The Seasons

Ballet allégorique in one act
Music by Alexander Glazunov

World Première
20th February [O.S. 7th February] 1900
Imperial Theatre of the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Original 1900 Cast
Winter
Alexei Bulgakov

Frost
Anna Pavlova

Ice
Julia Sedova

Hail
Vera Trefilova

Snow
Lyubov Petipa

Zephyr
Nikolai Legat

The Rose
Olga Probrazhenskaya

The Swallow
Varvara Rykhlyakova

The Spirit of the Corn
Matilda Kschessinskaya

The Faun
Mikhail Obukhov

The Satyrs
Alexander Gorsky
Alexander Shiryaev

Bacchus
Pavel Gerdt

Bacchantes
Marie Petipa

Plot
Frost, Ice, Hail and Snow press tightly around harsh Winter. Frost weaves its lace, Ice drifts and Hail patters. Two grey-haired gnomes emerge from the forest. They set fire to the brushwood and drive off Winter with its hot flames. The first breaths of Spring merge with Zephyr’s warm wind. The birds and flowers lovingly surround Spring. Summer approaches. The Sun heats the earth with its bright rays. Curly-headed cornflowers and scarlet poppies circle in a waltz, as if embracing the ripe ears of rye. The sounds of a reed pipe are heard. Satyrs and fauns come running. They begin to struggle with each other as they try to carry off the Spirit of the Corn, but Zephyr comes to the rescue and the Spirit is saved. Autumn arrives and with it the grape harvest. Satyrs and bacchantes perform elaborate dances, drawing in everyone around.

Pavel Gerdt as Bacchus and Marie Petipa as Bacchante (1900)
Pavel Gerdt as Bacchus and Marie Petipa as Bacchante (1900)

History
The Seasons was the second of the three ballets created by Petipa for the 1900-1901 season at the Hermitage Theatre, commissioned by Ivan Vsevolozhsky. The ballet is a plotless ballet divertissement that represents the four seasons through Petipa’s classical formula of danced tableaux. The music was composed by Alexander Glazunov, though it had been originally planned that Riccardo Drigo would compose The Seasons, while Glazunov would compose the third ballet of the trilogy Harlequinade. However, the two composers and friends agreed that Glazunov should compose The Seasons, while Drigo should compose Harlequinade.

The Seasons premièred on the 20th February [O.S. 7th February] 1900 at the Hermitage Theatre, with the entire Imperial Court in attendance.

Julia Sedova as Ice (1900)
Julia Sedova as Ice (1900)

In 1907, Petipa’s version of The Seasons was revived by Nikolai Legat and premièred at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre with Olga Preobrazhenskaya as the Spirit of the Corn, Vera Trefilova as the Rose, Georgy Kyaksht as the Faun and Anna Pavlova as Bacchante. Legat’s production was performed on occasion by the Imperial Ballet after the Russian Revolution. The ballet was performed for the final time by the company in 1927.

The Seasons was first introduced to the west by Mikhail Mordkin when he choreographed and staged a new version of the Bacchanale at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Mordkin’s Bacchanale was first performed by Vera Fokina and Sophia Fedorova with two satyrs, six Greek youths and six Greek maidens, one of which was danced by Bronislava Nijinska. In 1910, Mikhail Fokine choreographed his own edition of the Bacchanale, which premièred at the Hall of the Assembly of the Nobility in Saint Petersburg, performed by Anna Pavlova and Laurent Novikov. Pavlova included Fokine’s Bacchanale abridgement of the ballet in her company’s repertoire, with the role of Bacchante being one of her favourite roles.

Alexander Gorsky as a Satyr (1900)
Alexander Gorsky as a Satyr (1900)

The Seasons has been presented in various productions all over the world and Glazunov’s music has even been used in popular culture. For example, the Autumn Bacchanale is used as the introductory music for the BBC’s annual Richard Dimbleby Lectures. Part of the Adagio from the Autumn tableaux was used by Guy Mauffette as the musical theme for the long-running Radio-Canada soap opera Un homme et son péché (1939-1962) and its later adaptation for television Les Belles Histoires des pays d’en haut (1956-1970).

 

Sources

  • Nijinska, Bronislava, (1992) Bronislava Nijinska: Early Memoirs. Translated ed. by Irina Nijinska and Jean Rawlinson. Duke University Press Books