Piano Concerto No. 2 (Rachmaninoff)

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.[1] The second and third movements were first performed with the composer as soloist on 2 December 1900.[2] The complete work was premiered, again with the composer as soloist, on 9 November 1901,[2] with his cousin Alexander Siloti conducting.

Rachmaninoff in the early 1900s

This piece is one of Rachmaninoff's most enduringly popular pieces,[3] and established his fame as a concerto composer.[4]


At its 1897 premiere, Rachmaninoff's first symphony, though now considered a significant achievement, was derided by contemporary critics.[5] 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.[5]


First eight bars of the concerto

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:[6]

  1. Moderato (C minor)
  2. Adagio sostenuto – Più animato – Tempo I (C minor → E major)
  3. 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 IEdit

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.

Allegro scherzandoEdit

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.[7] 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.[8] The positive reception was a significant catalyst in the advancement of his recovery from continual depression.

Derivative worksEdit

The second theme of Allegro scherzando provides the basis for Frank Sinatra's 1945 "Full Moon and Empty Arms".[9] And two songs recorded by Sinatra also have roots in the first movement of the concerto: "I Think of You" and "Forever and Ever".[10]

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".[11]

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.[12]

American saxophonist, composer and bandleader Bob Belden arranged the concerto for performance by the Classical Jazz Quartet in 2006.

Popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ Harrison, Max (2006). Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings. London: Continuum. pp. 92–99. ISBN 0-8264-9312-2.
  2. ^ a b "Rachmaninoff's Works for Piano and Orchestra". Classy Classical. 7 September 2005. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  3. ^ "Brief Encounter theme is UK's top classic". The Guardian. 29 March 2005. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  4. ^ Norris, Geoffrey (1993). The Master Musicians: Rachmaninoff. New York City: Schirmer Books. pp. 113–115. ISBN 0-02-870685-4.
  5. ^ a b Steinberg, Michael (1998). The Concerto. Oxford University Press. pp. 357–358. ISBN 0-19-513931-3.
  6. ^ Woodrow Crob, Gary. "A descriptive analysis of the piano concertos of sergei vasilyevich rachmaninoff" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 September 2017.
  7. ^ Bertensson & Leyda 2001, p. 90, 95.
  8. ^ Riesemann 1934, p. 242.
  9. ^ "Full Moon and Empty Arms". Time. 23 June 1947.
  10. ^ "Rachmaninoff - Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra - Utah Symphony". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  11. ^ "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
  12. ^ Randolph, Marvin (17 December 2000). "'I Think Of You' Is Based On A Rachmaninoff Concerto". South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
  13. ^ Rhapsody (1954) at IMDb
  14. ^ Весна на Заречной улице [Spring on a Street Across the River]. kino-teatr.ru (in Russian).


Further readingEdit

  • Anderson, W. R. (1947), Rachmaninov and his pianoforte concertos: A brief sketch of the composer and his style, London: Hinrichsen Edition Limited, pp. 9–14
  • Chung, So-Ham Kim (1988), An analysis of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 in C Minor opus 18: Aids towards performance (Dissertation), The Ohio State University, retrieved 4 August 2010
  • Coolidge, Richard (August 1979), "Architectonic Technique and Innovation in the Rakhmaninov Piano Concertos", The Music Review, 40 (3): 188–193
  • Culshaw, John (1950), Rachmaninov: The Man and His Music, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 78–84
  • Evans, Edwin, ed. (1942), Serge Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 18: Analysis, New York: Boosey & Hawkes
  • Slenczynska, Ruth (October 1973), "The Performer's Corner: The Opening of the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto", Clavier, 12 (7): 18
  • 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

External linksEdit