Concerto no. 2 in C minor op. 18 was dedicated to Dr. Nikolay Dahl who helped Rachmaninov to regain his
confidence after the severe criticism given to his first
symphony at itís premier in 1897. He fell into deep depression
and stopped composing until the spring of 1900, when his aunt
suggested he saw Dr. Dahl.
Soon after, he was
composing again with such self-confidence that in August he
completed the second and third movements of the piano concerto.
Later that year, after the premier in Moscow, without the first
movement, it received high acclaim from the critics. Spurred
on, Rachmaninov completed the first movement in the spring of
1901, and the premier of the complete concerto in Moscow on the
9 November 1901, was a great success.
The First Movement Moderato begins with the piano
in a sombre mood making chords similar to the chiming of a
church bell and then expanding as if opening up to the great,
vast, open spaces of Russia. As the melody unfolds, the dark
clouds are brewing on the horizon. For a moment the melody
brightens as if the sun shines through, with a beautiful piano
solo, only to be brought to a brooding and stormy end by the
strings and the piano.
The Second Movement Adagio sostenuto, as with the
aftermath of a storm, the melancholy melody of the piano,
followed by the clarinet and flute, echo the solitude and gentle
awakening of the landscape. The tempo increases with the piano
cadenza, but returns to a soft calm with the whispering strings,
and a beautiful, warm piano solo ends the movement.
The Third Movement Allegro Scherzando begins with the
strings making a dramatic introduction. The piano makes a
thrilling but brief solo and eventually fades to unnerving
stillness. A fantastic climax is reached when the piano and the
whole orchestra return with the wonderful melody bringing
everyone to their feet rejoicing in the rapturous conclusion.
on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43,
composed in 1934, was inspired by the theme used by Paganini as the
basis for a set of solo violin variations forming the last of
Paganiniís 24 Caprices. The Paganini theme led
Rachmaninov to use the sequence of another complimentary theme
that formed part of the Latin Requiem Mass, the Dies irae.
Rachmaninov had used this second melody in The Isle of the
Dead and it also appeared in his last work, the Symphonic
Although the Rhapsody seems in its
original form not to have had programmatic significance, the
composer provided a narrative explanation for Fokinís ballet
Paganini. The choreographic version of the legend has the
great violinist selling his soul to the devil in return for
perfection as a violinist and for the love of a woman. The
Dies irae supposedly represents the devil and the original
theme is Paganini himself. Without doubt, the variations that
make up the Rhapsody include episodes of lyrical
tenderness that form the romantic middle section followed by the
overwhelming devilishness of the last six of the 24 variations.