Russian Jazz with Bolshevik Trimmings: Modernist Composer-Pianists in Revolutionary Russia

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The purpose of this project is to highlight the piano compositions of the extraordinarily diverse period in Russian music between the emergence of pre-Revolutionary modernism in the early twentieth century and the publication of the “Muddle Instead of Music” article in 1936, the lack of State intervention in artistic matters up until the early 1930s proved to be a boon for Soviet composers. The title of this project is taken from Karleton Hackett’s review of the 1921 premiere of Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges in the Chicago Evening Post. Hackett’s misguided characterization is very telling – The Love for Three Oranges contains neither jazz nor Bolshevik influences. The figure of the composer-pianist played an important role in the development of Russian piano music in the early twentieth century; every one of the composers featured in this project was an accomplished pianist. This project presents but a small fraction of the solo piano repertoire created by the remarkable innovativecomposers of early twentieth-century Russia. A number of these composers failed to remain relevant in the post-1936 political climate and have thus vanished from history books. Yet their works offer a wealth of exciting new repertoire for pianists. In addition to discussions of each work and composer featured, special attention is given to Samuil Feinberg, whose life and works remain in obscurity. An extensive analysis of Feinberg’s Second Piano Sonata, Op. 2, and Berceuse, Op. 19a, is included since available information on Feinberg’s musical language is very scarce. References to thorough analyses and discussion of works covered is provided in the bibliography.



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