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Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor Op.18

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 1943)

Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Op.18 (1900-1901)

1. Moderato
2. Adagio sostenuto
3. Allegro scherzando

The late 1890s was a turbulent period for Rachmaninov. After the disastrous premiere of his first Symphony in 1897, he fell into a deep depression, and refused to compose. During this time it was recommended that he obtain medical help, so he sought the assistance of Dr. Nikolai Dahl, a specialist in hypnotism, himself an amateur musician. Eventually, in 1900, he was inspired to return to composition, coming up with the second and third movements for what was to become his 2nd Piano Concerto. They were completed by the end of 1900, and premiered that December in Moscow.

The movements were declared a great success, and even Cui, who had initially criticized Rachmaninov after the premiere of his first symphony wrote it made a positively agreeable impression on me on account of its beauty, taste and elegance, all of which unquestionably bear witness to the composer's talent". This response encouraged him to complete the first movement, and the entire work was premiered, with himself at the keyboard, on 9 November 1901. In what could be interpreted as a display of gratitude, the concerto was dedicated to Dr Dahl.

Stylistically, the work is very different to those that preceded it, with luscious harmonies, intense and passionate melodies, and a more mature approach to orchestration. He continued this style of writing in the works that followed, including the Suite No.2 for two Pianos (1900-01), the Cello Sonata (1901), and the 12 Songs Op.21 (1900-02). The Concerto has remained a crowd-pleased ever since its premiere, the popular second movement even making it to the big screen, being used as the background music for the film Brief Encounter.

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