Classical Music | Piano Music

Sergei Rachmaninov

Moment Musicaux Op. 16, No. 1  Play

Andy Feldbau Piano

Recorded on 10/10/2012, uploaded on 03/11/2013

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


Musical Moment No. 1 in B-flat minor, Andantino

The Six moments musicaux is a set of solo piano pieces composed by Rachmaninoff between October and December, 1896, and comprises a group of six separate works which reproduce musical forms characteristic of previous musical eras. The forms are: the nocturne, song without words, barcarolle, virtuoso étude, and theme and variations. Although composed as part of a set, each piece stands on its own as a concert solo with individual themes and moods. 

Andantino opens the set with a long, reflective melody that develops into a rapid climax. The second piece, Allegretto, is the first in the set that reveal his mastery of piano technique. Andante cantabile is a contrast to its two surrounding pieces, explicitly named "funeral march" and "lament." Presto draws inspiration from several sources, including the Preludes of Frédéric Chopin, to synthesize an explosion of melodic intensity.  The pieces summarize the composer’s knowledge of piano composition up to that point, and represent a sophisticated work of longer duration, thicker textures, and greater virtuosic demands on the performer than any of Rachmaninoff's previous solo piano works.       Andy Feldbau