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Études-Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 8

Oh man, this is HST Week but I’ve done nothing but HSRs; I swear, I’ve got all the musical stuff planned, but school stuff and parental stuff are seriously hampering my efforts to do something. At least I’ve got that Level E 7 post done (for next next day).

Thus, I offer you a low-quality (don’t know what happened to my camera) rendition of Rachmaninoff’s 8th Étude-Tableau, from his Opus 33 works.


Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was born on April Fool’s Day, 1873 (Rick Astley didn’t exist then) in Semyonovo. Let’s just say it’s in Russia, alright. He studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and later studied piano, harmony, and counterpoint with many talented (though not necessarily famous) musicians of the day.

Sergei started composition even as a student, winning various awards and accolades for excellence in composition with his opera, Aleko, and his First Piano Concerto.

In 1893, Tchaikovsky, one of Rachmaninoff’s most admired composers, died. Rachmaninoff soon composed his First Symphony to a horrible premiere, setting him in depression for over three years without composing a thing.

Other stuff happened, including a tour to the United States as a pianist in 1909 (he composed his third Piano Concerto for this occasion).

Along with many Russian contemporaries such as Prokofiev, the February Revolution caused Rachmaninoff to emigrate, eventually settling in America the following year. To earn a living, he performed extensively in many parts of the country – however, this added burden also caused him to slow composition, finishing only six works between 1918 and his death.

He fell sick in 1942, giving his last recital on February 17th, 1943.

The performance included Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, including its third movement, the Marche funèbre, or Funeral March.

Sergei Rachmaninoff died on March 28th, 1943, almost 70 years of age.


Rachmaninoff’s composition was heavily focused on the piano. His mastery of counterpoint was absolute, having had extensive training with learned men of the time. However, unlike counterpoints of, say, Bach, Rachmaninoff also used much chromatic counterpoint, drawing from influences by composers like Prokofiev.

As a pianist, he was extremely skilled, possessing extraordinary technical capability, great skill and accuracy, and an incredible near-photographic (phonographic?) memory, remembering pieces played to him once more than a year ago.

He composed two sets of études-tableaux, Opus 33 and Opus 39, around 1911 and 1917, respectively. They are both characterized by requiring an immense amount of skill and technical accuracy to perform well, while still needing to ‘feel’ the music – a feat not well accomplished.

For one, I hardly did that – ‘feeling’ the music, especially if it’s technically challenging, is quite a difficult task. Nevertheless, when performed right, these ‘study pictures’ can be a beautiful thing.

Yes, I just transformed a plural noun into a singular noun.

Because I can.

2 responses

  1. Very, very nice! I wish I could play piano. I found an old book once with compositions by Debussy, and I tried to play “the snow is dancing”, because my housemate had a piano. Of course, I can barely read music, so it was kind of painful, but it was also kind of amazing since even a few bars played slowly over and over sounds awesome on a nice instrument.

    2011/02/27 at 09:09

  2. Hey, if you have the will (and the time), you can probably do it if you try hard enough!

    2011/02/27 at 19:33