In today’s video, we’re going to take a look at the music of Rachmaninoff – specifically, 6 favorites that I picked out. Some of these selections are among his most famous compositions, and others are ones that I personally quite enjoy.
These six selections should give you a good understanding of Rachmaninoff’s sound and style. I highly encourage you to check out the full versions of these selections.
Let’s get started!
Prelude in C sharp minor, op. 3 no. 2
We’ll kick our tour of the music of Rachmaninoff off with the very famous Prelude in C sharp minor, op. 3 no. 2, for piano. This prelude is found in a set of five piano pieces called Morceaux de fantasie.
Rachmaninoff premiered this composition early in his career, in 1892, when he was nineteen years old. It was well-received, and has been popular ever since. This prelude is one of 24 that Rachmaninoff would write in every major and minor key, following in the footsteps of guys like Chopin and Bach.
This piece is nicknamed “The Bells of Moscow” because of the introduction, which are very bell-like and somber. If you look online, you can even find a recording of Rachmaninoff himself playing it. Let’s take a listen.
Credit: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Copyright: Public Domain Mark 1.0
13 Preludes, Op. 32 – 10. Lento (B minor)
We’re going to take a look at one more prelude by Rachmaninoff, this one from his set of 13 Preludes, op. 32. The one we’re looking at today is no. 10, Lento, in B minor.
Rachmaninoff didn’t write a ton of music inspired by literature and art like some Romantic composers, but this was a composition inspired by art. It was fashioned after Arnold Bocklin’s painting “The Homecoming”.
One reason I wanted to share this one with you is that Rachmaninoff named it as his own personal favorite prelude. Let’s take a quick listen!
Credit: Marco Alejandro Gil Esteva
Copyright: CC BY 3.0
Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, op. 18
Rachmaninoff’s second Piano Concerto in C minor premiered in 1901, with himself as the star soloist. This composition was very well-received, and helped pull Rachmaninoff out of his depression after the disappointing premiere of his first symphony.
Each of the three movements of this concerto have been borrowed from in pop culture. The moderato melody can be heard in Muse’s song Space Dementia, the adagio sostenuto is found in Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”, and the second theme of the allegro scherzando is used in Frank Sinatra’s “Full Moon and Empty Arms”.
We’re going to take a brief listen to the start of the first movement, which has dramatic and beautiful chords that eventually melt into wide arpeggios and the entrance of symphony instruments.
Credit: Skidmore College Orchestra
Copyright: Public Domain Mark 1.0
Symphony no. 2 in E minor, op. 27
Rachmaninoff’s second symphony premiered in 1908, with Rachmaninoff himself conducting. The full version of the symphony is huge, clocking in around one hour, and it’s one of Rachmaninoff’s most well-known compositions.
Rachmaninoff’s first symphony was a huge disaster – it received bad reviews, and the instrumentalists bombed (and the conductor might have been drunk). Because of this, Rachmaninoff spent years in a depression and barely wrote anything at all.
Luckily, the second symphony was much better received, and even won him a Glinka award. The warm reception this symphony received went a long way to alleviating Rachmaninoff’s creative depression.
Let’s take a quick listen to the slow and sweeping largo opening movement.
Credit: University of Chicago Orchestra
Music of Rachmaninoff: Suite no. 2, op. 17
Rachmaninoff’s Suite no. 2, op. 17 is a duet for two pianos. It was written in 1901 when Rachmaninoff was 28 years old, and was the second of his two comeback composition after his failed first symphony four years prior (the other, as previously mentioned, was symphony no. 2).
Like traditional suites, this one has multiple movements (four to be exact). A full performance lasts about 20 minutes.
Rachmaninoff and the famous performer Horowitz were friends, and played this suite together at a social gathering in LA shortly before Rachmaninoff died.
We’re going to take a listen to a clip from the first movement, which is full of huge chords – typical for the huge-handed Rachmaninoff.
Credit: Ya-Fei Chuang, Robert Levin
Copyright: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Études Tableaux, Op. 33 – VIII. Grave
Rachmaninoff wrote two sets of etudes – op. 33 and op. 39. These etudes were intended to paint pictures in the mind, but Rachmaninoff didn’t believe in telling you what to picture specifically. That’s why none of these have titles like “The Waterfall”. It’s up to your imagination to pick up the brush.
The etudes that Rachmaninoff wrote are intended as musical studies to develop specific techniques, but they’re also extremely difficult piano music and stand up well to concert performances.
Like some others we’ve listened to today, the 8th etude, Grave, begins with big and broad chords, which quickly turn discordant.
Credit: Den Pisarevsky
Copyright: CC BY-ND 3.0
I hope you enjoyed this tour through the music of Rachmaninoff! Stay tuned for more Rachmaninoff-themed videos in the near future.