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Symphonic Dances, Op 45

for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra; two-piano version completed on 10 August 1940; orchestral version made between 22 September and 29 October the same year

My approach to the Symphonic Dances has therefore been to attempt to ‘re-realize’ or ‘re-create’ rather than transcribe; to re-imagine the music in terms of the organ and not to attempt to coerce the instrument into doing what the orchestra instinctively can—undoubtedly a vain hope in any case. Moreover, I have attempted to imagine the colours Rachmaninov might have envisaged, had he been writing for the organ, and have tried to retain the performer’s ability to maintain momentum and energy, without having to mimic the infinite variations of orchestral colour. This may indeed be a further musical betrayal of Rachmaninov’s intentions, yet this remains great music, born of a time late in the composer’s life, when his aesthetic (influenced undoubtedly by the neo-classicism prevalent contemporaneously in both Europe and America) dictated a desire for greater transparency of texture and an overtly rhythmically-driven style of writing. If this music’s translation to the organ remains contentious, it is notable that, as with all great music, it transcends its medium.

Rachmaninov wrote the Symphonic Dances at the Honeyman estate, ‘Orchard Point’, in Centerport, New York, overlooking Long Island Sound. Originally given the titles of Noon, Twilight, and Midnight, Rachmaninov decided against these programmatic designations for the three movements at publication. The score was completed in October 1940 and premiered by Eugène Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to whom it is dedicated, in January 1941. That we recorded this disc here in Philadelphia, on the organ in the new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra seems more than apt for this reason. The first movement, for the most part rhythmically energized and driven, ends with a quotation from Rachmaninov’s own First Symphony (1897), a work that had attracted the ire of critics at the time; criticism that had induced both despair and a period of creative atrophy for the composer for four years thereafter. Characteristic of Orthodox Russian church music, this theme is transformed in its appearance here from its originally rugged, minor key character into something more radiant and delicate in the relative major ©: a serene moment. The ghostly second movement often seems a musical play on light and shadow—a macabre and ghoulish waltz. Obsessive in the third movement is the battle for supremacy of the Dies Irae and the Resurrection chant Blagosloven yesi, Gospodi (Blessed be the Lord thy God) from Rachmaninov’s own All-Night Vigil (1915). The Resurrection theme is victorious at the end, for Rachmaninov writes ‘Hallelujah’ at end of the score.

from notes by Jeremy Filsell © 2014


Rachmaninov: Transcriptions and arrangements for organ
Studio Master: SIGCD324Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Non allegro – Lento – Tempo I
Track 6 on SIGCD324 [13'15] Download only
Movement 2: Andante con moto: Tempo di valse
Track 7 on SIGCD324 [10'00] Download only
Movement 3: Lento assai – Allegro vivace – Lento assai – Allegro vivace
Track 8 on SIGCD324 [16'29] Download only

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