Piano Concerto No. 2 : Work information

Sergey (Vasil'yevich) Rachmaninov ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Alexander Ardakov (Piano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Piano Concerto No. 2
Work number
Op. 18
C minor
1901-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recording date

Track listing

  • Moderato 10:33 min
  • Adagio sostenuto 11:23 min
  • Allegro scherzando 12:00 min


The disasterous first performance of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 in 1897 sent the composer into a sprial of depression. For three years, Rachmaninov composed nothing of any significance. Eventually, after undergoing hypnotherapy by Dr Nikolay Dahl, the composer regained his confidence and in the summer of 1900, while staying with Shalyapin in Italy, he began to sketch the Second Piano Concerto.

Possibly Rachmaninov's most popular work, the Concerto was completed in August upon the composer's return to Russia. Still wary of the public, Rachmaninov performed the second and third movements only at a concert on 15 December 1900. An enthusiastic reception resulted in the first complete performance on 9 November 1901.

The three years of musical silence obviously had a positive effect on Rachmaninov's style. The youthful exuberance of the Symphony has largely given way to a more polished, concise style, where colours are more subdued and carefully balanced. The glorious Adagio in particular showcases Rachmaninov's ability for constructing long lines of lyrical melody.

The Composers

Sergey (Vasil'yevich) Rachmaninov

Rachmaninov began to learn the piano with his mother at the age of four. He continued his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and then at the Moscow Conservatory from 1885. Here he studied piano and composition, and met Scriabin, who was a fellow pupil.

Rachmaninov graduated from the Conservatory in 1892 with high honours both as a pianist and composer. His diploma piece, the opera Aleko, was performed at the Bolshoi the next year. During the following years he composed mostly piano pieces, including his famous C sharp Minor Prelude, some songs and orchestral works. In 1897 his Symphony No. 1 was premiered and conducted (quite badly) by Glazunov . It was a total disaster. Rachmaninov was distraught, and wrote nothing until 1900, when he sought medical help for his state of mind.

After this revival, he wrote his famous Piano Concerto No. 2, and began to conduct professionally, performing in Moscow and London. Between 1904 and 1906, he conducted at the Bolshoi. He wrote profusely, producing operas, liturgical music, orchestral works, piano pieces and songs, even though he was very busy with concert appearances. In 1909 he made his first American tour as a pianist, for which he wrote the Piano Concerto No. 3.

Soon after the Communist October Revolution, he left Russia with his family. They arrived in New York in 1918 and settled there. Rachmaninov did travel, though, spending periods in Paris (where he founded a publishing firm), Dresden and Switzerland. He wrote nothing further until 1926 when he composed the Piano Concerto No. 4 and, over the next 15 years, only wrote a small number of large-scale works.

During this period, his highly successful but exhausting career as a concert pianist on both sides of the Atlantic (though never again in Russia) enabled Rachmaninov to support his family but left little time for composition. As a pianist he was famous for his precision, rhythmic drive, legato and clarity of texture and for the broad design of his performances. His music remains an indispensable part of the repertory.

Related Composers: Arenski, Scriabin