From an empty auditorium near Lisbon, Portugal, the Ukranian pianist and YouTube star, Valentina Lisitsa, plays Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor for our third postcard of 21 to ‘21.
Rachmaninoff was beginning his career as an artist when he wrote the Prelude in C-Sharp Minor. In 1892, he had just graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. But in this, one of his earliest pieces, his life resounds, as if music could be anticipatory: his love for the vast, unspoiled steppes, his humanity, his feeling for all the people of his homeland, his later loss of his beloved family home Ivanovka, into which he had put all his earnings, his loss of meaning, his dislocation, when he lost Russia after the Revolution. But he never spoke of it. No one could understand what it is to lose your country, your identity.
When he was successful in California and his fellow emigrés had lost their livelihoods along with their history, he helped as many of them as he could. He sent money to his friend, the writer Vladimir Nabokov, so he could take care of his mother, starving in Berlin.
Rachmaninoff was a man of great feeling, and immense depths of sorrow. He embodied his country’s unspeakable grief, its intrinsic melancholy, and its continuing hardship after the Revolution. He was always kind to the people who depended on him for their survival.
Here a great pianist shares her own compassion, her own sorrow for the suffering of so many millions of people. She speaks through the music, and you can hear everything she says in it. You can hear in this extraordinary prelude how music is about more than music, how it speaks of pain and anguish, how it says things which can barely be said. It contains the world.
Rachmaninoff was 19 when he wrote it.
—Peter Halsted, Co-Founder of Tippet Rise