Rachmaninoff: Second Piano Concerto

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Psychological circumstances are central to humane activity, and so is to the musical production and musical experiences. More visibly, from Beethoven to Schumann, many composers suffered not only from depression, but also from other mental problems while, posterior or prior to musical production. So there is a strong correlation among psychological conditions of the composer and music in a way that how the composer tackles its depression, or how the composer uses music to resolve her/his emotional and cognitive conflicts. Indeed, what Sergei Rachmaninoff has experienced is an unique success story, as his major depression and emotional and mental blockage in 1900’s interplay a massive role for his composing works.

Sergei Rachmaninnof, the Russian late Romantic composer was born in 1873, in a family which was politically and monetarily prosperous by its nature, yet, lost its luck in time due to unpleasant family events, unexpected diseases and financial incompetences. Rachmaninnof were treated well, but we was severely emotional compared to the surroundings and found his own way through music in order to resolve those emotional conflicts. He started to take music classes when he was his 10’s, and continued his career as a well renowned musician, composer and virtuoso. While steering through a professional music career, he took heart from the musical works and teachings of P.I. Tchaikovsky, in a way that combining Russian elements with ideals of Western classical music and constituting an unique Russian romantic music.

“Like the man who had suffered a stroke and for a long time had lost the use of his head and hands.”

Rachmaninnof had always had a naive personality; with too much emotions, depressive moods and self-criticising thoughts. Indeed, following the death of Tchaikovsky in 1893, Rachmaninoff’s personal and musical life entered a phase where he follows a decline. He started to feel insecure and lonely as he lost an inspirational guru. On 28 March 1897, his Symphony No. 1’s premiere has been ruined by the drunk conductor, the orchestra could not play in a harmony and the many criticised the performance. Following the criticisms, Rachmaninoff wrote; “I’m not at all affected” by its lack of success or critical reaction, but felt “deeply distressed and heavily depressed by the fact that my Symphony … did not please me at all after its first rehearsal.” As a result of the unsuccessful premiere performance, he entered into a depressive phase due to self-criticism, lasted for three years and he could not compose any musical piece more.

Resolving the blockages

In the early spring of 1900, Rachmaninoff were recommended to get the new treatment: psychoanalysis. At that time, psychoanalysis had just founded by Sigmund Freud in Wien as an alternative and additive approach to the previous psychological therapies. Psychoanalysis reaches patient’s inner and deepened conflict, and tries to solve them through analysing the expressions, transferences and countertransferences. From that point, each therapy has its own ways, depending on the therapist. Here, Rachmaninnof consulted Nikolai Dahl, a physician practicing hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, and also an individual violinist, where he delivered hypnotherapy and classical cognitive therapy to S. Rachmaninnof.

After receiving the therapies from Dr. Dahl, Rachmaninoff returned back to his profession, and restarted to compose. ” In his memoirs, Rachmaninoff wrote that in every single session, after an extended conversation, Dr. Dahl would put him in a trance and then repeat the same posthypnotic suggestions over and over “. . . you will write your concerto . . . you will work with great facility . . . your concerto will be of excellent quality . . . .”” Consequently, he composed the Second Piano Concerto op.18 while finalizing his therapy sessions with Dr. Dahl, and devoted it to the successful physician in order to glorify him..

The Second Piano Concerto op.18

Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto op.18 is among famous romantic piano works due to its musical capacity, technical structure, and the strong and interbedded melodic line. For the solo piano part, it requires high technical skills and years of experience with the piano, and apart, the orchestra part, requires too many efforts going along well with the solo piano section. It demonstrates too much emotions, supported by strong and expressive dynamics and articulations changes. The melody is also interbedded and pass in the hands between the orchestra and the piano, one and another, all the time.

The first movement (Moderato), is opening up the concerto with dark, church bells, and constructs the melody over the church bells and the stormy feelings embedded with hope for future, where pianist is the major directive for melody line. In contrast, the second movement (Adagio sostenuto), is sad but romantic, the main theme has been set up by the strings and woodwinds, yet, the pianist only decorates the movement. Consequently, the third movement (Allegro scherzando) concludes the piece with march alike beats and strong sense of motions, and returns back to the first movement.

Op. 18 is not only successful in terms of musical capacity but also it is an announcement of the end of the Rachmaninoff’s three years of depression.





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