320 pages (the manuscript beginning at p.5), large folio, c.35 x 26cms, each movement paginated separately by the composer, 24-stave paper, mainly by Jurgenson of Moscow (No.29 (1)); the final 42 pages on Breitkopf and Härtel paper (14A); each movement on separate sets of gatherings; marked for the printer in another hand, including the plate no.A.8899.G and engraver's job number (7603), the gatherings (mainly 6 bifolia each) carefully mounted on guards, largely preserving the original structure, modern half calf, raised bands, gilt titles to spine [Dresden, July 1907-1908], lacking 5 leaves, including the first 2 and most of the last leaf (these 3 leaves made up in printed facsimile), and 2 leaves in the last movement, some loss to lower corners of 2 leaves (1st movement, pp.65-68), short tears repaired on pp.91/92 of the first movement and pp.17/18 & pp.59-61 of the last), careful repairs to wear at margins (e.g. the start of the last movement), some damp-staining to lower margins and corners in the first & last movements, and a few stains elsewhere (e.g. p.46 in the first movement etc.)
The Second Symphony is Rachmaninov's greatest symphony. This is the only surviving autograph manuscript of the work. It is also the largest autograph of any of Rachmaninov’s major orchestral works. It was untraced for many decades from just after the premiere and has never been used by modern scholarship.
Autograph manuscripts of major symphonies, central to the concert repertory, are very rarely offered for sale. This primary source contains a wealth of unpublished and new information, documenting, as it does, the final stages of the symphony’s creation. Apart from the corrected page-proofs now in Moscow, which provide little information about the genesis of the work, there are no other surviving manuscripts that give us any insight into the genesis and evolution of Rachmaninov’s symphony. No sketches, short-score draft, copyist’s manuscripts or proofs seem to have survived: this seems to be the sole and most important source for the Second Symphony.
Rachmaninov composed the symphony for the subscription concerts run and conducted by his friend and cousin Alexander Siloti (1863-1945), in St Petersburg in 1908. He wrote the short score (which is lost) in Dresden between October 1906 and April 1907, and completed the orchestration there by mid-January 1908. The première took place in St Petersburg on 26 January 1908; the rehearsals were directed by Siloti, but the first performance was conducted by Rachmaninov himself. While it is possible that the composer used this manuscript then, there are very few conductor-like markings in the score. Perhaps he conducted from memory or from a copyist’s score. What seems highly likely is that Rachmaninov revised the orchestration in the light of these performances, so that his original orchestration is preserved only in this score.
The Second is Rachmaninov’s greatest Symphony: neither of his other two symphonies has gained such a prominent place in the repertoire. It follows firmly in the symphonic tradition of Tchaikovsky, though on an even larger scale. It has a Russian-chant like motto theme, heard at the outset, which returns in triumph at the end. It is a large, lyrical and open-hearted work, with soaring Romantic themes, a mood of passionate melancholy and lush orchestration. It is this orchestration which evidently gave Rachmaninov problems. Many of the changes involve the lightening of the instrumentation, probably as a result of his performing the symphony in St Petersburg and Moscow.
Rachmaninov continued the process of composition in this manuscript, and this makes it particularly valuable. In the second movement ("Allegro molto"), Rachmaninov revised the main violin theme in pencil (p.2): he altered the first three notes in the violins (which had originally echoed the motif in the horns), to the chromatic version we know to day, and then reiterated this revision throughout the movement.
The last movement shows many signs of revision and is highly interesting: the pattern of regular gatherings is severely disrupted, suggesting that the entire passage has been revised and replaced. This Finale also contains more autograph deletions, alterations and revisions than the earlier movements. It seems that the present first gathering was formed from ten bifolia, which eventually proved too much for the stitching; the central bifolium, containing pages 19-22, became detached and is now lost. The rest of the movement has been written on (maybe replaced by) new paper by Breitkopf & Härtel. Rachmaninov continued his revisions by inserting the opening up-beat triplet between the time signature and the first bar. On the next page he then wrote a new version of the violin parts for the repeat of the main theme. Later, in the middle of the movement, he deleted two bars of music in red crayon, which do not appear in the published edition. The low E in the double basses at the end of the first movement was originally pizzicato: its alteration to a bowed note restores its aggressiveness. The changes are so great, and the manuscript so heavily worked, that it is difficult in places to imagine how it could have been used as a Stichvorlage. That it was, is surely a tribute to the professionalism of the engravers.
Although the manuscript lacks four leaves (including the title-page), and most of the last leaf, it has been treated to the best modern conservation. It is now in a generally good and attractive condition, Rachmaninov's paper being of the very highest quality. There are no signs here of any of the later cuts made by the composer, including those made before 1917. Most interesting of all, is the original orchestration which appears only here: new material, hitherto lost to the world and now returned to it.
The manuscript is laid out as follows:
First movement: paginated 5-113, (lacking title and pp.1-4); on 5 gatherings (made up of 6, 6, 6, 6, & 5 bifolia), the last gathering completed with 3 blank pages, ruled up by the composer.
Second movement: paginated 1-78, with a repeated passage marked on p.62; on 3 gatherings (of 6, 6, 1 leaf and 7 bifolia).
Third movement: pp.1-35; p.36 blank; on 2 gatherings (made up of 6 & 3 bifolia).
Fourth movement: pp.1-102 (lacking pp. 19-22), pp.103-104 survive only in fragmentary form (repeated passage indicated on p.61); on 6 gatherings (made up of 9, 5, 5, 2, 2 & 2 bifolia), the last page mostly torn away. Only the first gathering is on the same Jurgenson paper used for the first three movements; the rest uses paper by Breitkopf & Härtel. The modern stitching no longer reflects the original gathering structure towards the end in this final movement.
Unknown to scholars for many years, the autograph manuscript of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony was discovered in 2004 and announced for sale at auction. An ownership claim arose which has since been settled on terms of confidentiality to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. The manuscript was sold privately in 2005 and has been on view at the British Library since then.
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