Piano Concerto No. 2 (Rachmaninoff)

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The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, is a concerto for piano and orchestra composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff between the autumn of 1900 and April 1901.1 The second and third movements were first performed with the composer as soloist on 2 December 1900.2 The complete work was premiered, again with the composer as soloist, on 9 November 1901,2 with his cousin Alexander Siloti conducting.

This piece is one of Rachmaninoff's most enduringly popular pieces,3 and established his fame as a concerto composer.4

Background

Rachmaninoff in the early 1900s

At its 1897 premiere, Rachmaninoff's first symphony, though now considered a significant achievement, was derided by contemporary critics.5 Compounded by problems in his personal life, Rachmaninoff fell into a depression that lasted for several years. His second piano concerto confirmed his recovery from clinical depression and writer's block, cured only by a course of hypnotherapy. The concerto was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, a physician who had done much to restore Rachmaninoff's self-confidence.5

Composition

The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B (I mov.) and A (II & III mov.), 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, solo piano, and strings. It is written in three-movement concerto form.

Moderato: C minor

First eight bars of the concerto
Main theme first played by the two violin sections, viola section and first clarinet

The opening movement begins with a series of bell-like tollings on the piano that build tension, eventually climaxing in the introduction of the main theme. In this first section, the orchestra carries the Russian-character melody while the piano makes an accompaniment made of rapid oscillating arpeggios. After the statement of the long first theme, a quicker transition follows until the lyrical second theme, in E flat major, is presented.

The agitated and unstable development borrows motives from both themes changing keys very often and giving the melody to different instruments while a new musical idea is slowly formed. The music builds in a gradual climax as if the first bars were to be repeated, but in the recapitulation the theme is presented as unique to the first statement.

While the orchestra restates the first theme, the piano, that in the other occasion had an accompaniment role, now plays the march-like theme that had been halfly presented in the development, thus making a considerable readjustment in the exposition, as the main theme, played by the orchestra has become an accompaniment. This is followed by a piano solo, which leads into a descending chromatic passage and concluding with an eerie French horn solo. From here the last minutes of the movement are placid until drawn into the agitated coda, and the movement ends in C minor fortissimo.

Adagio sostenuto – Più animato – Tempo I: C minor → E major

The second movement opens with a series of slow chords in the strings which modulate from the C minor of the previous movement to the E major of this movement. The piano enters, playing a simple arpeggiated figure. This opening piano figure was composed in 1891 as the opening of the Romance from Two Pieces For Six Hands. The main theme is initially introduced by the flute, before being developed by an extensive clarinet solo. The motif is passed between the piano and other soloists before the music accelerates to a short climax centred on the piano. The original theme is repeated, and the music appears to die away, finishing with just the soloist in E major.

Allegro scherzando: E major → C minor → C major

The last movement opens with a short orchestral introduction that modulates from E (the key of the previous movement) to C, before a piano solo leads to the statement of the agitated first theme. After the original fast tempo and musical drama ends, a lyrical theme is introduced by the oboe and violas. This second theme maintains the motif of the first movement's second theme. After a long period of development tension is built up considerably. Near the end, Rachmaninoff restates the second theme in loud, fortissimo orchestration. After this, a fast, ecstatic coda draws the piece to a close, ending in C major.

Derivative works

Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Courtesy of Musopen.

Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Courtesy of Musopen.

Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Courtesy of Musopen

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The second theme of Allegro scherzando provides the basis for Frank Sinatra's 1945 "Full Moon and Empty Arms".6

The Adagio sostenuto theme appears in Eric Carmen's 1975 ballad "All by Myself". Carmen first composed the song's interlude, then took the bridge from Rachmaninoff and the chorus from his own "Let's Pretend". Carmen explained that Rachmaninoff was his "favorite music".7

The Moderato theme appears in Muse's 2001 song "Space Dementia". The lyric line "And tear us apart and make us meaningless again" follows exactly Rachmoninoff's melody in the first movement, which is first played by string instruments in the beginning of the movement, and then again by the piano toward the movement's finale.8910

Popular culture

References

  1. ^ Harrison, Max (2006). Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings. London: Continuum. pp. 92–99. ISBN 0-8264-9312-2. 
  2. ^ a b "Rachmaninoff's Works for Piano and Orchestra". Classy Classical. Retrieved 27 February 2011. 
  3. ^ "Brief Encounter theme is UK's top classic". The Guardian. 29 March 2005. Retrieved 27 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Norris, Geoffrey (1993). The Master Musicians: Rachmaninoff. New York City: Schirmer Books. pp. 113–115. ISBN 0-02-870685-4. 
  5. ^ a b Steinberg, Michael (1998). The Concerto. Oxford University Press. p. 357–358. ISBN 0-19-513931-3. 
  6. ^ "Full Moon and Empty Arms". Time. 23 June 1947. 
  7. ^ "An Interview with Eric Carmen Conducted by Gordon Pogoda in 1991", ericcarmen.com, retrieved 21 September 2010 
  8. ^ Muse's Space Dementia vs. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, 10 March 2014 
  9. ^ Muse's Space Dementia sample of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto in C Minor, Opus 18, 1st Movement, WhoSampled 
  10. ^ Muse and Russian Composers: Space Dementia-2nd Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff, Moderato, 18 April 2010 
  11. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047408/?ref_=ttpl_pl_tt
  12. ^ http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/sov/909/annot/

Sources

Further reading

  • Anderson, W. R. (1947), Rachmaninov and his pianoforte concertos: A brief sketch of the composer and his style, London: Hinrichsen Edition Limited, pp. 9–14 
  • Chung, So-Ham Kim (1988), An analysis of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 in C Minor opus 18: Aids towards performance (Dissertation), The Ohio State University, retrieved 4 August 2010 
  • Coolidge, Richard (August 1979), "Architectonic Technique and Innovation in the Rakhmaninov Piano Concertos", The Music Review 40 (3): 188–193 
  • Culshaw, John (1950), Rachmaninov: The Man and His Music, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 78–84 
  • Evans, Edwin, ed. (1942), Serge Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 18: Analysis, New York: Boosey & Hawkes 
  • Slenczynska, Ruth (October 1973), "The Performer's Corner: The Opening of the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto", Clavier 12 (7): 18 
  • Tsukkerman, Viktor (1965), "Zhemchuzhina Russkoy Liriki (Pearls of Russian Lyricism)", Sovetskaya Muzika (in Russian) (1): 25–35 
  • Veinus, Abraham (1945), The Concerto, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., p. 248 

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