About this Recording
8.550348 - RACHMANINOV, S.: Préludes, Op. 23 / Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3 (Biret)

Sergey Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)

Ten Préludes, Op. 23
Cinq Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3

Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninov was born at Semyonovo in 1873. His family, one of strong military traditions on both his father's and mother's side, was well-to-do, but the extravagance of his father made it necessary to sell off much of their land. Rachmaninov's childhood was spent largely at the one remaining family estate at Oneg, near Novgorod. The reduction in family circumstances had at least one happier result. When it became necessary to sell the estate at Oneg and to move to St. Petersburg, the expense of education for the Imperial service proved too great. Rachmaninov could make use, instead, of his musical gifts, entering St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of nine as a scholarship student.

Not a particularly industrious student and lacking the attention that he needed at home, in 1885 Rachmaninov failed his general subject examinations at the Conservatory and there were threats that his scholarship would be withdrawn. His mother, now separated from his father and responsible for the boy's welfare, arranged that he should move to Moscow to study with Zverev, a teacher of known strictness. In Zverev's house, however uncongenial the strict routine, he acquired much of his phenomenal technique as a pianist, while broadening his musical understanding by attending concerts in the city. At the age of fifteen he became a pupil of Zverev's former pupil Ziloti at the Conservatory, studying counterpoint and harmony with Sergey Taneyev and Arensky. His growing interest in composition led to a quarrel with Zverev and removal to the house of his relations, the Satins.

In 1891 Rachmaninov completed his piano studies at the Conservatory and the composition of his first piano concerto. The following year he graduated from the composition class and composed his notorious Prélude in C sharp minor, a piece that was to haunt him by its excessive popularity. His early career brought initial success as a composer, halted by the failure of his first symphony, conducted badly by Glazunov, apparently drunk at the time, and reviewed in the cruellest terms by César Cui who described it as a student attempt to depict in music the seven plagues of Egypt. Rachmaninov busied himself as a conductor, signing a contract with the Mamontov opera company. As a composer, however, he suffered from the poor reception of his symphony and was only enabled to continue alter a course of treatment with Dr. Nikolay Dahl, a believer in the efficacy of hypnotism. The immediate result was the second of his four piano concertos.

The years before the Russian revolution brought continued successful activity as a composer and as a conductor. In 1902 Rachmaninov married Natalya Satina and went on to pursue a career that brought him increasing international lame. There were journeys abroad and a busy professional life, from which summer holidays at the estate of Ivanovka, which he finally acquired from the Satins in 1910, provided respite. Ail this was interrupted with the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 and the beginning of the revolution.

Rachmaninov left Russia in 1917. From then until his death in Beverley Hills in 1943, he was obliged to rely largely on performance for a living. Now there was very much less time for composition, as he undertook demanding concert tours, during which he dazzled audiences in Europe and America with his remarkable powers as a pianist. His house at Ivanovka was destroyed in the Russian civil war, and in 1931, the year of the Corelli Variations, his music was banned in Russia, to be permitted once more two years later. He spent much time in America, where there were lucrative concert tours, but established a music publishing house in Paris and built for himself a villa near Lucerne, where he completed his Paganini Rhapsody in 1934 and his Third Symphony a year later. In 1939 he left Europe to spend his final years in the United States.

The first set of Préludes, published in 1903 as Opus 23, begins a series that, with the thirteen Préludes of the later Opus 32, completed in 1910, makes use of all major and minor keys, with the exception of C sharp minor, already claimed by the Opus 10 Prélude in that key. The procession of keys, however, lacks the logic of Chopin's similar work. Opus 23 opens gently enough, in F sharp minor, proceeding to a more grandiose second B flat Prélude, as the mood of the Second Piano Concerto takes over. A third, marked Tempo di minuetto, soon forgets its opening in a more overtly romantic texture. Moving from D minor to D major, the fourth Prélude offers a simple enough melody, soon to be developed, followed by a G minor march of increasing intensity The sixth recalls the Second Piano Concerto once more, while the cascading notes of the seventh and eighth are as unmistakably by Rachmaninov as the chromatic deluge of the ninth, capped by a solemn but lyrical final G flat major, returning to the tonality of the opening.

Rachmaninov wrote his famous Prélude in C Sharp Minor in Moscow in the autumn of 1892 and played it in public for the first time at a concert at the Electrical exposition. It was to prove an embarrassingly successful piece, a tact that at first brought him some pleasure and later some misgivings, as audiences everywhere clamoured for its inclusion in any recital programme he gave and arrangements for a diversity of instruments followed, including one for the banjo and another for trombone quartet. The Prélude itself is a dramatic and impassioned piece, redolent with supposed Russian melancholy. It is preceded in the five Morceaux de fantaisie of 1892 by an equally melancholy Elégie and followed by a gently nostalgic Mélodie. Polichinelle is as capricious as its title would suggest and the set of pieces, the composer's first to be published, ends with a Sérénade in Spanish style.

Idil Siret
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret began piano lessons at the age of three. She displayed an outstanding gift for music and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire with three first prizes when she was fifteen. She studied piano with Alfred Cortot and Wilhelm Kempff, and composition with Nadia Boulanger.

Since the age of sixteen Idil Biret has performed in concerts around the world playing with major orchestras under the direction of conductors such as Monteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent, de Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. She has participated in the festivals of Montreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens, Berlin, Gstaad and Istanbul. She was also invited to perform at the 85th birthday celebration of Wilheim Backhaus and at the 90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Kempff.

Idil Biret received the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund award (1954/1964), the Harriet Cohen/Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal (1959) and the Polish Artistical Merit Award (1974) and was named Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite in 1976.

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