I had the following published several times. It could easily be entitled, 'The Story Behind Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 ....
The Story Behind ‘Brief Encounter’
Millions of people throughout the world have watched the award winning 1945 movie, Brief Encounter. The film tells the heart-wrenching story of a middle class English wife and mother of two children, fatefully brought together in a brief encounter (hence the movie’s title) with a doctor. The action or rather the lack of it, for the affair of the heart remains unconsummated, mainly takes place in the austere surroundings of an urban railway station during the last months of World War 11.
The tender romance between the two strangers begins when Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), returning from one of her weekly shopping excursions to her home town of Milford, gets a little grit in her eye. With some sympathy, a passenger, Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), a consultant doctor at a local hospital comes to her aid and removes the grit.
A triumph for playwright, Noel Coward and movie maker David Lean the movie captured the mood of a sombre nation. It was in fact an adaptation of Coward’s 1936 one act play, Still Life. The motion picture came second in a British Film Institute poll (1999) of The Top 100 British films. It was also a hit in the U.S. where Celia Johnson was awarded Academy Award for Best Actress.
Music from Which Poured Tears
Why Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 was chosen as the movie’s theme music is not known. However, the romantic drama of the symphony was an inspired choice and forever associated with the movie. Many regard it as the most romantic piece of orchestral music ever written. It reached No. 1 position in Classic FM’s annual Hall of Fame listeners’ choice of 300 best pieces of music. Less well known is the background of the concerto itself; It is of the strangest coincidence that it too was almost certainly inspired by an unconsummated love affair of the heart.
In 1887 Rachmaninov, one of Russia’s greatest musicians composed his First Symphony. It took two years to complete but unfortunately it was premiered under the baton of a very drunk Alexander Glazunov, who, to add insult to injury was critical of it. That it was afterwards scathingly reviewed was hardly surprising.
As a consequence of this public humiliation Sergei Rachmaninov became clinically depressed. His self esteem destroyed, the gifted conductor, composer, and pianist could thereafter do no more than doodle musical scores.
In an attempt to restore his sense of self worth he was recommended to neurologist and amateur musician Dr Nikolai Dahl. During 1890 the respected practitioner administered a course of hypnosis accompanied by ‘positive suggestion therapy.’ It was only after four months of daily remedial sessions that Rachmaninov’s creativity returned, the evidence of which is found in a piano concerto that has inspired countless music lovers the world over ever since.
Inspiration is not Dedication
In his gratitude this moving piece of music was dedicated to the psychotherapist by Rachmaninov. However, a dedication is not the same thing as inspiration, and anyway the social mores of the day would hardly have allowed the true inspiration for the music to be revealed. The talented pianist Howard Shelley, an expert on Rachmaninov, is thoughtful on just who did inspire the composer’s most famous concerto. He writes: “One member of Rachmaninov’s family once suggested to me that rather than Dr. Nikolai Dahl’s hypnotherapy having been responsible for Rachmaninov’s miraculous recovery, it was actually his interest in Dahl’s highly attractive daughter that fired him up and got him composing again.”
To anyone who loves the Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos, I recommend the recording of the "fifth" concerto arranged by Warenberg using the 2nd symphony. Brillant Classic 8900. Some critics hated it, but to me it sounds like Rachmanonoff himself is at the piano. Listen to it and make your own decision.
Thanks for the article, a good read Michael. This Piano concerto to be is performed magnificently by Vladimir Ashkenazy and I was lucky enough, whilst at university, to attend a masterclass with him. Something I will never forget.