Performance practice issues in Russian Piano Music

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the rapid growth of musical culture in Russia. This resulted in a large repertoire of piano music — ranging from miniatures to virtuosic etudes and sonatas. Growing out of the nineteenth century romantic tradition, and highly influenced by the social conditions of the time, Russian
composers developed a distinctive style which closely reflected their culture, personalities and ideologies.

There are several approaches to studying performance practice. One is to study the interpretations of other pianists. While this does have many advantages, it has not been adopted in this paper as it has one flaw: it still fails to capture the distinctive
language of these composers. Rather, the paper will study the social and musical influences on the composers, and, more importantly, their philosophies about pianism and the purpose of music. This will be related to interpretative issues in the works.

The repertoire has been divided into four areas. The paper commences with a study of the miniature, which is valuable in finding the ‘essence’ of a composer’s musical language expressed on a small scale. Here, the ‘elementary’ considerations in performance practice will be studied. The second chapter discusses etudes. This is
useful in gaining an insight into composers’ conception of technique, and how this relates to performance practice. The third chapter deals with music that has extramusical themes. This provides opportunity for a more detailed cultural and biographical study of the composers. To represent the large-scale repertoire of Russian composers, the sonata will be studied. Here, a detailed analysis of the composers’ musical language and its relationship to expression will be discussed.