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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
Sergei Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2
April 16, 2011

Dvorak: Symphony No.8 in G Major, Op.88, B.163
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Op.18

Antonin Dvorak (1899-1963)
Symphony No.8 in G Major, Op.88, B.163

Allegro con brio
Allegretto grazioso - Molto vivace
Allegro ma non troppo

By 1884, Antonín Dvorák was an internationally celebrated composer, renowned not only for his smaller works, but, following the success of his Symphony in d minor, as a symphonist as well. Upon returning home to Bohemia from another successful trip to England, his now solid financial position gave him the resources to realize one of his fondest dreams—a place in the country. He purchased Vysoká, a simple country home with a music room, surrounded by hills and forests, where he could experience peace and happiness. It was at this quiet retreat in the fall of 1889 that his most Czech symphony, Symphony No. 8 in G Major, was born. Dvorak conducted the premiere in Prague on February 2, 1890, and a couple of months later in England. Upon being granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Cambridge in June of 1891, he conducted performances of the G Major Symphony and his Stabat Mater at the time of the ceremony. During an extended stay in America, Dvorák conducted another notable early performance of the symphony for Czech Day at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Although sometimes overshadowed in popularity by the New World Symphony, this atmospheric work, a walk through the Bohemian countryside, represents the best of optimistic late 19th century symphonic writing. The first movement begins with a solemn cello melody which makes way for the introduction of the main theme on the flute. The second movement, full of contentment, gives us a picture of rural life, complete with the sounds of birds and a flowing mountain stream. The village band even makes an appearance. The third movement is not an energetic scherzo (or even a Czech Furiant) but a graceful waltz exuding melodic charm. The sudden change to the rustic dance of the trio section (the tune borrowed from his opera The Stubborn Lovers) and the coda, driving to the end at double speed, recall the beloved Czech dance, the Dumka. A trumpet call introduces the fourth movement, variations on a stately march theme evoking rustic festivities to bring the symphony to a rousing conclusion.

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Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Op.18

In 1954, Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians predicted: “The enormous popular success some few of Rachmaninoff’s works had in his lifetime is not likely to last, and musicians never regarded it with much favour.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rachmaninoff’s music is greatly loved by pianists and audiences alike. We of the twenty-first century love our piano concertos–the great dialogues/duels of piano and orchestra—and there’s rarely a lack of enthusiasm for another hearing of “Rach II.”

Composed ten years after Rachmaninoff’s first piano concerto, Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor, op. 18 was nearly not written. In 1897, the twenty-four year old composer suffered a severe blow to his creative confidence. The premiere of his first symphony was a total fiasco. The orchestra was badly prepared and the critics were merciless. Fellow composer and critic César Cui wrote, “If there were a conservatory in hell, Rachmaninoff would get the first prize for his Symphony, so devilish are the discords he places before us.” These events caused the composer to fall into such a black depression that he was unable to compose for two years. He even went so far as to destroy the score of the maligned symphony (fortunately the piece survived through the preservation of manuscript parts). Rachmaninoff had promised to write a second piano concerto for the people of London who had so appreciated his first, but his melancholia prevented it. Fortunately, friends put him in touch with a Dr. Dahl, a psychologist who sought to restore the composer’s self-confidence through hypnosis. The treatment was no doubt enhanced by the fact the doctor was also an amateur musician. In a darkened room he would repeat over and over such phrases as “You will begin your will work with great facility...the concerto will be of excellent quality.” The treatment was a success and by the fall of 1900 the composer’s creativity was again flourishing. During a trip to Italy he completed second and third movements and he performed them to great acclaim at a Moscow concert. This success gave him the confidence to complete the first movement. In gratitude to Dr. Dahl, Rachmaninoff dedicated the work to him. Upon its complete premiere in October of 1901, the work gained an immediate, enduring success.

After an unusual introduction consisting of a series of increasingly intense, rich chords from the piano, the work unfolds in a most gratifying way, full of wonderful dialog between piano and orchestra (no dueling here), soaring melodies, and refined turns of harmonies. The introductory measures of the second movement adeptly guides the listener from the c Minor of the first movement to E Major. A nostalgic nocturne, the introduction of two cadenzas does not break the reflective mood of the movement. Another skillful modulation from E Major to C Major introduces us to the finale, a movement alternating between two themes; one a vigorous dance, the second, one of Rachmaninoff’s most famous. The final statement of this theme brings the work to its triumphant close.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2011.
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