on Apr 17th, 2009Sergei Rachmaninov Prelude Op. 3 in C sharp minor
Prelude in C sharp minor (Russian: Прелюдия), Op. 3, no. 2, is one of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s most famous compositions. It is a ternary (ABA) prelude in C sharp minor, 62 measures long, and part of a set of five pieces entitled Morceaux de Fantaisie.
Its first performance was by the composer on 8/20 October 1892, at a festival called the Moscow Electrical Exhibition, which Rachmaninoff considered his debut as a pianist. After this première, a review singled the Prelude out of the entire concert, noting that it had “aroused enthusiasm”. From this point on, its popularity would grow.
This work was one of the first Rachmaninoff composed as a “Free Artist”, after he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory on May 29, 1892. He performed this new work for the first time, at one of the concerts of the Moscow Electrical Exhibition on 8/20 October 1892. it was printed the following year as the second of five Morceaux de Fantaisie (Op. 3), all dedicated to Anton Arensky, his harmony teacher at the Conservatory. Because at the time Russia was not party to the 1886 Berne Convention, Russian publishers did not pay royalties, so the only financial return he ever received for this piece was a 40 ruble ($1.64, £0.80) publishing fee.
The prelude is organized into three main parts and a coda. Three opening chords at fortissimo introduce the grim C sharp minor tonality that dominates the piece. The cadential motif repeats throughout. In the third measure, the volume changes to a pianississimo for the exposition of the theme. The second part is propulsive and marked Agitato (agitated), beginning with highly chromatic triplets. This passionately builds to interlocking chordal triplets that descend into a climactic recapitulation of the main theme, this time in four staves to accommodate the volume of notes. Certain chords in the section are marked with quadruple sforzando. The piece closes with a brief seven-measure coda which ends quietly.
The prelude became one of Rachmaninoff’s most famous compositions.
His cousin Alexander Siloti was instrumental in securing the Prelude’s success throughout the Western world. In the autumn of 1898, he made a tour of Western Europe and the United States, with a program that contained the Prelude. Soon after, London publishers brought out several editions with titles such as The Burning of Moscow, The Day of Judgement, and The Moscow Waltz. America followed suit with other titles, such as The Bells of Moscow.It was so popular that it was referred to as “The Prelude” and audiences would demand it as an encore at his performances, shouting “C sharp!” It was recorded by the composer both electrically and on Ampico piano rolls. Amazingly, the composer was but 19 years of age at the time he wrote this piece. The work haunted him until his death despite the enormous quantity of great works he composed after this small prelude! Some say Rachmaninoff came to hate the work. Most however agree he would simply shrug in resignation and play it.