Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

Rachmaninov (1875-1945) composed his Second Symphony twelve years after his first in 1907. It was written when the composer was at the peak of his career as pianist, conductor and composer. Audiences also valued his works, but critics criticised him precisely because of what the public loved: sentimentality and exaggerated nostalgia – such labels were appended to his name and he was rebuked because of them. And this was certainly true of the Second Symphony as well.

The flowing melodies and undulating emotions were interpreted as a lack of musical quality. And yet in this work, Rachmaninov worked out a perfect system of motific interrelations. All four movement relate to one another on a variety of levels. The first and third and second and fourth are linked motifically, through which a unity is realised with the motto theme. In the first movement the motto theme appears in the slow introduction, the first fast theme, and the stormy development section. The second, melodic theme lives on in the slow third movement as a recurring ritornello, and here turns into one of Rachmaninov’s most elevated moments. It is not just the climax of the broad opening melody, but in the recapitulation of the clarinet melody too, it appears in almost every bar in the violins as a counterpoint.  In the first section of the energetic Scherzo the first theme played in the beginning of the finale later plays an important role. Following the lyrical second theme that follows this, a fugato section deriving from the material of the first theme leads to the recapitulation. The motto is here heard in a sacral guise on the brass instruments, directly before the end of the movement. After the introduction of the two themes of the first section (the second is a typical Rachmaninov “broad melody”), the development section builds up to an immense peal of bells. The “melody” returns in its full splendour, the first theme is heard with it in a counterpoint, the liturgical version of the motto from the Scherzo.