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  • Chris Anderson

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude In C-Sharp Minor

On April 21st I wrote about Rachmaninoff’s fear of being buried alive. In that blog I described how it was likely to have come about but I also wrote about one of his pieces that scholar’s say depict this fear. In this blog I’m going to write about a piece I learnt in my youth. My piano teacher told me about Rachmaninoff’s fear, and that really struck a chord with me.



Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor is one of his most famous and beloved compositions. It is a solo piano piece that was composed in 1892 and is part of his Op. 3 collection of Morceaux de fantaisie (Fantasy Pieces). The Prelude in C# minor is often referred to as Rachmaninoff's "signature piece" and has become an iconic work in the piano repertoire.


The piece is known for its deep emotional expression and is often described as mournful, passionate, and intense, with a sense of longing and yearning conveyed through its sweeping melodies and lush harmonies. Rachmaninoff's use of rich and colourful chords, expressive phrasing, and virtuosic piano writing create a sense of emotional depth and intensity that captivates listeners.


The Prelude is known for its lush harmonic language, virtuosic piano writing, and deep emotional expression. It is written in a ternary (ABA) form, with a lyrical and melancholic A section followed by a contrasting and virtuosic middle section (B section), which then returns to a modified version of the original A section.


The piece begins with a hauntingly beautiful melody played in the treble register of the piano, accompanied by rich harmonies in the left hand. The melody is full of longing and expresses deep emotions, ranging from sorrow to despair. As the piece progresses, it builds in intensity and virtuosity, with Rachmaninoff's signature use of lush chords, sweeping arpeggios, and intricate passagework.


After the dramatic middle section, the A section returns with a modified version of the original theme. Rachmaninoff adds subtle changes and variations to the melody and harmonies, building upon the emotional intensity of the piece. The music gradually builds in intensity, leading to a climactic conclusion with powerful chords and sweeping arpeggios.


One of the most famous sections of the Prelude in C# minor is the middle section (B section), which is written in a contrasting key (C# major) and features fast and brilliant passages in the right hand, while the left hand provides a driving and powerful accompaniment. This section adds a sense of drama and excitement to the piece, showcasing Rachmaninoff's technical prowess as a pianist and composer.


The Prelude in C# minor has been widely performed and recorded by numerous pianists, and its popularity has endured over the years. It is considered one of Rachmaninoff's masterpieces and a quintessential example of his compositional style. Its emotional depth, technical demands, and captivating melodies make it a remarkable piece to play. Its mournful and passionate character, lush harmonies, and virtuosic piano writing make it a beloved and iconic piece in the piano repertoire. And whilst it may not have been specifically written with his fear of being buried alive in mind, it certainly does fit this idea. Here is a fantastic recording by the composer himself!

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