Russian Romanticism and the "Hollywood Sound"

7 posts

Bronze Age Pervert

Maybe not good to bring up Hollywood in this, but Rachmaninoff did end up living in Beverly Hills, and the old Hollywood sound did try to go for two things, glamor and romance. And late Russian romantic music, in particular Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff is best for this. In particular Rachmaninoff I think is the best for evoking the feeling of romantic passion. The old Hollywood sound is cribbed from late Russian romantic music...

This aside, I think Rachmaninoff, an exiled and melancholic aristocrat, is one of the most elegant composers, there is undeniable aristocratic and elegant quality to his music, despite its sentimentality. It is the longing of an exiled aristocrat for the Russian ancien regime! Music theory snobs with an academic bent despise him, supposedly because he was not "progressive" enough and didn't keep up with innovations in 20th century music (Marxist interpretation of music, as if there's such a thing as reactionary music; I'm sure there's a good communist bent to this too because he was not a Red), but also because among classical composers he's popular with regular people. But this is because he was able to find good tunes, something very few can actually do. Real musicians, and "the people" enjoy him, with some exceptions of course...it's only the middling "intellectuals" and so on who affect a dislike of popular composers like Rachy.

I don't associate him with old Hollywood myself, he sounds very Russian, and he has fin-de-siecle decadent sound.

Here are two very characteristic, but less-played things, he was best at slow movements. This is the middle slow movement of his first piano concerto, written when he was only 17; he's playing it himself!

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/QUzi1DNBEVk

Real life isn't like this I want to kill myself :(

Here is the middle movement of his last piano concerto,

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/6h-EbTnTBjg

The music is very "impressionistic" or colorist and laid-back, I think it tries to go for elegant detached mood....but then around minute 4 breaks out into a typical Rachmaninoff melancholy super-Russian tune and then rises to an emotional climax of no restraint. Don't play this music with just any girl she will get the wrong idea!! Here is the pianist Lugansky musing about this concerto in a typical Russian sentimental way:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/eqW9NLHdYXQ

Stars Down To Earth

Interesting thread. I also happen to be a fan of Russian classical music.

My favourite is probably his 3rd concerto:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/r9OKCI734fk

I find it odd that Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky (who both have that ultra-Russian melancholic sound) are expressing themselves through "Western-style" classical sounds, and not by borrowing from traditional Russian folk music like some other composers did. They whole framework is very Western, yet they still express that Russian sense for the tragical in their music.

Russians are good at aestheticising gloom and depression, it seems.

popfop
Bronze Age Pervert

The Fritz Reiner/Horowitz recording is the best of this concerto, and one of the best recordings of any piece of music overall. You knew it!!

I agree about Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, they're not trying to be Russian in a self-conscious way, so maybe they capture the Russian soul better and more casually than the St. Petersburg group who were trying to be nationalist and "ethnic." I think "ethnic" themes in classical music are tacky anyway. It's one thing to draw inspiration form folk music, it's another to stylize it in a self-consciously "folksy" way, I never like that. A lot of it I think was driven by anti-German sentiment too, which is stupid, since the great German composers before Schumann are composing in a European style.

The national character will come through anyway. The first time I heard the Grieg piano concerto I knew it was Scandinavian, despite the fact that I'd never heard of Grieg at that point.
Bronze Age Pervert
Stars Down To Earth

Slightly off topic:

The whole phenomenon of Russian melancholia and aesthicisation of tragedy is rather fascinating to me. It's not just expressed in the music of Russian classical composers like Tchaikovsky, but also in their literature and folk songs and so on. I've wondered sometimes how the Russians became that way, since this depressive tendency isn't shared by any other Slavic peoples.

I've copy-pasted an interesting post from ABF which concluded that this gloomy attitude is not a "Russian thing", but rather a general "Finno-Ugric thing". The close genetic links between Russians and Finns seem to confirm this theory. Apparently, this cultural quirk is also shared by the Finnish people, this sense for melancholy (and tendency to self-destructive escapism) that developed among these pale-skinned men of the dark snowy forests who only seen daylight a few weeks per year.

popfop
This quote made me think of the painting Burning the Brushwood (1893) by Eero Järnefelt, an important contributor to the Fennoman Movement. The painting depicts the slash-and-burn method of forestry and while most viewers would be struck by the depressing harshness of the situation, Järnefelt intended it to be a point of pride for Finns. That a people could survive by subsistence-level means is a credit to their perseverance, an integral component of the Finnish sisu .