Sergei Rachmaninov

Biography

Born: Apr 1, 1873; Russia   Died: Mar 28, 1943; USA   Period: 20th Century
Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov, born in Semyonovo, Russia, on April 1, 1873, is today remembered as one of the most formidable pianists of all time and the last truly great composer in the Russian Romantic tradition. Rachmaninov came from a music-loving, land-owning family; young Sergey's mother fostered the boy's innate talent by giving him his first piano lessons. After a decline in the family fortunes, the Rachmaninovs moved to St. Petersburg, Read more where Sergei studied with Vladimir Delyansky at the Conservatory. As his star continued to rise, Sergei went to the Moscow Conservatory, where he received a sound musical training: piano lessons from the strict disciplinarian Nikolay Zverev and Alexander Siloti (Rachmaninov's cousin), counterpoint with Taneyev, and harmony with Arensky. During his time at the Conservatory, Rachmaninov boarded with Zverev, whose weekly musical Sundays provided the young musician the valuable opportunity to make important contacts and to hear a wide variety of music.
As Rachmaninov's conservatory studies continued, his burgeoning talent came into full flower; he received the personal encouragement of Tchaikovsky, and, a year after earning a degree in piano, took the Conservatory's gold medal in composition for his opera Aleko (1892). Early setbacks in his compositional career -- particularly, the dismal reception of his Symphony No. 1 (1895) -- led to an extended period of depression and self-doubt, which he overcame with the aid of hypnosis. With the resounding success of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (1900-1901), however, his lasting fame as a composer was assured. The first decade of the twentieth century proved a productive and happy one for Rachmaninov, who during that time produced such masterpieces as the Symphony No. 2 (1907), the tone poem Isle of the Dead (1907), and the Piano Concerto No. 3 (1909). On May 12, 1902, the composer married his cousin, Natalya Satina.
By the end of the decade, Rachmaninov had embarked on his first American tour, which cemented his fame and popularity in the United States. He continued to make his home in Russia but left permanently following the Revolution in 1917; he thereafter lived in Switzerland and the United States between extensive European and American tours. While his tours included conducting engagements (he was twice offered, and twice refused, leadership of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), it was his astounding pianistic abilities which won him his greatest glory. Rachmaninov was possessed of a keyboard technique marked by precision, clarity, and a singular legato sense. Indeed, the pianist's hands became the stuff of legend. He had an enormous span -- he could, with his left hand, play the chord C-E flat-G-C-G -- and his playing had a characteristic power, which pianists have described as "cosmic" and "overwhelming." He is, for example, credited with the uncanny ability to discern, and articulate profound, mysterious movements in a musical composition which usually remain undetected by the superficial perception of rhythmic structures.
Fortunately for posterity, Rachmaninov recorded much of his own music, including the four piano concerti and what is perhaps his most beloved work, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934). He became an American citizen a few weeks before his death in Beverly Hills, CA, on March 28, 1943. Read less
Rachmaninov: The Complete Works
Release Date: 09/23/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002145102   Number of Discs: 32
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Rachmaninov: Complete Symphonies & Piano Concertos
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002155902   Number of Discs: 1
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Rachmaninov: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
Release Date: 10/15/1996   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 5497/98   Number of Discs: 2
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Wolf, Strauss, Rachmaninov, Ives, Weill / Dawn Upshaw, Margo Garrett
Release Date: 03/10/2009   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 2521   Number of Discs: 1
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Chausson, Debussy & Rachmaninov Piano Trios
Release Date: 02/14/2012   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 6159   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Preludes (10) for Piano, Op. 23: no 5 in G minor, Alla marcia

 

About This Work
This richly resonant piano work is comprised of two contrasting moods. The first of these is a minor-key march of a Spanish or Italian marching band variety. The melody, built mostly on broken chords, is clearly heard in the bass register surrounded Read more by quick "ta-ta-dah" brass rhythmic figures played on full, repeated chords. The end of the first melodic phrase scatters into wonderfully syncopated and angular figures.

Up to this point, the general dynamic has been that of a greatly held-back intensity (at "piano" level). Suddenly, powerful major harmonies ascend in the "ta-ta-dah" rhythm, propelled on the fourth beat by quick, scale-wise octaves leading into the next chord. This thrilling passage builds from forte to fortissimo and concludes with a concerto-like crescendo of repeated chords over a deep bass pedal point, followed by an electrifying cascade of octaves leading back into the first subject now played with fortissimo energy.

 The theme gradually subsides by a series of chromatic chords and single notes over a single pedal point to a bare whisper. This segues directly into the second mood which is that of a Romantic melody in octaves played over sweeping waves of arpeggios. This lyrical strain recalls a greatly emotional, perhaps nostalgic, experience although the context remains programmatically non-specific providing no clues as to the cause of this feeling. The tempo here is somewhat elastic and rubato. The only element from the march section worked into this mood is the simple figure of two quick sixteenths used to bridge parts of that theme.

The initial mood begins to re-establish itself (at a pianississimo level) and ascends through chromatics back to the initial key, and then continues even further to reach the subdominant key (C minor). Even then the chromatic alterations do not stop until the tension has built up to the point of return of the crashing, ascending major chords of the initial bridge. This proceeds in the original key to the quickly descending octave cascade and the final recapitulation of the march theme at a fortissimo dynamic.

Rachmaninov continues his wonderfully coloristic chromatic alterations of the original chords into the diminishing coda which ends the piece with teasing variations on the "ta-ta-dah" rhythm concluding in a final flurry of arpeggios which ascends to the high treble.

Composed two years earlier than the other preludes in Opus 23, the G Minor Prelude has become a popular work and a standard on piano recitals.

 -- "Blue" Gene Tyranny Read less

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