Abstract

In two of Rachmaninov's last works, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini of 1934 and the first of the Symphonic Dances of 1940, a stylistic contrast between an opulently scored lyrical theme and the more angular, dissonant music that surrounds that theme throws into relief the extent that Rachmaninov's musical language had changed and developed since his first great successes thirty years earlier with the Second Piano Concerto and the Second Symphony. The words that motivate a similar stylistic contrast in the song Son (Sleep), composed in 1917, near the end of his most compositionally productive years, suggest an interpretive reading of such a stylistic contrast: the earlier, lusher style is associated here with dreams, and hence with memories; while the later, sparer, more tonally ambiguous style accompanies an evocation of something more impersonal, in the case of the song the stillness of a dreamless sleep. Some of the developing aspects of Rachmaninov's style revealed in these later examples are already evident even in the more traditional-sounding pieces of the last decade (1907––17) of his Russian period, which is shown in an analysis of the piano Prelude in G## Minor of 1910. Even this seemingly traditional Prelude, but more and more in his later music, Rachmaninov emerges as an indisputably twentieth-century composer.

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