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Performance of Rachmaninov’s Piece on a Theme of Paganini by Stephen Hough

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The video is a performance of a Sergei Rachmaninov piece on a theme of Paganini, Op 43 by the 55-year old British-born classical pianist, writer and composer Stephen Andrew Gill Hough as the soloist (Phil Bravo et al). Being a successful former student of the Julliard School, he is a worldwide known performer.  The piece was a solo written from July 3 to August 18 of the year 1934 when Rachmaninov was already an established artist and decent performer. Its most distinctive trait is inescapable Russian theme (Phil Bravo et al). With Rachmaninov as the soloist, the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by a Leopold Stokowski performed the piece for the first time in Baltimore, Maryland at a re-known opera house, the Lyric Opera House. The instrumentation ranges from those with heavy tones and dominance like the Hough's piano to those with seemingly low music timbre like the clarinet (Phil Bravo et al). It goes on for a duration of about 23 minutes.

Structural Concepts

                                i.            Pitch

In this performance, the instruments that contribute to the pitch are mainly the piccolo, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and the English horn just to mention a few. This attribute of music is evident and dominant since the instrumentation varies from the highest sounding instruments to the lowest (Phil Bravo et al). In this performance, Hough’s piano links the different instruments to counter even the perceived high pitch of the many instruments involved.


                              ii.            Myth

The clearest myth revolving around this performance would be the story of the original composer himself, Rachmaninov. At the time he was releasing this masterpiece, Sergei was already, a re-known composer and writer of music. His works are among the most spoken about and still played in the classical repertoire.

                            iii.            Melody

Melody is also the tune, voice, or line. The glockenspiel and string instruments are among the instruments that provide the melody in the performance. The different instruments and Hough’s piano join and even with them being from different categories, they create a melody nothing short of heavenly.  The strings are the main contributors to the melody mainly the strong bellow of the cello.  

                            iv.            Tonality

The tone is built around the dominant points. These are fundamental blocks dictated by the instruments involved. There are many string and wind instruments in the performance, the violins, cellos, clarinets just to mention a few (Phil Bravo et al). The tonality of this performance can best be described as stable and even with the varying tone perfect. Hough, with the piano, dictates the tone of the music.



                               v.            Tempo

This basically, being the speed of the underlying beat is dictated by the different categories of instruments. For this performance, it can be said to also contribute to the overall texture of the performance in the opera. The speed of the piece ranges from the fast pace of the string instruments to a slow and smooth but powerful sound of instruments like the English horn and snare drums.

                            vi.            Tone colour

It is also referred to like the music timbre or tone quality. In this performance, the string instruments are the source of the perceived sound quality (Music, Coughlin and SkyLeap). This allows the listeners to hear many instruments even from the same category as separate and distinctive. The piano especially being the dominant instrument still, leaves space for the soft instruments like the clarinets (Music, Coughlin and SkyLeap). The tone quality of each instrument allows one to tell the difference between the sounds you hear.

                          vii.            Texture

Of the three music textures namely monophonic, polyphonic and homophonic the performance falls in the category of homophonic since it is neither plain nor melodic lines, but it has one main melody with harmonic support from some instruments the primary instrument being the piano (Estella). The piano is the main melody of the performance and Hough being the pianist he dictates the texture of the piece.

                        viii.            Harmony

The composition of many sounds from different instruments to create a simultaneous action is something that reveals the prowess of Rachmaninov as a composer and Houghs as an artist (Phil Bravo et al). The string instruments; the violins, the cello and the leading ones join into a harmonized tune of the piece on the theme of Paganini (DDan et al).



From the opening to the end, Hough’s performance had precise fluidity and a captivating balance to it. It seemed to float gracefully in the hush of the anticipating audience. The famous 18th variation was played in an individual and new way only known to the maestro, Stephen, but it spoke volumes to the crowds whose oozing respect and love for the piece was clear as a day (Phil Bravo et al). He is an immaculate artistic god who makes playing look comfortable with his revamped and ingenious way of playing. There is no one word to describe the performance, but if I was to say, it was the most ravishing piano playing conceivable, which is an understatement.

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