OK, that joke may be a little inside even for us. The Sibs both babysat a pair of brothers in years gone by, the younger of whom had an adorable speech impediment even at age 5 or 6 or so, such that his r’s became w’s (it’s called a “rhotacism,” and with its long ‘o’ is not to be confused with “eroticism.” Check that, those two probably do meet up somewhere, but I won’t be the one to find out where.). Anyway, this little creature sauntered up to the counter at a swim club one fine summer morning and announced, “I NEEEEED a woot be-aw!” It was quite hilarious, and at least one of us never forgot it. Poor kid, having been exposed to the double barrels of these Sibilant Siblings, he’s probably carjacking someone right now.
Well, in adulthood (defined by Will Truman as, “I wear suits and stuff”) we can still have desperate need of a woot beer, and many other things besides. One of those, of course, is a particular piece of music, or passage within a piece of music, or a few notes within a passage of a piece of music (yes, that’s right). Today, for me, with grey skies blanketing the city and a steady drizzle on (vastly preferable to hazy humidity), I suddenly had a burning need to hear Sergei Rachmaninov’s prelude in G minor.
It is a rousing, stirring, yet supple piece of music. Here is the one and only Vladimir Horowitz playing it with verve and precision; the former is especially wonderful, as he seems to nearly break the piano! I also like Horowitz’s deliberate tempo; I have a recording of Ashkenazy playing it, which I love, but he blazes right through it. Horowitz builds the power of the piece with his pregnant pauses. As did the Pied Piper. Try listening to this and not wanting to march with some colorful, highly festooned European military unit before World War I!
The prelude is numbered 5, out of 10 in Opus 23, though it was written first. Ashkenazy’s take: “an unmistakable Russian intensity, strong lyrical melodies, and changes of character that range from sublime sweetness to passionate virtuosity.” That about encompasses it, Volodya.
And what of the man who wrote it? Schonberg’s treatment of Rachmaninov is fascinating. Among the more memorable (pun) tidbits:
His memory was not only all-encompassing; it was actually frightening. He could hear a piece of music–a symphony, say–and play it back not only the next day but the next year or the decade after that. He had the kind of musical mind that automatically absorbs sound-impressions or sight-impressions. From ear and eye to brain and fingers was an instantaneous process.
The rest of the chapter, dealing with why Rachmaninov is unfairly maligned by critics and historians, is a worthy read. I agree with his statement that Russian nationalism is present in Rachmaninov’s music. From the first listen on, I seem to hear some sort of thundering pan-Slavic melody in this prelude. Wikipedia backs me up–apparently Soviet troops were treated to a rendition by Emil Gilels during World War II, to remind them what they were fighting for (memory skills! no?). Ashkenazy also clearly agrees.
Rightly or no, sometimes it is a woot beer-level listening need.