SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873–1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1900–01)
“What I try to do when writing down my music is to make it say simply and directly what is in my heart.” That sort of immediacy, along with the soaring melodies, emotional appeal, and unabashed Romantic passion have made Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2 a big hit then as it continues to be now, some 115 years later. A number of personal and professional disasters had left Rachmaninoff a proverbial basket case, thinking his creative juices had dried up. He decided to focus instead on performing rather than composing. He also received help from Nikolai Dahl, a psychiatrist who employed a then-new type of treatment called hypnotherapy, using the mantra Dr. Dahl repeated over and over: “You will begin to write your concerto. You will work with great ease. The music will be excellent.” Rachmaninoff’s renewed self-confidence yielded this great Romantic concerto, dedicated to the doctor. (Pop culture note: you’ll recognize the theme that inspired the popular song “Full Moon and Empty Arms” from the 1940s. Parts of the concerto have also appeared in films, including 1945’s Brief Encounter, 1955’s The Seven Year Itch, and Clint Eastwood’s 2010 Hereafter.) And check out the composer himself playing the first movement on YouTube.