Movement 1: Barcarolle
Movement 2: La nuit … L'amour
Movement 3: Les larmes
Movement 4: Pâques
Aleko was premiered at the end of April 1893, and during the next few months Rachmaninov wrote his Fantaisie, subtitled ‘Tableaux’ – the Suite No 1 for two pianos, Op 5. Nikolai Zverev died in Moscow on 30 September 1893, and at his funeral Rachmaninov mentioned the Fantaisie to Tchaikovsky. A few days later he showed him the score and received permission to inscribe the work to Tchaikovsky after playing it through privately to him with his fellow-pupil Pavel Pabst; Tchaikovsky agreed to attend the premiere the following month to be given by Rachmaninov and Pabst, but died in St Petersburg on 25 October – the premiere was thus poignantly overshadowed. By 15 December Rachmaninov had written his second Trio élégiaque (Op 9) in Tchaikovsky’s memory; his concurrent Morceaux de salon for solo piano (Op 10) were inscribed to Pabst.
The movements of Rachmaninov’s Fantaisie (now widely known simply as Suite No 1) each carried epigraphs, and form a succession of moods, from the opening dreamy ‘Barcarolle’ to love, tears and – in the finale – joy. In a letter to his cousin Natalia Skalon during the composition of the work, Rachmaninov wrote: ‘I am occupied with a fantasy for two pianos, which consists of a series of musical pictures.’ Curiously, he also said that the third movement was inspired by funeral bells: the finale is a clattering evocation of a Russian Easter, more akin to Stravinsky’s Petrushka than to Rimsky-Korsakov’s overture, although on hearing the piece Rimsky-Korsakov suggested to Rachmaninov that the traditional chant ‘Christ is risen’ (which is incorporated in the music) should have first been stated alone. Rachmaninov stuck to his guns, claiming that in reality the chant and the sound of bells were always heard together.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1990