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Rachmaninov’s father Wassili (or Vassili) was a good amateur pianist (his paternal grandfather, Arkadi, had studied piano with John Field, inventor of the nocturne). Amongst Wassili’s repertoire was a simple polka which he frequently played to the amusement of his talented son. Clearly under the impression that it was a piece his father had written, Rachmaninov composed this deliciously knowing arrangement of the polka in 1911, entitling it Polka de W.R.—(W)assili (R)achmaninov—with a dedication to Leopold Godowsky.
In fact, the polka that Rachmaninov père et fils enjoyed was the Scherzpolka or Turtle Dove Polka, Op 303, by Franz Behr, many of whose numerous other salon works appeared under the pseudonyms of Georges Bachmann, William Cooper, Charles Morley and Francesco d’Orso. Though the middle (B flat) section of the Scherzpolka is not used by Rachmaninov, with Behr’s theme transposed from F major to A flat and an original countermelody to accompany the return of the main theme, the Polka de W.R. is as much a transcription as others by Rachmaninov (Kreisler’s Liebesfreud and Liebesleid, for instance) and, as such, should properly be designated ‘Behr-Rachmaninov’.
Rachmaninov himself made one piano roll and three disc recordings of the Polka (1919, 1921 and 1928).
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2001
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