Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3
Friday, June 30, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Brevard Music Center Orchestra
Marcelo Lehninger, conductor
Lise de la Salle, piano
Ticket holders may attend a free Pre-Concert Talk in Thomas Hall, which begins one hour before the performance.
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6
RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 3
Overture Program Information
Artist Information (Show)
Pyotr Il'ych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, “Pathétique”
Premiered on October 28, 1893, in St. Petersburg conducted by the composer.
What is the content and meaning of this work? That has been the burning question ever since its premiere. Tchaikovsky’s title, “Pathétique,” offers just enough information to fuel wide-ranging programmatic readings. The composer himself provided more questions than answers by suggesting that there is a program, but that he would not share it. The mystery becomes even more tantalizing with the composer’s death only nine days after the premiere—especially since the circumstances of his death are a mystery. The two main theories for his death offer two very different paths to the symphony’s meaning. One assumption is that Tchaikovsky died of an accidental drink of cholera-contaminated water, which, obviously, provides no link to the piece. The second theory, however, that Tchaikovsky might have poisoned himself leads to all kinds of speculations about an auto-biographical meaning of the work—especially in light of the symphony’s unusual ending.
The first movement is long and intense, opening up a dark and mysterious world with little hope—despite the many moments of hopeful nostalgia. Tchaikovsky uses all the tools of late Romantic expression—from sonata form with contrasting themes to rich orchestral colors with heavy outbursts by the brass. It is the skillful work of a composer whose mastery transcends compositional rules, creating an immediacy of expression that is unequaled. The second movement, Allegro con grazia, poses only more questions. While opening with one of Tchaikovsky’s most beautiful melodies, the irregular meter (5/4) creates tremendous tension, and the movement spirals into darkness with a pounding timpani part in the middle section. Even the return of the opening theme cannot overcome the ominous clouds.
Had Tchaikovsky died before the symphony was fi nished, there would have been a great debate about the order of the last two movements, as the third movement sounds more like a closing movement. Its brilliant character and the unfolding “construction” of a triumphant theme would make for an exciting and glorious ending. In light of the ensuing dark slow movement, however, the triumph seems hollow. The last movement might be one of the most wrenching and emotionally draining pieces ever written. Its level of intensity, captivating sadness, and beauty defy all description and provide an appropriate, albeit chilling ending not only to the career of one of the great symphonists of the 19th century but also to the end of the Romantic era.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Premiered on November 28, 1909 in New York conducted by Walter Damrosch with Rachmaninoff as soloist.
Rachmaninoff’s triple threat career as composer, pianist, and conductor was moving so fast in 1906 that he decided to settle in Dresden to slow his frantic pace and refocus on composing (he chose Dresden, because he and his wife enjoyed their honeymoon there). A couple of years later, Rachmaninoff was ready to perform again. During his fi rst American tour in 1909, the composer introduced his Third Piano Concerto to the world. Having already written two highly successful piano concertos, Rachmaninoff realized the challenge, and his new work offers a more subtle and mature compositional style that is rich in content and musical meaning. The composer nevertheless once said that he wrote the piece “for elephants.” Its massive chords, cascading and leaping octaves, high-speed counterpoint, and wide-spaced, busily embellished textures demand strength, dexterity, control, and stamina like no other concerto.
Scholar Geoffrey Norris describes Rachmaninoff’s concert manner as austere, contrasting sharply with the warm and generous personality he revealed in the company of this family and close friends. He possessed a formidable piano technique, and his playing was marked by precision, rhythmic drive, a refined legato and an ability for complete clarity in complex textures—qualities that he applied with sublime effect in his performances of Chopin . . . Whatever music he was playing, his performances were always carefully planned, being based on the theory that each piece has a “culminating point.” “This culmination,” as he told the poet Marietta Shaginian, “may be at the end or in the middle, it may be loud or soft; but the performer must know how to approach it with absolute calculation, absolute precision, because, if it slips by, then the whole construction crumbles, and the piece becomes disjointed and scrappy and does not convey to the listener what must be conveyed.”
All of Rachmaninoff’s traits as one of the greatest pianists of his day (and of all time) are on display in this concerto. The first movement opens with a stunningly beautiful melody presented simply in octaves that highlight Rachmaninoff’s ability to “make the piano sing.” The complex second theme could not be more contrasting to the simple melodiousness of the first, which gives the composer ample material to develop later in the movement. The composer’s integration and interplay between the orchestra and the piano are extraordinary, as is his perfectly calculated climax right before the cadenza; in the end the movement ends as simply as it began.
Calling the second movement an intermezzo is about as misleading as calling a tiger a kitty-cat. Not only does it demand tremendous power on the part of the pianist, the music is also rich and intense—far from the light nature indicated by the title. The mood of the movement is that of melancholy and sorrow. Yet, in a way, the title might be appropriate in light of the monumental last movement, which seamlessly grows out of the middle movement. The final movement is full of drive, virtuosity, and invention. Rachmaninoff skillfully creates a sense of inevitability by combining ideas from the first movement (second theme) with new concepts. The awesome (in the real sense of the word) coda creates a true sense of delirious excitement that befi ts a work of such grandeur, power, and musical innovation.
- Siegwart Reichwald