RACHMANINOV: INFLUENCES AND CONTEMPORARIES
PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Tchaikovsky died in 1893, when Rachmaninov was 20 years old. Tchaikovsky loomed large over all Russian composers of Rachmaninov’s generation: Glazunov, Arensky, Gliere, etc. Rachmaninov especially revered Tchaikovsky’s melodic gift, as well as the composer's masterful orchestration, particularly with regarding to wind writing —which is definitely in evidence in this particular musical example. Rachmaninov composed his Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor Op. 9 in 1893 in memory of Tchaikovsky, and inscribed on the title page “In Memory of a Great Artist”.
Poem of Ecstasy
Alexander Scriabin exerted a tremendously progressive influence on many Russian composers around the turn of the 20th century. Rachmaninov and Scriabin had an uneasy friendship. They were very much at odds in their approach to composing, performing, public success, artistic philosophy, Orthodox faith, finances, personal relationships with associates, women, friends and family. Each produced an apocalyptic vision of their own universe in sound. Rachmaninov celebrated endless beauty and love. Scriabin celebrated sound turning into all-consuming light. Scriabin thought his music held the universe together, and his followers were not shocked by this claim. They flocked around Scriabin to catch glimpses of unearthly light through his music. Rachmaninov’s followers travelled long distances to witness his kind of miracles in music, whenever he was performing himself. Here are the absolutely glorious ending moments of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy: enjoy! WOW! An amazing piece of music! USE FULL SCREEN:)
Symphony No. 4
Alexander Glazunov was one of the great musical prodigies of all time, especially with regard to composition. He began composing at the age of 9. As a youth of 14 his music was introduced to Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote: ‘it was an orchestral score written in childish fashion. The boy’s talent was indubitably clear.” Glazunov’s Symphony No. 1 was completed at the age of 18 and performed to critical acclaim. Glazunov became director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1905 and remained there until 1928. The composer left the Soviet Union in 1928 and never returned. Rachmaninov never forgave Glazunov for the disaster of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1 premiere in 1897, at which Glazunov was the conductor. The performance was a fiasco, primarily due to an under-rehearsed orchestra and an intoxicated (drunk) conductor!
Symphony No. 1
Anton Arensky was born in 1861 and died in 1906. He studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Rimksy-Korsakov and became a professor himself at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his illustrious students were Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninov. Tchaikovsky wqs the greatest influence on Arensky’s musical style. Rimsky-Korsakov did not have much praise for Arensky, writing “In his youth, Arensky did not escape some influence from me; later, the influence came from Tchaikovsky. He will be quickly forgotten.” Arensky died young, at age 44 and thus his output is relatively small. His works are little known in the USA, but certainly more popular in Russia. Offered here is the Finale to his Symphony No. 1. It shows a distinct Rimsky-Korsakov influence in the brilliant orchestration, as well as a feeling of Russian folk music.
The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff were two composers with relatively similar backgrounds. They both came from musical families; both their families were considered to be in the upper echelon of the Tsar’s Russia; they both trained with the best composers/teachers. Regardless of the preceding facts, their music drastically diverged from one another. Rachmaninoff chose to follow the foolproof methodology of the romantic era composers, whereas Stravinsky chose to create his own methods of composition. The backgrounds of these two composers were remarkably similar. The most obvious similarity between the two is the time of their birth. Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky were both composers of the same time period in music history. Rachmaninoff was born on April 1, 1873, whereas Stravinsky was born on June 18, 1882. They also left Russia in the second decade of the 20th century and both wound up living in Southern California! This excerpt from The Rite of Spring (Danse sacrale) certainly demonstrates that these two composers occupied two different worlds!
Piano Concerto No. 3
Nikolai Medtner was a contemporary of Rachmaninov and one of the composer’s closest friends and colleagues. Medtner was, like Rachmaninov, a virtuoso pianist of the highest order as well as brilliant composer. Virtually unknown even now in America, the music of Medtner was influenced heavily by both Scriabin and Rachmaninov. He composed 14 Piano Sonatas and 3 Piano Concertos. Medtner gave high praise to Rachmaninov on the occasion of Rachmaninov’s 60th jubilee birthday tribute: “It is precisely because of his fame that it is difficult to speak of Rachmaninov. This fame is more than his: it is the glory of our art. This rare identification of his personal fame with our whole art is evidence of the authenticity of his inspiration. His own music’s chief themes are the themes of his life—not the facts of life, but the unique themes of an unique life.”
Symphony No. 3 "Ilia Mourometz"
Here is one of my all-time favorite works, and a piece that is rarely heard, given the mammoth size of the orchestra and the length of the symphony: around 70-80 minutes. Glière was born in 1875 and thus was almost an exact contemporary of Rachmaninov. Like Rachmaninov, Glière composed in a very late-Romantic style for essentially his entire long career (he died in 1956). Unlike Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev, Glière never left Russia or the Soviet Union. Glière studied at the Moscow Conservatory and later became the professor of composition at that institution. The composer weathered the traumas of the Stalinist years by composing in a very accessible and “non-formalist” manner, and was awarded many prizes during his composing career. He was Prokofiev’s very first composition teacher, starting when Prokofiev was 11 years old.
Piano Concerto No. 1
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was almost a generation younger than Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and was considered to be the “bad boy” of “modern” music at the outset of his career. His early music was seen as strident, aggressive, percussive, dissonant, and even ‘sarcastic’, according to critical reviews of the day. A comparison of Prokofiev’s piano writing in his Piano Concerto No. 1, composed within 3 years of Rachmaninov’s ultra-romantic Piano Concerto No. 3, shows just how different these two composers were in style, technique, and aesthetics. Rachmaninov was condescending towards Prokofiev: one one occasion when Rachmaninov was performing a Scriabin Sonata at a memorial concert that was attended by Prokofiev in 1915, Prokofiev went to see Rachmaninov in the green room after the concert. “Well,” Sergei said, “despite everything, you’ve played very well.” Rachmaninov smiled at him in utter disdain: “And you there, perhaps, expected me to play badly?” Then, turning his back on Prokofiev, he spoke to someone else in the room. “With this brief exchange,” Prokofiev said later, “our initial good relationship ended.”