Life

Rachmaninoff: The Life and Music of a Russian Composer

  On May 13, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra announced that it will return to the Xinghai Concert Hall in Guangdong Province on June 20 to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto” and “Second Symphony”. Arouse the ecstasy of music fans. This ecstasy is “the best in the world, and undoubtedly one of the most important orchestras in Russian history”, and even Rachmaninoff, who is regarded as “the last romantic tradition”.
  2023 marks the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s birth and the 80th anniversary of his death.
  Music lovers regard Beethoven as a god and Rachmaninoff as a lover. Compared with countless talented musicians in history, Rachmaninoff is so “down to earth”. He is like a friend in real life – brilliant, arrogant, tangled, contradictory, and self-disciplined.
  Luo Qianwen, head of the brand department of the Xinghai Concert Hall, told “Watch the World” that Rachmaninoff may not be among the best composers, but he has consistently ranked first in the most popular list among American pianists for many years. As a pianist, Rachmaninoff has shown the unique charm of the piano since he was young. Maybe his works are too loose in structure or not perfect as some comments say, but they are superficially In the simple, calm, monotonous and ordinary language, deep emotions and thoughts are hidden.
  80 years after his death, his music can still arouse people’s empathy at any time, whether it is a professional or an ordinary person.
indelible trauma

  In July 1917, one night before Rachmaninoff left Russia, “the southern night was filled with the fragrance of roses, earth and poplars, and moths flew in bright columns of light”. Marietta still remembers seeing him standing in the night from a distance, “gazing at the starry sky with a cigarette in his mouth”.

  Stravinsky even had a nickname for Rachmaninoff: the six-and-a-half foot scowl.

The Complete Works of Rachmaninoff

  In the following 26 years, Rachmaninoff should have looked up at the same sky, but never had the opportunity to set foot on his homeland again. He could only continue his relationship with Marietta or other old friends by correspondence. Motherland connection. He once said sadly: “After losing my motherland, I lost myself.”
  Emotions seem to dominate his life: the youth troubled by depression, the golden period of creation due to the agitation of love, nostalgia in a life that should have been full of harvest. Phases go hand in hand… “Of the two themes, sad and happy, I prefer the former,” said Rachmaninoff.
  Or because of various descriptions of “nostalgia” and “pessimism”, he and his music have been labeled as “conservative”, “personal”, “tragic” and “anti-modern”.
  All this can be traced back to Rachmaninoff’s childhood.
  On April 1, 1873, Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov was born on a farm in Semyonovo, Russia, the fourth of six siblings. The accounts of his childhood are full of contradictions, but at least before the family’s downfall because of his father Vasily’s gambling habit, Vasily’s optimism, casualness, and talent in music made Rachmaninov Jr. A few happy years have passed.
  Rachmaninoff Jr. inherited the family’s musical genes, and has shown extraordinary talent since he was a child, and has received attention and careful cultivation.
  However, the mother and father have very different personalities. It is impossible to judge from the remaining few words whether the father’s lack of ambition and idleness caused the mother to be “reticent, indifferent, strict, and sometimes even intimidating”, but it is clear that the father’s carelessness and the alienation of the parents have caused family members There came the indelible trauma.
  Someone found that when he grew up, Rachmaninoff seldom talked about his childhood family fun, and he seldom expressed his nostalgia. Most of his memories only involved the vast fields and comfortable natural environment of his hometown. When referring to his father or mother, he usually uses the third person, and even bluntly said that he has never received the love of his parents.
  ”Bright, cheerful colors are not what I like to see.” Rachmaninoff wrote this footnote for the work, making others speculate that the “tragedy” of his music comes from childhood misfortune. However, Rachmaninoff was fortunate in his life, and perhaps it was also because of his misfortune: the lack of love made him regard music as his best companion and confidant, pouring out his thoughts and feelings.
unable to return to roots

  Rachmaninoff’s life spanned the last 1/3 of the 19th century and nearly 1/2 of the 20th century—this was the era of great changes in Russia, with rapid social transformation, numerous contradictions, and extremely active literature, philosophy, and art Prosperity, experiencing internal and external turmoil, collision, and integration, formed the “Silver Age” of spiritual and cultural revival.
  At that time, after gradually stepping out of the stage of blindly imitating Western European music, the music field inherited and developed classical and traditional Russian music, and various styles and genres burst into splendor. Two of the musical tendencies are the most obvious: the inheritance and development of romanticism, and the pursuit and exploration of modernism.
  In 1889, at the age of 16, Rachmaninoff was admitted to the Moscow Conservatory of Music with honors and began systematic and formal music studies. Yelena Gnesina, a pianist, educator, and composer, was one of Rachmaninoff’s closest classmates and friends from adolescence to youth. She still remembers the “quiet tablemate”: “Not only It was we who were so fascinated by his outstanding piano talent that even the entire Moscow Conservatory fell in love with it.”

Moscow Conservatory

  In his declining health, he still insisted on continuing to tour, donating the income back to his motherland.

  However, “he never got close to any of us.” “He always closed himself off, seldom interacted with people, and never let others into his world.”
  Alexander Gordonweiser’s memory of the senior was: “He was a shy, shy boy, Always taciturn, rarely talking about himself or his work, this character accompanied him throughout his life.” Stravinsky even gave Rachmaninoff a nickname: six and a half feet sad. Melancholy broke out in 1897, and the “last straw” was his first performance of the First Symphony, which drew rave reviews. Although it is recorded that the reason for the failure was alcoholism on the day of the conductor’s performance, but it was the composer himself who was full of expectations for the creation to bear the pressure and infamy.

  For the next three years, he continued to receive treatment from psychotherapist Nicolai Dahl for depression, until 1900, when he revived his composition career with the “Second Piano Concerto” dedicated to Nicolai Dahl. Rachmaninoff then married his cousin, also a pianist, Natalia Satin against all odds. Emotions and life have found a home, and his strong creative enthusiasm has prompted him to give full play to his musical talent. Stravinsky once praised Rachmaninoff’s creations during this period as “as if transitioning from watercolor to oil painting, the texture has changed and the sound has become richer”.
  Creation and performance have made him known to the world, and his ability to conduct has helped his artistic achievements to a higher level. In 1909, he served as the conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, becoming a pivotal figure in the music world. However, the ensuing social turmoil and changes made him aware of the hidden crisis. In 1917, Rachmaninoff was invited to perform in Sweden. Taking this opportunity, he fled Russia with his family and immigrated to the United States the following year, where he began his 26-year piano playing career.

On April 21, Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra played Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in Xinghai Concert Hall

  In 1940, the 68-year-old Rachmaninoff composed “Symphonic Dances” which became his death work, and also drew a brilliant end to his music creation career. In his declining health, he still insisted on continuing to tour, donating the income back to his motherland. In 1943, three days before his birthday, Rachmaninoff passed away with nostalgia for his homeland and regret for not being able to return to his roots.
“The Mother of Music is Sorrow”

  Perhaps at the moment when he closed his eyes, Rachmaninoff heard the call of the bell in his hometown.
  Bells are symbols that constantly appear in his works, which come from life in Russia and childhood memories. His grandmother, who took good care of him when he was a child, often took him to church, and the sound of church bells and choir music left him with fond and deep memories.
  He once said: “One of my most precious childhood memories is related to the four tones of the big bell of the Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod City… The four tones form a repeated theme, and they are four silver crying notes …”
  Everything in Russia, beautiful and sad, affected Rachmaninov’s life, and made him still miss everything about his motherland in a foreign country, and he took extra care of people from Russia. He even recreated a native Ivanovka estate in Switzerland, pretending to still be alive in his native land.
  The conductor of the Moscow Jewish Theater, Breville, once recalled that when he was performing in Paris in the 1920s, he met Rachmaninoff by chance. The latter asked everything about Moscow, but before he could say a few words, he broke down in tears and left in a hurry: “He has never been a person who expresses his emotions, but at that time I could really feel the pain of his separation from the motherland, and the ardent and deep yearning for the motherland.” From the beginning to the end, he insisted that “I am a Russian composer
  . Home, the land of my birth influenced my temperament and appearance. My music is a product of my temperament, so it is also Russian music”.
  Even in the period of great changes in music aesthetics, and the music of modernist musicians such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky were gradually accepted and admired, he still insisted on rooting Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Riley. The music of Msky-Korsakov pushed romantic creation into a new era.
  ”It’s not fair to define Rachmaninoff’s music in terms of time.” Some people say that his music does not belong to “that era” and is rooted in the past, which does not mean “conservative”, “backward” and “anti-modern”. “He has discovered, developed and developed the characteristics of the piano to a new level, and has become a new milestone in the history of piano performance and an indispensable treasure in the treasure house of piano music literature.”
  ”What is music?” In 1932, Rachmaninoff answered this question in “Letter to Walter E. Koons”, and also responded to the debate on his music in different eras: “Music is the On a quiet night under the moonlight, the music is the rustling of leaves in summer, the faint sound of bells in the distance at dusk. Music comes directly from the heart, and communicates only with the heart. Music is love. The sister of music is poetry, music The mother is sad.”

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