Review of the best according to the editorial board. On the selection criteria. This material is subjective, does not constitute advertising and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.
The great composer was passionately loyal to the traditions of Russian music. At the same time, he managed to bring something new into it, creating an inexhaustible force for the development and enrichment of Russian musical traditions. Almost half a century of Rachmaninoff's creative period experienced a real evolution. But, despite the changes in the composer's creative appearance, his integrity and recognition remained. Among ordinary listeners, Rachmaninov was popular for his passionate, incredibly exciting lyrics, truthfulness and poetry of musical expression. Your attention is the most famous works of the eminent classic.
The genius of Russian classics: the best works of Rachmaninoff
|Review of the best works of Rachmaninoff||1||Opera 'Aleko'||4.2|
|2||Poem 'The Bells'||4.3|
|3||Piano Concerto No. 2||4.4|
|4||Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini||4.5|
|5||Suite 'Symphonic Dances'||4.6|
|6||Opera 'The Miserly Knight'||4.7|
|7||Opera 'Francesca di Rimini'||4.8|
|8||'Vocalise', Op. 34 No. 13, for voice and piano||4.9|
|9||Piano Concerto No. 3||5.0|
In the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory there are plaques with the names of graduates who graduated from a higher musical institution with a gold medal. Among them is Sergei Rachmaninoff, who graduated from the conservatory with honors as a composer. His graduation work was the opera Aleko, based on Pushkin's poem Gypsies.
The one-act lyric and psychological opera was written by Rachmaninov just brilliantly. This youthful work (the young composer was 19 at that time) earned the admiring attention of Tchaikovsky, who in every possible way contributed to the production of the opera and even asked Rachmaninov for permission to show Aleko along with his own opera Iolanta.
Rachmaninov was incredibly passionate about his thesis and created it in record time – only 17 days. This testified to the passionate absorption in creativity and the outstanding talent of the young man. The libretto for 'Aleko' was written by the famous theatrical figure Nemirovich-Danchenko.
Rachmaninoff's friend, the legendary Russian bass Shalyapin, is considered a reference performance of the main part in the opera – the role of Aleko. It is curious that his first incarnation in this work was rather strange: he made up for Pushkin. The fact is that the first performance of the opera Aleko fell on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Russian poet, playwright and prose writer, and Shalyapin himself identified Pushkin with Aleko.
The premiere of the opera took place in April 1893 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The performance was very successful. Tchaikovsky, who was present at the premiere, applauded so much that he almost fell out of the box.
It should be borne in mind that in the libretto Pushkin's poem is greatly reduced: only a moment of painful jealousy and a tragic denouement were left. The action of the opera begins very actively, instantly leading to a tense situation. Nevertheless, the librettist was able to grasp the main idea of the poem: a clash between gypsies far from civilization and a proud, lonely Aleko, who fled from the 'captivity of stuffy cities' and passionately dreamed of finding peace under the cover of nomads, which led to a conflict. Aleko was cursed by his society and he also brings misfortune to the gypsies, for which they reject him and he is alone again.
Poem 'The Bells'
A unique work, and certainly one of the most famous in the work of the composer, was written at a time when Rachmaninov was just sketching a completely different musical work. But in the summer of 1912, he received an anonymous letter, which said how ideal for writing music Edgar Poe's poem “Bells” in Balmont's translation and, accordingly, its text was attached.
The poem really interested the composer, and he immediately set to work, and he worked, according to the memoirs of the author himself, 'with feverish heat'. The composition later became one of the most beloved in Rachmaninov's 'piggy bank', which is not surprising, because from childhood he was fascinated by the ringing of bells. The name of the author of the letter became known only after the death of the composer. It turned out to be Maria Danilova, a student of the cellist Bukinik.
After the release of the work, Marietta Shaginyan, a Soviet writer with whom Rachmaninov shared his creative life, revealed the strange dedication of the poem. It was made some time after publication: 'To my friend Willem Mengelberg and his Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam'.
The fact is that Medtner is a Russian pianist, the composer greeted the release of Rachmaninoff's poem rather coolly. And some time later, at the rehearsal of Beethoven's concert, a conflict arose between him and the conductor Mengelberg, which ended with the former refusing to participate in the concert. This incident excited the music community.
Poem by Edgar Poe consists of 4 parts. A piece of music has the same structure: these are four pictures of different moods, recreating different stages of human life. The first two are devoted to the sound of bells and wedding bells – cheerful, serenely happy. The other two announce the fire and the funeral – permeated with fear, sadness, tragic. The poem 'Bells' was written for three mixed chorus and three soloists, accompanied by an orchestra.
Piano Concerto No. 2
It was with the second concert for piano by Rachmaninoff that a new age in music began. This work sounded like a mighty alarm after a 3-year hiatus due to the failure of the first symphonic composition, trampled into dust by critics and not understood by the musicians. Contemporaries heard the voice of the times in Piano Concerto No. 2: its tension, a sense of change, power.
After that, the concert genre for Rachmaninoff becomes the main one: all the composer's ideas are fully, brilliantly and incredibly large-scale embodied in it. A new stage in life is coming for him. The work in question is dedicated to the famous metropolitan neuropathologist and hypnotist Dahl, who helped the composer to strengthen the nervous system and recover from the moral shock of failure.
It was after the creation of Piano Concerto No. 2 that Rachmaninov was put on a par with the giants of Russian music. All doubts, searches, inability to determine their path were left far behind. The concert has become one of the most popular works of the great Russian genius due to its artistic beauty, expressiveness and, of course, masterfully embodied the mood of joyful upsurge, exciting the anticipation of bright future changes.
The characteristic features of harmony and instrumentation of the 2nd Piano Concerto became defining for Rachmaninoff's major creative period. By the way, in the second piano one an incredible tandem of lyrical melody with a variant-song development appeared for the first time. The two main tendencies of Russian music have incredibly merged together thanks to the unique melodic gift of the author.
Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini
The work belongs to a number of works created in the later years of Rachmaninoff's work. It is a unique combination of the 'old' style, used by the composer as a legacy of the 19th century, and the 'new' style, which marked the emergence of jazz, pop genres and elements of radically new music. Critics contemporary to the author have noted the incredible virtuosity and brightness of the rhapsody. Today, when the controversy about the composer's “old-fashionedness” has sunk into oblivion, the work is seen in a different light.
Rachmaninov himself, known as the 'keeper' of traditional musical values, said: 'before you go to the new world … make … efforts … to get to know the old one closely …'. He believed there were still “many opportunities left.”
For the rhapsody, written as a variation, Rachmaninov used the theme of the legendary 24th caprice for violin by Paganini. This theme symbolizes the era of romanticism, and can frankly be considered a kind of 'double' of the genius Paganini, whose talent has remained a mystery to his contemporaries.
But almost at the very beginning of the Rhapsody, another theme appears, borrowed by Rachmaninov from another no less famous work of the Middle Ages – the Catholic chant Dies Irae ('Day of Wrath'). It had a special, very personal meaning for the author, which is revealed throughout the entire work of the genius.
Both themes, which appear in Rachmaninov's Rhapsody, carry the meaning of 'old' music and gradually begin a journey through different styles and genres. 24 variations as 24 elements of an exciting journey full of events, with an unusual ending, interpreted in its own way by each listener.
Suite 'Symphonic Dances'
The work was created in a very difficult period for the composer: the Second World War began, and Rachmaninov and his wife left their beloved France for the United States just a few days before, and their daughter remained and the connection with her was quickly cut off. There were no more world tours and summer vacations in the villa, according to a long tradition in the family.
Possessed by disturbing thoughts about the fate of his daughter and all of Europe, about a vague future, Rachmaninov in a surprisingly short time creates the last symphonic work in his work, which was originally called 'Fantastic Dances'. The author has clearly autobiographical notes in the last orchestral work. The original version of the suite assumed conventional names for each part of the program: I – 'Day', II – 'Twilight', III – 'Midnight'.
Here, obviously, it was not about the time of day, but about the stages of human life, and the initial stage of the development of the individual was considered the initial one. Subsequently, the composer abandoned the idea of giving programmatic explanations, and the names were removed. Rachmaninoff dedicated the suite to the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Ormandy.
The main image of the first part of the work is a kind of march-scherzo: it is full of dance notes, has an expressive melody. The solo instrument is a saxophone with a lively and warm timbre. The second movement is a bright contrast against the background of the first: light flute-clarinet passages and violin solos are gradually replaced by a waltz theme. Quivering motives appear in the music, replaced by notes of anxiety and drama.
And finally, the last part is the center of the whole work, incredibly bright, powerful and large-scale. Listening to her, there is a rapid movement towards a gloomy, horror-filled vision of death. Various episodes are constantly replacing each other: lyrical, terrible, strong-willed and courageous. The struggle of different forces leads to the victory of the courageous beginning.
Opera 'The Miserly Knight'
This chamber opera is rather unusual: there is not the slightest ray of light, not a single female image, lyrical beginning, or inserted numbers. In The Miserly Knight, everything is subject only to gold and avarice, everything sounds gloomy and ominous. This is a striking tragedy. In 1903, a young but already popular composer began work on a new work, deciding to take as a basis the small tragedy of the same name by Pushkin. Rachmaninov practically did not make any changes to the text, only shortened it a little, removing the names of some characters and changing the punctuation to create the desired stage intonation.
Creating his creation, the composer set himself the main task (like Pushkin when writing a poem) – “the image … of the passions and outpourings of the human soul.” Everything else faded into the background for him. That is why the characterization of the time and place of action is very long and laconic.
Despite the great presentation of the music and powerful performance, the piece is rarely staged or performed in fragments, for two reasons. The first is the absence of female parts, the second is the absence of closed arias or ensembles that could be performed separately.
Work on the work proceeded quickly and in less than six months the composer was finishing the opera. However, a couple of years pass before the production is completed, until Rachmaninov completes another opera, Francesca di Rimini. At the beginning of 1906, he presented the completed work to a group of musicians at a traditional meeting with the head of the St. Petersburg composer school, Rimsky-Korsakov. The vocal parts were then performed by a friend of the composer – Fyodor Chaliapin.
As Rimsky-Korsakov himself later recalled about his impressions after listening to the opera: “The music of the opera is very talented … but … the main attention of the composer is in the orchestra, and the vocal part is, as it were, adapted to it.” The premiere of the opera The Miserly Knight took place at the Bolshoi in Moscow. Rachmaninov himself hoped to participate in the performance of a friend of Chaliapin, but he directly expressed his opinion that the opera is not on a par with Pushkin's poem. After that, the relationship between them gradually cooled.
In the first season, the opera was shown only 4 times. And, although instead of Chaliapin, the less convincing Baklanov performed, the work was a resounding success. But, nevertheless, Rachmaninov removed the opera from the repertoire.
Opera 'Francesca di Rimini'
Eight years after graduating from the conservatory, in 1904, Rachmaninoff holds the post of conductor at the Moscow Bolshoi Theater and directs its Russian repertoire. He has been working in this position for two years, without leaving the composer's activity. It was during these years that he created the opera 'Francesca di Rimini'.
After the incredible success of his first (examination) opera Aleko, Rachmaninov decided to return to the chamber genre again: he was not attracted by the creation of a full-night performance with powerful choral scenes, the involvement of ballet and many characters. The plot used by Rachmaninov was repeatedly encountered in music before him: the story of lovers from Rimini, vividly told by Dante in his outstanding poem, The Divine Comedy, was a favorite theme of many composers.
It was to this plot that Tchaikovsky turned to when creating the symphonic fantasy of the same name with the poem. The outstanding librettist managed to get an ideal solution – a capacious and vivid story, which Rachmaninov also used. The idea of writing the poem 'Francesca di Rimini' came to him back in 1900, when he went to Italy to the famous Russian bass – Fyodor Chaliapin, who was preparing at that time for his debut at La Scala in the role of Mephistopheles.
According to Rachmaninoff's idea, a love duet was to be in the center of the poem. But the composer put off work on the work 'on the back burner' for four whole years and returned to the work only after the completion of 'The Covetous Knight'. It is noteworthy that the premiere of both operas took place on the same day – January 11 (24), 1906 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow under the direction of the author himself. The main parts were performed by outstanding artists – Smirnov, Baklanov, Salina.
'Francesca di Rimini' – a work similar to a cantata and orchestral poem. This is a chamber opera, the content of which is colorfully conveyed by the orchestra, the action on the stage takes place continuously, without any division into numbers. When listening, the viewer has a clear picture that immerses in a completely different world. Vocal parts and orchestral means of expression are in harmony, striving for one artistic goal, and delicately reveal a complex psychological image in all its confrontation of spiritual passions.
'Vocalise', Op. 34 No. 13, for voice and piano
The piece was written exclusively for soprano or tenor performance. But most often the first option is preferred. 'Vocalise' first appeared in print in 1912 and was considered the final of 'Fourteen Songs, opus 34'. The work is dedicated to Antonina Nezhdanova, a Russian-Soviet opera singer.
Vocalise as a genre of music is performed without words, with a vowel sound. And in most cases it is an exercise for the development of the vocal technique of the performer and the identification of his vocal features and capabilities. Among such exercises there are concert options. Rachmaninoff's 'Vocalise' is one of those.
In the spring of 1915, the composer showed the first sketches of the work to Antonina Nezhdanova. Having banished the vocalise, Rachmaninov immediately made several adjustments to the vocal part, listening to the advice of the great opera singer. It took him some more time to prepare the final score, which was radically different from the original.
At the beginning of 1916, the singer performed 'Vocalise' accompanied by an orchestra in the presence of the author himself. Grateful and impressed, Rachmaninov left Nezhdanova the first version of the manuscript with her autograph, which she carefully kept, being touched by such a gesture. As the performer later said: 'I was endlessly happy that a part of the well-deserved success also belonged to me …'.
'Vocalise' is considered one of the most famous works of the great composer. Paradoxically, in most cases it can be heard not at all in the original version – in a voice, but in various arrangements for chamber, symphony orchestras and even any instruments. Which, however, is not surprising, because Rachmaninov's Vocalise is an exceptionally powerful, bright work that allows you to demonstrate the beauty and power of the sound of any performer, even if it is an instrument.
Piano Concerto No. 3
One of the most famous works of the great Russian composer. And to this day, this composition is considered, perhaps, the most frequently performed among all Rachmaninoff's works. Piano Concerto No. 3 is known for its high demands on the technical level of the performer and is objectively one of the most difficult pieces in the standard genre.
The composition falls on one of the peaks in Rachmaninoff's work, when the composer sums up a kind of result of a difficult period of his creative searches. The concert is completely devoid of any flaws that were present in the author's earlier works, but written in other genres. The composer managed to overcome the previously noticeable looseness of the form, the excessive number of repetitions, the theatrical-uplifted pathos of some episodes of other works.
According to the concept, harmony and completeness of the composition, as well as the impeccable balance of all elements, the work can be called a reference. Thus, welcoming the appearance of Piano Concerto No. 3 in 1909, one of the critics enthusiastically said that the work 'can be called beautiful without any offense' and happily noted that the talent is just as fresh and clear.
In the third concerto for piano, Rachmaninoff's lyrics became more restrained, but at the same time deeper, perhaps even harsh in color. The work is devoid of the composer's traditional spontaneity in expressing feelings. The lyrical episodes of 'Piano Concerto No. 3' require more concentration, which allows one to fully perceive the harmony of the feeling expressed in the piece. In the third concert, the primacy of the solo part is undeniable: the orchestra completely falls silent on long segments of the composition, leaving the pianist to conduct all the main themes.
Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.