The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A play about Sergei Rachmaninoff’s composing block sounds so good, The Ear wants to see it staged in Madison. | July 12, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

It is a famous story about writer’s block –- or, in this case, composer’s block.

The young Russian Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was so devastated by bad reviews of his first symphony in 1897 that he fell into a deep depression and couldn’t compose music for three years.

rachmaninoffyoung

But then he sought the help of a hypnotherapist Nikolai Dahl who kept repeating, “You will write a great piano concerto.”

And eventually he did.

Out of those sessions came Rachmaninoff’s popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. (You can hear the concerto in a YouTube video that features pianist Yuja Wang at the bottom.)

Now that legendary incident has been depicted in a new play called “Preludes.”

Here is a review by critic Ben Brantley that appeared in The New York Times.

It makes The Ear hope that one of the local theater companies will produce it, much as they did with the play about music education called “Master Class,” written by famed playwright Terrence McNally about the temperamental opera diva Maria Callas and some students.

“Preludes” is a chamber drama in which actors play multiple parts, many of the other famous artistic figures of the day such as the singer Fyodor Chaliapin (below right, played by Joseph Keckler in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) and the writer-playwright Anton Chekhov.

Rachmaninoff and Chaliapin Tina Fineberg NYT

It also involves two Rachmaninoffs (below in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times): one, called Rach, is the composer, portrayed by Gabriel Ebert, left; the other, called Rachmaninoff, is the pianist played by Or Matias.

Rac and Rachmaninoff Tina Fineberg NYT

Those of us who are not creative artists find it endlessly fascinating to try to get inside the head of important artistic figures.

Moreover, the drama gets a rave review that whets one’s appetite to see this play about a composer who was once dismissed as hopelessly sentimental but whose gorgeously melodic and stirringly harmonic music has had remarkable staying power and appeal – and continues to do so.

See what you think and whether the play stimulates your own curiosity.

Here is a link to the review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/theater/review-preludes-shows-rachmaninoff-failed-by-his-muse-and-killing-time.html?_r=0

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1 Comment »

  1. Your blog is endlessly interesting. Thanks for all the time you put into it.

    Comment by Barbara Furstenberg — July 12, 2015 @ 9:53 am


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