1892: Rachmaninov: C# Minor Prelude

FRIDAY, January 22, 2021 – 10:06 AM

Rachmaninov: C# Minor Prelude, age 19


This to me is THE recording. It is the composer playing, and he just does things no one else does in parts. It is more interesting, more nuanced, and of course it’s the man who wrote the music. We are often disappointed when composers play, because sometimes they have not practiced enough and fake, or perhaps they are simply not the best pianists around, but Rachmaninov was a pianist other pianists listened to and admired.

If you listen carefully you hear things that no one else thinks of.


This is about bringing out different lines or notes prominently. Here he plays the same phrase twice. The first time he brings out the top note of the RH. Then he brings out the same note in the LH. No one else did that. No one else does it. It’s not in the score. But it’s better.


The music is marked mf right before the ending, and most people do not observe that. It’s marked “dim.” before that meaning that he uses the rest of the piece to get softer and softer, delaying each chord as long as possible

While you listen to this stereo sound be amazed at the technology, because it was recorded not in the usual way but with something called a piano roll.


I’ve only liked about three things this lady has ever recorded. She has one of the best techniques in the world, but I normally don’t believe she things about the music enough. But I try to keep an open mind, and there is something about this that is very special. She used more pedal in the beginning, very much what Rachmaninov wrote but perhaps more so. It has a bit of the sound of Debussy. Perhaps it is this last year that has made her more introspective, and she used the same voicing as Rachmaninov. She also starts the middle section very slowly, which has always been my concept. She leaves out one repeated phrase, which is what Rachmaninov did, so she listened to Rachamninov. Good for her!

Here are other interpretations




His most famous piece…

Rachmaninov wrote this when he was still quite young. Experts differ on the exact timing, some saying age 18 and some saying age 19.

and it remained his most famous composition for the rest of his life. There are now many very few really good recordings of his most famous composition.

8 thoughts on “1892: Rachmaninov: C# Minor Prelude

  1. This sounds great! It looked like he was closing his eye (maybe to impress or for show). It had lots of ups, downs, and chords. The chords are the main (my opinion) driving factor in hear that C# MINOR sound.

    1. Michael, some of them emote to impress, but I don’t think Kissen does. It’s more a subconscious thing, like you feel the music, and no one ever teaches you not to “broadcast”. Way back in the past people were more inhibited, which sometimes was a good thing but often a very bad thing. Today everyone wants to “let it all hang out”, but if you are not very VERY careful, getting excited and broadcasting can get out of control in about one second and totally ruin a performance. Ideally, in my opinion, you want to look totally in control, because your goal is to make the listener feel happy, sad, excited, peaceful, and so on. Your job is not to mirror those things in your face. That’s why I always say the average listener tends to “hear with the eyes”, and many performers try to take advantage of that. The problem is that you can’t see anything when you hear a recording. Even when I’m listening live, I tend to keep my eyes closed, because I want to HEAR the music, not SEE it.

  2. I very much enjoy listening to this music as well as the other pieces you have posted. I also think it’s a good idea to select videos with different pianists. Many pianists show a lot of emotion when playing. Are they feeling the music and visualizing the notes when they close their eyes?

    1. What you are referring to is “emoting”. Remember, the average person “hears with the eyes”. By that I mean that when people see famous pianists live, they expect a show. In general the pianists who are very still, who barely move, are considered to be “colder” or “less emotional”. But two of the greatest pianists who have ever lived, Rubinstein and Horowitz, barely moved when they played anything that was quiet, and Horowitz barely moved when he was creating huge dramatic moments. If you look at him with the sound turned down, you think he is doing nothing. But the climaxes are titanic.

      1. I find that the folks who emote a lot when playing, lack in playing. Lang Lang, I’m looking right at you. Much flash and pizzazz, but *snore* (says the man who can’t play at any level remotely approaching what Lang Lang does…)

        Yet that’s my thought, and I stick by it.

        THe stone-cold killers like Gould or Horowitz make you cry. The point is, it’s not their job to look like they’re feeling things, their job is to make you feel the things.

        On the other hand, clearly, there *is* something going on. The moving eyelids while they’re closed. The way Gould would hummmMMmmMmMmm along with the music and do his aspie rocking thing. They all emote, it’s just that the real manipulators keep it all inside, and let it out with their fingers, not their entire body.

        1. Here’s my take: people have personalities, and they have to be true to who they are. Lang Lang is an incredibly warm, friendly human being, and it seems to be natural for him to showboat. He never seems to sweat, and he has an incredible technique. I’ll assume all his gestures and looks are genuine, but I never look at him. For me, personally, I find all those faces and the hand waving to be totally distracting.

          That said, they don’t bother me when listening because you can’t hear all the visual things. Gould, on the other hand, drove me NUTS because of the awful humming, and you can bet your last dollar he was encouraged to do that as a young kid.

          I believe in the 1800 players were taught not to “mug”, not to play to the audience in what was mostly considered to be cheap theatrics. The huge exception was Liszt, and his antics annoyed Chopin to no end. For the most part huge displays of emotion were considered bad taste, and that’s why you see so many pianists born in the late 1800s who lived long enough to make great stereo recordings who barely moved. The idea was, as you said, that the audience is supposed to experience all those emotions, not the player.

          That said, Lang Lang is very much in the tradition of Franz Liszt. The difference, however, is that Liszt was a composer, arranger (transcriber), conductor and many say a master teacher. The biggest weakness in most concert artists today is that they only reproduce. They do not create. The last really amazing pianist/composer, a man who did everything, was Rachmaninov, and he died slightly before 1943. There are no inheritors of this Romantic legacy except in different areas, such as film scores, and of course jazz had amazing originality long after WWII.

          That’s why I’m so keen on John Williams, because he’s also a conductor, a very good one, and he can write music in almost any style.

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