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Cat. No. CHAN 9759 Price: £5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 9759 - Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances · The Bells
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Available From: 25 November 1999
In the summer of 1912 Rachmaninov was already toying with the idea of writing a symphony, but his thoughts were given a new direction by the sudden appearance of an unsigned letter. It contained the typewritten text of Konstantin Balmont’s Russian translation of Edgar Alan Poe’s The Bells. The solemn and fatalistic tone of the poem immediately struck the composer and he became fired with the idea of writing a choral symphony. It was given its first performance in Russia in December 1913.

The sound of bells held a particular fascination for Rachmaninov, and his delight in conveying their expressive sounds became a recurrent theme in his music. In the choral symphony he uses their timbre to symbolise human suffering and death. The spectre of death is never far away and hovers over each movement despite it joyful mood.

A period of twenty-seven years separates the composition of The Bells from Rachmaninov’s last orchestral work, the Symphonic Dances. First performed in January 1941, the dances constitute what is essentially a three-movement symphony. The idea of writing a symphony in the form of dance movements was probably suggested by the one-act ballet Paganini that Fokine staged in London in 1939 with Rachmaninov’s music. The composer was evidently interested in following up the success of Paganini with a new ballet based on the Symphonic dances and Fokine would have undoubtedly choreographed them had he not died in 1942.

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