Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rachmaninoff - Five Preludes For Piano

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 - 1943)  was one of the greatest piano virtuosos of the 20th century.  He had a phenomenal memory, learned new pieces exceedingly fast, and had technique to spare. As if that wasn't enough, he was also a top-notch conductor and composer.

A lot of his output was music for the piano. Among some of his best compositions are the preludes for solo piano. His first prelude was in a set of five pieces called Morceaux de Fantaisie (French for Fantasy Pieces) composed when he was fresh out of the Conservatory at age nineteen.

The Prelude in C-sharp Minor, the second piece in this Opus 3 set, is the infamous prelude that was so immensely popular that Rachmaninoff had to play it at almost every concert he gave. He came to detest the piece, not least of all because when it was published copyright laws at the time didn't provide the composer with any royalties. The fact that this piece grew to be so popular and was played so many times without the payment of any royalties always stuck in Rachmaninoff's craw. He composed another set of ten preludes, Opus 23, in 1903 and another set of thirteen, Opus 32 in 1910 to complete the set of twenty four.

Rachmaninoff's preludes are fascinating pieces, each one a masterwork. They are full of technical difficulties, fistfuls of notes, large chords for both hands sometimes written over 4 music staves. But they are more than tests of a pianist's technique and endurance. They are also a test of the pianist's musicality.

As with all sets of pieces like this, people always have their favorites. I have chosen the five preludes out of the set that I like the best. But they are surely all worth listening to. The ones in the video are:

Prelude in B-flat Major - Maestoso - Opus 23, No.2
Prelude in D minor - Tempo di Menuett - Opus 23, No.3
Prelude in G Minor - Alla Marcia - Opus 23, No.5
Prelude in B Minor - Lento - Opus 32, No.10
Prelude in G-sharp Minor - Allegro - Opus 32, No.12:

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