Here are John Jeter’s program notes about the second work on our October 4, 2014 concert:
Sergei Rachmaninoff – 1873-1943
Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, op. 43
Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini was composed by Rachmaninoff in the summer of 1934 while he was living in Switzerland. The composer performed as soloist at the premier performances in Baltimore and Philadelphia in the Fall and Winter of the same year.
The work is a set of twenty-four variations based on the twenty-fourth and last Caprice for solo violin composed by Niccolo Paganini. Paganini was considered the greatest violinist of the Nineteenth Century. His set of Caprices are concert etudes or studies that demonstrate a wide range of techniques used by violinists and are believed to be the most demanding collection of violin works ever written.
Generally speaking, a set of theme and variations begins with the main theme followed by the variations. Rachmaninoff begins the Rhapsody with a brief introduction followed by a variation of the main theme which is then followed by the first statement of the theme itself. The twenty-three variations that follow demonstrate a wide range of moods, emotions and compositional brilliance. We hear the main theme, sped up, slowed down, played upside down and backwards. Sometimes just the harmony of the main theme is used in a variation. Although the work features a soloist like a traditional concerto, there are number of variations where the orchestra has the main melodic material. The Rhapsody is a wonderfully integrated work with piano and orchestra weaving the musical fabric together and is one of the most frequently performed works of its kind.