Rodger Clark

Rachmaninoff: How Russian Romanticism Inspired 1970s Hits

Rodger Clark

Rodger Clark, WDAV Development Director

People find connection to classical music in various ways. Some develop their affinity through musical training during their childhood. Others may be introduced to it by a close friend. Still others may “back” into it in unexpected ways.

Regardless of how one comes by their appreciation of the classical music genre, my experience has shown that many people maintain a strong bond to the pieces and composers that first grabbed their attention.

For me, it was the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). While I did have some formal music educational experiences growing up – instrumental (trumpet) and choral – I have come to love the piano. And, while many have composed for piano – no one tops Rachmaninoff for bringing out the depth and breadth of the instrument. My guess is that since he was also a singular talent on the piano, he had keen insight into how to write music for it.

I recently ran across the following quote from someone who heard him perform:

“He (Rachmaninoff) demonstrated every time he played that variations of tone quality can be accomplished by pressure, weight, force, pedaling, and by the laxity or rigidity of the fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. If you have ever heard him play his Second Concerto, you could have observed a beautiful illustration of this. The eight solemn chords at the beginning each individually shaded and colored, yet progressing as a unified phrase and with growing power toward an inevitable climax – these darkly glowing chords, sheerly because of their tonal differences, constitute one of the great exordia in music.”
O’Connell, The Other Side of the Record, Alfred A. Knopf 1947, p. 163.

I, too, must confess that I am a child of the 1970’s – and have lived to talk about it! The popular music of that era was an important part of my growing up and as it turns out there is a great Rachmaninoff connection. Two of my favorite songs of the 70’s were by Eric Carmen. Some readers may confess to remembering them: All by Myself and Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.

Eric CarmenAs it turns out, Eric had some serious classical music training and was a fan of Rachmaninoff. The two songs noted above borrow heavily from the master pianist/composer. The main melody from All By Myself comes from the 2nd movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2; and the melody from Never Gonna Fall In Love Again is from the Adagio movement of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony.

An interesting aside in the Carmen-Rachmaninoff story is that when Carmen released All By Myself, he thought that Rachmaninoff’s music was in the “public domain” and usable with no restrictions. It turns out Carmen was contacted by Rachmaninoff’s estate and informed otherwise. A settlement was quickly reached and, given Carmen’s love of Rachmaninoff music, I’m sure he didn’t mind contributing to the composer’s legacy.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2, Adagio sostenuto, followed by Eric Carmen, All By Myself (pardon the 1970 hair and clothing…)
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2, Adagio, followed by Eric Carmen, Never Gonna Fall In Love Again