Classical Music | Piano Music

Sergei Rachmaninov

Adagio Sustenuto, from Moments Musicaux, Op. 16  Play

Evgenia Rubinova Piano

Recorded on 01/11/2005, uploaded on 01/21/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Still a young composer in the Russian musical scene in the final years of the 19th century, Sergei Rachmaninoff found himself facing a looming personal financial crisis. Pressed for both time and money, in the fall of 1896 he threw himself into a feverish period of creativity that gave birth to the Moments musicaux, published as his opus 16. Despite the compressed time in which they were written—between October and December of that year—the six pieces of opus 16 are profoundly rich and complex works, certainly far removed in spirit from the intimate and charming works of the same title by Franz Schubert. In essence, they are a culmination of Rachmaninoff’s knowledge of the piano and mastery of its virtuosic treatment at the time of their composition.

The opening Andantino presents itself in the manner of a nocturne with a longing melody sounded over an accompaniment of triplets that immediately casts upon the piece a dim twilight setting. Elements of variation form are seen in the principal melody’s reshaping throughout the course of the piece, but it returns in its near original form during the coda to create a haunting conclusion. In sharp contrast to the lyrical Andantino, the Allegretto which follows is a brilliant piece reminiscent of the etudes of Frédéric Chopin. A constant torrent of sextuplets whirls about a stern and earnest melody. Only in the final measures does the tempest subside as the tempo slows to an Adagio and four resonant chords bring the piece to an end.

Creating yet another contrast, the third piece, an Andante cantabile, is a fusion of a song without words and a funeral march. The lugubrious melody sings from the rich middle register of the piano over a resonant and solemn bass. At its reprise, this melody is heard over a dramatic and terrifying staccato bass in octaves. The fourth piece, Presto, returns to the spirit of the Allegretto. A particularly demanding etude, it also betrays the influence of Chopin, most noticeably in the taxing accompaniment given to the left hand that will readily remind the listener of that composer’s Revolutionary Etude.

Of an entirely different character than the fiery Presto is the Adagio sostenuto that stands fifth in the cycle. A barcarolle, it is a gently lyrical piece devoid of the flamboyant gestures previously heard, and requiring a sensitivity of the performer, particularly in making the persistent accompaniment of triplets interesting and in placing proper emphasis on the correct notes in its chordal melody. Lastly, the Maestoso is perhaps the most difficult of the entire set, requiring great stamina and strength of the pianist to be rendered effectively.  Its ardent melody, sounded in vast chords, brings the set to a colossal, if not triumphal, conclusion.        Joseph DuBose


Adagio Sustenuto, from Moments Musicaux, Op. 16        Sergei Rachmaninov  

Rachmaninov composed his Moments Musicaux, Op. 16 between October and December 1896.  The full work consists of six movements and was inspired by Franz Schubert's piano cycle, Moments Musicaux, a work that also contains six character pieces. Moments Musicaux was dedicated to Alexander Viktorovich Zataevich, a folk song collector and composer. Even though it was written quickly, it is a work of the highest quality.

The Andante Sustenuto is similar in nature to a barcarolle, due to its rising and falling accompaniment. It is in ABA form with a chordal theme presented in the first section. This work is an example of Rachmaninoff's concern with musical ideas as opposed to virtuosic technical displays.  

The Maestoso in C Major is the closing movement of the cycle and is characteristic of a tradition that prevailed throughout the late nineteenth century.  It is a virtuosic and brilliant piece, employing the entire range of dynamics and sonorities available to the piano. Written in the form of an etude, the work includes a thick chordal melody that is doubled in both hands and appears in counterpoint against thirty-second-note figures. The coda presents a forte account of theme that climaxes to a triumphant ending marked ffff.    Evgenia Rubinova