on Apr 10th, 2009Sergei Rachmaninov Moment Musicaux Op. 16 No. 6 in C major
The last piece in the set, number six, is a quintessential nineteenth-century work, and has been described as an “apotheosis or completion of struggle.” The piece was once summarized as:
The final piece or movement of a cycle that is virtuosic and brilliant, employing the entire range of dynamics and sonorities available to the piano, bringing a set of pieces to a glorious conclusion.
-Robin Hancock, Boston University, 1992
This “stormy, agitated” work contains a “vehemently triple-dotted main theme and only some brief mid-section hazy sunshine [that lightens] the storm before fortississimo thunders return and finally dominate.” Despite the dark imagery presented to describe the piece, the work is in C major, and the end result is more light-hearted than dark, but not as triumphal as the Maestoso would make it sound.
Like the second and fourth pieces, number six is written in the form of an étude, with a repetitive but technically challenging chordal melody that is doubled in both hands. In all, the work has three distinct elements played simultaneously: the main melody, the continuous thirty-second note broken chord figures, and a descending eighth note motif. Dynamics play a large part in this piece: the fortissimo marked at the beginning is maintained all throughout the first section, with only brief respites to mezzo forte. The middle section is wholly softer, and contains two areas with significant mounting tension, creating the aforementioned “apotheosis effect” with dramatic “false starts.” Here, Rachmaninoff manipulates the theme contrapuntally to develop a canonic effect. This “triple counterpoint. . . is titanic both in size and impact, and in potential for disaster,” referring to the tension, waiting for the final climax, in this “continuing explosion.” Immediately before the coda, the thick texture and canon suddenly disappear and the piece becomes piano. Upon entering the coda, the work resumes the forte theme and amalgamates to a majestic ending played fortississimo.
Maestoso is one of the most difficult pieces in the set. Stamina and strength are required to sustain a full resonant sound, while the continuous thirty-second figure can be tiring for the pianist. Consistent tempo is a problem for this piece, due to the melody being interspersed with two other elements. Additionally, the dynamics, mostly “loud” and “very loud,” indicate that an accurate vision of relative volume is necessary. Maintaining this accuracy while managing every other element of the piece and successfully presenting a musically solid performance continues to be the ultimate challenge of all.