“Always tinkling away in A Minor”
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a famed Russian piano composer, whose primary goal in life was to make piano players really fucking pissed off by making his music as unplayable as humanly possible. He claimed to be a pianist himself, but all he must have played was some easy shit like "Chopsticks" or "Mary had a Little Lamb". Seriously, if he had any actual knowledge of playing piano, he would have arranged his music in a way that was actually readable, as opposed to the messes he composed. Either that or he was on shrooms when he wrote them. Or both.
Rachmaninoff lived most of his life in turn of the 20th century Russia, which would be one explanation as to why his compositions were so screwed up. The man had to live through all 3 of the Russian revolutions, and if you weren't Lenin, the odds are that something bad might have happened to you. I am not an expert on his life, so I'll try to stay away from his specifics as much as possible after trying to get my brain around the convoluted vortices he would call music.
I'm no psychiatrist, but judging by the music, I could guess his youth was full of demons that sodomized him in front of his entire school. His parents were both amateur pianists, and ever since he was young Sergei aspired to become better than them as a payback for their daily savage beatings. Upon hearing of his aspirations, his parents were happy that young Sergei was finally setting goals in life, then proceeded to savagely beat him.
Coming of Age
This is the part of his life when the sick stuff his parents did to him as a kid started to settle in and make his brain their playground, and it showed. At around this time, young Rachmaninoff became best buds with an actual composer, Tchaikovsky. The two of them worked together for some time making, believe it or not, actual piano music. When Tchaikovsky died in 1893, though, young Sergei began to break down, and the forces of evil in his brain began to sprout wings. For God knows why, they told him: "write as many impossible songs for the piano as you can."
This is when Rachmaninoff made the most of his mangled magic. Following 1897, Rachmaninoff's life began to take a downward spiral that would be extremely evident in his music. Sergei debuted his first symphony and attempted to marry his cousin; both met with bad results. The Russian audience that viewed the symphony disliked its all too generic sound , and the Eastern Orthodox Church denied his marriage claim on the grounds that they had taste. Thrown into a deep funk, Rachmaninoff disappeared for a few years on an epically long bender. He surfaced again some years later, and in a self-proclaimed "moment of clarity", developed the bulk of his works.
His first popular work was Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, which was composed of two pianos playing asymmetric fugues at the same time. At random intervals during the episodic mess, a surprise tympani solo would occasionally pop in. It became an instant classic in Russia, further diminishing any credibility the nation had left. Punch drunk from the sudden popularity, Rachmaninoff's later works would echo his Suite No. 1, much to the dismay of non-Ruskies and Geoffrey Rush.
Rachmaninoff wrote many pieces of works, from operas to concertos and even a few theme songs. Each of them is hard to distinguish from each other, as they all consist of a random mesh of multiple octave-spanning notes thrown together with faux-synchronization. No joke. Have you ever listened to Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3? You would have a hard time deciphering the sheet music itself, let alone trying to even play it. It looks like someone took a shit, smeared it on 20 pieces of paper, and slapped a fancy Italian name on it.
Rachmaninoff is most famed for his concertos, which have been both more influential and maddening than most other pieces ever made for piano. You know that mental illness schizophrenia? I wouldn't be surprised if these concertos contributed to its origin. If you know about pianos like myself, just listen to his concertos and try to get a grasp on how the fuck someone could play them, and you may give yourself an aneurysm. Trust me, I've been down that path before. Rachmaninoff nearly killed me decades after he died.
I would give you an audio sample from the concertos, but the problem is that there are none available. Why, you ask? Did I already mention that they're the most impossible songs to play on piano, ever? Oh, I didn't? Well, that's not even opinion there. It's widely agreed by music professionals that the concertos are the most difficult songs to play on piano, in the instrument's entire centuries long history.
Talking about the concertos makes my head hurt too much, but before we go on to the next topic, here's a little fun fact you might not know about the concertos: there are more rhythm, phrasing, and dynamic notations than there are notes themselves in each concerto. And that says a lot, considering there are a shitload of notes .
Midnight Suite No. 7
While most of his works have gone unrecorded, like I previously mentioned, one piece had recently surfaced. It is a half-assed playing of Rachmaninoff's Midnight Suite No. 7 Movement One, one of his shorter and "easier" works, by Ukrainian Bob Kinkel, famed for his keyboard work in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
|Midnight Suite No. 7 (file info)|
|Kinkel plays Rachmaninoff on keyboard|
Bob's ability to play was severely inhibited, since he only had a keyboard at his disposal, and the piece required three grand pianos. Also of note is that he only played the song's bass clef, yet both hands were still required.
Rachmaninoff's style is, according to the "experts", fundamentally Russian and full of wonderful harmonics. Harmony is a very loose term, as there is a difference between the soothing, enjoyable harmonics of A Capella, and the entirely different "harmony" in Rachmaninoff's The Bells. If there's ever a song to be as insufferable as the Concertos, it's definitely The Bells; the song sounds like, and pardon my French, the Taco Bell dog being raped by the Hunchback of Notre Dame . Not to mention that you also need foot long hands to play the song's 11-note chords with both your hands at the same time. You could say Rachmaninoff has a Russian style of composition, but the "experts" failed to mention that he, like the Beatles, must have composed every unplayable little note while decked out on LSD.
If you put an infinite number of monkeys in front of an infinite number of pianos, none of them will ever play the entire works of Rachmaninoff. They'd all just die trying. Rachmaninoff was a goddamned madman.
- This is the last known bearable work Sergei composed, which was ironically torn to pieces by critics
- No, not that Hungarian Rhapsody, the other one
- Average of 12 per measure... in only 2-4 time, too! What the hell?!
- Either due to their extreme difficulty to be played up to the high recording standings, or the recordings were destroyed in the harsh Siberian cold
- Three "bell" puns in one sentence, I'd like to see Rachmaninoff compose shit like that.
- John Cage (at the opposite end of the spectrum)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (makes Rachmaninoff look like an poseur)
- Aphex Twin (possible reincarnation)
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