When I first stumbled upon “The Harmonic Player,” No. 12, from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 39 Children’s Album, my first thought was, “Why on earth did the great composer include such tirelessly redundant music with an unimaginative harmonic scheme and belabored melody.” For certain, as a stand-alone, it could be easily passed over— dismissed as a throwaway piece, among a list of twenty-three more highly prized musical gems.
Ironically, Program Notes surrounding “The Harmonica Player” reveal a Russian man tinkering with a small accordion (not a harmonica). He practices in a begrudgingly methodical way and then wanders off into the distance to his own choir of unresolved Dominant seventh chords. Great ending, eh?
But don’t fret–“The Harmonica Player” is dragged out of his tedious drone by a feisty folkloric Dance that follows. “Kamarinskaya” (No. 13) sweeps up the dying F-A-C-Eb Dominant 7ths, resuscitating them in an ear-grabbing transition to D Major in celebrational STACCATO!!
Without doubt, Tchaikovsky was very clever in his overall musical menu planning. He preceded the accordionist with a very singable, “Russian Song,” (No. 11) that spilled so naturally from F Major to the street musician’s flat lined Bb Major. (The F Major key is the Dominant of the player’s lament)
Finally, the progression of THREE tableaux shows a remarkable sequence of keys tied to a variety of moods: F Major to Bb Major to D Major.