Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43

The famous “RHAPSODY ON A THEME OF PAGANINI” for piano and orchestra was composed between 3 July and 18 August 1934 in his summer villa Senar (the title was a combination of the first letters from the names of Sergey, his wife Nataliya and their family name) on the bank of Lake Firwaldstadt in the village of Hertenstein in the Swiss canton of Lucerne. The premiere performance took place on 7 November 1934 at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, given by the author together with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Leopold Stokowski, and in December of the same year the same formation produced the work’s first recording. The Rhapsody is cast in the form of twenty-four variations on the famous Twenty-fourth Caprice for solo violin by Paganini, which had already inspired a number of other composers, including Johannes Brahms for his Variations on a theme of Paganini for solo piano. Intermingled in the free variations, which merge one with the other throughout the piece, is virtuosic bravura, “diabolism”, nostalgic, typical of Rachmaninoff, lyrical treatment of the theme in reverse, and the motif of the famous ancient sequence Dies Irae.

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