Music of a Sad Soul

3 Jul 2013

Sergei Rachmaninoff has a special place in my heart. This may sound cliché to my fellow pianist friends but I cannot deny the emotional impact his music has on me when I listen and play his music.

Rachmaninoff, piano, Rachmaninov
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Rachmaninoff was a pianist, composer and giant! It was rumoured he stood 6 feet 6 inches or 1.98 metres tall, and had abnormally large hands which gave him an advantage at the piano (I just want to note that it is large hands with fingers in proportion which is good for piano playing, not just long gangly fingers by themselves!) Rachmaninoff's music is sometimes demanding for smaller hands as it often calls for large chords to be played. Watch the comedic duo Igudesman and Joo's video called "Rachmaninoff had big hands" and you may understand what I mean.

Even though Rachmaninoff was successful during his studies at university, he did not enjoy an easy career as critics and music writers of the time considered his music out of date. It would have been perfect if he was born about 80 years earlier! He said himself: "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".

It was after a disastrous premiere of his Symphony no.1 that Rachmaninoff had his nervous breakdown and first fell into depression. It left him unable to compose for 3 years and depression haunted him for most of his life. It was said by those who knew him later in life that he was the saddest person they knew. I believe it's his unique situation that allowed him to compose such gut wrenching and powerful music.

The first piece I played by Rachmaninoff was Elegie op 3 no 1. I remember the experience as it almost brought me to tears. The pain and sadness was so vivid I had never heard or played anything like it. It may be quite a different experience just listening to it, but I found a recording of Rachmaninoff playing the Elegie on piano roll from 1929!

For those who have seen my Chopin 101 post you would have read that Chopin's music pops up in mainstream media everywhere. More interestingly, Rachmaninoff's music inspired a modern ballad. You must know Celine Dion right? Well, the song All By Myself written by Eric Carmen was inspired by the second movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto no 2, a piece I was privileged to play with orchestra. Oops... I don't have a recording of me playing it but here's a video of the entire work. (The bit from the song features from 10:50) This concerto is one of Rachmaninoff's most well-known works. 

piano concerto no 2, sergei rachmaninoff, elegie, chopinholic, rachmaninoff, rachmaninov, concerto, vocalise,

Now I want you break out of all the intenseness and sadness and help me out! I have been urged by some people to do more posts on music, but I'm realising quickly this is quite a hard topic for me. You know what they say - the more you know, the more complicated it gets. Have you been inspired to click on and listen to the links? Are you finding them interesting and easy to understand? If you have further questions about the music posts, I'm happy to answer them. Comment below or on the Facebook page!

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