This week’s music is a performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp minor by the superstar pianist Evgeny Kissin. Soon after his graduation from conservatory in 1892, Rachmaninoff wrote a series of preludes titled Morceaux de fantaisie. Of these preludes, the C-sharp minor prelude has become the most famous.
The prelude is famous primarily because of the ominous three-chord motif – A, G sharp, and C sharp – that opens the piece. This motif repeats throughout, though Rachmaninoff presents in in several different forms and variations as the piece progresses. Listen for the drop-off from forte to pianissimo near the beginning as Rachmaninoff introduces the main theme. After the theme is introduced, you’ll hear the music increase in speed and energy through a series of chromatic (moving by half-steps) triplets. Rachmaninoff builds this chromatic sequence into a recapitulation of the original motif that dies out to finish the piece.
I thought we would take a break from our series on the Brandenburg concerti and enjoy a lighthearted encore by the Finish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. The performance itself needs very little explanation, so I thought I would provide you with a bit of background on the artist himself. As you’ll see, this performance showcases an unbelievable combination of instrumental and vocal talent.
Mr. Kuusisto is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to musical performance. One night he will play a concerto that has only existed for a few days, and the next night he can perform 16th-century compositions just as well. While this ability may be hard to appreciate without doing it, suffice it to say that this is somewhat similar to having the ability to dance a ballet one day and play in the NFL the next. As the video showcases, he is also a gifted improviser and singer. One fact about Kuusisto that I thought was particularly interesting in light of our recent study of the Brandenburg concerti is his fascination with the music of J.S. Bach. This is reflected in many ways, most notably in his composition of a series of rock and roll concerti based on several Bach sonatas.