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  • Chris Anderson

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2

I was thrilled when the Classic FM Hall Of Fame announced this years most popular piece, especially as it’s by this month’s composer! Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is a monumental work that has become a staple of the piano concerto repertoire. Composed between 1900 and 1901, it was first performed in Moscow in 1901 with the composer himself as the soloist. The concerto is composed of three movements, each with its own unique character and emotional depth.

The first movement, marked "Moderato," opens with a hauntingly beautiful melody played by the solo piano. This melody is then taken up by the orchestra and developed and expanded upon throughout the movement. The themes are explored and developed through a series of variations, culminating in a virtuosic cadenza for the solo piano.

The movement is in sonata-allegro form, with the themes being developed and explored throughout the movement. The opening theme is one of the most recognisable and memorable melodies in all of classical music, and it sets the tone for the entire concerto. The themes are developed and expanded upon throughout the movement, with the piano and orchestra engaging in a lively and spirited dialogue. The movement ends with a virtuosic cadenza for the solo piano that showcases the technical abilities of the performer.

The second movement, marked "Adagio sostenuto," is a slow and lyrical section that features a soaring melody played by the solo piano. The theme is then passed between the piano and the orchestra, with the two interacting in a delicate and intricate dance. The movement builds to a passionate climax before resolving in a quiet and reflective coda. This movement is widely considered to be one of the most romantic pieces ever written for the piano. The emotional depth and expressiveness of the music are particularly evident in the use of the orchestra to complement and enhance the solo piano.

The main theme of this movement “inspired” Eric Carmen when he wrote his song “All By Myself”. His use of the piece ended up with him being contacted by the Rachmaninoff Estate informing him the music was protected. He agreed to pay 12% of any royalties from the song to the estate. As an interesting aside - he has to do that for his song “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” which uses the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.

The final movement, marked "Allegro scherzando," is a fast and lively section that showcases the technical abilities of the solo pianist. It features a playful main theme that is developed and expanded throughout the movement. The movement builds to a triumphant conclusion that brings the concerto to a rousing close. This movement is characterised by its playful and energetic spirit, and it showcases the virtuosic abilities of the solo pianist.

One of the defining features of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 is its use of rich and lush harmonies. Rachmaninoff was known for his use of complex chords and harmonies, and this concerto is no exception. The harmonies are often melancholic and brooding, lending the music a deep emotional resonance. The sweeping melodies and virtuosic piano passages are also defining features of the piece. The music is both technically challenging and emotionally powerful, requiring both technical proficiency and emotional depth from the performer.

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the Romantic era. It has been recorded by many of the greatest pianists of the 20th century and continues to captivate audiences with its emotional depth and technical brilliance. The concerto is a testament to Rachmaninoff's mastery of both the piano and the orchestra and stands as one of the greatest works of classical music ever composed.

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