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Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2009 Rachmaninoff, not only for piano…
Rachmaninoff, not only for piano… PDF Print E-mail

by Massimo Viazzo

There is a well-known photo that portrays a pensive Horowitz in his studio in front of his piano. On the wall behind him there are several pictures. Precisely under Toscanini’s proud profile we can recognize the sad and melancholy traits of Sergej Rachmaninoff, almost in a Hollywood pose. The hyperbolic virtuoso, the decadent sentimentalist, the musician from Beverly Hills: this appears to be up to today the public image of the Russian composer.
Still, there is also another Rachmaninoff. To make an example, just a few people know that Rachmaninoff had ended his studies in Composition, in the Conservatory of Moscow, writing an opera (Aleko, staged with an enormous success in the Bol’šoj Theatre in 1893). With a libretto imposed by his judging commission presided by Arenskij (one only act from Puškin’s The Gypsies) and
perfectly segmented «in numbers» the nineteen-year-old Rachmaninoff, pervaded by a burning inspiration, ended the score in little more than two weeks. The libretto’s formal structure is undoubtedly too schematic. The thirteen music pieces that constitute the outline of this opera seem to be in certain moments lacking of cohesion and their dramaturgy lacks a little bit of the consequentiality necessary to give them an essential aspect. Rachmaninoff partially solved this problem using a handful of thematic repetitions. Still, not having the possibility of collaborating directly with the writer of the libretto he was obliged to “limit” himself to the use of the material he had been provided with: a cascade of sounds and colours, a melodic exuberance, a fluent ardour (but already pervaded by obscure and oppressive shadows) of a young man just grown out of adolescence and most of all a true encyclopaedia of Russian musical theatre. It will be extremely easy to recognize Glinka in the The Old Gypsy's Tale (no. 3), Borodin in Choir (no. 2) and in the Dances (no. 5 and 6), Mušorgskij in the last part of the Finale (n. 13) and the venerated Čajkovskij in the extraordinary Aleko’s Cavatina (no. 10). The author of Patetica has surely inspired the fateful themes that repeat as rounded waves on the hammering accompaniment triplets during the Introduction (no. 1). Aleko is Othello, or also a Russian Canio, but unlike these Italian characters, jealousy here comes together with the solipsistic amble of the diverse, of the ostracized.
The Island of the dead (1909) is a symphonic poem (inspired by the homonymous painting by Böcklin) nowadays considered an absolute masterpiece. It flows dense as magma, with orchestral sonorities tense and obscure. It is pervaded by an irregular rhythm – 5/8 – at the beginning it is rocking then it becomes solemn and majestic, always maintaining its menacing and threatening character. With a great thematic simplicity, (the theme of Dies Irae returns fatefully during the duration of the whole composition) Rachmaninoff sculpts an impressive funeral monument that leaves us wordless in front of the mystery of death.