Happy 142nd Birthday, Rachmaninoff!
[Originally appeared April 1, 2015 on the Rosewood Piano Studio Facebook page.]
Today is April Fool's Day, and I am going to break every rule associated with it.
I am going to be candid, and let you in on one of those first moments of musical transcendence I ever experienced.
April 1st, as well as being a day that perpetuates all manner of internet hoaxes and a very small percentage of truly clever capers, happens also to be Sergei Rachmaninoff's birthday.
There is a certain irony to this, given that his music is considered neo-romantic. Rachmaninoff's music was a throwback to the days of unabashed earnestness and thrall to tonality's undemocratic supremacy during a time when the style was very much going out of fashion. By the end of his life, he earned little favor in the eyes of critics (most notoriously to the ultimate chagrin of The Grove Dictionary of Music's Eric Blom, who wrote in 1954: "The enormous popular success some few of Rachmaninov's works had in his lifetime is not likely to last, and musicians never regarded it with much favor.")
One summer, around the age of 10 and with nothing but idle time to go rummaging about the house for an afternoon, I came across a cassette tape labeled "Rachmaninoff Preludes." I carried it up to my bedroom and began listening with a measure of ambivalence.
This particular prelude opens with a thunderous, regimented power. Over the course of about a minute it unfurls into dubious glory and then crashes epically on some dark shore.
Then: a little over a minute in, earth and sky shift to permit a glorious moment of ethereal tenderness. One step out of rank into the void, and all of a sudden one is soaring, yearning, dreaming.
I had experienced nothing like it. I rewound and played it again and again. It inspired me to redouble my efforts at the piano in a way nothing else had.
This is by no means Rachmaninoff's most brilliant nor most representative work, merely the piece that captured the ear of a child in her bedroom many years ago. With that caveat, I give you: Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 23, No. 5 in G minor.
Happy 142nd birthday, Rachmaninoff!