Any remarks or questions on the life of Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff can be posted here.
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Re: Nerves

Postby Marianne » Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:34 am

Thank You, Zane, for this post!

I would rather say that this question is quite complicated. But whether this is true or not, I think it doesn't have to be discussed. I might say the thing that would not be pleasant to hear, but it is very very true - Americans very often tend to speak about physiology instead of speaking of spirit. This talking about "warming hands" and Rachmaninoff being nervous are just

Stephen Hough is not the man to talk about Rachmaninoff being nervous about the stage. He is just not the man to talk about Rachmaninoff's impotence in any field. I wonder how people never feel how disrespectfull are these discussions. If Stephen Hough thinks that he feels about the stage less nervous than SVR felt, he is not in any way superior than SVR. May be Stephen Hough lacks nervousness, because nervousness is a sign of depth. He lacks respect if he dares to speak about that and about these first chords as if they were composed to "warm hands to feel the instrument". He lacks brains and heart if he doesn't understand how sacred these first chords are, what meaning they have in them.

These first chords of Second Concerto are the imitation of bells, sacred church bells, they have the image of the whole Russia inside of them, not just "warm the hands". I pity Stephen Hough that he speaks about things that he doesn't understand, and doesn't ever understand what a shame it is to look on this music and to hear this music in such a shortsighted way.

Typically parasitizing type of using SVR's music and personality to promote oneself.

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Re: Nerves

Postby Marianne » Wed Apr 03, 2013 11:56 pm

I am not that good historian of SVR's life and habits, I've met few mentionings that he was very "special" while on the stage, very serious, very concentrated, sometimes they write that his face was absolutely pale.

I can translate only 1 piece of memoirs from Russian - E. K. Somova recollects that "SV never had fear of stage, he told many times of his love of the stage, the audience"
She even used the word "predilection" while saying about his love of stage... I don't know whether in English this word has this connotation, but Russian word weakness in this quote means predilection, not impotence)))

"У Сергея Васильевича совершенно не было страха сцены, и он часто, как о своей слабости, говорил о любви к эстраде, к публике." Е.К.Сомова

Hope this will put en end to this very important question.

I don't like this whole discussion, I think if he were alive he would feel disgusted that people dare to speak about such delicate matters. I believe that the one who composed so eternally beautiful magnificent wise music worlds is not to be discussed in this manner... Just no way.
He created the worlds for us to discuss, and we choose to discuss his shirts and handkerchiefs...

I know what annoys me most about such kind of interviews - this or that pianist mentions some detail from composer's life of quite private character obviously to show that he is somekind of close to the composer, he is the connoisseur of composers habits, while obviously this is not proper way of speaking of the man who is desperately a man of the other scale than the speaker is.
These kind of details usually are mentioned in order to show that composer was just simple human being as you and me, that's why mentioning of these details looks like the attempt to clap composers's shoulder. That's why these kind of talks look disgusting.

I've seen interview of Russian director Dmitriev these days. He said very good simple words - "I feel the fear when I have to direct SVR's works, though this fear is of the same scale as the fear of directing Rimskiy-Korsakoff's works or Tchaikovsky".
How I like these words! He showed respect, he understands that he is not the man of the same scale as SVR or Tchaikovsky, he shows it, and his modesty puts him far more close to them than the attempts to clap SVR's shoulder and to show that SVR was a simple human being, who farted and sneezed, like you and me and felt nervous about something...

And all the same not the accusation that he was nervous about the stage seems to me an insult, but the assumption that the first chords were composed to "warm the hands" - this is far more insulting towards the whole idea of Second Concert.

I can add one little detail - in Russia for example these first chords usually are switched on when people commemorate the Second World War, where Russia lost 25 millions of people...
Do you feel the difference?
These chords were composed to show some loss, some tragedy. We all know that Second Concerto was written after long period of total deep despair. Only very shortsighted
complacent smug man can assumpt that these chords mean nothing more than attempt to overcome the stage fear. May be this pianist never had a period of despair in his whole life if he doesn't hear with his precious musical ears what these chords bring with them. Well, I can only envy such happy human beings.

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Re: Nerves

Postby pianola » Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:15 pm

Dear Zane and Marianne,

I have been following this thread with great interest, not least because almost the whole of my life has been spent correcting similar misinformation with regard to the player piano, which is the most widely, and indeed wilfully, misunderstood instrument in the world, as far as I can see. I have in the past crossed swords with Stephen Hough on that subject, since he came across a modern Yamaha computer piano and extrapolated his distaste to cover the whole of the player piano in his Daily Telegraph blog, both unreasonably and in an ill-informed way, in my view. I note that my (very polite) comments are no longer part of Mr Hough's blog archive.

Anyway, I apologise for running your thread off-topic, but you may not have seen the message that I posted about the imminent winding-up of the Rachmaninoff Society, which I worry may lead to the abandonment of this forum. I posted it in the "Suggestions and Improvements" thread, in response to the Society's announcement on the home page of this website. There has been no response to my post, either from the Society or from the forum administrator, and it seems to me that those in charge are not making much of an effort. It would be a terrible shame if the information and debate on this forum were suddenly lost to the world, as has happened with other voluntary websites in the past, and so those who are still active ought perhaps to take steps to safeguard it.

I have some spare time in May, and I'll make an attempt to clone the forum, though not immediately putting it "on the air". That will at least safeguard it. Perhaps the Society is even now putting together a new committee and website, but they are not keeping us informed. I tried to join several months ago, but my application was refused, and I was told that the Society was not accepting any new members. SVR would not be very impressed!

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Re: Nerves

Postby Zane » Wed Sep 07, 2016 11:25 pm


There is a YouTube posting, dated September 29, 2006, of Stephen Hough speaking and also playing an excerpt of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. Here is the link: not

In his brief talk, Mr. Hough stated:

We know that Rachmaninoff was a very nervous performer. In fact, we’re told that sometimes he had to be pushed onto the platform. He was terrified of playing in public.

That statement goes against everything I've researched and learned about SVR to date, and Mr. Hough provided no supporting information for his conclusion. Moreover, Eugene Ormandy (when discussing his experience with SVR, when performing the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) said:

Rachmaninoff was not known to be a nervous pianist.

So the question arises on where did Stephen Hough get his claimed information about SVR's alleged nervousness and being "terrified of playing in public?"

Such a claim seems to recall other rumors that have been dispelled on this forum, such as (1) Rachmaninoff was left-handed (wrong), (2) Rachmaninoff may have been afflicted with Marfan Syndrome (wrong), and (3) Nina Koshetz's daughter, Marina, was fathered by Rachmaninoff (wrong).

The Bertensson and Leyda biography of Rachmaninoff quotes a December 11, 1932 New York Times interview of SVR on pages 290-291:

I cannot conceive of playing without an audience. If I were shut up in a little 'cigar box' of a room and were told that my audience was listening somewhere outside I could not play well. The most precious thing for me when I play is the feeling of contact established with my audience. Anticipation of this contact, on the days when I play, gives me the utmost pleasure.

An artist's performance depends so much on his audience that I cannot imagine even playing without one. If I should broadcast, it would have to be under the same conditions that exist when I appear in Carnegie Hall. In order to play well inside a radio studio I should find it necessary to think only of my visible audience, rather than of the millions listening outside.

To make a long story short: Stephen Hough later emailed Zane that Adele Marcus had told him of Rachmaninoff's supposed nervousness. Zane's subsequent research showed Ms. Marcus was actually referring to Josef Lhevinne, with whom she had studied, and perhaps either she or Mr. Hough mixed the memories up in retrospect. Zane moreover has an account from Byron Janis on Mr. Lhevinne's well-known performance anxiety. While SVR used to take a swig of Crème de Menthe before playing his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (and it's another story on why), SVR was not actually a nervous pianist.

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Re: Nerves

Postby Marianne » Sat Dec 23, 2017 12:35 am

Well done, dear Zane!

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