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8.550666 - RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 3 / Prince Rostislav
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Sergei 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 with a scholarship.
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failed his general subject examinations at the Conservatory and there were threats that his scholarship would be withdrawn.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 student Ziloti at the Conservatory, studying counterpoint and harmony with Sergei 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 Prelude in C sharp minor, a piece that was to haunt him by its excessive popularity. His early career brought initial success as a corn ser halted b 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 after a course of treatment with Dr. Nikolai 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 fame. 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. All 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 l939 he left Europe to spend his final years in the United States.
Rachmaninov gave the first performance of his technically demanding Third Piano Concerto in New York on 28th November, 1909. Towards the end of his life he was to refuse to play the work, which he preferred to entrust to the younger pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Walter Gieseking, surprising diffidence in a player of his calibre. The first performance under Damrosch was followed by a Carnegie Hall performance in January, 1910, under Gustav Mahler, to be greeted with critical reservations about its length and excessive difficulties. Rachmaninov had written the concerto during the course of the previous summer at Ivanovka, an estate that his uncle had given him and where he was to find a respite from concert activities until deprived of it by the Revolution of 1917.
The principal theme of the first movement is announced at the beginning of the concerto by the soloist, a melody which one writer has traced to the Russian Orthodox liturgy. This opening theme is of considerable importance since much that follows is derived from it, in one way or another. There is an expressive second subject and a central development that is the heart of the whole movement, followed by an extended cadenza and a much abbreviated recapitulation. The second movement intermezzo contains a central section in the mood of a Scherzo based on the principal theme of the first movement. The Finale follows at once, its opening theme a rhythmic derivative of the opening subject, followed by the gradual appearance of the theme that is to dominate the movement. It should be added that however familiar the concerto may now seem to us, it is in its way a work of remarkable harmonic and structural originality, vastly superior to the feeble and empty popular imitations that have followed it.
Rachmaninov wrote his symphonic poem Prince Rostislav in 1891 and dedicated the work to his teacher Arensky. Prince Rostislav is based on a poem by Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy. The prince of the title, killed in battle, lies forgotten on the bed of the River Dnieper, its depths suggested in the opening motif for lower strings. Rostislav, represented by the string section, is heard, and water nymphs, with another appropriate theme, comb his yellow hair.
There are three cries of despair, heard from trombone and tuba, as Rostislav calls on his wife, who is now to marry another, on his brother, who has forgotten him, and on the priests of Kiev, whose thoughts have turned to other things. In despair he sinks back into oblivion, forgotten by those dear to him, but now comforted again by the water nymphs of the great river.
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
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