The Power of Russian Music Spirit: Keys as Color in Rachmaninov’s Piano Etudes-Tableaux Op.33

Ruoxu CHEN


The intention of this study is to explore the collection of Etudes-Tableaux for piano solo by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) for the composer’s unique manipulation of tonal areas as the basis of the Romantic concept of musical color. What is the harmonic linkage that binds these etudes together internally as a set? In order to understand how Rachmaninov uses tonal areas and keys to invoke a special quality, let us first define what we mean by “color.” Traditionally, the term “color” refers to the texture and density of sonority, hence sonic color. In this case, the notion of “color” is related to the way tonal areas and keys play a significant role in the musical context by creating a desired atmosphere and an emotional quality. Intrinsic harmonic qualities of tonal regions are essential to Rachmaninov’s musical expression, according to which color areas may be seen as tableaux or sonic pictures. The term Tableau in Rachmaninov’s double title to signify a “picture” or “painting” also strongly reflects the composer’s use of musical color to suggest some kind of pictorial connotation.


Rachmaninov; Piano music; Piano performance; Etudes

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