Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque in D Minor: “To the Memory of a Great Artist”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died suddenly at the age of 53 on October 25, 1893, nine days after the premiere of the “Pathétique” Symphony. He had been an important ally and mentor to the young Sergei Rachmaninov, helping to get the 20-year-old composer’s first opera, Aleko, performed at the Bolshoi Theatre, and expressing interest in conducting his symphonic poem, The Rock. Rachmaninov began composing the Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor after receiving word of Tchaikovsky’s death. It is dedicated “To the memory of a great artist.” Completed in five weeks, it seems to have possessed the composer. “All my thoughts, all my strength, is dedicated to the work,” he wrote.

A deep, haunting pathos pervades Rachmaninov’s Trio. In fleeting moments, you can sense the musical spirit of Tchaikovsky. In terms of its monumental dimensions and form, the piece mirrors Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A minor, Op. 50, written as a similar response to the death of Nikolai Rubinstein. Both pieces are cyclic, with the opening movement’s theme returning in the fading final bars, reflecting a sense of melancholy inevitability, even hopeless resignation. In both, the second movement unfolds as a series of far-reaching variations on a theme, announced by the piano alone. This sombre theme, which originated in The Rock, pays homage to Tchaikovsky’s plaintive theme. In both works, a dramatic conversation emerges between the three instruments that pushes the music to a transcendent, symphonic level. In the first version, Rachmaninov even pushed beyond the three standard instruments, calling for a harmonium in the second movement.

The first movement (Moderato) opens in the gloomy depths of the piano, with the chilling repetition of a descending chromatic line. The cello and violin enter as lamenting voices over this ominous funeral march. At times mournful and terrifying, the movement develops with a raw passion and intensity that seems to be attempting to express the inexpressible.

The second movement (Quasi variazione) moves through a series of strange and haunting adventures. Near the end of the movement, ghostly echoes of the Trio’s opening emerge in the piano, while the cello and violin enter into a time-suspending duo. The brief Finale (Allegro risoluto) opens with a ferocious statement in the piano. One passage evokes the descending lines of the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. The D minor Trio élégiaque offers many celestial glimpses, but like Tchaikovsky’s final Symphony, it ultimately descends into the darkest and most despairing depths.

This extraordinary performance, recorded in the Radio France Auditorium on September 6, 2018 features Dmitri Makhtin (violin), Alexandre Kniazev (cello), and Andrei Korobeinikov (piano):

Recordings

  • Rachmaninov: Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor, Op. 9, Dmitri Makhtin, Boris Berezovsky, Alexander Kniaze Amazon

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.

1 thought on “Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque in D Minor: “To the Memory of a Great Artist””

  1. I seem to remember hearing this arranged for full orchestra in a Detroit Symphony broadcast when I was in high school (so, mid to late 90s) that I thought was extraordinary. I’m wondering if there are any recordings of that version?

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