Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rachmaninoff - Prince Rostislav

Sergei Rachmaninoff graduated with high honors from the Moscow Conservatory after taking the piano exam in 1891, and remained at the conservatory to finish his studies. By this time he had already written some songs and piano pieces and began work on his first compositions for orchestra. The first was a one-movement Youth Symphony and the second piece was the tone poem Prince Rostislav, inspired by a poem by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, cousin to the more well - known Russian author Leo Tolstoy.

Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy
Tolstoy's poem deals with a mythical warrior that is based on an historical Prince. Tolstoy's poem begins with the brave knight Prince Rostislav laying on the bottom of the Dnieper river wearing his chain mail and holding a broken sword in his hand.  The low strings play a theme that represents the prince. The other strings gently swell in tone to give the impression of the waters of the Dnieper.  The underwater beauties of the Dnieper caress the prince and comb his golden hair. The mood swiftly changes by the brass and the loud drum rolls of the timpani. The ensuing storm has awakened the prince and he cries out three times. He calls out to his wife, but he has been gone so long that she believes him dead and is now betrothed to another.  He then calls out to his brother, then to the priests, but they can no longer hear him.  The prince gives up, and resigns himself to his watery grave as the strings resume the gentle swell of the water that covers the prince.

Rachmaninoff was but 18 years old when he wrote this piece, and his skill with handling the orchestra is already apparent. He completed the piece in 1891, but it was never played in his lifetime. It was finally premiered two years after Rachmaninoff's death, in 1945 .


 

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