Rachmaninov, Études-tableaux, Op 39
Rachmaninov composed two sets of études-tableaux, Opus 33 (1911) and Opus 39 (1917). The works follow in the tradition of etudes by Chopin and Liszt: character pieces presenting specific technical challenges. Kapustin’s jazz etude featured last week, for that matter, belongs to the same tradition.
Rachmaninov, however, had in mind specific pictures or extra-musical themes as the inspiration for these works (hence the title études-tableaux or “picture studies”). He did not identify the artworks that inspired each etude or use programmatic titles, preferring to let the listener conjure his own images. Rachmaninov did provide some background to Ottorino Respighi, however, when the latter began orchestrating some of the études-tableaux in 1930.
These works were the last to be composed by Rachmaninov in Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 prompted Rachmaninov to leave Russia. He eventually immigrated to the United States where he devoted most of his time to playing concerts, leaving him little opportunity for composing.
I got to know these works in school (many years ago) through the performances of a good friend. Of course, those performances are not available, but I’m impressed by Vyacheslav Gryaznov’s interpretation. The three etudes performed here each presents a very different texture and mood consistent with the idea of basing them on specific images.