1901: Rachmaninov: Prelude in Eb Minor, Op. 26

apr 28 2019

SATURDAY, September 19, 2020 – 11:51 AM

This time a short Prelude…

The eerie piece I posted last week, also by Rachmaninov, was from very early in his career. There is something unique about music in Eb Minor because there are six flats, and it is a nightmare to notate. Great composers wrote in such keys because they are extremely comfortable for the hands, but they are very difficult to read.

This short piece is also in Eb Minor. I wish I could find one performance that is not so fast, but Ashkenazy is an incredible player.

The last Romantic giant of the piano…

There is an emphasis on speed by most modern players that drives me absolutely mad, as if something great can’t be played a bit slower and yet be as effective or more effective.

I keep coming back to Rachmaninov, (Apr. 1, 1873 – Mar. 28,  1943), because he died just five years before I was born, and if he had lived 20 more years I might have heard him play, at least on new recordings. I have very strong feelings about his music. Not only was he without doubt one of the greatest composers for the piano, his style, the sound of his music remains incredibly popular right to this very moment.

There has not been one great genius from the time of his death to carry on this kind of great music. It is not because of his style – his music is still played everywhere. There has simply been no one following him with the same monumental gift. I continue to hope that eventually someone new will rediscover the lyricism and absolute mastery of piano composition that he had.

6 thoughts on “1901: Rachmaninov: Prelude in Eb Minor, Op. 26

  1. Indeed a lovely piece. I think what makes it music instead of “look ma, I’m fast” may be not just being a bit slower, but which notes get brought out to tell the story. You play all the notes, but only some of them are the really important ones that talk to each other. Plausible?

    1. Yes. Also, top pianists get caught in the same trap as students. They fear they will be judged as inferior if they do not play famous music at the same high speed as their contemporaries, and there is also a horrible homogenization today because everyone listens to everyone else. This leads to a kind of blindness to other possibilities. The worst part is that students are then discouraged from playing many pieces because they can’t reach the same insane speed. It’s a kind of trap.

  2. Although both of Rachmaninov’s pieces are in Eb minor they evoke different feelings. The first had some heavy chords and as you mentioned, it was kind of spooky. This one is lighter. The playing is amazing. Even though the speed was incredibly fast, just about every note was audible.

    1. I can’t, unfortunately, present a convincing performance at a slower tempo without taking about 5 months out of my life to woodshed it, but think of the Minute Waltz and how effective Arrau’s performance is. Someone could do the same thing with this, but I can’t find a version that goes in that direction. That’s the copying problem – no one dares present a different view.

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