This piece is one of Rachmaninoff’s most enduring and endearingly popular pieces, and established his fame as a concerto composer.
Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 was not rated highly by contemporary critics. This, along with other personal problems, led Rachmaninoff into a deep major depressive episode. Sergei Rachmaninoff underwent hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, and slowly recovered from his illness. In 1900, he began to feel better and regained confidence in himself. He began composing his second piano concerto in the fall of 1900. The second and third movements were first performed with Rachmaninoff himself as soloist on 2 December 1900. The complete work was premiered on 9 November 1901, with Sergei as soloist and his cousin Alexander Siloti (a pupil of Franz Liszt) conducting. His performance of the work, and its subsequent success, confirmed his recovery. The concerto was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, the physician who helped restore Rachmaninoff’s self-confidence.
This piece is considered one of the most challenging in all piano repertoire, and is out of the reach of many performers. James L. King III’s arrangement of the opening theme, rather than being merely a simplified transcription, remains pianistic yet true to the spirit of Rachmaninoff’s legendary work while becoming more accessible to pianists.
Key: C minor
Mood: intense and serious, then lush and flowing.
Pedagogy: triplets, inner countermelodies, octaves, arpeggios.