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As we know, the Prelude was composed first, so the remaining pieces had to be ‘placed’ around it. One of Rachmaninov’s close friends at that time, the tenor Mikhail Slonov, suggested the title ’Polichinelle’ for what became the fourth piece. As mentioned earlier, it was Rachmaninov’s intention to compose a set of four pieces, but he added a fifth on reading an interview which Tchaikovsky had given to a newspaper critic in November 1892, when he said he felt he had to give younger talents a chance, and mentioned Glazunov, Arensky and Rachmaninov as the most outstanding of the younger school. Rachmaninov was so thrilled; as he said at the time, ‘I sat down at the piano and composed a fifth piece (the Serenade). So now I’ll publish five pieces.’
Rachmaninov premiered the complete Morceaux de Fantaisie in Kharkov on December 27th, and two months later to the day he gave Tchaikovsky one of the first copies of the newly-published set. A week later, Tchaikovsky wrote to Siloti saying how impressed he had been with them, especially the Prelude and the Mélodie. In the event, the Prelude proved a double-edged success. On the one hand, it soon travelled throughout the world (in the 1920s in New York, Rachmaninov heard the Paul Whiteman Band play a jazz version, which he much enjoyed, and had a similar experience in a London restaurant). It spread the fame of the young composer in such a way that by the time he was in his early twenties his name was known to a large international public. On the other hand the very popularity of the work came to curse him later in life, when he became a touring virtuoso: audiences would not let him leave without playing the piece as an encore. Furthermore, in 1893 Russia was not a signatory to any international copyright agreement, so all Rachmaninov ever received for a piece that was played and broadcast millions of times during his life was the forty roubles Gutheil paid for it (he gave two hundred roubles for the five pieces), and the royalties from his subsequent recordings of it. Towards the end of his life Rachmaninov revised three of the five pieces: in 1938 he made a transcription for two pianos of the Prelude, and in 1940 completely revised the Mélodie and Serenade.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1983
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'A marvellous disc … this excellently chosen selection of Rachmnaninov's finest solo piano works is played with superb panache by Demidenko ...
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|Rachmaninov: Preludes Op 23|
'Elegant and scintillating' (Gramophone)
'Exceptional finesse … mirrored in beautilully natural and refined sound' (BBC Record Review)» More
|Rachmaninov: The Complete Solo Piano Music|
'A fine achievement from Howard Shelley and Hyperion alike. These superbly recorded, idiomatic readings demonstrate Shelley's virtuoso pianism and aff ...
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|Rachmaninov: Piano Music|
Jeremy Filsell is one of very few performers to have established a virtuoso concert career as both a pianist and organist on the international stage. This recital album explores Filsell's lifelong love of Rachmaninov's piano music, surveying selec ...» More
|Inside tracks - the James Rhodes mix tape|
A selection of James Rhodes' personal favourites, tracks taken from his four earlier Signum albums.» More
|Jimmy Rhodes Live in Brighton|
This new album—recorded live at The Old Market theatre in Brighton—captures the energy of Rhodes in concert as he performs and entertainingly discusses works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov and more in this 85-minute programme.» More
|Rachmaninov: 24 Preludes|
Steven Osborne’s live performances of Rachmaninov’s preludes were greeted ecstatically by critics and audience alike: a new benchmark for performances of these works, and a new departure for this most subtle and sensitive of pianists. Now Steven h ...» More