Friday, March 13, 2015

Rachmaninoff's Little Red Riding Hood Etude, played by Valentina Lisitsa

"Rachmaninoff admitted to Respighi that #6 told the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, which he had read to his daughter. The composer usually avoided program music, and, I think, with good reason. His imagination wasn't really stirred by the physical or by drama. For example, his operas, although extremely polished, I find very weak affairs dramatically. Here, if you didn't know the story, you wouldn't have guessed. Even knowing the story, you don't necessarily see it unfolding in the music. Growling runs in the bass represent the wolf, of course, and a flighty flight of notes in the soprano represent the fleeing heroine. That's about as specific as the music gets. However, as an abstract piece of music that plays off these two themes, it's a honey. Rachmaninoff is indeed a composer full of drama, but it's inner, not stage, drama."
-Classical Net Review, Steve Shwartz

This aggressive and daunting piece opens with threatening chromatic octave runs low on the keyboard, answered by quick, chattering treble figures that eventually transform themselves into a march. The music grows hectic and, having reached presto, sounds nearly out of control. The effect of the piece is seemingly mysterious yet fully unified.[2]Referred to as "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf",[3] the piece ends with the chromatic runs sounding as though the wolf swallowed Red Riding Hood whole.[4]

I shared this Rachmaninoff etude a while back but was curious as to how the composer chose to portray the story in the music. What do you think of the idea that the piece's closing represents the more macabre ending? Before the end, the low growling bass drops out and the soprano continues by itself, growing calmer. Maybe the low growls at the end are not the wolf's devouring Little Red, but his groans as he struggles against the stones sewn into his stomach before he dies? Sometimes the best fairy tale interpretations are a little more ambiguous...

Illustrations: Melissa Jayne Rathbone


  1. I so love this post! And this piece of music. The images which you have chosen to accompany this are perfect. Thank you for sharing! x

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! And yes this art is phenomenal, I'm happy I found these images :)