Recorded on 03/15/2006, uploaded on 02/26/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Op. 39 (1916-1917)
Rachmaninov wrote two sets of Etudes-Tableaux.
The title "picture-etude" was apparently coined by Rachmaninoff, although this
form is not unique to him.
Each piece presents a pianistic problem, in the tradition of the etude.
In addition to this, an extra-musical idea is implied, although Rachmaninoff
was reluctant to reveal any program associated with the Etudes-Tableaux. He stated "I do not believe in the artist
disclosing too much of his images. Let them paint for themselves what it most
suggests." Rachmaninoff found the writing of the Etudes-Tableaux very difficult after composing several large-scale
master-pieces including the Third Piano
Concerto and the Second Symphony.
He stated "[They] presented many more problems than a symphony or a concerto...
after all, to say what you have to say and say it briefly, lucidly, and without
circumlocution is still the most difficult problem facing the creative artist"
The Etudes-Tableaux were the
last works Rachmaninoff composed in Russia. Author of Rachmaninoff: His Life and Times, Robert Matthew-Walker writes that
they mark the "virtual end of nineteenth-century tradition of virtuoso writings
of the great composer-pianists". He further states that Opus 39 is a "hidden
set of variations on the composer's idee-fixe,
the Dies Irae, parts of the
plainchant being quoted directly in all of the nine studies, particularly
obvious in the first five". He adds
that in these compositions Rachmaninoff seems to be writing less in the Russian
tradition and more in the Central and Eastern European tradition. The entire
collection contains a vivid rhythmic life of its own. A different harmonic language
including modal harmonies is used and can be compared to that of the Third Concerto. Rachmaninoff's characteristic writing, at
times "virile and commanding, at others subtle and understated is an
aspect...which also ensures the immortality of his music" (Matthew-Walker).
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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