Études-Tableaux, Op. 39

The Études-Tableaux ("study pictures"), Op. 39 is the second set of piano études composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

They are even fuller, more finely textured and darker than the first set.[1]


The Op. 39 set comprises nine études:

  • No. 1 in C minor
This quick-paced étude demands a tireless right hand, a syncopated left hand and considerable dexterity. Technically, the music is in an almost continual climax.[2] It bears a resemblance to Chopin's Prelude in E minor.
  • No. 2 in A minor
Also known as "The Sea and the Seagulls". The work contains many musical textures that make it a difficult study in touch. It requires performers to restrain themselves and at the same time not sound monotonous. The technical workings of the étude is the 2 over 3 timing, the crossing hands, and large span of the arpeggiated figures for the left hand. This left hand figure quotes the Dies Irae plainchant, one of the many works by the composer to do so.
  • No. 3 in F minor
  • No. 4 in B minor
  • No. 5 in E minor
  • No. 6 in A minor
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.[3] Referred to as "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf",[4] the piece ends with the chromatic runs sounding as though the wolf swallowed Red Riding Hood whole.[5]
This piece was originally the fourth étude of the Op. 33 set. Since it exhibits all the pianistic, rhythmic and harmonic features that characterize the Op. 39 set, it can be assumed Rachmaninoff revised this piece extensively before including it here.[3]
  • No. 7 in C minor
  • No. 8 in D minor
This piece is a lyrical and musical study of double notes. It requires precise pedaling, flexible and independent fingers, and agility. The piece has very long, defined legato melodic lines that are contrasted by a staccato middle section.[6]
  • No. 9 in D major


  • Another recording of the Op. 39 Études-Tableaux is by Alexander Melnikov on the Harmonia Mundi label. Other works are the Op. 38 songs and the Variations on a Theme of Corelli.
  • Rachmaninoff recorded Op. 39, No. 4 (piano roll only), and Op. 39, No. 6 (electrical recording and piano roll).
  • Evgeny Kissin recorded Nos. 1,2,4,5,6,9 on the RCA Victor Red Seal label, May 16 and 17, 1988, in Watford Town Hall. 7982-2-RC. The recording also includes the Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 18, with the London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, Conductor.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ashish Xiangyi Kumar (2015-12-04), Rachmaninoff: 9 Etudes-Tableaux Op.39 (Lugansky, Hayroudinoff, Sofronitsky), retrieved 2019-03-11
  2. ^ Harrison, 207.
  3. ^ a b Harrison, 208.
  4. ^ Harrison pg. 180.
  5. ^ Harrison, 208–209.
  6. ^ Etudes-Tableaux book chapter


  • Norris, Geoffrey, Rachmaninoff (New York: Schirmer Books, 1976, 1983). ISBN 0-02-870685-4.

External linksEdit


Opus 39 played by Igor Gryshyn in Leipzig

Complete Opus 39 set by Eduardo Fernandez: