Master musician and representative of the St Petersburg tradition, by GORDON RUMSON
In this era of the global village it's hard to realize that
in the past, culture was local and localized. Certain places, at
certain times and because of very specific conditions, allowed
for the growth of unique and characteristic cultural developments.
It might be a very trivial reason (could Gothic Cathedrals have
been built where there was no easily obtained stone?) or the reasons
might be complex (say, drama in Elizabethan England). Sometimes
seclusion is required for creativity.
Although today the pianistic world is cosmopolitan, in the
past very distinct regional differences in music making were plainly
evident. In the early 1800s, for example, in part because of the
quite different nature of the pianos being built, there were two
distinct 'schools' in Vienna and London. Other schools developed
(French, German, American), each with some underlying principles
that deliver a characteristic tendency to the performance. One
of the later schools was the Russian.
Although it may seem that way to outsiders, the 'Russian
School of Piano Playing' is not a monolithic unity. Though
many artists have been taught its principles and many musicians
can trace their roots back to the representatives of this tradition,
there are many aspects to it.
Most important for the history of Russian pianism are the two
locations in Moscow and Leningrad, now again St Petersburg. (This
is not to reduce the significance of other schools or areas, such
as Kiev.) But there are differences of style and manner between
Moscow and St Petersburg and it should be remembered that many
of the pianists and competition participants that represented
Russia during the Soviet era were from Moscow, partly because
of proximity to the corridors of power. Moscow pianists tended
towards a muscular clarity and strong willed emphasis on power
and projection. Even now, when one thinks of the Russian School
this kind of pianism comes to mind.
The St Petersburg school tended towards a different ideal,
one more philosophic and reflective. Sound, not mere projection,
was the ideal. The very expressivity of the piano sound itself
was the goal. The pianist and longtime faculty member at the St
Petersburg Conservatory, Nathan Perelman wrote:
"The piano sound has amazing potentials. One can ignite
and extinguish it. It blazes and it smolders. It soars like a
rocket leaving behind but a pedal trace. It flows and boils.
Yet with all these it is not water or fire, but
Copyright © 25 March 2004
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada