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Thursday, 26 November 2020, 6:00PM - 7:00PM
Online Lecture

Russian Piano Masterpieces: Rachmaninov

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker

There is no need to introduce Rachmaninov, considered by many to be the greatest composer-pianist in history and the creator of several famous items on the “classical hit parade”. But his very popularity has always detracted from the value of his music in the eyes of scholars, who tend to view his music as merely middlebrow. This is a serious misunderstanding of his art, and has left the complexity and subtlety of his music underappreciated.

The secrets of his immersive and compelling music still have to be uncovered, even if their effects are well known to an adoring public. Taking a selection from Rachmaninov’s Preludes, we will concentrate on three crucial aspects of his piano music: the “Russianness” of his materials (whether real or imagined), the complexity of his scoring (how much can a pair of hands manage, or the human ear digest?), and the art of dramatic timing (how does he construct a climax, and how does he descend from the peak?). 

The exploration of these three elements helps to understand the extraordinary artistry and technique behind this music’s irresistible appeal.


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Given Covid-19, we are live-streaming all our lectures online in 2020-21 and aim to re-introduce in-person lectures gradually as social distancing rules change.

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Marina Frolova-Walker is Gresham Professor of Music. She is a Russian-born British musicologist and music historian. She is Professor of Music History and Director of Studies in Music at Clare College, Cambridge. 

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker is a specialist in the Russian music of the 19th and 20th centuries. She has published extensively on Russian music and is a well-known lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. Among her many awards and appointments, she is a Fellow of the British Academy and was awarded the Edward Dent Medal in 2015 by the Royal Musical Association for her achievements in musicology. She was a Visiting Professor of Russian Music at Gresham in 2018-19. 

Professor Marina Frolova-Walker said:

“I am honoured and excited to take up the position of 36th Gresham Professor of Music, and I am delighted to have such eminent predecessors as John Bull and Iannis Xenakis. Bringing knowledge about music to a broader public has always been one of my passions, and the work of several recent Professors of Music such as David Owen Norris and Roger Parker has been an inspiration for my own activities as a public lecturer. 

“My first lecture series features the artistic project of the Ballet Russes, brainchild of the great impresario Serge Diaghilev. Prior to Diaghilev, no one thought that ballet could be transformed into a provocatively modern art, a platform for cutting-edge experiments in music, choreography and design. The project had its roots in Diaghilev’s inspired marketing of “Russianness” in the Parisian arts world, and he continued to develop his ideas until his circle had become an international hotbed of artistic innovation. “Surprise me!”, Diaghilev would say to anyone with a new proposal, and he did indeed bring about a stream of artworks that still surprise and delight us today.” 

You can find more information on Marina and her research interests here: https://www.marinafrolova-walker.com/

Professor Frolova-Walker's lecture series are as follows:

2020/21 Russian Piano Masterpieces

2019/20 Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

2018/19 Russian Opera and the State

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Music can be accessed here.

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