I’VE ALWAYS BEEN STRUCK – and captivated – by the four magic words “Performed by the Composer.” True that some of the events that feature a composer as the performer of his or her own works are less than sterling. But let me sift the evidence from my own experience of going back in time and listening to a couple of recordings by two all-time greats, Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) and Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943).
Padarewski’s Minuet in G (from his Six Humoresques) is really a paraphrase of the famous Mozart minuet. The reproduction here faithfully records his lightness of touch and the elegance of ‘his intriguing stop-start rubato’ as noted by one discerning reviewer. The composer designated his celebrated Minuet as a humoresque de concert wherein during the 19th century the term humoresque denoted a slight, small piece generally for piano and usually of whimsical character. Watch the 1937 movie of it here as well!
Rachmaninoff’s most famous composition, Prelude in C sharp minor, never made him any money, but that remarkable teen-age work played an important role in propelling him on to the international stage and, with it, everlasting fame. The Prelude (Op. 3, No. 2) – played by the great man himself along with other famous works of his – is a dramatic piece of writing that opens and closes with a stately theme of solemn chords; this is contrasted with a stormy middle section.
Interestingly enough, both our protagonists passed away in America – the Polish-born pianist, composer and statesman in New York City on June 29, 1941; the Russian-born composer, pianist and conductor in Beverly Hills, California, on March 28, 1943.
References: Wikipedia; The Performing Piano (Knabe Ampico B Reproducing Piano)
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