I am excited to present to you the first piece from Sergei Rachmaninoff to appear in the music library project. Piano Concerto 2 in C Minor Op 18 premiered on November 9, 1901 and is one of his most enduring and popular pieces. It is said this piece established his fame as a concerto composer and saved his career. Its premiere was given to great acclaim in Moscow with the composer himself as piano soloist. I was a relative latecomer to appreciating Rachmaninoff, but I now listen to his music all the time. He and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart remain my favourite classical composers. I first heard of Rachmaninoff and his music when academy award winner Geoffrey Rush wowed audiences playing David Helfgott in the Australian movie – Shine.
According to the Britannica.com web site: This piano concerto contains themes that, throughout the 20th century, which would be reborn as the melodies of several popular songs, including Frank Sinatra’s 1945 “Full Moon and Empty Arms” and Eric Carmen’s 1975 “All by Myself.” It was made most famous when set as the haunting motif of David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter.
To get some sense why this Piano Concerto is so highly regarded one need only look at how it reshaped Rachmaninoff’s life. After the premiere of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony in 1897 he went into a deep depression. Although that symphony is now considered a significant achievement, the contemporary critics derided the Symphony. As wikipedia states: His second piano concerto confirmed his recovery from clinical depression and writer’s block, cured by courses of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy and helped by support from his family and friends. The concerto was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, the physician who had done much to restore Rachmaninoff’s self-confidence.
The movie Shine seems to allude to what much of the following Britanica article has to say regarding Rachmaninoff’s music not being for the faint of heart at least for the pianist:
As a virtuoso pianist, Rachmaninoff composed for the instrument not only according to his own tastes but to his own strengths as well. He was, for example, a tall and lanky man with an astonishing reach to his hands. Pianists of small proportions need not apply, and even those of average size will find his work challenging. The great pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy observed in an interview with England’s Gramophone magazine that for playing Rachmaninoff, he wishes his fingers were a centimeter longer. Moreover, as Rachmaninoff could play both lightning-fast runs and powerful chords with equal mastery, he includes both in his piano parts, requiring a highly varied technique.
The above article also contains a very detailed and illuminating breakdown of the Concerto which is well worth reading.
Listen below to Rachmaninoff play his beloved Piano Concerto 2: