Work: Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3 no 2
About This Work
While Rachmaninov's early compositions divulge the influence of Tchaikovsky, this Prelude in C sharp minor foreshadows his later style and is one of his most masterfully crafted compositions from his student years. It was written, in fact, shortly
after he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, and dedicated to one of his teachers there, Arensky. Chronologically it came first in the group of pieces Rachmaninov composed for a set he entitled Morceaux de Fantasie. He placed it second among three other works, then added a fourth. The others in the set are Elegie (No. 1), Melodie (No. 3), Polichinelle (No. 4), and Serenade (No. 5).
The C sharp minor Prelude became popular immediately after Rachmaninov premiered it on October 8, 1892. He had to accommodate audiences at virtually every recital he gave thereafter by including it as an encore. Rachmaninov played it so often, in fact, that he grew tired of the piece.
The Prelude begins with ominous descending chords that lead to one of the composer's most melancholy and memorable themes. Its slow lilting character, conveyed in big gloomy chords, is reminiscent of tolling bells on a dark wintry night, an image which accounts for its nickname, "The Bells of Moscow." The theme offers no consolation in its dire gloom, but instead proceeds to proudly proclaim its beguiling pessimism. The middle section is restless and tense, not breaking the dark mood, but offering livelier and more driven music before returning to the chordal theme with doubled intensity.
In the end, despite damning judgments so often associated with short popular piano works, this piece must be considered one of the most perfect from Rachmaninov's early years and a masterpiece of the late nineteenth century keyboard literature. A typical performance of the Prelude lasts about four-and-a-half minutes. Today, it is rarely heard as part of the entire set of the Morceaux de Fantasie and is still programmed separately or as an encore. While it remains popular, it is performed far less than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Rachmaninov made an arrangement of it for two pianos in 1938.
-- Robert Cummings
Select a specific Performer or Label or browse recordings by Formats & Featured below