Thursday, November 9, 2017

November 9, 1901: Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 premiered

Last updated August 31, 2018.

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

Sergey Rachmaninov (composer)

Composed: 1900-01

First Performed: November 9, 1901

Sales: --

Peak: --

Quotable: --

Genre: classical > concerto


  1. Moderato
  2. Adagio Sostenuto
  3. Allegro Scherzando

Average Duration: 33:40


Rachmaninov suffered a series of failures at the end of the nineteenth century. He was expelled from music school in 1885 and, after the failure of his first symphony in 1897, he turned to drinking. RD By 1899, his alcoholism was threatening his career – his hands shook to the point of hampering his ability to play. In 1900, he turned to neuropsychotherapy, hypnosis, and trance therapy to turn things around. It worked – not only did he compose this concerto, but over the last 40 years of his life, he never succumbed again to depression. RD

“The opening, C minor, movement in sonata form was composed last; structurally it is the most conventional. Ten bars of unaccompanied keyboard chords lead directly to a palpitant principal theme for violins, violas, and clarinets — motivic rather than tuneful, despite a melismatic extension for cellos. An episode links this to the second theme, in E flat, one of Rachmaninov’s most celebrated melodies, introduced by the piano. Following the development and a maestoso alla marcia reprise, there’s a brilliant coda — but no solo cadenza, yet.” RD

“In the E major, Adagio sostenuto movement, after four bars of Tchaikovskian string chords, piano arpeggios introduce a two-part principal theme, played first by the solo flute, then by the solo clarinet. Piano and orchestra develop both parts before a Tchaikovsky-like theme for bassoons nudges the tempo a bit. Further development goes even quicker, culminating in a solo cadenza that’s been teasingly postponed, after which the original material returns, soulfully.” RD

“The finale is an Allegro scherzando in C major. The strings play a rhythmic figure that builds to a staccato climax. The piano enters with a flourish, setting up the principal subject — again, as before in I, motivic rather than tuneful, but admirably constructed for developing. This is followed by another of Rachmaninov’s signature melodies, lushly undulant, sung by the solo oboe and strings. (In the postwar 1940s, this was garnished with words and performed unrelentingly by big-band vandals as Full Moon and Empty Arms). A fugato brings back the principal subject, followed by a Maestoso statement of ‘The Tune.’ Accelerating fistfuls of piano chords set up a crowd-rousing conclusion.” RD

The first performance of this concerto was “on November 9, 1901, with Alexandre Siloti conducting the Moscow Philharmonic Society.” RD

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