The American Years. Jazz, blues and swing encounter classical structures and unadulterated Romanticism: Rachmaninov and Gershwin in the roaring twenties.
In America, the country where he found refuge after the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninov apparently never really felt at home. His Romantic style was seen as old-fashioned, and the new currents based on jazz, blues and swinging music were not his style. He shifted his focus to his career as a pianist, and composed very little after fleeing Russia: “when I left Russia, I left behind my desire to compose: losing my country, I lost myself also”.
Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto illustrates the struggle and quest for his true musical identity. He had never worked as long and intensively on any other work as this one, or made as many revisions. The result is a concerto that remains faithful to his typical Romantic style but that also shows the American influence of jazz and blues, as well as modern cadenzas and piano runs. And a careful listener will also hear shadows of the later Paganini Rhapsodies.
One person who had no difficulties mixing different musical genres was George Gershwin. The success of his Broadway career heightened his fascination with modern composers such as Schönberg and Stravinsky, and made him long for a synthesis of the two worlds. The fleet-footed symphonic poem An American in Paris combines those worlds like none other.
Flagey, Brussels Philharmonic
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