Doll" arrives in a charming Andantino movement.
A series of folk-inspired pieces begins with No. 10, a D minor Mazurka. No. 11 is a simple, extremely short (ten bars) "Russian Folksong," one that Tchaikovsky had included in the 50 Russian folk songs he'd arranged for piano duet in 1869. No. 12 is a sentimental "Peasant's Song," in which Tchaikovsky evokes a concertina wheezing back and forth between two chords. No. 13 is called, generically, "Folk Song" (Russian Dance), and employs the same tune Glinka used in his orchestral Kamarinskaya. No. 14 is a rousing little polka. The next piece heads south; it's a lively "Italian Ditty" with the staccato oom-pah-pah accompaniment one hears in many early and middle Verdi arias. No. 16 swings northwest for a placid, antique-sounding, G minor "French Melody." No. 17 is a "German Song" with a hint of yodeling, and for No. 18 it's back to Italy for a "Neapolitan Dance Tune," a stripped-down version of part of the "Neapolitan Dance" in Swan Lake.
No. 19 returns to the nursery at bedtime with an evocative C major "Old Nurse's Song." When the lights go out, the witch "Baba-Yaga" appears in E minor -- yet she seems to have arrived from Liadov's quirky little orchestral piece of the same name rather than from the terrifying penultimate movement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. No. 21 brings lovely, melodic "Sweet Dreams," the set's longest piece. Soon it's time to wake up to the "Song of the Lark," a relatively bravura piece full of right-hand arabesques. It's Sunday morning, as we'll soon discover, and upon leaving the house we encounter "The Organ-Grinder," Tchaikovsky picked up this Moderato 3/4 tune from a Venetian street singer and would soon incorporate it into the middle section of the "Rêverie interrompue" closing his Opus 40 set of piano pieces. Finally, No. 24 finds us "In Church" -- Russian Orthodox, of course, as we can tell from the E minor chanting and low pedal-point tolling of a bell toward the end.