Expressive inflection: applying the principles of Sergey Rachmaninoff’s performance in my own practice

Lapshin, K. (2019) Expressive inflection: applying the principles of Sergey Rachmaninoff’s performance in my own practice. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


The interpretative approach called expressive inflection (‘intonatsiya’ in Russian) is relatively unknown to the Western music tradition. However, the term was actively in use by Russian musicians and pedagogues in the early twentieth century. In this thesis, I explore Sergey Rachmaninoff’s engagement with this approach demonstrated in his recordings through a practical portfolio of my own performance practice. The purpose of this project is to consider possible applications of this method in performance today. The thesis offers a definition of expressive inflection in performance based on my own practical experience, informed by a consideration of writings of Rachmaninoff’s contemporaries, recorded performances of Rachmaninoff and other pianists who practised this approach. As part of this work I also offer a brief historical background to the term expressive inflection as well as a brief overview of Rachmaninoff’s pianistic career and recorded legacy. Also in order to offer a broader picture of Rachmaninoff’s performance style and present it in the context of Western tradition, a single chapter of this work has been devoted to Rachmaninoff-pianist’s relationship with what may be called Romantic pianism. Here, more contemporary research on early recordings has been considered. The portfolio of performances is accompanied by a commentary focusing on five case studies which focus on different applications of expressive inflection. For these studies I have chosen recordings of different works made by Rachmaninoff and the recordings of the same works produced by myself, as well as my own recordings of different works illustrating the ideas discussed in case studies and expanding them further. The choice of Rachmaninoff’s recordings reflects my aim to incorporate various details of the approach in a comprehensive and convincing way. Within these studies, several topics have been considered: tempo fluctuation and micro-rubato as part of expressive inflection; expressive inflection as a tool in building imaginative framework of a piece; expressive inflection as a tool in structuring a work; and the ways in which interpretations evolve over time.

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