Another Composer Birthday

Haydn may not have wanted to be an April fool ... but Rachmaninoff apparently didn't mind.



Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1873-1943

I didn't grow up in a family that particularly appreciated classical music. They didn't not appreciate it. It just wasn't much of an issue either way in my family.

When they bought the piano, it was so their kids could take lessons. Everyone's kids took lessons. Why not theirs?

When their little Waterfall showed more than a healthy interest in George (for that was the piano's name), they were happy, but no one thought, "Oh, we need to expose our little Waterfall to as much classical music as we can so she can grow up to be a starving musician!"

Nope. But they did take me to a piano recital at LSU when I was about eight. It was the first time I'd ever seen a real pianist perform. Prior to that, I'd only seen my fellow piano students, most of whom were under 10. And we all played out of the same big John Thompson piano books.

I don't remember the name of the pianist that we went to see. He was an older man, a little hefty, with silvery hair. I thought it strange that a grown man would play piano. The only grown-ups I knew who played were the ladies in the church. And my piano teacher at the time.

I don't remember everything he played, but I do remember one name: Rachmaninoff. At eight, that was the coolest-sounding name I'd ever heard. Not plodding and harsh like Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart. Or John Thompson. Rachmaninoff. It sounded like music.

I don't remember what the pianist played by Rachmaninoff, but I do remember how he played. His left hand was constantly crossing over his right hand, and his fingers were all over the keys. And he had sort of a small smile on his face the whole time, an "I'm-really-enjoying-this-torture" kind of smile, and really, he seemed to be having the time of his life.

As we left, I told my mom, "I want to learn something by Rachmaninoff."

Ha. Rachmaninoff's piano music is really hard. I had no clue. The concert pianist just looked like he was having so much fun up there ... I never once imagined that what he was playing was actually hard.

Of course, I was only eight, and had been blown away by my first experience of watching and hearing a concert pianist. I wasn't about to learn any Rachmaninoff anytime soon. But there was a spark there, in my child's boundless imagination, that hadn't been there before.

I've only studied one piece by Rachmaninoff: his Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10 (listen). That was in college. My freshman year, my piano prof asked me what composers I'd be interested in learning, and my answer was, "Rachmaninoff." I ended up playing part of the B Minor Prelude for my college's recruitment video one year. Heh. My musical claim to fame.

Happy birthday, Sergei!

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