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Appreciations of Rachmaninoff from Famous Musicians in America

Harold Bauer
Sergei Rachmaninoff once said to me that he loved everything   that Tschaikowsky had ever written. I doubt if any single phrase could better illustrate the character, the tendencies, the modesty and generosity of the distinguished composer who has endeared himself to all of us from the moment of his arrival on these shores.
 
We feel that this is a man whose personality bears an altogether satisfying relation to the music which we have so long admired, and our gratification is the keener for the reason that disillusioning experience has taught us that an artist does not invariably seem worthy of his art.
 
I believe Rachmaninoff to be intolerant of one thing alone: Insincerity. Were he less of a magnificent musician than he is— had he attained success in only a few instances instead of having written masterpieces in every branch of musical art—he would still afford a noble example of all his colleagues in his unswerving and uncompromising devotion to an ideal.
 
It is with the greatest pleasure that I send through the columns of The Etude my warm personal greetings and the expression of my respectful admiration to the man and the musician.
 
It gives me great pleasure to set down words of admiration for the art of Rachmaninoff. Among the living masters of musical composition there are but few who possess as he possesses, so high an ideal combined with so generous a measure of inspiration. In these days abundant technic is one of the qualities of artistic striving that are taken for granted; yet the technic of Mr. Rachmaninoff is worthy of more than a perfunctory word of commendation. A pianist of admirable skill, his writing for the instrument is explicably brilliant and effective. It is to be regretted, perhaps, that his C sharp minor Prelude has been so popular that it has, instead of drawing attention to the composer's other music for the instrument, caused most of that music to be unduly neglected.
 
To me, Mr. Rachmaninoff's orchestral art appeals very strongly. He is not one of the composers who, having a masterly command of musical utterance, have nothing in particular to utter. His second symphony is a lovely combination of orchestral virtuosity and inspiration. The glowing color, the imaginativeness, the poetry of that work are contained, too, in "The Island of the Dead." It is much to be able to set down musical ideas with absolute certainty with the brain that has obeyed the dictates of the mind, but it is finer to be possessed of ideas that are as noble as they are fine.
 
I regard the work and influence of Rachmaninoff as the strongest factor in Russian music since the days of Tschaikowsky. Rachmaninoff has run the gamut of every human emotion in his creative efforts. His popularity among those who comprehend only his more direct and emotionally appealing forms of composition has in no way affected his standing as a master of symphonic writing.
 
His "Symphony in E Minor" is one of the noblest contributions to present-day orchestra music, and deserves a hearing in every American city that maintains an orchestra.
 
Mr. Rachmaninoff's present visit to our shores cannot help but make for a clearer understanding of Russian art ideals. American musical circles will no doubt welcome him unreservedly.
 
I am looking forward to your October Rachmaninoff number, and I consider it a privilege to join in the tribute which you are offering to the distinguished Russian. I hope that he will decide to remain long in America in order that this country may have the opportunity of hearing and absorbing more and more of his music.
 
I have many admirations for different phases of his work, but to me Rachmaninoff's importance in contemporary music lies in the fact that he is a sensitive touchstone between the new and the old, and a strong and logical link between the great music of the past and the newest tendencies of the present times. I am convinced that a composer who occupies this position is making
 
a greater contribution towards the progress of Art than the detached genius who, no matter how powerful his personality, seems to be suspended, as it were, in space without any relation to what has preceded him or what is liable to follow. I suppose that it is all reducible to the same question that we have all been thinking so much about during the war, the question of evolution versus revolution.
 
I thank you again for this opportunity of saluting so distinguished a visitor.
 
I consider the presence of Rachmaninoff in America to be a great stimulus to the musical life of the country, for this great musician, exquisite pianist, as well as significant composer, is one of the most finely balanced artists of our era.
 
From a composer's standpoint it seems to me that he represents the somewhat rare case of a creative mind that is thoroughly original and personal without being particularly modern. This very absence of the experimental and the iconoclastic from his works lends them a certain quality of the inevitability and "naturalness" that makes their appeal singularly wide and immediate.
 
As a performer, Rachmaninoff seems to me to present one of the greatest pianistic delights imaginable. To hear him interpret one of his own beautiful concertos is an object lesson in "how to play with an orchestra." The magic unfolding of the musical form under his hands, the magnificent effortless grandeur of his tone, the flexibility of his phrasing, the superb vigor of his rhythmic delivery—all these diversified qualities and attainments combine to produce a unique impression of complete musical mastery, as restful as it is imposing, as emotional as it is euphonius.
 
Rachmaninoff! The man whose art, I feel, is as pure as gold! The sincere artist, equally admired by musicians and public. How many can lay claim to this distinction?
 
A great composer, a most admirable pianist, a truly remarkable orchestra leader. And yet always the most ardent, serious student, and a tireless worker; never satisfied with himself and his achievements. A severe critic of his own work, hence a really great man.
 
And what a fascinating personality in private life! Simple, unassuming, truthful and generous. Yet behind the gentle man there crops out at times the playful deviltry of a giant.
 
Such is the man and artist, Sergei Rachmaninoff. May a long life permit him to work on in his realm to the delight of his numberless admirers, of whom I am proud to be the most ardent!
 
Not many composers of our day have won, within a comparatively short time, so much well-deserved success, and not many works of contemporary writers have been heralded with such spontaneous acclaim as those of the composer of the C# minor Prelude, the E minor Symphony, "The Isle of Death" and a great many other works, equally important and meritorious. Wonderful sweep of imagination, sturdy rhythm, and remarkable force are the chief characteristics of Rachmaninoff's music. This, combined with an unusual gift for pure melody, such as we find especially in his E minor Symphony and the haunting tone poem, "The Isle of Death," place Rachmaninoff among the foremost of modern composers, and as the greatest among romanticists of the modern Russian school. His music impresses me, not only as the mature product of a highly intellectual mind, but, most of all, as the utterance of a great soul, one which strives to convey the most inward thoughts man can feel, not for himself, but for the happiness or, as it may more often be, for the sufferings of mankind.
 
What I admire so much in the works of Rachmaninoff is, that having all the resources of modern music at his disposal, he still writes with the utmost simplicity. I have the impression of the greatest sincerity always in his works, and although they are often complex, it is an organized complexity, and it is this which produces the effect of simplicity. Or to express it in other words, the suppression of all non-essentials. Every note counts. Every note is inspired by feeling.
 
Next season I am going to produce for the first time in America, Rachmaninoff's new symphony, "The Bells," which is for large orchestra, chorus and soprano, tenor and baritone solo voices. The poem is by Edgar Allan Poe. I am studying this work now and think it is the greatest of Rachmaninoff's compositions.
 
John Philip Sousa
Perhaps there are no people with greater imagination than the American. Being the most youthful of nations, we are like children absorbing the thrills of a fairy story. We probably show a keener interest in the affairs of the world than the older nations. Therefore, we place anyone who has accomplished great things on our mental throne, and bow with admiration. As a people, we are devoid of envy, and are jealous only of our honor. Let any man give the world something worth while and we take him to our hearts. It is so with Rachmaninoff. With a name but a myth to us in his early days, we took him and placed him in the garden of those we admire. The "C# Prelude" has been known for years wherever music is heard in our land. Years ago I played it under the simple title of "Prelude in C# Minor" in every town from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf Stream. A little later a friend told me he had heard it in Europe as "The Bells of Moscow." A man told me that it was used as the entr'acte music in the Russian play "Crime and Punishment" and I again changed the name and placed in on my program under its new cognomen, and it sounded just as effective. In any attempt to name the great men in musical art, Rachmaninoff must be seriously considered. A long and happy life to him!
 
Josef Stransky
Sergei Rachmaninoff is a giant among the composers of our time. He belongs to the class of Debussy, Richard Strauss and Ravel.

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