Another fine piece by the Minneapolis Tribune’s Lorena A. Hickok:

Rachmaninoff Admits Composing
Prelude, But He’s Sorry He Did It


‘That Bells of Moscow
Thing’ Follows Com-
poser Everywhere.

By Lorena A. Hickok.

 
  Sergei Rachmaninoff -- aka Rachmaninov -- in a 1921 Victrola ad.
Of course, every composer has to make a slip once in his life.
 
Sergei Rachmaninoff – who many musicians declare is the biggest living composer and the finest pianist in the world today – acknowledges he made his slip when he wrote his Prelude in C Sharp Minor.
 
Rachmaninoff arrived in St. Paul yesterday morning from Chicago to give two concerts. He played in the St. Paul Auditorium last night and will play in the University Armory, Minneapolis, tonight.
 
That Prelude in C Sharp Minor – you don’t call it that, but if you are a movie fan, or if you have a phonograph, or a daughter taking music lessons, the chances are 10 to 1 you know it by heart.
 
“That Bells of Moscow Thing.”
 
Remember how it goes – “Bom – bom – bom,” like the tolling of a great bell? You probably call it “that bells of Moscow thing.”
 
There is a legend about it. In the days of the old Russian regime, so the story goes, the great bells in the Kremlin in Moscow tolled when a political prisoner was led out to be shot, or hanged, or beheaded, or whatever it was they used to do to political prisoners in Russia. The prelude is supposed to represent the tolling of the bells.
 
All of which is very pretty and poetic – only Mr. Rachmaninoff says it isn’t so. He says he had no bells in mind when he wrote it, and that those big crashing chords are just chords – nothing more.
 
And he’s sorry he wrote it – Mr. Rachmaninoff is. Nearly every big artist has some semi-popular selection for which he is famous – some selection which he always has to play or sing before he can escape from the concert hall. For instance, there is Schumann-Heink and her “Rosary,” and Fritz Kreisler and his “Humoresque.”
 
With Rachmaninoff, it’s “that bells of Moscow thing.” And it’s doubly hard on him he says, because he wrote it. Schumann-Heink, for instance, at least has the satisfaction of knowing she didn’t write “The Rosary.”
 
Face Homely But Fascinating.
 
A towering giant, muffled in a big brown overcoat, with a huge, pale, homely face – a face homely, but fascinating, like the face of Abraham Lincoln – Rachmaninoff stood in front of an elevator in the St. Paul hotel this morning and sang his lament about “that bells of Moscow thing.”
 
There were difficulties at the start. Mr. Rachmaninoff did not care to be interviewed.
 
“My English – it is so bad,” he explained.
 
The reporter turned to one of his associates.
 
“Tell him I want to know about that bells of Moscow thing,” she said.  
 
A flicker of interest awoke in the composer’s pale gray eyes. Before the associates had time to reply, he broke in with his deep, bass voice:
 
“You mean the Prelude in C Sharp Minor? Yes, I wrote it.”
 
A melancholy smile flitted across his wide mouth.
 
“I wrote it – but it is not a ‘bells of Moscow thing.’ I never had any bells in mind while writing it, I assure you.”
 
The reporter must have looked disappointed.
 
“I am very sorry,” rumbled the big voice.
 
Sorry I wrote it.
 
“And I am often sorry I wrote it. I can never, never escape from a concert hall without playing it. It pursues me everywhere. For a long time, I used to try to escape by playing it as my last encore, only after I had given the audience everything else. But I have given up – it now appears on my regular program.”
 
“Don’t you think it’s good music?” queried the reporter.
 
“It isn’t bad,” the deep voice rumbled again. “Only I have written much better music, which is not appreciated half so much. All the time, it is that ‘bells of Moscow thing’ they want. I have a feeling that the public comes to my concerts only to hear me play that one selection – that they sit through the rest of the concert just waiting for it.
 
“And I have become very tired of it. I feel like a little girl who is just learning to play and who knows only one piece – ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ or ‘The Maiden’s Prayer,’ or something like that.”
 
Flattering But Tired.
 
“There is only one bit of satisfaction in it for me – that is that people seem to enjoy hearing me play it. They have heard it on the phonograph, I suppose, and in the motion picture theaters, and they want to hear how the composer himself plays it. They appear to like it – and that is flattering. But I have grown very tired of playing it. Many, many times I wish I had never written it. Do you not understand, Madame?”
 
The reporter thought she did – but on the other hand there is a girl in Minneapolis who remarked the other day:
 
“Gee, I’d be willing to die, if I could hear the Minneapolis Symphony orchestra play ‘Ain’t We Got Fun’ just once!”
 
In about 1925, the University of Minnesota women's hockey team played on a rink outside the Armory, where Rachmaninoff himself played, sans skates, a few years earlier. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

 

Older Post

Nov. 11, 1909: Man shoots coyote from back porch

Newer Post

Nov. 15, 1919: 'Pawpaws is ripe'