In addition to his popularity as a composer, Rachmaninoff was considered to be one of the finest pianists of his generation. So it is not surprising that his greatest compositions can be found within the piano repertoire. One of George’s favourite pieces is the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Rachmaninoff also wrote a lot of music for the voice, including 3 operas and over 75 songs.
I first explored Rachmaninoff’s songs as part of a project led by Maya Soltan. In 2018 I had the chance to perform alongside Maya in a concert at Pushkin House. Total Immersion: The Complete Songs By Sergey Rachmaninov. In our sessions, I learned how to pronounce the Cyrillic alphabet and how to translate the song texts into IPA (international phonetic alphabet) so that I could read and interpret them easier. With Maya’s help, I was able to get an undertsanding of the Russian text which helped me to paint a vocal picture of the poem.
По утру, на заре,
По росистой траве,
Я пойду свежим утром дышать;
в душистую тень,
Я пойду свое счастье искать…
В жизни счастье одно
Мне найти суждено,
И то счастье в сирени живёт;
На зелёных ветвях,
На душистых кистях
Моё бедное счастье цветёт…
Here is the English Translation of “The Lilacs” written by Ekatrina Beketova
This song was composed in April 1902 and appears in a set of 12 Songs, called Opus 21. Rachmaninoff was married to Nathalie Satin in April 1902, and it has been said that he published these songs to help pay for their honeymoon. I wonder if George will release a cycle of Romanian songs after we are married.
Like the fragrant Lilac growing from seed to blossom, the song continued to have a personal connection with Rachmaninoff. Around 1908, Rachmaninoff began to receive bouquets of lilacs at his performances from an anonymous admirer. As Rachmaninoff toured the world playing at various prestigious concert halls, the fragrant smell of lilacs would join him as the anonymous bouquets continued to be sent. In 1918, Madame Felka Rousseau revealed herself as the admirer, a Russian lady who was a great fan. Her only wish was that Rachmaninoff would return to play in Russia.
Similarly, my brother’s and I sent some flowers to our wonderful Mum today, not to commemorate a recital but to celebrate Mother’s Day. As many of you may know, my Mum is beyond supportive and her boundless love has enabled me to keep positive and proactive during this turbulent past year. Here is my attempt at a short poem dedicated to her.
Today I find the time to sit and think,
About one person who shines like a star,
Together or apart, we are in sync,
Your love gives me the strength to go far.
Without you, life would not so warmly sing
Today I thank you, Mum, for everything!