Rachmaninov the Melodist

I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.

-Sergei Rachmaninov

Sergei Rachmaninov was a composer who was out of step with the times. As twentieth-century music became increasingly atonal, complex, and in some cases cerebral, Rachmaninov’s distinctive musical voice remained rooted in melody- even as he suffered depression and debilitating lapses in self-confidence.

The song, How Fair the Spot (Op. 21, No. 7), written around 1900, is one of Rachmaninov’s most unabashedly beautiful melodies. Jascha Heifetz’ violin transcription demonstrates that it’s just as sublime without words. Below is cellist Mischa Maisky’s recording from his 2006 album, Vocalise: Russian Romances. Like many of Rachmaninov’s melodies, there’s an undercurrent of lament. The piano’s opening seems to emerge out of silence, only finding its place with the cello’s entrance. You can hear a conversation unfolding between the two instruments. Listen to the way the piano lingers briefly with a final, dreamy statement at the end of the song:

And while we’re on the subject of Rachmaninov, French pianist Alexandre Tharaud has just recorded the Second Piano Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Vedernikov. Solo piano works round out the album.

Recordings

  • Vocalise: Russian Romances, Mischa Maisky, Pavel Gililov iTunes
  • Itzhak Perlman’s Greatest Hits, Vol 2 iTunes
  • Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2, Alexandre Tharaud, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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