Friday, January 16, 2009

Rachmaninoff or bust

Yesterday I was walking around thinking about that picture of Johannes Brahms, and it got me thinking about how musical times change, in funny little ways.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, first getting into music, you never saw pictures of a young and good-looking Brahms. All we saw was Brahms with the big beard!

Also, back then, the official World's Greatest Composer was not Mozart. It was Beethoven. I thought Mozart was greater but I was the voice crying in the wilderness.

It is odd how the fashions change.

Rachmaninoff is another situation. I think about this sometimes in connection with my book on Leonard Pennario, because Pennario excelled in Rachmaninoff. There was a time it was fashionable to look on Rachmaninoff's concertos as flashy showpieces. Later, that changed, and people saw them for the masterpieces they are, albeit in, yes, a very romantic style.

Well, the other day I peeked in on the blog of Jeremy Denk, the pianist who was at the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert series a few months ago, playing the Hammerklavier. I loved that concert. And Denk's blog is cute. He doesn't write in it very often but a few things he has written have cracked me up.

But the other day Denk began griping about Rachmaninoff. It was part of a post that was about other things too, but he was writing something to the effect of everything Rachmaninoff touches, he screws up. You can read it here.

And I looked at the comments. There were a bunch of them, giggling about various aspects of the post. What hit me, though, was that no one, not one single person, raised his voice in defense of Rachmaninoff. No one wrote, "Uh, Jeremy, you are full of bull."

Which makes me wonder if Rachmaninoff's reputation could be again headed south.

If it's true, it's a pity. I love Rachmaninoff.

Love his looks, too. He was a good-looking man in his own austere Russian way, although you could not tell that from the bust in the picture above. Doesn't that picture crack you up? I found that on the Life Photo Archive.

Here is a nifty picture of Rachmaninoff that I never saw before. He is with his daughter and his dog.

And here is a nice glamour-puss shot.

Rachmaninoff will always be tops on my blog, that is for sure. There have been times when I didn't like someone's music and later I learn to like it. But it never goes the other way around.

Once I love something, I love it for good.


  1. Interesting shot of "Sergeant Rockinoff" (as Jimmy Durante once called him) with his daughter...he's almost smiling. I think you owned some lps of him playing his concertos in which the notes for them included a pic of him with his arm around his much older daughter and sporting a genuine smile. If you still have it, I regret you didn't scan and include it. I like a lot of his music and as a pianist, I think he was incomparable and irreplaceable.

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