Piano Sonata No. 1 (Rachmaninoff)

Piano Sonata No. 1 (Rachmaninoff)

Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 28, is a piano sonata in D minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff, completed in 1908.cite book |last=Norris |first=Geoffrey |title=The Master Musicians: Rachmaninoff |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=aPc2AAAACAAJ |year=1993 |publisher=Schirmer Books |location=New York City |isbn=0-02-870685-4 |pages=87-88 ] It is the first of three "Dresden pieces", along with Symphony No. 2 and part of an opera, which were composed in the quiet city of Dresden, Germany.cite book |last=Harrison |first=Max |title=Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings |year=2006 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=HwSvhu1kLikC |publisher=Continuum |location=London |isbn=0-8264-9312-2 |pages=132-5 ] It was originally themed after Goethe's tragic play, "Faust", and although he abandoned the idea soon after beginning composition, traces of this influence can still be found. After numerous revisions and susbstantial cuts made at the advice of his colleagues, he completed it on April 11, 1908, and Konstantin Igumnov gave the premiere in Moscow on October 17, 1908. It received a lukewarm response there, and remains one of the more underperformed of Rachmaninoff's works.

It has three movements,cite book |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=9XPdMVomM3cC |title=Sergei Rachmaninoff: Sonata No. 1 and Other Works for Solo Piano |year=2001 |publisher=Dover Publications |location=Mineola, New York|New York|isbn=0-486-41885-5 ] and takes about 35 minutes to perform. [cite web |url=http://www.pianopedia.com/w_294_rachmaninov.aspx |title=Rachmaninov - Sonata no.1 in D minor, op.28 |accessdate=2008-02-03 |author=Brisson, Eric |date=2008 |work=Pianopedia ] The sonata as a whole is structured like a very typical Classical sonata, with fast movements surrounding a slower, more tender second movement. The movements themselves are more contemporary, featuring sprawling themes and ambitious climaxes within their own structure, all the while building toward a prodigious culmination in the final moments. Although this first sonata is a substantial and comprehensive work in its own right, its successor, Piano Sonata No. 2 (Op. 36), written only 4 years later, would become a much more enduring and regarded work.


In November 1906, Rachmaninoff, with his wife and daughter, moved to Dresden primarily to compose a second symphony to diffuse the critical failure of his first symphony, but also to escape the distractions of Moscow. There they lived a quiet life, as he wrote in a letter, "We live here like hermits: we see nobody, we know nobody, and we go nowhere. I work a great deal,"cite book |last=Bertensson |first=Sergei |coauthors=Jay Leyda |title=Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=KM-dgfOaIIkC |year=2001 |publisher=Indiana University Press |location=Bloomington, Indiana |isbn=0-2532-1421-1 |pages=131-152 ] but even without distraction he had considerable difficulty in composing what would be his first piano sonata, especially concerning its form. The original idea for it was to be a program sonata based on the main characters of the tragic play "Faust" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles, and indeed it nearly parallels Franz Liszt's own "Faust" Symphony which is made of three movements that reflect those characters. However, the idea was abandoned shortly after he began composition, but the theme is still clear in the final version.

He enlisted the help of Nikita Morozov, one of his classmates from Anton Arensky's class back in the Moscow Conservatory, to discuss how the sonata rondo form applied to his sprawling work. At this time he was invited, along with Alexander Glazunov, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Scriabin, and Fyodor Chaliapin, to a concert in Paris the following spring held by Sergei Diaghilev to soothe France–Russia relations, despite the fact Diaghilev hated his music. [cite book |last=Milstein |first=Nathan |coauthors=Solomon Volkov |title=From Russia to the West |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=GnEOAQAACAAJ |year=1990 |publisher=Barrie and Jenkins |location=London |isbn=978-0-7126-4549-2 |pages=245 ] Begrudgingly he decided to attend only for the money, since he would have preferred to spend time on this and his Symphony No. 2 (his opera project, "Monna Vanna", had been dropped). [cite book |last=von Riesemann |first=Oskar |title=Rachmaninoff's Recollections |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=mVhIAAAACAAJ |year=1934 |publisher=Macmillan |location=New York |isbn=978-0-836-95232-2 |pages=138-9 ] Writing to Morozov before he left in May 1907, he expressed his doubt in the musicality his compostition and deprecated its length, even though at this time he had completed only the second movement.

On returning to Ivanovka from the Paris concert, he stopped in Moscow to perform an early version of the sonata to contemporaries Nikolai Medtner, Georgy Catoire, Konstantin Igumnov, and Lev Conus. With their input, he shortened the original 45-minute long piece to around 35 minutes. He completed the work on April 11, 1908. Igumnov gave the premiere of the sonata on October 17, 1908, in Moscow, and he would give the first performance of the work in Berlin and Leipzig as well, although Rachmaninoff missed these three performances. [cite book |last=Matthew-Walker |first=Robert |title=Rachmaninoff: The Illustrated Lives of the Great Composers |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=pQulqk8Ts70C |year=1984 |publisher=Omnibus |location=London |isbn=978-0-71-19-0253-4 |pages=59, 62 ]


The piece is structured as a typical sonata in the Classical period: the first movement is a long "Allegro moderato" (moderately quick), the second a "Lento" (very slow), and the third an "Allegro molto" (very fast).

# "Allegro moderato"
#:The substantial first movement "Allegro moderato" presents most of the thematic material and motifs revisited in the later movements.
#:Juxtaposed in the intro is a motif revisited throughout the movement: a quiet, questioning fifth answered by a defiant authentic cadence, followed by a solemn chord progression. This densly thematic expression is taken to represent the turmoil of Faust's mind. [cite web |url=http://www.radix.net/~chinatom/rach.html |title=The Rachmaninov Lover's Home Page |accessdate=2008-08-10 |author=Wiens, Tom |date=2008 |work=ChinaTom ] [cite book |last=Martyn |first=Barrie |title=Rachmaninoff: Composer, Pianist, Conductor |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=8N2dAAAACAAJ |year=1990 |publisher=Scolar |location=London |isbn=978-0-8596-7809-4 |pages=188 ]
# "Lento"
#:Although the shortest in length and performance time, the second movement "Lento" provides technical difficulty in following long melodic lines, navigating multiple overlapping voices, and coherently performing the detailed climax, which includes a small cadenza.
# "Allegro molto"
#:Ending the sonata is the furious third movement "Allegro molto".


He played early versions of the piece to Oskar von Riesemann (who would later become his biographer), who did not like it. Konstantin Igumnov expressed interest upon first hearing it in Moscow, and following his suggestion Rachmaninoff cut about 110 measures.

The sonata had a mediocre evaluation after igumnov's premier in Moscow. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov had died several months prior, and the burden of heading Russian classical music had fallen on this all-Rachmaninoff program of October 17, 1908. Although the concert, which also included Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme of Chopin" (Op. 22, 1903), was "filled to overflowing", one critic called the sonata dry and repetitive, however redeeming the interesting details and innovative structures were.


External links

* [http://www.piano.ru/rah.html Piano.ru - Sheet music download]
* [http://classic.chubrik.ru/Rachmaninov/ Chubrik.ru - Audio download]

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