Russian Piano in review

Yes, yes, yes, it’s only a smattering.

My apologies to:

  • Mosolov
  • Ustvolskaya
  • Anatoly Lyadov
  • Lyapunov
  • A. Tcherepnin
  • Myaskovsky
  • Kabalevsky
  • Gubaidulina
  • Catoire

And more.

As you may have seen, we spent significant time in the first decade of the 20th century, where lots of Medtner, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin happened, but before that, in the real heart of the Romantic era, with a slew of other piano works (solo or not) that we could have discussed.

To be honest, this whole series centered around Scriabin. He was the reason for the whole month, specifically his fifth sonata, that landmark achievement in music history, a piece I’d come to love years ago but never quite knew (and obviously still don’t know) how to talk about. That one little itch led to myriad discoveries.

I was asked in an Uber this weekend 100 miles away from my home (not by the driver) what I started listening to when I decided I would make a serious study of music, and I said, almost hesitantly “Chopin.” But Scriabin was a logical extension of that interest in Romantic piano music, and I knew it before I realized how. After some persistent head-banging against the wall of the early sonatas, things finally started to click, and I scratched that itch, and fell in love with his sonatas, especially the late works. And that’s how I came across folks like Roslavets and Samuil Feinberg, so yes, as discussed on the train and in the car in recent conversations, exploration of unfamiliar work is beyond worth it.

But this is a review of the series. It was pretty compact, jumping from Tchaikovsky to Scriabin, with only a (delightful) Borodin quartet to come anywhere close to bridging that gap. What a little package of Russian music does make me wonder is this: do these folks really have that much in common just because of where they were born? Who does Scriabin have more in common with: Tchaikovsky or Chopin? Now, for folks who lived through similar times and trials, like Scriabin and Roslavets, or Roslavets and Prokofiev or whatever, there are compares and contrasts to be made, sure, but can you really listen to something unfamiliar and say “That’s Russian!”? With the sonatas of Rachmaninoff or Medtner, probably, but is it even meaningful to package them all together that way?

I think the relevance of doing a series like this is perhaps more effective in showing contrast rather than parallels. That is to say “Look at what this one culture gives us, different angles of the same or similar things, in so many different ways.” Or something like that.

Also it’d just been a long time since we did any solo piano music, but stay tuned later this very day for an intro article to what you can look forward to in November, and it’s very exciting.


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