Waltz in C-sharp minor Op. 64, No. 2 

Frédéric Chopin



Original recording by Sergei Rachmaninov:













My recreated performance:






















Cross-cut video:























Annotated score:



The recreating experience


Having established a set of “general trends” in Viñes’s playing, such as the use of “arpeggiation,” “dislocation,” rushing/slowing, and so on, I wanted to make a comparison to three contemporaneous pianists. In the work with the four preceding recreated pieces, I compared Viñes’s recordings with modern-day and contemporaneous recordings. It was clear that while the modern-day recordings could relate to each other, the same could be said for the historical ones. Although the romantic performance-related practices in Viñes’s playing could be detected by listening (observing), the coherent logic in how and why he is using them was something I started to understand and appreciate only through the recreating process. It was therefore my belief that only by going through the same extreme imitation and embodiment process, would I be able to make the same kind of claims about the three contemporaneous pianists. The first pianist in this comparison was Sergei Rachmaninov.[1] As mentioned in the comparison between the Borodin Scherzo recordings, the two pianists Rachmaninov and Viñes were of close age, with Rachmaninov just two years older than Viñes. After leaving Russia, travelling through Scandinavia, and eventually ending up in the US in the period of 1917-18, Rachmaninov and his family were in debt and in need of money. Because of this, Rachmaninov, now 44 years old, chose to make a living primarily as a concert pianist. Through this, he also became a recording artist with a substantial recording legacy. Having worked mostly on pieces that are not part of the most mainstream of classical repertoires, I thought it could be interesting to choose a piece that is very often played today. The result of this is my recreated performance of Rachmaninov’s recording of the Waltz in C-sharp minor Op. 64, No. 2 by Frédéric Chopin.[2]


As with the Scarlatti Sonata recording by Viñes, I realized that the deviations between the original score and the Rachmaninov recording were so great that it was once more necessary to make a more detailed annotated score. As before, any added, changed, or re-arranged notes are in red. Thick red lines illustrate tempo changes (rushing/slowing). Although I was extremely thorough about this when I recreated the performance, I chose not to mark the “dislocated attacks” in the annotated score because this is also in the case of Rachmaninov a general tendency that occurs throughout the piece. Most of these “re-arrangements” are probably, much like with Viñes, carried out to achieve a greater sense of coherence in the score. The bass notes in bars 17-18 (C sharp and D sharp), for example, are originally notated one octave higher than the opening of the piece (bars 1-2). Rachmaninov however chooses to play bars 17-18 identically to 1 and 2. Such issues could be score-/edition-related as well, but I chose to mark them in the score because it demonstrates a coherency in the performance practice that is relatable to that of Viñes. An example of a “re-arranged” chord as well as an emphasized middle-voice can be observed in bar 3 (and 19) where Rachmaninov plays a C sharp that falls down to a B sharp and thus creates a suspension akin to the D sharp – C sharp in bar 4. In the original score, beats 2 and 3 in the third bar are written out as two identical G sharp major chords. Whether this is related to score/editions or not isn't important, rather it is the coherency Rachmaninov creates between bars 3 and 4 that is the point. In bars 98-125, Rachmaninov greatly accentuates the lowest notes in the right hand towards the end of the bars and thus he emphasizes a third voice in the polyphony. This is not a practice that is exclusively his own as we shall later see, but I have chosen to mark it in the score to demonstrate that of the three times we hear this part of the piece, he chooses to clearly emphasize this middle-voice only the second time. The interchange of bars 72 and 88 is probably edition-related.


As with Viñes, Rachmaninov makes a slight tenuto at the peak of the melodic lines before rushing onwards. This is in line with the “rubber ball” principle. This can be heard in bars 13, in 75-76, and especially in 93, where the right hand literally stops and waits for the left-hand chords to “finish before moving on. Indeed, this practice of “balanced rubato” is very coherent in Rachmaninov’s playing and is clearly evident in all three main parts of the piece. In the first part we hear bar 4 being rushed into bar 5, and consequently bar 7-8 is slowed down into bar 9. This timing is also in line with the dynamics he uses - bar 5 is the high point and bar 9 is more detained. In the second part of the piece, we hear a more extreme use of rushing in bar 47, almost missing the third beat. The similar ending of the repeated section in bar 63 is contrasted by slowing down. In the third part, Rachmaninov divides the main theme of the piece into three groups: bars 64-69, 70-73, and 73-81. He then repeats this practice in 81-85, 86-89, and 89-97. These gestural, musical sweeps become clear through this use of balancing the rubato. By rushing the end of the first two “sweeps” (64-69 and 70-73) and by slowing down the peak of the third (75-76), Rachmaninov’s playing achieves a sort of rhetorical third time’s a charm” logic. 


Rachmaninov and Viñes both use “dislocation” and “arpeggiation” to separate the individual voices and thus emphasize the polyphony. They also both use a lot of rubato to amplify the direction of the musical line, balancing between rushing and slowing in a “rhetorical” kind of way. This use of rubato is very coherent and occurs in an almost identical manner when the musical material is repeated. Lastly, they both use the sustain pedal heavily throughout the pieces, but in a very nuanced way with quick shifts. Their expressive legato is executed with a rapid, almost staccato-like attack of the fingers with the support of the sustain pedal. 



Final thoughts  


Although Viñes did not record this Waltz by Chopin, thereby making a direct comparison impossible, having recreated the performance I would argue that Rachmaninov’s playing speaks the same “language” as Viñes. By experiencing the performance through my own body and mind, I felt connected to a deeper musical understanding of Rachmaninov’s playing than before. The practice of rushing, which seemed eccentric at first, now seemed to make perfect musical sense to me because I had experienced how Rachmaninov is balancing his wide use of tempos. 


[1] It is the pianist, not the composer Rachmaninov who is of interest with regards to my project.

[2] Chopin, Frédéric. Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2. Played by Sergei Rachmaninov. Sergei Rachmaninov: Great Pianists: Rachmaninov - Piano Solo Recordings, Vol. 1 (Victor Recordings 1925-1942), Naxos 2009 (originally recorded for RCA on April 5 1927). YouTube, accessed on November 2, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex7AIJsQngg

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