Breaking Down Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”
Rachmaninov was himself an outstanding pianist, as is borne out by his very own recording of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which is still available today. You can pre-order the album now.
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Rachmaninov - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It is written for solo piano and symphony orchestra, closely resembling a piano concerto.
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The work was written at his Villa, the Villa Senar, in Switzerland, according to the score, from July 3 to August 18, Rachmaninoff himself, a noted interpreter of his own works, played the solo piano part at the piece's premiere at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 7, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
After a brief introduction, the first variation is played before the theme. Paganini's theme is stated on strings with the piano picking out salient notes, after the first variation.
Rachmaninoff likely got the idea of having a variation before the theme from the finale of Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Variations II to VI recombine elements of the theme.
The pauses and rhetorical flourishes for the piano in variation VII herald a change of tempo and tone.