image
image
image
image


Rachmaninoff
Élégiaque Piano Trios

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943) inscribed at the top of his D-minor piano Trio Élégaique, "a la memoire d'un grand artiste," and the great artist he was referring to was Tchaikovsky.

Rachmaninoff was 20 years old when Tchaikovsky died of cholera, on November 6, 1893 (October 25, according to the Julian calendar used in Russia), and the news plunged him into a devastation and anguish that he could only express in a way he knew how - by writing music. The D-minor Trio Élégaique, an elegy to Tchaikovsky, is an expression of that grief.

Tchaikovsky had done the same thing by writing his A minor Trio upon the death of his friend, Nicholas Rubinstein. This trio had provided Rachmaninoff with a model for his first Trio Élégaique in G minor, written as a conservatory exercise during the previous year, from January 18-21, 1892.

The D-minor Trio Élégaique took Rachmaninoff six weeks to write. Later, in a letter to Natalya Skalon, he wrote that he had "trembled for every phrase, sometimes crossed out absolutely everything and began to think and think about it all over again."

Tchaikovsky had been Rachmaninoff's champion at the Moscow Conservatory, where the younger composer had had been admitted at the age of 12. His courses were piano studies with Zveriev (later Siloti), and harmony and composition with Anton Arensky and Alexander Taneiev. However, Rachmaninoff skipped classes, hated practicing and studying, and it was only because performance and composition were effortless for him that he kept pace with the other students.

One of Rachmaninoff's first original compositions, written as an exercise, was a piano duet transcription of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony. Zveriev was so impressed with this work that he took Rachmaninoff and another student to Tchaikovsky to perform the piece. Tchaikovsky responded by giving Rachmaninoff his first commission - a piano-duet transcription of The Sleeping Beauty. Rachmaninoff was then 17 years old.

At the Moscow Conservatory, Rachmaninoff played his own Song Without Words for a jury that included Tchaikovsky, who gave him the highest possible rating. In 1892, he won the Gold Medal for composition, and was placed on the honor roll. For his graduation exercise, he completed a one-act opera, Aleko, which was performed at the Conservatory to such high praise that it found a publisher. Tchaikovsky then arranged for the opera to be performed at the Bolshoi Theater on May 9, 1893.

Six months later, Tchaikovsky was dead.

Later, Rachmaninoff wrote:

To him I owe the first and deciding success in my life. It was my teacher Zvierew who took me to him. Tschiakowsky at the time was already world famous and honored by everybody, but he remained unspoiled. He was the most charming artist and man I ever met. He had an unequaled delicacy of mind. He was modest, as all truly great people are, and simple, as very few are.

Tschaikowsky was about fifty-five at the time, that is to say, more than twice my age, but he talked to me, a young beginner, as if I were his equal. He listened to my first opera, Aleko, and arranged for it to be performed at the Imperial Theater…Tschaikowsky did even more. Timidly and modestly, as if he were afraid I might refuse, he asked if I would consent to have my work produced with one of his operas. To be on a poster with Tschaikowsky was about the greatest honor that could be paid to a composer, and I would not have dared to suggest such a thing. Tschaikowsky knew this. He wanted to help me, but was anxious also not to offend or humiliate me.

I soon felt the result of Tschaikowsky's kindness. I began to be known, and some years later I became leader of the Imperial Opera orchestra. Having once reached this important position, the rest came easy.

The first performance of the D-minor Trio Élégaique was given by Rachmaninoff with the violinist Yuly Konyus and cellist Anatole Brandukov on January 31, 1894.





Audio CD - $16.97



image
image
image