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How Hypnosis Helped Rachmaninoff Compose His Beloved Piano Concerto No. 2

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Sergei Rachmaninoff was so distressed by the negative reaction to the 1897 premiere of his first symphony, he stopped composing for nearly three years. What restored his confidence to compose his much-loved Piano Concerto No.2? WRTI’s Susan Lewis has the story.

Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, performed by Nikolai Lugansky, is among the works featured in WRTI's Rachmaninoff Festival broadcast of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on Sunday, November 5th, 1 to 4 pm.

Radio script:

Most of all it is such a beauty of melody.

Susan Lewis: After the harsh criticism of the premiere of his  first symphony, Rachmaninoff continued to perform on piano, and began to conduct, but could not bring himself to compose. Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky says Rachmaninoff eventually got nonmusical help.

Nikolai Lugansky: There was a Dr. Dahl—who did hypnosis on Rachmaninoff—influencing him that he must compose, he will be better and better...

SL: Finally, he again put pen to paper with his Second Piano Concerto—completed in May of 1901;  dedicated to Dr. Dahl, and performed by Rachmaninoff in November to an enthusiastic audience.

NL: It's brilliantly written, it's very fresh, most of all it’s such a beauty of melody. It’s not many pieces from end of 19th, beginning of 20th century where from the first time you can sing several melodies immediately.

SL: Singable, yet difficult to perform.

NL: Demanding  physically, psychologically, musically.  But full use of all possibilities of the piano. So it's both musical and physiological pleasure just to play this music.

SL: After the success of the  concerto, the First Symphony’s failed premiere no longer blocked Rachmaninoff. He was back...soon  producing a number of large works, including, in 1907, his Second Symphony.