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Rachmaninoff LIVE in Concert, 7 February 2015.

Like many pianists and composers, Rachmaninoff had close contacts with piano manufacturers in several countries. His friendship with Alexander Greiner, the Russian who became Steinways' Artists' Department Manager in New York, is well-known, and also his close relationship with the Ampico Company, for which he made 35 recorded piano rolls from 1919 onwards. Far less well-known is the fact that he had a foot-pedalled Pianola at his country estate in Russia, "Ivanovka", where his sister-in-law, Sofia Satina, remembered him pedalling rolls of the Second Piano Concerto, with a gleeful smile upon his face.

The concert that will take place on 7th February at the Royal Festival Hall is an extraordinarily rare occasion, so don't miss the opportunity! You will hear some exceptional Rachmaninoff rolls, some of which have never before been played in public. Click on this leaflet to download it, and send it to your friends and family! Put it on Facebook - tweet about it - make sure it goes viral - we need your help !!!

It will cost you nothing to attend the concert, which is the first all-Pianola concert in the 64-year history of the Royal Festival Hall. If you have the time to read to the bottom of this long page, you can link to more information about Rachmaninoff's involvement with roll-operated instruments, but for now, let's just review the music that is to be played on Saturday 7th February at 4.00 pm in the afternoon.

Rachmaninoff LIVE in Concert - The Programme.

The Pianola, the foot-pedalled instrument, had a remarkably fine repertoire that was arranged specially for it, directly from the musical scores. You can find all sorts of composers represented, from Palestrina to Prokofieff, from Rameau to Rachmaninoff. A hundred years ago, before electrical gramophone recording got under way, it was the first port-of-call for composers wanting their works to be disseminated, which is why you can find the Rite of Spring on piano rolls, Daphnis and Chloé, La Mer, Scheherezade, and so on almost ad infinitum. It was perfectly natural for composers to be involved in advising on such transcriptions - Stravinsky's work on the Rite of Spring and Petrushka is particularly well remembered, not least because his correspondence survived and is carefully preserved in a nuclear-proof archive in Switzerland.

But not all composers left such clear traces. The seven rolls of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloë contain minor but important variations from the four-hand score that only the composer would have thought of, but there are no paper trails to prove it. Similarly, Rachmaninoff almost certainly advised the Aeolian Company with regard to its rolls of the Second Piano Concerto, the Variations on a Theme of Chopin, the Isle of the Dead, the first six of the Opus 23 Preludes, and the accompaniment rolls of the Cello Sonata. That is no doubt why his sister-in-law remembered the Pianola at Ivanovka, but - alas - unlike Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff did not leave Russia before the Revolution, and his heart-rending private recollection of standing outside his beloved Ivanovka, watching his piano being thrown out of the upstairs window and his house put to the torch, were only just saved for posterity through an unforgettable interview with his friend, John H. Steinway.

The Main House at Ivanovka, c. 1910.

In the first half of this concert, as an example of Rachmaninoff's fine co-operative work with Aeolian's un-named roll arrangers, we have the two-roll set of the Isle of the Dead, played consecutively on two Pianolas and two Steinway concert grands by Rex Lawson. Like many of the rolls in this concert, this set is very rare indeed; such things are difficult to estimate, but it is unlikely that more than two or three sets remain in existence worldwide.

As an example of such an arranged roll of Rachmaninoff, here is a recording of one of his Opus 23 Preludes, played on one of the Pianolas being used in the Royal Festival Hall concert, placed in front of a Steinway "B" grand piano.

mp3 RACHMANINOFF: Prelude in D, Op. 23, no. 4,  [3.5 Mb]
Performed by Rex Lawson - 24 October 2011, London.

This is not a recorded roll at all, any more than the pre-revolutionary Second Piano Concerto would have been. It is transcribed directly from the score, at a given number of punch rows per beat, and so if it is played without thought, as happens all too frequently, it will sound terrible. But the whole point of such rolls was that they provided simply the notes, leaving the opportunity for interpretation to the Pianola player.

Johannes Moser, Winner of the 2014 Brahms Prize, and Cellist Extraordinaire.
(Photo: Uwe Arens)

The second item in the concert consists of the third and fourth movements of Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata, which has been made possible as a result of the kindness and generosity of Johannes Moser, one of the finest cellists in the world, who made his Carnegie Hall début, as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, almost exactly a year ago, and who played the Schnittke Cello Concerto with the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall a few months earlier. Johannes is donating his services for our concert, for which we thank him unreservedly. He has shown a confidence and trust that we hope will be justified by the music-making on the night, and by the enthusiasm of the audience, so make sure you tell your friends !!!

The second half of the concert features a selection of Rachmaninoff's recorded rolls, made for the American Piano Company's "Ampico" re-enacting piano, mainly during the decade of the 1920s. If you want to find out how the man himself played it in concert, this is the best opportunity you are likely to get! The instrument being used is the Pianola Institute's Duo-Art Pianola, placed in front of a Steinway concert grand piano, and all of the seven recorded rolls in the programme have been meticulously scanned, transcribed and perforated afresh, with international co-operation from Las Vegas to Leipzig.

Sergei Rachmaninoff in Concert.

Rachmaninoff's recorded rolls were made between 1919 and about 1930 in New York, for the American Piano Company, which regarded him as its most important classical artist. In the 1980s, the Decca Record Company published long-playing records, since transferred to CD, of Rachmaninoff playing by means of an Ampico concert grand piano, constructed by Norman Evans, regulated by Denis Hall of the Pianola Institute, and recorded at the Kingsway Hall in London. Both the complete CD and individual tracks remain in copyright, but are available at Amazon.com, where excerpts of all the items may be heard. Here is an example of the composer playing his own arrangement of Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesfreud", a roll that will also be played in our concert. Clicking the link below will open the Amazon page for Liebesfreud in a separate window, from where the complete CD may also be found.

A Portrait of Rachmaninoff at the Keyboard (1873-1943)

Recorded by Sergei Rachmaninoff - c. 1926, New York.

This roll was played back on an Estonia Ampico concert grand piano in London, in 1979.
The audio recording is the copyright of the Decca Record Company, 1979.

As the climax of the concert, we have been lent the original unpublished factory Ampico roll of the slow movement from Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, with the composer himself as soloist. This roll has never before been played in a concert hall, and it will be accompanied by Rex Lawson on the Pianola, using a second roll, prepared from the Aeolian Company's edition of the Concerto. This was no doubt the version that Rachmaninoff himself pedalled at Ivanovka, arranged during the years when he was living round the corner from the Aeolian showrooms in Dresden.

If you would like to find out more about Rachmaninoff's involvement with the Pianola, and incidentally about his early years in Dresden, then read Rex Lawson's essay on the Rachmaninoff Society Forum. And make sure you come to our concert !!!


7 FEBRUARY 2015 AT 4.00 PM

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