On Khachaturian, the School of Russian Pianism and musical analysis

Updated: Feb 5


The Question with no answer

Recently my online student from the United States once more became a third prize winner of the 2021 International Piano Competition with the solo piano version of the Masquerade, a waltz written by Aram Khachaturian's for the production of the play by Russian playwright Michail Lermontov.

Undoubtedly, working with gifted and hardworking youth in some way is more straightforward than, say, working with the piano beginner. Being an accomplished pianist, my student can adopt new techniques fast. After all, the technique is a universal, "hands on" skill. However, when it comes to the performance of the Russian piece of music, how can someone deliver a compelling and intelligent performance while not being Russian or acquainted with Russian history, literature, art, customs and folk music? To claim that I have found the answer to the above question would be deceit due to its rhetorical nature. However, the process of pursuing the answer made me think about what makes Khachaturian's waltz so Russian and what the umbrella term "Russian piano school" really means?

Russian soul - steel core wrapped in silk

Upon listening to the original (orchestral) version of the Masquerade Waltz (see above), one is instantly transported to the world of the Tsar's Russia with its balls, crinoline, parquet, snow, fur and Champagne, love and tragedy. The composer has skilfully blended firm, almost military meter and harmony with fiery dynamic progression, tender, sometimes even sensual melody and waltz form. This fusion perfectly reflects the very duality of the Russian soul- steel core wrapped in silk.

Music analysis lies at the heart of the Russian school of classical pianism. Although the term "music analysis " sound complex and not at all enticing, its aim is far from being boring! Music analysis is an investigation, a journey, a fantastic quest. To deliver a fully emotionally engaged performance, one often needs to dive beneath the "now" surface of the score and technique and into the world of the past. Only there, in the faded and mysterious realm inhabited with bleak ghosts of the past, one may find the answers and comprehend the message concealed in harmony, form and orchestration.


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