29 March 2023
By Ellie Palmer
Rachmaninov can sometimes seem out of reach for a lot of us. Many of his works are very advanced and very technical, to the point where we leave them to the pros and don't bother giving them a go. However, there are some Rach pieces that are much more suitable for the amateur player. We've picked out three for you to have a go at below.
1. Élegie Op 3 No 1
From youth in aristocratic Russia to fleeing the revolution, from uneasy perches in European capitals to his last days in Beverly Hills, Rachmaninov led a life that was nothing if not dramatic. The Élegie is an early work (1892) from the great pianist-composer, the first of the give Morceaux de fantaisie.
Playing tips: For those players with hands on the smaller side, the LH is going to be challenging here. Luckily, as Lucy Parham says in her lesson here, you can divide the LH line between the hands. This is a heartbreakingly gorgeous piece to play, so it's worth the hard work.
Below is an incredible piano roll recording of the composer himself playing this piece!
2. Prelude in C sharp minor Op 3 No 2
At the age of 19, Rachmaninov wrote this prelude and four companion (inevitably overshadowed) Morceaux de fantaisie as a graduation work from the Moscow Conservatoire in 1892, and dedicated it to his teacher, Anton Arensky. He received no payment for it beyond a small fee upon publication.
Playing tips: Pianist Lucy Parham gives a step-by-step lesson on the piece here.
Take a listen to Evgeny Kissin's performance of the piece below.
3. Prelude Op 23 No 6 in E flat
Rachmaninov's ten Preludes of Op 23 were completed in 1903. The most often performed of the set, the No 5 in G minor, was completed as early as 1901. The Op 23 were composed at the same time as Rach's substantial Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op 22, itself derived from Chopin's C minor Prelude.
It is no surprise, then, that Rachmaninov would take inspiration from Chopin's precedent and begin composing a set of Preludes of his own. With the addition of the later 13 Preludes Op 32, and the famous C sharps minor Prelude written when he was 19, Rachmaninov continued the tradition of Bach and Chopin by having written preludes in all 24 of the major and minor keys.
Playing tips: Lucy Parham gives another in-depth lesson on the piece here.
We'd definitely recommend having a listen to the piece on YouTube to give yourself a vision and a sound of what it should sound like. Mikhail Pletnev gives a stunning performance of the piece below.