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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Rachmaninov (the pianist) on YouTube

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This is the tenth of Pierre's Twelve Days of Blogging

The next three instalments of the blog will feature YouTube playlists of famous pianists - in keeping with the ITYWLTMT Pianothon theme for January. The first such playlist is dedicated to Sergei Rachmaninov - not as a composer, but as a conecert pianist. This is nothing new - Liszt made a fine career as a concertist as well as in composing. Rachmaninov did what he had to do to "feed his fanily":

The 1917 Russian Revolution meant the end of Russia as Rachmaninov had known it. With this change followed the loss of his estate, his way of life, and his livelihood. On 22 December 1917, he left St. Petersburg for Helsinki with his wife and two daughters (on an open sled!)

He spent a year giving concerts in Scandinavia while also laboring to widen his concert repertoire. Near the end of 1918, he received lucrative American contract offers. Although he declined them all, he decided the United States might offer a solution to his financial concerns.

He departed for New York on 1 November 1918. Once there, Rachmaninov quickly chose an agent, and accepted the gift of a piano from Steinway before playing 40 concerts in a four-month period. At the end of the 1919–20 season, he also signed a contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Rachmaninov possessed extremely large hands, with which he could easily maneuver through the most complex chordal configurations. As a pianist, Rachmaninov ranked among the finest pianists of his time, along with Leopold Godowsky, Ignaz Friedman, Moriz Rosenthal and Josef Hofmann, and is perhaps one of the greatest pianists in the history of classical music.

He was famed for possessing a flawless, clean and inhuman virtuoso piano technique. His playing was marked by precision, rhythmic drive, an exceptionally accurate staccato and the ability to maintain complete clarity when playing works with complex textures. Rachmaninoff applied these qualities to excellent effect in music by Chopin, especially the B flat minor Piano Sonata. Rachmaninoff's repertoire, excepting his own works, consisted mainly of standard 19th Century virtuoso works plus music by Bach, Beethoven, Borodin, Debussy, Grieg, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Tchaikovsky.

As part of his daily warm-up exercises, Rachmaninoff would play the phenomenally difficult Étude in A flat, Op. 1, No. 2, attributed to Paul de Schlözer (Played here by Stephen Hough):

To begin our sampling of Rachmaninov as a pianist, let's begin by listening to some of the piano rolls he cut between 1919 and 1929:

Here, we have Rachmaninov playing the "Turkish Rondo" from Mozart's K. 331 sonata:

As stated above, Rachmaninov's style was extremely well suited for Chopin - here are the last two movements from the op. 35 piano sonata (complete performance integrated to our below playlist):

And a small compilation of some Chopin waltzes:

Here Rachmaninov plays Scriabin:

Due to his busy concert career, Rachmaninov's output as composer slowed tremendously. Between 1918 and his death in 1943, while living in the U.S. and Europe, he completed only six compositions. It was during these years that he traveled the United States as a touring pianist. When he left Russia, it was as if he had left behind his inspiration.

One of his more famous compositions from that era is his Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini, which he recorded with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra:

Many more favourites on this YouTube Playlist:
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Classical Music , Musicians


  1. kv466's Avatar
    Thank you for all your hard work, Pierre! It is certainly a treat to be able to learn so much from you. Hope you're having a great new year so far!

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  2. itywltmt's Avatar
    Rachmaninov possessed extremely large hands, with which he could easily maneuver through the most complex chordal configurations.
    I couldn't resist! Noiw it all makes sense!