The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, is a concerto for piano and orchestra composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff between the autumn of 1900 and April 1901. The second and third movements were first performed with the composer as soloist on 2 December 1900. The complete work was premiered, again with the composer as soloist, on 9 November 1901, with his cousin Alexander Siloti conducting.
At its 1897 premiere, Rachmaninoff's first symphony, though now considered a significant achievement, was derided by contemporary critics. Compounded by problems in his personal life, Rachmaninoff fell into a depression that lasted for several years. His second piano concerto confirmed his recovery from clinical depression and writer's block, cured by courses of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy and helped by support from his family and friends. The concerto was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, the physician who had done much to restore Rachmaninoff's self-confidence.
The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B♭ (I mov.) and A (II & III mov.), 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B♭, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, solo piano, and strings. It is written in three-movement concerto form:
- Moderato (C minor)
- Adagio sostenuto – Più animato – Tempo I (C minor → E major)
- Allegro scherzando (E major → C minor → C major)
The opening movement begins with a series of chromatic bell-like tollings on the piano that build tension, eventually climaxing in the introduction of the main theme by the violins, violas, and first clarinet.
In this first section, while the melody is stated by the orchestra, the piano takes on the role of accompaniment, consisting of rapid oscillating arpeggios between both hands which contribute to the fullness and texture of the section's sound. The theme soon goes into a slightly lower register, where it is carried on by the cello section, and then is joined by the violins and violas, soaring to a climactic C note. After the statement of the long first theme, a quick and virtuosic "piu mosso" pianistic figuration transition leads into a short series of authentic cadences, accompanied by both a crescendo and an accelerando; this then progresses into the gentle, lyrical second theme in E♭ major, the relative key. The second theme is first stated by the solo piano, with light accompaniment coming from the upper wind instruments. A transition which follows the chromatic scale eventually leads to the final reinstatement of the second theme, this time with the full orchestra at a piano dynamic. The exposition ends with an agitated closing section with scaling arpeggios on the E♭ major scale in both hands.
The agitated and unstable development borrows motives from both themes, changing keys very often and giving the melody to different instruments while a new musical idea is slowly formed. The sound here, while focused on a particular tonality, has ideas of chromaticism. Two sequences of pianistic figurations lead to a placid, orchestral reinstatement of the first theme in the dominant 7th key of G. The development furthers with motifs from the previous themes, climaxing towards a B♭ major "più vivo" section. A triplet arpeggio section leads into the accelerando section, with the accompanying piano playing chords in both hands, and the string section providing the melody reminiscent of the second theme. The piece reaches a climax with the piano playing dissonant fortississimo (fff) chords, and with the horns and trumpets providing the syncopated melody.
While the orchestra restates the first theme, the piano, that on the other occasion had an accompaniment role, now plays the march-like theme that had been halfly presented in the development, thus making a considerable readjustment in the exposition, as the main theme, the arpeggios in the piano serve as an accompaniment. This is followed by a piano-solo which continues the first theme and leads into a descending chromatic passage to a pianississimo A♭ major chord. Then the second theme is heard played with a horn solo. The entrance of the piano reverts the key back into C minor, with triplet passages played over a mysterious theme played by the orchestra. Briefly, the piece transitions to a C major glissando in the piano, and is placid until drawn into the agitated closing section in which the movement ends in a C minor fortissimo, with the same authentic cadence as those that followed the first statement of the first theme in the exposition.
Adagio sostenuto – Più animato – Tempo I
The second movement opens with a series of slow chords in the strings which modulate from the C minor of the previous movement to the E major of this movement.
At the beginning of the A section, the piano enters, playing a simple arpeggiated figure. This opening piano figure was composed in 1891 as the opening of the Romance from Two Pieces For Six Hands. The main theme is initially introduced by the flute, before being developed by an extensive clarinet solo. The motif is passed between the piano and then the strings.
Then the B section is heard. It builds up to a short climax centred on the piano, which leads to cadenza for piano.
The original theme is repeated, and the music appears to die away, finishing with just the soloist in E major.
The last movement opens with a short orchestral introduction that modulates from E major (the key of the previous movement) to C minor, before a piano solo leads to the statement of the agitated first theme.
After the original fast tempo and musical drama ends, a short transition from the piano solo leads to the second theme lyrical theme in B♭ major is introduced by the oboe and violas. This theme maintains the motif of the first movement's second theme. The exposition ends with a suspenseful closing section in B♭ major.
After that an extended and energetic development section is heard. The development is based on the first theme of the exposition. It maintains a very improvisational quality, as instruments take turns playing the stormy motifs.
In the recapitulation, the first theme is truncated to only 8 bars on the tutti, because it was widely used in the development section. After the transition, the recapitulation's 2nd theme appears, this time in D♭ major, half above the tonic. However, after the ominous closing section ends it then builds up into a triumphant climax in C major from the beginning of the coda. The movement ends very triumphantly in the tonic major with the same four-note rhythm ending the Third Concerto in D minor.
After the second and third movement premiered in December 1900 with Rachmaninoff as the soloist, the entire piece was first performed in 1901 and was enthusiastically received. This concerto earned the composer a Glinka Award, the first of five awarded to him throughout his life, and a 500-rouble prize in 1904. The positive reception was a significant catalyst in the advancement of his recovery from continual depression.
The second theme of Allegro scherzando provides the basis for Frank Sinatra's 1945 "Full Moon and Empty Arms". And two songs recorded by Sinatra also have roots in the first movement of the concerto: "I Think of You" and "Forever and Ever".
The Adagio sostenuto theme appears in Eric Carmen's 1975 ballad "All by Myself". Carmen first composed the song's interlude, then took the bridge from Rachmaninoff and the chorus from his own "Let's Pretend". Carmen explained that Rachmaninoff was his "favorite music".
Austrian violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler wrote a transcription of the second movement for Violin and Piano in 1940, named Preghiera (Prayer).
The 1941 Sinatra song "I Think of You" is also based on the concerto, with the lyric line following a theme from the first movement, and the accompaniment with influences from the third movement.
- In the 1932 film adaptation of Grand Hotel by Edmund Goulding with Greta Garbo
- In the beginning of the fourth act of Ayn Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead, Rachmaninoff's second concerto is cited as one of two musical works capable of acting as a surrogate for man's achievement.
- The concerto features significantly in David Lean's 1945 film Brief Encounter.
- In Frank Capra's and Hugh Stewart's 1944 WWII documentary Tunisian Victory.
- Performed by character, Francesca Cunningham, played by Ann Todd, in 1945 film, The Seventh Veil.
- It is the main theme of Frank Borzage's 1946 film I've Always Loved You. It is featured throughout the film in a soundtrack by Arthur Rubinstein.
- It features significantly in William Dieterle's 1950 film September Affair. In some moments the main theme of the first movement is mixed with Kurt Weill's "September Song".
- It was significant in the film Rhapsody (1954), directed by Charles Vidor, as the performance piece for a budding virtuoso pianist, James Guest (actor John Ericson in that role). The film starred Elizabeth Taylor and Vittorio Gassman.
- It was used in Billy Wilder's 1955 film The Seven Year Itch.
- It features briefly in a 1956 Soviet film Spring on a Street Across the River (Весна на Заречной улице) in a radio broadcast performed by Lev Oborin.
- It is briefly heard in George Roy Hill's 1964 film The World of Henry Orient.
- American actress Lauren Bacall selects this as her second disc on the BBC Program Desert Island Discs, 1978.
- Guiding Light Supercouple Alan-Michael Spaulding and Lucy Cooper consummate their relationship to the Adagio sostenuto portion.
- It features prominently both during the fictitious American Ballet Academy's rehearsals and final ballet workshop performance in the 2000 film Center Stage.
- In the 2005 Korean movie Blood Rain, briefly towards the end right after the scene where the sky rained blood, and right at the end of the movie from the closing scene into the closing credits.
- It features in For Horowitz 호로비츠를 위하여 (2006), before the encore "Träumerei" in the end.
- It features significantly in both the Japanese anime (2007) and award-winning TV versions (2008) of Nodame Cantabile.
- The Adagio sostenuto features prominently in Clint Eastwood's 2010 film Hereafter.
- It is frequently used in figure skating programmes, used by single skaters Midori Ito, Sasha Cohen, and Mao Asada, and ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, respectively, among others.
- It was used in 2012 by Russian rhythmic gymnast Daria Dmitrieva for her hoop routine; she was silver medalist at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
- It features throughout the second episode of Series 1 of BBC Two's Inside No. 9, "A Quiet Night In".
- In the anime Fairy Tail it is often used as a theme.
- The first piano solo in the first movement is played by Lang Lang in "Dream", a collaboration between him and Jay Chou.
- In the anime Gankutsuou, the character Eugénie is shown practising and performing it in episodes 11 and 12.
- It also uses the first and third movements for Piano Concerto no. 2 in the 2010-2017 American drama of Pretty Little Liars, except the second movement for Piano Concerto no. 2 in the 2003-2012 American drama of One Tree Hill.
- A slightly modified theme from the Allegro Scherzando is also invoked in the soundtrack 'Flame of Life', from the visual novel Muv-Luv Alternative.
- Referenced and used in Pilot episode of TNT's series "Snowpiercer" in May 2020.
- Performed by character, Francesca Cunningham, portrayed by Ann Todd, in 1945 drama, The Seventh Veil.
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- "Full Moon and Empty Arms". Time. 23 June 1947.
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- "An Interview with Eric Carmen Conducted by Gordon Pogoda in 1991", ericcarmen.com, archived from the original on 28 September 2011, retrieved 21 September 2010
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- Tsukkerman, Viktor (1965), "Zhemchuzhina Russkoy Liriki (Pearls of Russian Lyricism)", Sovetskaya Muzika (in Russian) (1): 25–35
- Veinus, Abraham (1945), The Concerto, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., p. 248
- Piano Concerto No. 2: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Free sheet music of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 from Cantorion.org