Sketches for four hands and a piano

Gavrilin's cadences are quick as a carousel. © Charles Thibo
Gavrilin’s cadences are quick as a carousel. © Charles Thibo

Hey, someone is having fun here! Actually, two people are. Two pianists, Fanny Solter and Eva-Maria Rieckert, playing Gavrilin’s “Piano Sketches for Four Hands”. Listen to this – it’s halfway between romanticism and jazz! Made in Russia. Who would have thought that?

Valerij Gavrilin lived between 1939 and 1999 and wrote the 18 “sketches” in the 1970es. According to the homepage of the Russian Chamber Art Society, Gavrilin was a neo-romantic composer and wrote “4 ballets, 3 operas, some 60 pieces for piano for two and four hands, more than 50 art songs, symphonic works, vocal-symphonic works, instrumental and vocal chamber music, and music for 38 theatre plays and 11 films”. Oxford Music Online has a few more biographical details: He taught composition at the Rimsky-Korsakov Music School in Leningrad from 1965-73 and was nominated People’s Artist of Russia in 1965. Gavrilin’s hometown Vologda, located some 200 miles north-east of Moscow, is organizing a regular music festival to honour the composer.

Inspired by folk music

The fact that Gavrilin was raised in the Russian backwoods may explain why he became interested in the region’s folk songs, which seem to have to a large degree defined his musical language. According to Oxford Music Online, the folk tradition distinctly appears in his work “Russian Exercise Book”, published in 1965, and Gavrilin was definitely in good company when he pursued this path. Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) and the “Mighty Five” – Balakirev, Cui, Rimski-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky – who followed Glinka in his footsteps made a point of composing distinctive Russian music and relied upon Russia’s rich folklore tradition to provide basic components.

What’s more important, is that Gavrilin obviously knew what he was doing when he was around a piano. His “sketches” are light-hearted, amusing piano pieces with quick cadences and with a touch of self-irony every now and then. They feature prominently on the teaching program of German music schools, but I have found only one recording.

A healing effect

I stumbled over this composer by pure chance, when I found his name on a set of piano pieces played by a Russian pianist of the name of Julia Belova. She is living in Luxembourg and records each year piano music for the promotional CD of a bank. Since I never had heard the name of that composer before, I did some research on the internet and found the recording by the duo Solter/Rieckert. Well, I don’t regret it. The album is always cheering me up and some of the “sketches” actually make me laugh out whenever I listen to them. Talk about the healing effect of classical music!

© Charles Thibo

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