Rachmaninoff’s first- the story of a disastrous premier

Rachmaninoff composed his first symphony in 1895, when he was just twenty two years old although the premier took place on March the 28th, 1897. By this time, Rachmaninoff had already established himself as a virtuoso pianist and a promising composer. He had won the highest ever rating awarded by the Moscow Conservatory to one of its graduates and several of his compositions were being played regularly by leading pianists and orchestras alike.

It took Rachmaninoff well over half a year to compose the symphony. He began in January 1895, where the young composer had been inspired by religious chants at a Russian Orthodox church service.

Despite his arduous toiling on the work, the initial feedback about the score by his then composition teacher Sergei Taneyev was critical; Taneyev suggested that it needed some substantial revision to improve it. However, Rachmaninoff was unable to make any major changes before its first public performance  at a concert in St. Petersburg.

The circumstances in the lead-up to the concert was a foreboding prelude to what would be an absolutely catastrophic premier. The renowned composer Rimsky-Korsakov had remarked at one of the rehearsals that he did not find the piece “at all agreeable”,  a comment that must have deeply affected Rachmaninoff. However, the main issue would be due to the conductor,  Alexander Glazunov; he suffered from severe alcoholism, had questionable conducting skills and had admitted that he was unimpressed by Rachmaninoff’s published works. Before the performance Glazunov had made significant changes to the orchestration of the piece without consulting Rachmaninoff. Additionally, his rehearsals were far too rushed for a concert which would include the premier of two other new works.

Glazunov was said to have been drunk for the infamous premier, where the young Rachaninoff sat in complete despair on the auditorium’s fire-escape listening to an inebriated Glazunov conduct an under-rehearsed and dreadfully interpreted performance of his symphony. The critical reaction to the piece was excruciatingly harsh; it was completely panned by the critics who had attended the concert.  Perhaps the worst piece of criticism levelled at the piece was that “If there is a conservatory competition in Hell, this Symphony would gain first prize“. The symphony was not ever publically performed again in Rachmaninoff’s lifetime.

The apocalyptically negative reaction to the symphony sent Rachmaninoff into a long period of depression. He composed barely anything for three years and his mental and physical health plummeted. It was only in 1900 that Rachmaninoff started to recover. An intensive course of hypnotherapy somehow managed to help him recover from his despondency. The first major work after his convalescence was his Piano Concerto No. 2, which received critical acclaim and is now considered one of the greatest pieces of classical music ever.

With hindsight, the consensus today is that the symphony is actually rather good- just that its disastrous premier burdened it with an unjustified reputation. The symphony has a conventional structure as it consists of four movements. The short motif that is heard at the very beginning is a unifying feature throughout the symphony and a variation of it opens each movement. The first movement is fierce and assured. The second movement is a light-footed scherzo with wonderfully colourful lyricism. Following this is the brooding larghetto which has a recogniseable, late-romantic feel to it. The finale brings together thematic elements heard in previous movements in a dramatic and powerful manner. Throughout the symphony one can hear elements of the distinctive style that Rachmaninoff was developing; powerful Russian romanticism, rich harmonies and haunting melodies.


How a Trump presidency might be preferable to Clinton

As the farcical circus of the American presidential election finally nears its end, anxiety and perplexity is increasingly being felt around the world as the prospect that Donald Trump will actually win it is becoming more than plausible.

The general consensus is that a Trump win would be completely disastrous and many seem to genuinely fear that he will rapidly become a fascist dictator. If Obama was the best of times, then Trump will certainly be the worst of times- surely?

Well, I would argue that actually, a Trump win might be better in the long run. The logic is a tad bit convoluted- but it makes sense, sort of.

The premise is all based on the fact that the American political system has become utterly dysfunctional and extremely un-democratic. It has been captured and corrupted by corporate power and by a number of gratuitously wealthy people such as the Koch brothers, who -along with others in their private network of billionaires-  acted as a filtering process for some of the prospective Republican candidates for this election. Of course, there are many other millionaires and billionaires who have perniciously helped to corrode American democracy over the years, but the Koch brothers are a relatively spectacular example.

It’s not just that to win elections requires eye-watering sums of money, itself a corrupting influence. It’s that the entire legislative process is now corrupted; tens of thousands of lobbyists ensure that their industry or individual employer’s interests are prioritised well above the American peoples’ in policy and law-making. Washington has become a gargantuan maze of revolving doors, between the political and corporate spheres of American society. Almost any industry you look at, from finance to weapons to energy, has managed to totally infiltrate the political process in the US.

Here is where you might be thinking: “Uh Oh! He’s one of those idiots who thinks Trump is anti-establishment! But Trump is part of it!”. Well, actually I would argue that he is anti-establishment, technically. Trump is part of the establishment in that he has dodged taxes and fully exploited the system as a wealthy man, but he is anti-establishment purely for the fact that almost the entirety of the rest of the American-establishment absolutely deplore him.

Right, but how does a hated, bombastic and obnoxious narcissist help reform the broken political system I’ve described?

Well, I’m not expecting Trump to implement any sort of reforms that would help to eliminate the corporate tentacles strangling American democracy. However, I hope that a Trump presidency might be the impetus for many Americans to wake up, become politically active and to try and change the system in a bottom up approach. Maybe the fact that Trump is so revolting might alone induce people to politicise. More importantly: his divisiveness might cause the American establishment to crumble from within through viscous in-fighting- and in these conditions citizen-led reform would be most achievable.

Neither the Democratic or Republican parties are able to reform the system in a top-down approach; both parties are both beholden to big-money and I don’t think either can shake off the shackles from their corporate masters. I believe that a ‘bottom-up’, revolutionary approach is the only option. It sounds quite unlikely, but I think that the right conditions exist for this extraordinary process to occur- and the American elites being in complete turmoil could be the spark that’s needed to light the fire.

With a Clinton presidency, any sort of radical, citizen-led reforms are much more unlikely. The corporate establishment and its news media outlets would breath a massive sigh of relief and everything would go back to the status quo. The military industrial complex would increase in size, healthcare would become ever-more bloated and unaffordable, finance would continue unregulated. ‘Democracy’ and the PR machine propping up its facade would continue- and those Americans who may have cried “Enough is enough!” under Trump would probably stay pacified by the media empires who control much of the nation’s thoughts and mood. The plutocratic republic would continue exactly as it is now; a system rigged in favour of a tiny elite.

So, to summarise my argument: a Trump presidency would likely be extremely disruptive to the American political system and would lead it into such disarray that it would make a peaceful revolution/overthrow of the current elites much more achievable and likely.