Rachmaninov's four piano concertos, with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, represent the most significant and popular contribution to the form after Tchaikovsky. They are works of immense power, invention and charm, steeped in Romantic spirit and melancholy counterbalanced by a taut clarity and playfulness. These works are all performed frequently today and form the backbone of the modern concert repertory. The Fourth Concerto stands among the composer’s greatest works. The grandeur of its opening, with its passionate and dramatic chordal theme, is probably the most memorable in all his concertos. The celebrated gramophone recordings of this work made by the composer himself and by Michelangeli are among the supreme examples of Romantic pianism. The concerto was begun perhaps as early as 1914, but Rachmaninov composed the autograph full score between January and August 1925. It was performed by the composer at Philadelphia on 18 March 1927, then withdrawn for further revision in June and July 1927. Much later, in 1941, Rachmaninov revised this concerto yet again into the form which we know today. However, he did not complete the two-piano arrangement of that version before his death in 1943.
The present manuscript contains the original version of Rachmaninov's Fourth Piano Concerto, as prepared for publication. After the original performances, Rachmaninov made a number of revisions and cuts before it was published later that year by the company he himself founded, TAIR. The manuscript contains Rachmaninov's alterations, cuts and revisions and is the only surviving autograph evidence of the changes. As Threlfall and Norris write: "The revisions made before the first publication are written in ink by SR's own hand and/or pasted over. In the course of this surgery, not only the pagination but also occasionally the cue numbers have got out of kilter; this MS now contains 102 pp. And it was used as the Stichvorlage for the publication in 1928."
While a comparison shows a basic similarity between the second version (here) and the third and final revision, much of the detail and passage work are altered. This is particularly true of the finale, especially the D-flat section between Figures 49 and 52 and again at Figure 53 (pages 71-75). The autograph manuscript also diverges from the later version between Figures 61 and 64 (pages 83-86) and in the whole of the final section from Figure 66 until the end (pages 88-102).
The surviving scribal sections are also often very different and preserve much of the original version that the composer revised at the end of his life, for example between Figures 36 and 40 in the second movement and the opening figure of the third movement. The autograph paste-downs presumably cover the even earlier sections that the scribe wrote out for the composer and which he revised for the first edition in 1927. However, some passages have been deleted by the composer in red ink rather than pasted over (for example, in the first movement, pages 37-38: at Figure 27) and can still be read.
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