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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 ('Adagio sostenuto' Op. 18 – II)

Sergie Rachmaninoff (often spelled Rachmaninov) (1873-1943) was a Russian pianist and composer. He is famed as one of the finest classical pianists of his lifetime and perhaps of all time. He is also renowned for his complex and lyrical compositions, which span the range of human emotion, combing passages of stormy intensity with sequences of transcendental beauty.

Rachmaninoff achieved great success and acclaim in his own lifetime. After leaving his native Russia, he settled in the United States, where he enjoyed a long and successful career until his death in 1943. His reputation maintained and perhaps even grew after his death, due in part to the use of his music in film soundtracks. One of these was ‘Shine’, which gave a controversial account of the life of troubled Australian pianist David Helfgott, as brilliantly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush.

 

And yet Rachmaninoff was no stranger to mental health difficulties. Much affected by the death of his musical hero Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff wrote his first symphony as a tribute to his idol. When it was very poorly received in Russia, he became despondent and struggled with depression in the subsequent three years, during which he wrote little or no music. However, partly assisted by a course of psychotherapy, Rachmaninoff overcame his depression. His ‘comeback’ was marked by his Piano Concerto No. 2, which would become one of his best-loved compositions, and was used years later in the score to the classic film ‘A Brief Encounter’.

 

With this in mind, I have chosen this piece to begin this blog, in which one of the themes I hope to explore is the subliminal and healing power of music. The final passages of this second movement are particularly evocative. This version is by Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the most celebrated contemporary interpreters of Rachmaninoff’s music (although look out too for interpretations by Vladimir Horowitz, who Rachmaninoff felt played his music better than himself).

 

 

Further reading:

 

Recommended listening:

 

 

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Minds in Music

Minds in Music

 
     
  John Tully  
 

@MindsinMusic

Dr John Tully is a forensic psychiatrist and researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, London. He is also a musician and is interested in the role of the arts in mental health.