Priceless restored recordings of Russian piano pieces from the turn of the century were played for the first time ever Wednesday in William L. Harkness Hall.
At the event, attended by about 35 students, faculty and members of the New Haven community, pianist and musicologist Elena Sorokina from the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory recounted the three decades of cultural revolution that at the turn of the 20th century marked the Russian “Silver Age.” During the period, artistic expression in the form of applied arts such as ceramics, theatrical sets and book illustrations, as well as academic arts, flourished. Sorokina focused on Russian piano culture during the period, before playing the recordings of short piano pieces by Liadov, Scriabin, Schubert and Sofronitsky.
“[During the Silver Age], piano music took a central place it had never taken before,” she said. “Even Mozart had agreed to [go] to Russia, but he died before he could.”
Sorokina, whose talk was translated from Russian by a translator, talked about the foundation of Russian piano culture, which, she said, was ironically laid by non-Russian musicians.
In the late 18th century, piano music, which had a long history in Western Europe, was in the process of being introduced in Russia. Piano music proved very popular due to its “universal nature,” allowing players to perform solo pieces, duets or even with three hands (a practice that was in vogue at the time), Sorokina said. She added that the piano’s popularity led to an influx of European musicians visiting Russia to teach the instrument.
Russians were drawn by the piano’s potential for romanticism, a major characteristic of Russian culture at the time, she said.
“Piano had always been the knight of romanticism,” Sorokina said.
Audience members interviewed said the recordings Sorokina played were unique.
“Just the fact that we are the first people to hear [the recordings] was really amazing,” Ronny Michael MUS ’12 said. “Even people in Russia didn’t hear that. That was pretty amazing.”
He added that he also enjoyed listening to Sorokina speak in Russian even though he did not understand every word.
Stephen Whale MUS ’11 described the recordings as “magic,” while Nicholas Renouf, associate curator of the Collection of Musical Instruments, expressed his excitement over the pieces.
“[It was] fascinating, a rare glimpse and something that we don’t experience much of,” he said. “You can find these things but you have to look hard to do so.”
Sorokina wrote her doctoral dissertation on the history of piano duets in 1990.