Something for Thursday (Rachmaninoff at 150)

Rachmaninoff wrote his first piano concerto when he was 17 and 18 years old. He dedicated to his teacher and cousin, Alexander Siloti, a composer and pianist who would later play the concerto himself a number of times. The work reflects his youthful exuberance, even if it isn’t quite as openly melodic as the later concertos (he would write four total for piano and orchestra). As a youthful composition, the influences can be heard clearly: the piece begins with a dramatic fanfare-ish introduction that is reminiscent of the Grieg concerto (which happens to be one of the most enduring piano concertos of the entire Romantic era).

Rachmaninoff’s first concerto isn’t imbued with the kind of soaring lyricism that would be the hallmark of his mature work, but there are a lot of moments of wondrous delicacy in this concerto…a spot in the second movement where the bassoon enters with a descending motif, and the second subject of the last movement. Even this early in his career Rachmaninoff was doing amazing things with the contrasts of the second subject in his final movements!

Sixteen years after the concerto’s first publication, Rachmaninoff heavily revised the work in accordance with his experience and knowledge in the intervening years. While the concerto still never achieved levels of popularity equal to his Second or Third concertos–a fact which vexed Rachmaninoff greatly–it is still a charming piece, at times fiery and dramatic, at other times gently lyrical, and at still other times charming and effervescent. Not bad, for a first concerto!

Here is Rachamaninoff’s Piano Concero No. 1, in F-sharp minor.

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