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Rachmaninoff and Russian pianism: Performance issues in the Piano Concerto in C minor, Opus 18

Dissertation
Author: Natalya V. Lundtvedt
Abstract:
As popular a work as Sergei Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 has been since its premiere in Moscow in 1901, no serious study of its performance styles has ever been undertaken, until now. This dissertation investigates central aspects of performance issues of the concerto. The pivotal issues of "authenticity" and "historically-informed performance" will be addressed primarily through the abundance of recordings ranging from the early twentieth century to the present time. These include the composer's own two recordings issued by the RCA Victor Company in 1924 and 1929. Defining the central issues of performance practice will require a thorough study of both the score and the composer's recordings. In spite of the low frequency response of these early electric recordings, they are clear enough to shed light on many aspects of the concert's performance. An analytical comparison of Rachmaninoff s interpretations with those of other representative pianists will provide fuller insights into sound quality, technical execution, tempo and rhythm flexibility, balance with the orchestra and within the piano part, and spirituality. Obstacles to be encountered include discrepancies between the dates of Rachmaninoff s recording sessions, the general character of Rachmaninoff's performances reviews, limited critical analysis studies, and the lack of performance interpretation sources. The subjectivity of the evaluation methodology also poses challenges. In addition, the project will explore the cultural background, historical and political surroundings at the beginning of the twentieth century and, especially, in the state of Rachmaninoffs mental and creative activity. At that time he was undergoing intensive hypnosis treatments. Based on my research, I would hope to refine my own interpretative conception of this remarkable work, to achieve a greater understanding of other interpretations, and determine whether it is possible to arrive at a more "authentic" one. Finally, I would endeavor to investigate how time and aural traditions in piano teaching-coaching have influenced our performance perception of this indestructible work.

Table of Contents SETTING THE STAGE 1 I. Introduction 1 II. Rachmaninoff: A Pianist's Training 2 RACHMANINOFF PLAYS HIS SECOND PIANO CONCERTO 18 III. Tempo Fluctuation 18 IV. Agogics 36 V. Dynamics 41 VI. Phrasing 51 IS THERE" A PERFORMANCE TRADITION? 59 Benno Moiseiwitsch 59 Sviatoslav Richter 61 William Kapell 64 Alicia de Larrocha 65 Byron Janis 66 Van Cliburn 68 Vladimir Ashkenaiy 70 POSTLUDE 71 APPENDIX 73 Reviews compilation 73 iii

interview with Sergey Rachmaninoff about essentials of artistic playing 80 BIBLIOGRAPHY 90 IV

List of Figures Figure 1 Measures 1 - 9 of First Movement Figure 2 Measure 55 of First Movement Figure 3 Measure 63 of First Movement Figure 4 Measures 79 and 83 of First Movement Figure 5 Measures 151 and 152 of First Movement Figure 6 Measure 225 of First Movement Figure 7 Measure 245 of First Movement Figure 8 M^asure^ 5 of Second Movement Figure 9 Measure 47 of Second Movement Figure 10 Measure 43 of Third Movement Figure 11 Measure 133 - 140 of First Movement Figure 12 Measure 55 of Second Movement Figure 13 Measure 368 of Third Movement Figure 14 Measures 83 -102 of First Movement Figure 15 Measures 126, 128, and 129 of First Movement Figure 16 Measures 48 - 50,52, and 54 of Second Movement Figure 17 Measure 123 of Third Movement Figure 18 Measure 68 of First Movement Figure 19 Measures 83 and 48 of First Movement Figure 20 Measure 113 of First Movement Figure 21 Measures 133-140 of First Movement Figure 22 Measures 48 - 52 of Second Movement v

Figure 23 Measures 63 - 65 of Second Movement 49 Figure 24 Measures 124 -127 of Second Movement 50 Figure 25 Measure 187 of Third Movement 51 Figure 26 Measure 83 of First Movement 53 Figure 27 Measures 105-108 of First Movement 54 Figure 28 Measure 276 of First Movement 55 Figure 29 Measures 1 * 4 of Second Movement 57 vi

November, 11,1976 2000 2003 2007 VITA Born, Minsk, Belarus B. A., Music Belarus State Academy of Music Minsk, Belarus M. M., Music, Sari Francisco Conservatory of Music San Francisco, California Teaching Assistant Music Department University of California, Los Angeles vii

ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATIQN Rachmaninoff and Russian Pianism: Performance Issues in the Piano Concerto in C minor, Opus 18 by Natalya V. Lundtvedt Doctor of Musical Arts University of California, Los Angeles, 2009 Professor Robert Winter, Chair As popular a work as Sergei Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 has been since its premiere in Moscow in 1901, no serious study of its performance styles has ever been undertaken, until now. This dissertation investigates central aspects of performance issues of the concerto. The pivotal issues of "authenticity" and "historically-informed performance" will b? addressed primarily through the abundance of recordings ranging frorn the early twentieth century tp the present time* These include the composer's own two recordings issued by the RCA Victor Company in 1924 and 1929. Defining the central issues of performance practice will require a thorough study of both the score and the composer's recordings. In spite of the low frequency response of these early electric recordings, they are clear enough to shed light oh many aspects of viii

the concert's performance. An analytical comparison of Rachmaninoff s interpretations with those of other representative pianists will provide fuller insights into sound Quality, technical execution, tempo and rhythm flexibility, balance with the orchestra and within the piano part, and spirituality. Obstacles to be encountered include discrepancies between the dates of Rachmaninoff s recording sessions, the general character of Rachmaninoff s performances reviews, limited critical analysis studies, and the lack of performance interpretation Sources. The subjectivity of the evaluation methodology also poses challenges. In addition, the project will explore the cultural background, historical and political surroundings at the beginning of the twentieth century and, especially, in the state of Rachmaninoff s mental and creative activity. At that tirhe he was undergoing intensive hypnosis treatments. Based on my research, I would hope to refine my own interpretative conception of this remarkable work, to achieve a greater understanding of other interpretations, and determine whether it is possible to arrive at a more "authentic" one. Finally, I would endeavor to investigate how time and aural traditions in piano teaching-coaching have influenced our performance perception of this indestructible work. ix

SETTING THE STAGE I. Introduction There is probably no other work in the piano concerto repertoire that is more beloved and more frequently performed than Sergey Rachmaninoff s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, composed in 1901. Indeed, between 1901 and 1942 Rachmaninoff himself performed the work in concert no fewer than 143 times. Already in the 1920s he had grown sick to death of concert managers and promoters who insisted that he perform the work wherever he Went. To partly satiate this demand, in both 1924 and 1929, he recorded the work for RCA with Leopold Stokowsi and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although electric (i.e. using microphones) recording had been introduced in 1923, the 1924 recording is still an acoustic recording—which may explain wfay Rachmaninoff re recorded the concerto in electronic format with the same orchestra and conductor five years later. While the restrictions of acoustic recording mandated a smaller ofchestra than in the later electronic recording, the differences between the two in terms of overall sound are not as night and day as we might expect.1 Given the accessibility of these recordings for more than the last eighty years (both were rereleased in CD format by RCA in 1992 and Naxos in 1999), it comes as a considerable surprise that any pianist wondering how Rachmaninoff might have played this perennial favorite will have to rely largely on the generalities of a few critics and biographers.2 Anyone wondering just how Rachmaninoff might have phrased the famous secondary theme from the first movement, for exarnple, will be on their own. 1 The DMA dissertation by Jay Alan Hershberger of Arizona State University states that Raclimaninoff played the first recording On an upright, but there^ is no evidence to support this surmise, Rachmaninoff would very likely not have agreed, and the overall piano sound is scarcely different from that on the second, 1929 recording. 2 A DMA dissertation by Jay Alan Hershberger at Arizona State University addresses performance issues in all of Rachmaninoff s works for piano and orchestra, but these too are very general in content. 1

To the extent that words can describe Rachmaninoff's extraordinary playing, this study attempts to fill that gap. At the heart is a detailed exploration of Rachmaninoff's two recordings, both hi their relationship to one another and their relationship to the published edition. I begin with an examination of Rachmaninoff s rather extended training as a pianist and comppser, on which his subsequent achievements firmly rested. During his career he rnade periodic remarks about piano playing, supplemented by what journalists, critics, and biographers have had to say. In my final section I attempt to address the thorny issue of whether there is a living performance tradition for the concerto. I have attempted to be representative rather than comprehensive, and some readers will find their favorite performance omitted. My belief is that those performances I have discussed will shed light on those I have not. My overall hope is that anyone playing this concerto for the first time, or returning to it (or siitfply wishing to get inside it), will find here all of the sources—primary and otherwise—necessary for a full understanding. II. Rachmaninoff: A Pianist's Training There are numerous biographies that document Rachmaninoff's life. Rather than rehash these, I Want to focus on Rachmaninoff's taming as a pianist, which goes a long Way toward explaining the remarkable range of figurations in his piano concertos. To understand Rachmaninoff's career as a pianist, it is important to understand his training as-a pianist. This not only deepens our understanding of his professional life but gives us important insights into him as a composer. Students of the piano will find it interesting to see how one of the century's great performers rdse to the great artist he became. Sergey Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was born at the Oneg estate in the Russian province of Novgorod on 20 March (Russian calendar; 2 April by the world calendar), 2

1873. His paternal ancestry was aristocratic; his grandfather Arcady, was an army officer and amateur musician who studied with the Irishman John Field. The composer's father Vasily was a talented composer-pianist, but it was Sergey's mother Lyubov who gave him his first piano and theory lessons at the age of four. Although in the past she had taken private piano lessons with the famous Anton Rubinstein, Lyubov Rachmaninoff decided that better instructions for her gifted son could be provided by her friend Anna Ornatzkaya. She was a recent graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where she studied the piano with Pr. Gustav Kross, a former student of Adolph von Henselt and Anton Rubinstein. She taught Sergey from 1880 till 1882. Unfortunately, there is no surviving account of Ornatzkaya's teaching methods. In 1882, the family's circumstances deteriorated due to his father's mismanagement, and by the time Rachmaninoff was nine years old all their estates had been sold and they had moved to St. Petersburg. With the Ornatzkaya's recommendation and help, Sergey was accepted to the lower division of the St. Petersburg conservatory with a full scholarship—now absolutely necessary due to the family's catastrophic financial situation. There Rachmaninoff studied piano with Gustav Kross's student Vladirriir Demyansky, who seemed uninterested in altering his routine teaching methods for an extremely gifted pupil. Consequently, Sergey was extremely bored by his lessons and definitely preferred figure skating to his music classes. At the same time, his mother was unable to monitor the child's studies adequately. Lacking supervision and strict hbme discipline, in 1885 Sergey failed all his subjects, making it doubtful whether he would be allowed to continue at the conservatoire. Facing her son's probable dismissal from the school, Lyubov turned for advice to Sergey's cousin, Alexander Siloti. He, at the age of twenty-two, had already embarked on a brilliant career as a virtuoso pianist and was one of Liszt's favorite students. Impressed with the boy's 3

ability, Siloti recommended the young Rachmaninoff to his former teacher, Nikolai Zverev, a professor at the Moscow conservatory known for his strict disciplinary regimen. Nikolai Zverev (1832-1893) was one of the most colorful personalities in Moscow musical life in the second half of the nineteenth century. A mathematics and physics major at Moscow University, he studied piano privately with Alexander Dubuque. Like Rachmaninoff s grandfather, Dubuque been a pupil of Muzio dementi's pupil John Field, taught Alexander Villoing (teacher of the Rubinstein brothers), and Milii Balakirev, who used to claim that he owed his technique to the ten lessons he had with Dubuque. Later in life Zverev had enriched his piano skills by taking private lessons with another influential pedagogue in Russia, Adolph von Henselt. Henselt, of German origin, had, like Field, spent almost all his life in Russia. In his youth, Henselt had taken piano lessons from Hummel, who in his turn had studied with Mozart, Salieri, Clementi, Albrechtsberger, and Haydn. Both John Field and Adolph von Henselt are considered the fathers of the Russian school of piano playing. However, the most important exponent of this school of playing was Russian-born pianist and teacher Anton Rubinstein (1829- 1894). His playing made a lasting impression on many of the important pedagogues of that era, including NicoM Zverev. At the age of thirty-five, Zverev abandoned his civil service career and plunged into piano teaching. Originally with the help of Dubuque, he became one of the most successful and famous Moscow's pedagogues. In 1870, Nikolai Rubinstein enrolled him as a piano teacher for junior students at Moscow conservatory, but Zverev continued to give his expensive private lessons to the children of the nobles. It was also bis habit to select three young boys of outstanding talent, to bring them to his own home, to educate 4

therrij and give them board at his own expense. One of them was Sergey kachmanirioff, who entered the Zverev household in 1885. With implacable determination Zverev instilled a capacity for hard work and practice routine upon his students. The discipline was incredibly strict. Every day exeept Sundays boys were supposed to wake up at six a.hi. in order to start their rigorous piano regimen. Although Zverev never demonstrated anything on the piano during the lessons and he never even touched the keys in front of his guests or students, the results of his teaching methods were most impressive. Unfortunately, neither Rachmaninoff nor his fOrnier students left any detailed accounts on either Zverev* s teaching style of his pedagogical principles, Matvey Pressman, Rachmaninoff s classmate and friend, wrpte in his reminiscence that the most valuable ppint of technique Zverev taught was hand training. "Zverev was absolutely merciless if a pupil played with a tense hand arid consequently played coarsely and rigidly, as if, through a tense wrist, a pupil rolled his elbows. Zverev gave many really elementary exercises and studies for perfecting different techniques. An extremely valuable feature of his teaching was that he introduced his pupils to music from the Very beginning. To play unrhythmically, or without observing musical grammar and punctuation, was simply not allowed by Zverev. Of course, this is the whole basis of music, upon which it is not difficult to build even the biggest artistic structure." In keeping with the principle of placing music rather than mere piano playing, Zverev required his students to become familiar with the basic orchestral and chamber works of the Western classical tradition by playing them through in four-hand piano arrangements, either among theniselves or with a lady pianist whom he employed specially for the purpose. As a wise educator, Zverev was paying for the tickets and taking his "home" students to every concert or opera production in Moscow. Moreover, 5

on Sundays his house was open to the representatives of the Russian "intellectual elite." Among his guests were such musical luminaries as Peter Tchaikovsky, Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein, Anton Arensky, Sergey Taneyev, and Alexander Siloti. In the Zverev's house young Sergey Rachmaninoff was introduced to most of them. Sergey's progress under Zverev must have been exceptional. At the beginning of his second year he was awarded the "Rubinstein scholarship" and appeared regularly in student concerts. Among the reasons for his exceptional progress was Zverev's rigorous attention to the technical side of piano playing. Josef Lhevinne, himself a product of the Russian Conservatory system, described a similar technical training. He stated: "Particular attention is given to the mechanical side of technic, the exercises, scales and arpeggios. American readers should understand that the full course at the leading Russian conservatories is one of about eight or nine years. During the first five years, the pupil is supposed to be building the base upon which must rest the more advanced work of the artist. The last three or four years at the conservatory are given over to the study of master works. Only pupils who manifest great talent are permitted to remain during the last year. During the first five years the backbone of the daily work in all Russian schools are scales and arpeggios. All technique reverts to these simple materials and the student i$ made to understand this from his very entrance to the conservatory. As time goes on the scales and arpeggios become more difficult, more varied, and more rapid, but they are never omitted from the daily work. The pupil who attempted complicated pieces without this preliminary technical drill would be laughed at in Russia." Later on, as Lhevinne, Rachmaninoff emphasized the importance of the scales and Hanon studies, too. In 1888 Rachmaninoff entered the Conservatory's upper division. At Zverev's request, Sergey enrolled in the piano studio of Alexander Siloti. He was Rachmaninoff s 6

first cousin and the person who recognized Sergey's talent and had sent him to Zverev in the first place. In his youth, Siloti himself was a Zverev's student. At the age of twelve he entered the Nikolai Rubinstein's studio in the Moscow conservatory arid upon the graduation was recommended to take a couple of private lessons with the celebrated Anton Rubinstein, Although the incontestable star of the nineteenth-century piano world, Anton Rubinstein had not had positive experience with Franz Liszt; nonetheless, he sent young Siloti to Weimar to study with the old master. In Sil6ti's case, the apprenticeship with Liszt was extremely successful and Alexander became one of his favorite students. As a young virtuoso Siloti was well-known in Europe, the United States, aiid especially in Ru$sia. The association with Liszt made rirrn more famous than before and helped him tb obtain the teaching position in the Moscow Conservatory. Unfortunately, no account of his teaching style was left, and we can only imagine what portion of Liszt's legacy Was passed on through his students. Rachmaninoff seldom talked about any specific influences from bis three piano teachers. However, he emphasized constantly the great impression that listening to the Anton Rubinstein's playing had made upon him. Although Sergey had never studied directly with Rubinstein, it seems that Rubinstein's artistry probably influenced Rachmahinoff-the-pianjst the most After Liszt, Rubinstein (1829-1894) was generally considered the greatest pianist of his time. In his yoUth, he began to copy Liszt's grandiose pianistic style, laying the basis for a reputation grounded in a colossal technique and a thunderous tone. Particularly after Liszt had withdrawn from the concert career, Anton Rubinstein dominated the stage throughout the world. In 1859 he founded the Russian Musical Society and in three years he founded the legendary St. Petersburg Conservatoire, of which he was also the first director. Throughout the 1885-1886 concert season he performed in Europe, the United 7

States, and Russia a monumental series of historical recitals—seven lengthy programs covering a large part of the piano literature. Usually, on the morning following after the performance, he would repeat the program for the students' benefit without any charge. In Moscow, Zverev and his pupils attended both evening and morning recitals. The memory of these magical events stayed with Rachmaninoff for his entire life. Later he wrote: "It was not so much Rubinstein's magnificent technique that held one spellbound as the profound, spiritually refined musicianship, which spoke from every note and bar he played, and singled him out as the most original and unequaled pianist in the world. Naturally I never missed a note, and I remember how deeply I was affected by his rendering of the Appasionata of Chopin's Sonata in B-minor. Once he repeated the whole finale of the Sonata in B minor, perhaps because he had not succeeded in the short crescendo at the end as he would have wished. One listened entranced, and could have heard the passage over and over again, so unique was the beauty of the tone which his magic touch drew from the keys. I have never heard the virtuoso piece Islatney, by Balakirev, as Rubinstein played it, and his interpretation of Schumann's little fantasy, The bird as Prophet, was inimitable in poetic refinement; to describe the diminuendo of the pianissimo at the end as the "fluttering away of the little bird" would be hopelessly inadequate. Inimitable, too, was the soul-stirring imagery in Kreisleriana, the last passage of which I have never heard anyone play in the same manner; One of Rubinstein's great secrets was his use of the pedal. He himself has very happily expressed his ideas on the subject when he said, 'The pedal is the soul of the piano.' No pianist should ever forget this." Von Biilow dubbed Rubinstein the "Michelangelo of Music" and wrote in his reminiscences: "There was a grandeur, a loftiness, an intensely passionate, spontaneous 8

quality in his playing that even Liszt could scarcely match. The elements of the Russian musical character were all present: warm emotional projection, drive, abandon^ and sincerity. He was called the 'Russian Bear' and his appearance and manner greatly resembled Beethoven's." In addition to his fine finger technique and tonal sensitivity, Rubinstein naturally adopted Liszt's free use of a full arm movement. Josef Lhevinne observed how he "employed the weight of his body and shoulders." He added that "Rubinstein could be heard over the entire orchestra playing fortissimo. The piano seemed to peal out gloriously as the king of the entire orchestra; but there was never any suggestion of noise, no disagreeable pounding." Rachmaninoff s friend, the pianist Josef Hofmann, had studied with Rubinstein as his only private student. Later, Hofmann wrote a book in which he described Rubinstein's methods and the principles of his piano playing and teaching. Hofmann emphasized Rubinstein's refusal to demonstrate at the piano, his indirect approach through the use of imagery, his refusal to allow liberties with the text, his insistence on mood projection. Some of Rubinstein's advice reflected the importance to him of mental practicing: "Before your fingers touch the keys you must begin the piece mentally—that is, you must have settled in your mind the tempo, the manner of touch, and above all the attack of the first notes, before you actual playing begins, And by the way, what is the character of this piece? Is it dramatic, tragic, lyric, romantic, humorous, heroic, sublime, mystic—what?" Hofmann further described the nature of his instructions: "Once I asked him for the fingering of a rather complex passage. 'Play it with your nose,' he replied, 'but make it sound well!' This remark puzzled me, and there I sat, wondering what he meant. As I understand it now he meant: 'Help yourself! The Lord helps those who help 9

themselves!' As I said before, Rubinstein never played for me the works I had to study. He explained, analyzed, elucidated everything that he wanted me to know; but, thjs done, he left me to my own judgment, for only then, he would explain, would my achievement be my own and incontestable property. I learned frpm Rubinstein in this way the valuable truth that the conception of tone-pictures 6btained through the playing of another gives us only transient impressions; they come and go, while the self-Created cohceptipn will last and remain our own." Rachmaninoff heard Rubinstein only once more in the eight years before his death, but his playing left an indelible impression qn him. Shortly after he embarked On his career as a pianist in the West, he remarked in an interview: "In my opinion, not one contemporary pianist even domes near to the great Rubinstein... The possibilities of the pjano are far from exhausted; until this happens, before pianists of the present and the future will stand a great goal: to be compared in their art with Rubinstein..." In the spring of 1891 Siloti resigned from his position due to a conflict with the Moscow Conservatory directpr Safonov. Rachmaninoff had only one year left before graduation, and he did not feel comfortable to transfer to another teacher. Sergey decided to take his final piano examination a year early and for the following three weeks prepared two main pieces assigned by the committee: Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata and the first movement of Chopin's Funeral March Sonata. Because of his remarkable speed of learning, Rachmaninoff was able to graduate in piano with honors on June 5th, 1891. In 1892, under tbe tutelage of his harmony professor Anton Arensky and counterpoint professor Sergey Taneyev, he received his diploma in composition, and was awarded the Great Gold Medal for his one-act opera Aleko. The opera was highly praised by the Rachmaninoff s compositional idol Peter Tchaikovsky, who surrounded the grade of 5 10

(equal to an A) by four pluses. After leaving the Moscow Conservatory, Rachmaninoff embarked on a full-time career as a composer. Despite the fact that his financial situation was precarious, he did not even attempt to become a full-time concert pianist. He gave private lessons and occasionally performed as a soloist or chamber ensemble musician. At the time of the 1892 Moscow Electrical Exhibition, where Rachmaninoff played the first movement of Rubinstein's d-minor concerto, a student contemporary recalled that although Sergey's playing was confident, "technically the concerto was played rather badly. One got the impression that Rachmaninoff was not master of the instrument, and I believe that he had worked on it only a little. This appearance was a failure, particularly after the brilliant debuts of the young Josef Lhevinne." During the 1893-1895 seasons Rachmaninoff appeared as a pianist only with Paul Pabst in the premiere of his Fantasy-Pictures for two pianos, and toured Russia and Poland as an accompanist for the italian violinist Teresina Tua. Yet during those seasons he composed prolifically. He completed his Fantasy for two pianos, his symphonic poem The Rock, and the second Trio Elegiaque (composed on the occasion of Tchaikovsky's death). Among other works were short pieces for piano and piano four-hands, the orchestral Caprice bohemien, the Moments musicawc for piano, as well as several songs and choruses. In 1895 Rachmaninoff composed the expansive Symphony No.l in d-minor; the prestigious critic Mitrofan Belyayev agreed to arrange its performance. The premiere took place in St. Petersburg on 27 March 1897, under Glazunov's baton. It was an unmitigated disaster and the work was condemned by critics. After this crushing failure, Rachmaninoff later told biographer Oskar von Riesemann, "all my hopes, all belief in myself, had been 11

destroyed." Severely depressed, Rachmaninoff was not able to compose at all, but he remained active as a performer. All artists, of course, both reflect and anticipate their own times, and their formation depends as much on their environment as on their genetic structure. In the case of Rachmaninoff, his biographers and chroniclers have concentrated on very narrow parameters^-for example, the psychological crisis of 1900 that was presumably "cured" by his consultation with a well-known therapist, making possible the completion of the Second Piano Concerto. Yet Rachmaninoff grew up in a Russia that was both struggling to retain an old order and preparing itself for the revolutionary upheavals of 1917 and following. At the turn of the twentieth century tzarist Russia was in the middle of considerable social turmoil. Society was literally falling apart. In 1881 the 8-year old Rachmaninoff would have not escaped the wrenching news of the assassination of Alexander II. The regular assassination of other government officials, coupled with student protests produced a climate that undermined the veneer of aristocratic control into which Rachmaninoff was born. The decline of both the influence and the cohesive power of Russian orthodoxy led many to view Christianity as a failure. The situation was often compared with the devastating Mongolian invasions of the thirteenth century. Young artists saw the future in extremely dark colors, reinforcing the view of the the Russian Orthodox Church that the current situation reflected God's punishment for a faith that had become too weak. This led to magazines/movements such as The World of Art, whose 1898 founding by artists that included Alexander and Leon Bakst cannot have gone unnoticed by Rachmaninoff. In the midst of all this turmoil Rachmaninoff may have come to rely more and more on the 12

selfrcontrol and stoicism that seemed to mark his mature personality. Equally important among these nascent turn-of-the-century movements was Russian Symbolism, best known for its contributions to Russian poetry. It was immensely influenced by the irrational and mystical poetry/philosophy of Fyodor Tyutchev and Vladimir Solovyov, as well as by the works of French Symbolist and Decadent poets such as Stephane Mallarjne, Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire. Russian Symbolism focused hyperbolically on the individual—in many cases reflected by the depressed self-expression of poets who were searching for truth through the synthesis (hence the expression "synesthesia") of various art forms. This synthesis is perhaps the underlying reason why their works are full of subtle musicality, ominous allusions, arcane vocabulary, and minutely shifting colors. Not only would Rachmaninoff have been unable to ignore the contributions of Symbolist poets such as Valery Bryusov, Konstantin Bajmont, Fyodor Sologub, Alexander Blok and Andrei Bely, but the spiritual appeal of their work caused him to set several of their poems to memorable songs—songs that today can be compared to the very best by Tchaikovsky. Although a full exploration of the influence of Russian culture on Rachmaninoff s development would be the subject of another study, we cannpt forget the turbulent and edge-of-the-world time in which he came to maturity. At the very least, his philosophical stoicism and the remarkable subtlety of his style can both be said to have been deeply influenqed by the world that surrdunded him during his formative years. In 1897-98 Rachmaninoff accepted a conducting position with Sawa Mamontov's Moscow Private Russian Opera, where he was very successful and met the celebrated bass Feodor Chaliapin. Their artistic collaboration and friendship endured for a lifetime. Meanwhile, in 1899, through the arrangement of Rachmaninoff s cousin Silotij Sergey was 13

Full document contains 104 pages
Abstract: As popular a work as Sergei Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 has been since its premiere in Moscow in 1901, no serious study of its performance styles has ever been undertaken, until now. This dissertation investigates central aspects of performance issues of the concerto. The pivotal issues of "authenticity" and "historically-informed performance" will be addressed primarily through the abundance of recordings ranging from the early twentieth century to the present time. These include the composer's own two recordings issued by the RCA Victor Company in 1924 and 1929. Defining the central issues of performance practice will require a thorough study of both the score and the composer's recordings. In spite of the low frequency response of these early electric recordings, they are clear enough to shed light on many aspects of the concert's performance. An analytical comparison of Rachmaninoff s interpretations with those of other representative pianists will provide fuller insights into sound quality, technical execution, tempo and rhythm flexibility, balance with the orchestra and within the piano part, and spirituality. Obstacles to be encountered include discrepancies between the dates of Rachmaninoff s recording sessions, the general character of Rachmaninoff's performances reviews, limited critical analysis studies, and the lack of performance interpretation sources. The subjectivity of the evaluation methodology also poses challenges. In addition, the project will explore the cultural background, historical and political surroundings at the beginning of the twentieth century and, especially, in the state of Rachmaninoffs mental and creative activity. At that time he was undergoing intensive hypnosis treatments. Based on my research, I would hope to refine my own interpretative conception of this remarkable work, to achieve a greater understanding of other interpretations, and determine whether it is possible to arrive at a more "authentic" one. Finally, I would endeavor to investigate how time and aural traditions in piano teaching-coaching have influenced our performance perception of this indestructible work.