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Thursday, 26 November 2020, 6:00PM - 7:00PM
Online Lecture

Russian Piano Masterpieces: Rachmaninov

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker FBA, Peter Donohoe CBE

There is no need to introduce Rachmaninov, considered by many to be the greatest composer-pianist in history and the creator of several famous items on the “classical hit parade”. But his very popularity has always detracted from the value of his music in the eyes of scholars, who tend to view his music as merely middlebrow. This is a serious misunderstanding of his art, and has left the complexity and subtlety of his music underappreciated.

The secrets of his immersive and compelling music still have to be uncovered, even if their effects are well known to an adoring public. Taking a selection from Rachmaninov’s Preludes, we will concentrate on three crucial aspects of his piano music: the “Russianness” of his materials (whether real or imagined), the complexity of his scoring (how much can a pair of hands manage, or the human ear digest?), and the art of dramatic timing (how does he construct a climax, and how does he descend from the peak?). 

The exploration of these three elements helps to understand the extraordinary artistry and technique behind this music’s irresistible appeal.


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Marina Frolova-Walker is Gresham Professor of Music. She is a Russian-born British musicologist and music historian. She is Professor of Music History and Director of Studies in Music at Clare College, Cambridge. 

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker is a specialist in the Russian music of the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published extensively on Russian music and is a well-known lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. Among her many awards and appointments, she is a Fellow of the British Academy and was awarded the Edward Dent Medal in 2015 by the Royal Musical Association for her achievements in musicology. 

She was appointed as Visiting Gresham Professor of Russian Music in 2018-19. 

You can find more information on Marina and her research interests here: https://www.marinafrolova-walker.com/

Professor Frolova-Walker's lecture series are as follows:

2020/21 Russian Piano Masterpieces

2019/20 Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

2018/19 Russian Opera and the State (as Visiting Gresham Professor of Russian Music)

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Music can be accessed here.

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Peter Donohoe CBE is one of Britain’s foremost pianists, whose international career was launched by his success at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Since then, he has performed at the world’s major venues, including the Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House and the Teatro Colón, collaborating with conductors such as Simon Rattle, Yevgeni Svetlanov and Gustavo Dudamel, and he has appeared at the BBC Proms a remarkable twenty-two times. 

In the course of his forty-year career, Russian music has always been at the core of his huge repertoire. His highly acclaimed recordings include all the Tchaikovsky concertos, all the Scriabin sonatas, all the Rachmaninov preludes, all the Prokofiev sonatas, Stravinsky’s music for piano solo and with orchestra, and all the Shostakovich sonatas, concertos and preludes and fugues.

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