Russian Piano Masterpieces: Stravinsky
- Extra Reading
Stravinsky’s solo piano output may be modest in size, but it contains one of the absolute pinnacles of piano virtuosity, the Three Pieces from Petrushka. To call these pieces “arrangements” from the ballet score would be true, but misleading: they are brilliant recompositions from the ballet’s material, stranger and more elusive, and with the added dimension of extreme virtuosity (he was never brave enough to give a public performance himself).
Unlike many composers, Stravinsky always wrote his music at the piano, and the feel of chords-under-fingers, pushing against each other, overlapping and colliding goes a long way towards explaining the unique harmonic imagination that still has an international influence that stretches far beyond the confines of modernist classical music. Where the Romantics had turned the piano from a complex machine into a living, breathing musical being, Stravinsky wanted to unpick the illusion, and bring the mechanical aspects to the fore. He often sought to bypass the pianist’s predilection for “expression”, and even turned to pianolas for a time, which dispense with the need for a performer altogether.
The clockwork character of his writing tends to dehumanise his source materials, whether these happen to be Russian folksongs, Baroque and Classical idioms or the latest jazz. Where does this leave a pianist who is prepared to meet this challenge?
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