1873 – 1943 Rachmaninov was a multi-talented musician; brilliant at composing, playing piano and conducting. He started to compose at the age of 13 whilst a student at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. During his teenage years his home life became quite unsettled, and he ended up failing all his exams at school. Luckily Rachmaninov managed to win a place to study music in Moscow. He threw himself into his studies, getting up at 6am every day to practise. He ended up graduating with the conservatoires highest possible mark and gold medal.
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini In 1934 Rachmaninov composed Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Paganini was born almost 100 years before Rachmaninov and was a phenomenal violin soloist. He was a truly outstanding musician with the most incredible playing technique.
Rachmaninov used Theme and Variation form for his composition. He took the melody of Paganinis 24 th Violin Caprice and used it as the basis of a new composition for solo piano and orchestra. Theme & Variations
This is the theme borrowed from Paganinis 24th Violin Caprice.
You can hear this theme played by the violin section of the orchestra on Track 5 of the MUSICWORKS CD. Fast forward to 00:27.
Variation - a musical form in which a composer takes a melody and modifies it.
Variations Rachmaninov composed 24 different variations on Paganinis theme. Some of the variations are very straightforward and are closely linked to the original theme. Others are more complex and sound like entirely new pieces of music.
Here is an example of a simple variation Rachmaninov made.
You can hear this variation played by the piano on Track 5 of the MUSICWORKS CD. Fast forward to 00:47.
Theme by Paganini Variation by Rachmaninov (No.2)
Rachmaninov gave the music a quirky character by adding some crushed notes to the theme.
Acciaccatura - a type of grace note indicated by a small note with a line through the tail. The acciaccatura is played so quickly it is literally crushed into the note it precedes.
Inversion The most adventurous variation Rachmaninov made was number 18. Variation 18 sounds like an entirely new piece of music with no relation to Paganinis theme. However, it is absolutely connected to Paganini. Rachmaninov was just incredibly clever in his approach. Variation 18 is an inversion of Paganinis theme. Rachmaninov literally turned Paganinis theme upside down.
Inversion - to turn a musical element upside down, e.g. a chord, interval or melody.
Rachmaninov took Paganinis theme, To make Variation 18,
You can hear Variation 18 on Track 5 of the MUSICWORKS CD. Fast forward to 02:00.
Theme by Paganini Variation by Rachmaninov (No.18)
Inversion For such a mechanical process, it is amazing how beautiful this new music is. Variation 18 became one of Rachmaninovs most popular melodies, but its simply an inversion of Paganinis Violin Caprice.