Three Russian Songs, op. 41

In 1926, Rachmaninov worked on two compositions, and both had rather miserable fates. The Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 40 received an astonishingly bad reception among audiences – in view of the exceptations created by the popular Second and Third Concertos, the Fourth Concerto came a disappointment and a shock. Critics slammed it as being “super-salon music”, and resurrected the frequent cricitism of Rachmaninov's music that it had more hot air than substance. The Three Songs op. 41, faced quite different problems. They could not be accused of garrulity, since both the text and melody are used sparingly. However, they are brief and demand very large forces, which hugely reduced the likelihood of public performance (in this respect, Rachmaninov can be accused of orchestrational loquacity). Rachmaninov was inspired not by some direct folk music experience, but rather the singing of Chaliapin and Plevickaya. He heard Chaliapin sing the first song “Above the small river”, which is why he chose to set this song for choir basses. He heard Plevickaya sing “Powder and make-up” at one of her concerts, but as this is the last song in the cycle, chose to entrust it to the entire choir. The middle song “Oh Vanka” demanded a female voice, and Rachmaninov chose to give the melody to the altos.