This is Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

This is Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Of all the composers Rachmaninoff is most loved and adored by audiences. His ability to compose a hauntingly beautiful melody is a striking aspect to his work. He never steered from his path of writing beautifully profound music; even in the face of modernism. Even when music was changing and Rachmaninoff’s music was no longer in favour he stuck to his own artistic ideas and continued to compose deeply reflective and virtuosic music. He says of modernist music: 

“The new kind of music seems to create not from the heart but from the head. Its composers think rather than feel. They have not the capacity to make their works exalt - they meditate, protest, analyze, reason, calculate and brood, but they do not exalt.”

Towards the end of his life Rachmaninoff lamented this his music was no longer adored by audiences stating: 

“I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.” 

Rachmaninoff’s most famous works include his C# minor piano prelude, his three piano concerti, the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini and his symphonies. To hear the second movement of his Symphony No.2 in E minor is to have one of the most emotional musical experiences of your life. Acclaimed pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy says that Rachmaninioff’s music “Conveys to mankind art of the highest spirituality.” Of particular note is this recording by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn. 

There is nothing more glorious than experiencing Rachmaninoff in person at a live recital and Omega Ensemble is looking forward to performing one of Rachmaninoff’s first compositions, the Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor at their next concert.

Rachmaninoff composed this work when he was 19 years old. It is written in Rachmaninoff's now familiar musical style, noted for its sumptuous melodies, rich romantic harmonies, and precise marching rhythms. Massive chordal sonorities for the piano dominate the movement, and in the exposition, there is little independence of the instruments. Rachmaninoff’s compositions are the par excellence of piano repertoire and all of the great pianists regularly play them. 

The work is divided into twelve sections and cast in one single movement. The main theme of the trio is distinctly Russian. There is a haunting and lyrical melody that is heard at the outset. Like many of his works, the piano is the centrepiece. The work commences with the violin and the cello playing a repeated pattern on G and D - establishing the outline of G minor’s tonality. After a few bars of this ‘atmospheric’ beginning, the piano enters stating the main thematic material in its mid to upper registers.  

Rachmaninoff was the ‘last romantic’ of his generation. His piano music is virtuosic and Rachmaninoff himself had large hands. Overall, his music is brimming with the essence of a Russian ‘sound.’ Many people have analysed this as a sort of ‘bell-tolling’ and shimmering brilliance in all of his music. His piano writing is adored and loved by pianists.

Omega’s pianist and Co-Artistic Director, Maria Raspopova, loves playing Rachmaninoff's music, stating:

“When I play Rachmaninoff I feel as if my hands are getting a royal treatment. I can't help but feel grateful for his deep and profound understanding of how the human hand works in relation to the keyboard. In the strangest way I feel as if I'm creating the music with him because I'm so connected to the logic and mastery of his writing.”

Growing up in Russia, Rachmaninoff was almost a household name in Maria’s family. When she first heard the work as a child she remembers having an emotional reaction to it, one that still exists today:

“For me, Rachmaninoff's music is the ultimate in blurred lines. When I first heard it, I remember distinctly feeling opposing emotions at the same time. I still feel this way when I listen to the work or play it myself, today.”

I asked Maria what makes Rachmaninoff’s music so great and why it this trio is so loved:

“It is beautiful. I am of the opinion that any object or process is beautiful when it's realised to its full potential. Being an Elegie, this trio takes us on the journey of praise and sorrow, joy and deep reflection and everything in between, allowing us to come full circle of emotion which leaves us feeling complete. Rachmaninoff is a philosopher - the wisest man of all. He looked after the human soul, prioritised it and this is certainly reflected in his music.” 

Playing chamber is a most intimate setting, a musical conversation amongst friends, and that’s especially true of this Piano Trio, says Maria.

“In a trio, the instrumentation comes first. As is it only three of us, every aspect of the sound and production is extremely important. It is easy to imagine what it is like to be a member of a piano trio. Just think what it's like talking about something important to two people as opposed to 50, you have to very focused, clear and precise.”

Don’t miss the splendour of hearing Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Cimarosa all together in Omega’s next concert on Wednesday 5 April at City Recital Hall. Experience the beauty of the last Romantic as his lush and beautiful melodies and harmonies unfold. Hear the rich tapestry of Beethoven’s Septet in Eb.

Samuel Cottell

Samuel Cottell is a multi-verstalie musician (pianist, arranger and composer), writer, music journalist (Leader Writer -Cut Common Mag, Fine Music Magazine, Music and Literature, Jazz Australia and Australian Jazz.org), and biographer. Samuel is also an music educator and currently tutors music theory and analysis in the Arts Music Unit, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Samuel is currently undertaking his PhD (Musicology) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he is researching the life and music of Tommy Tycho. Samuel has also been published in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and has interviewed world-acclaimed musicians Renee Flemming, Steven Isserlis, Maxim Vengerov, Stuart Skelton and local musicians Daniel Rojas,  Simon Tedeschi and Katie Noonan. As well as these activities Samuel is in demand as a program note writer (Nexas Saxophone Quartet) and gives pre-concert talks for The Grevillea Ensemble and appeared on Radio National's "RareCollections" talking about Tommy Tycho's recording career and contribution to music.