Final thoughts on Rachmaninov

Artists often experience an extreme of emotions. Amazing performances can bring feelings of great joy. Great disappointments can trigger great despair. And great despair can trigger great moments.

Sergei started with career success at the end of his schooling. He finished at the Conservatory with honours and the final piece he composed there, Aleko, ended up being produced by the Bolshoi Theatre and won him the Great Gold Medal. This was followed by other smaller successes and published pieces that pleased the public. In 1897, his First Symphony (Op. 13, 1896) premiered and was not well received. Compounded with an engagement to Natalia Satina that was not accepted by her parents or the church, 3 years of depression followed. He wrote nothing during this time and eventually started some autosuggestive therapy with psychologist Nikolai Dahl to help bring him out of his depression. He and Natalia were also finally able to marry – a union that lasted until Sergei death.

There are two moments in particular that I enjoy that came from grief for Rachmaninov. One is Trio élégiaque No. 2. Sergei was deeply saddened when he heard of Tchaikovsky’s death and he wrote this piece right away. The second grief inspired moment comes from the death of Alexander Scriabin in 1915. They had met at the Moscow Conservatory as boys and been good friends since then. When his friend passed away, Sergei went on tour giving piano recitals where he only played Scriabin’s compositions. Both touching ways to honour someone, I think.

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