Symphony No. 2 (Rachmaninoff)

Symphony No. 2 (Rachmaninoff)

Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 in 1906–07. The premiere was conducted by the composer himself in St. Petersburg on 8 February 1908. Its duration is approximately 60 minutes when performed uncut; cut performances can be as short as 35 minutes. The score is dedicated to Sergei Taneyev, a Russian composer, teacher, theorist, author, and pupil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.


At the time his Symphony No. 2 in E minor was composed, Rachmaninoff had had two successful seasons as the conductor of Imperial Opera at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Rachmaninoff considered himself first and foremost a composer and felt that the performance schedule was detracting from his time to compose. He then moved his wife and infant daughter to Dresden, Germany to spend more time composing and to also escape the political tumult that would put Russia on the path to revolution. The family remained in Dresden for three years, spending summers at Rachmaninoff’s in-law’s estate called Ivanovka. It was during this time that Rachmaninoff wrote not only his Second Symphony, but also the tone poem "Isle of the Dead".

Rachmaninoff was not altogether convinced that he was a gifted symphonist. At its premiere, his Symphony No. 1 (conducted by Alexander Glazunov in 1897) was considered an utter disaster; its criticism was so harsh that it sent the young composer into a bout of depression. Even after the success of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (which won the Glinka Award and 1000 rubles in 1904), Rachmaninoff still lacked confidence in his writing. He was very unhappy with the first draft of his Second Symphony but after months of revision, Rachmaninoff finished the work and conducted the premiere in 1908 to great success which would earn him another Glinka Award ten months later. The triumph regained Rachmaninoff’s sense of self-worth as a symphonist.


Because of its formidable length, Symphony No. 2 has been subjected to many revisions, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, that reduced the piece from nearly an hour to 35 minutes. Today, however, the piece is usually performed in its entirety, sometimes with the omission of a repeat in the first movement.

The manuscript of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 is owned by the Tabor Foundation, and is on permanent loan to the British Library. [ [ Geoffrey Norris, "Lost symphony in a Co-op bag". "Telegraph", 15 March 2007.] ] [ [] ]

On April 22, 2008 Brilliant Classics music distributors released Alexander Warenberg's arrangement of the symphony for piano and orchestra, titling it Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 5. The score is available through Boosey & Hawkes.



The symphony is scored for full orchestra with 3 flutes (the 3rd doubling on piccolo), 3 oboes (the 3rd doubling on cor anglais), 2 clarinets in A and Bb, bass clarinet in A and Bb, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, and strings.


The symphony is in four movements:
#Largo - Allegro moderato (E minor)
#Allegro molto (A minor)
#Adagio (A major)
#Allegro vivace (E major)The symphony consists of a dramatic sequence that is identified with Russian symphonic tradition. The tradition, established by the Rachmaninoff’s Russian Romantic predecessors, places emphasis on a motif and an “unending and beautiful flow of melody”, e.g. Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 5" (also in E minor) and, later, Balakirev's "Symphony No. 2" and Prokofiev's "Symphony No. 5".

First movement

The first movement is brooding and mysterious; dramatically intense and “alternates between stormy conflict and serene vision.” The cellos and double basses introduce the melodic motto in the “slow…dense texture” of the Largo, which is an unusually long introduction to the first theme. In the Allegro moderato Rachmaninoff finishes the remainder of the movement in sonata form, which the development evoking the largo introduction before building up to two climaxes. Towards the end of the movement another theme emerges, this one in G Major, carried mostly by the strings. The piece ends with the same motif as the Largo in an “understated coda”, carrying the same tempo and energy as the development but in a lighter and shorter form, as the "proper" closure to the Largo introduction is in the third movement ending.

econd movement

In the structure of the traditional Russian romantic symphony, the scherzo precedes the slow movement (est. by Borodin and Balakirev). Rachmaninoff’s second movement scherzo is “vigorous to the point of abandon.” The first motif is carried out largely by the horn section. There is a second motif that relates to the first movement, becoming the “motto” motif for the whole work. The brass chorale at the end of the scherzo is chilling and it derives from the Dies irae, a Gregorian chant for the dead that haunts many of Rachmaninoff’s works and held great influence over his creative life (e.g. "Isle of the Dead," "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini," his First Symphony, and his second set of Symphonic Dances). The brass chorale theme will later show up in the cadence of the final movement.

Third movement

This theme, again related to the work’s motif, sings through primarily in the first violin in an extremely Romantic-style melody, echoed by a solo clarinet and the oboe section. The symphony reaches its emotional climax in this movement, after an interlude of English horn and violin solo passages followed by a clarinet reverie that is reminiscent of the first movement, further developing the work’s “motto”; this development is considered the complement for the first movement Largo introduction. At the end of the Adagio, the motif is heard in its original form which again links it back to the first movement; indeed this is considered the apt ending to the first movement's initial Largo introduction. The theme from this movement was used for pop singer Eric Carmen's 1976 song, "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again".

Fourth movement

In the Russian symphonic tradition, the motifs and themes of the preceding movements are collectively “summed-up” in the finale. The final movement is grand and sweeping, set in sonata form, carrying with it the essence of the work. There are several ideas present in the Finale: the opening triplet theme, the marching melody, and the return to the Romantic string melody of the third movement.

elected recordings

* Nikolai Sokoloff conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, 1928, Cleveland Orchestra, "(cut, mono)" "(the recording premiere)" []
*Nikolai Golovanov conducting the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, 1945, Boheme/Melodiya "(cut, mono)"
*Dmitri Mitropoulos conducting the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, 1947, Lys "(cut, mono)"
*Kurt Sanderling conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, 1956, Deutsche Grammophon "(cut, mono)"
*Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1959, Sony "(cut)"
*André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, 1973, EMI "(uncut)"
*Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1973, RCA "(uncut)"
*Yuri Temirkanov conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1978, EMI "(uncut)"
*Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, 1980s, Decca "(uncut)"
*Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, 1984, EMI "(uncut)"
*Dmitri Kitaenko conducting the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, 1985, Melodiya "(uncut, takes first movement repeat)"
*Evgeny Svetlanov conducting the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation, 1985, Live performance, Scribendum, "(uncut)"
*Mikhail Pletnev conducting the Russian National Orchestra, 1993, Deutsche Grammophon, "(uncut)"
*Mariss Jansons conducting the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, 1994, EMI "(uncut)"


External links

*IMSLP2|id=Symphony_No.2%2C_Op.27_%28Rachmaninoff%2C_Sergei%29|cname=Symphony No. 2
* [ Arkady Chubrik Classic Music Collection: Rachmaninov, free recordings]
* [ Program notes]
* [ Program notes]
* [ Program notes]

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