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Thread: Rachmaninov Symphony no.2 - end of 1st movement timpani

  1. #16
    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Interestingly. When I went to check this timpani at the end of the first movement of the 2nd symphony, I mistakenly listened to the endings of the first movement of the 1st symphony. I have maybe 6 different recordings. In this set (a great download deal for 99 cents by the way), the first movement of the first symphony ends with a cymbal crash. None of the other ones had that.
    www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07B8M11J5/


    NOTE: I say cymbal crash because I have no idea what they call it.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Jan-13-2020 at 17:57.
    "Life is too short to spend it wandering in the barren Sahara of musical trash."
    --Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff

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    A cymbal crash? Now that I've never heard - who is performing this?

    Many (most?) recordings and performances of this great symphony have an added timpani note at the very end of this movement - and it is completely wrong! Rachmaninoff was quite clear what he wanted: a guttural grunt from the cello and bass:
    rach2.jpg

    Yet so many conductors think they know better than the composer and add an intrusive timpani whack to it. There are many otherwise fine recordings that ruin this effective orchestration by their meddling. Rachmaninoff was a brilliant orchestrator; if he wanted that extra note he would have added it - but he never did! Andre Previn with the LSO understands it and doesn't add it. The late Mariss Jansons did in all of his recordings, and he should have known better.

    Someday maybe conductors will trust and respect this symphony and always perform it the way it is written: without cuts and added percussion. The first movement repeat I can live without, since Rachmaninoff didn't play it when he conducted it. It would be interesting to trace where that added timpani note began and why.

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    A cymbal crash? Now that I've never heard - who is performing this?
    Hopefully I did not confuse things because my post is for the end of the first movement of the first symphony and I probably should have found a different thread for it.

    It is Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13: I. Grave. Allegro ma non troppo · Moscow State Symphony Orchestra & Pavel Kogan

    Here it is queued near the end of the first movement so you can hear it.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Jan-14-2020 at 18:34.
    "Life is too short to spend it wandering in the barren Sahara of musical trash."
    --Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    A cymbal crash? Now that I've never heard - who is performing this?

    Many (most?) recordings and performances of this great symphony have an added timpani note at the very end of this movement - and it is completely wrong! Rachmaninoff was quite clear what he wanted: a guttural grunt from the cello and bass:

    It would be interesting to trace where that added timpani note began and why.
    I first heard it on a recording by the Pittsburgh Symphony under William Steinberg (Command Classics), a performance with the full panoply of cuts — early 1960s maybe? Probably not the earliest example.

    As one who knows the symphony thoroughly in its full form and in the various cut versions, I believe a few of the large cuts vastly improve the work — and I realize virtually no one defends this position these days. I wouldn't touch the first movement or the slow movement, but both the scherzo and the finale, I believe benefit from large cuts. Specifically, the scherzo is a seven part rondo with coda. The cut version makes it a five part rondo, with the sections in red cut:

    ABACABA

    Same deal with the finale, whose exposition and recap are structured in the manner of a sonata rondo. The first theme section in the recap, like the reprise in the scherzo, is ternary (ABA). In both movements reprising the B section thoroughly kills the momentum. Moreover, the return to A after the B section works wonderfully when the return is surprising, as it is the first time through in both the scherzo and finale. When reprised, the B sections and the retransition to the main idea fall flat.

    Interestingly, while composing the scherzo Rachmaninoff wrote a letter to Taneyev worried that he needed some sort of guidance on the handling of rondo form.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Jan-14-2020 at 18:58.

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    I don't know...in the hands of a fine orchestra and a conductor who has a sense of drama the whole thing works just fine for me. It is a long symphony, but so are those of Bruckner and Mahler and no one seems to want to cut them. I'm of the Erich Leinsdorf school of The Composer's Advocate. Play what the man wrote!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fritz Kobus View Post
    Hopefully I did not confuse things because my post is for the end of the first movement of the first symphony and I probably should have found a different thread for it.

    It is Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13: I. Grave. Allegro ma non troppo · Moscow State Symphony Orchestra & Pavel Kogan

    Here it is queued near the end of the first movement so you can hear it.

    Confuse isn't quite the right word...there's quite a difference between Symphony 1 and Symphony 2. But yes, once again the conductor has added that cymbal crash - it's not in the score. The cymbal part does have a whopping three notes in the first movement - and two of those are for suspended cymbal. Very dull for the players. Many conductors have tampered with the percussion parts in this symphony, usually cutting some of it out - Rach wrote a lot for the triangle and it gets tiring to the ear.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    I don't know...in the hands of a fine orchestra and a conductor who has a sense of drama the whole thing works just fine for me. It is a long symphony, but so are those of Bruckner and Mahler and no one seems to want to cut them. I'm of the Erich Leinsdorf school of The Composer's Advocate. Play what the man wrote!
    Rachmaninoff isn't like Bruckner and Mahler. There are only a couple of major works of his that are digressive or less than directly to the point. The Second Symphony (and the First Piano Sonata) is one of them. At the time he was living in Dresden and under the spell of Wagner, claiming he carried a miniature score of Die Meistersinger around with him in his coat pocket. The problem with the scherzo is that the retransition from the central C section (ABACABA) is much more powerful than the retransition to the final rondo statement. So, as part of a seven part rondo, the final statement of the theme is inevitably a dreadful anticlimax. Same problem in the finale. He hobbles the dramatic arc in both movements by unnecessary repetition.

    Once again, the above is a minority viewpoint. Virtually no one these days would accept it.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Rachmaninoff isn't like Bruckner and Mahler. There are only a couple of major works of his that are digressive or less than directly to the point. The Second Symphony (and the First Piano Sonata) is one of them. At the time he was living in Dresden and under the spell of Wagner, claiming he carried a miniature score of Die Meistersinger around with him in his coat pocket. The problem with the scherzo is that the retransition from the central C section (ABACABA) is much more powerful than the retransition to the final rondo statement. So, as part of a seven part rondo, the final statement of the theme is inevitably a dreadful anticlimax. Same problem in the finale. He hobbles the dramatic arc in both movements by unnecessary repetition.

    Once again, the above is a minority viewpoint. Virtually no one these days would accept it.
    I think you're right, EB. As a composer, I think you're absolutely right. But for some reason, when I get into the piece, I don't want to be a composer and I don't want to be right. I just want more B; it's too good not to hear again. Like a potato chip, i can't eat just one.

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    The problem with the scherzo is that the retransition from the central C section (ABACABA) is much more powerful than the retransition to the final rondo statement.
    See. Here is my problem. That ABACABA stuff may as well be ABRACADBRA for all it means to me. Maybe not knowing that stuff, I don't mind the transitions whatever they may be and where ever they may go.
    "Life is too short to spend it wandering in the barren Sahara of musical trash."
    --Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fritz Kobus View Post
    See. Here is my problem. That ABACABA stuff may as well be ABRACADBRA for all it means to me. Maybe not knowing that stuff, I don't mind the transitions whatever they may be and where ever they may go.
    This is not esoteric. Just listen to the cut scherzo (for example, the Steinberg/Pittsburgh recording) and any complete version and the difference will either matter to you or it won't. It requires no study or diagramming of the structure. You'll either feel it or you won't.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    Basil Valentine

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    As a composer, I know whether I want a timpani stroke or a cymbal crash on the last note of the first movement of my symphony.

    However, if a conductor adds one of those, it really does not change the piece; so I find the argument to ignore the composer's orchestration of the final note to be frivolous.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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