Composers Datebook®

Rachmaninoff makes the cut

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 18, 2023


The Russian émigré composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff was himself the soloist on today's date in 1927 in the first performance of his Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Rachmaninoff had premiered his Third Concerto in New York in 1909, and he'd been thinking about writing another one for over a decade. In the meantime, his life had been disrupted by both the Russian Revolution and the exhausting business of earning a living as a touring virtuoso pianist. In 1926, Rachmaninoff finally felt he could afford to take some time off and put a Fourth Piano Concerto down on paper.

In its original form, it turned out to be a much longer work than even Rachmaninoff thought practical. He joked to a friend that its movements would have to be "performed on successive nights, like Wagner's Ring operas."

Rachmaninoff made a number of cuts before the Philadelphia premiere, but even so, the new work was not well received, and so Rachmaninoff kept cutting. Audiences and critics still remained cool, and Rachmaninoff eventually shelved the work for a time—quite a time. In 1941 he prepared a "final cut" version, which ended up considerably shorter than his other three Piano Concertos, and recorded it with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 - 1943) Piano Concerto No. 4 Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; Cleveland Orchestra; Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor. London 458 930

On This Day


  • 1844 - Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, in Tikhvin (Julian Date: Mar. 6);

  • 1882 - Italian composer and first editor of the collected works of Monteverdi and Vivaldi, Gian Francesco Malipiero, in Venice;


  • 1994 - American composer Williams Bergsma, age 72, in Seattle;


  • 1902 - Schoenberg: "Verklärte Nacht" (Transfigured Night) for string sextet, in Vienna, by the Rosé Quartet and two extra players;

  • 1904 - Liadov: symphonic poem "Baba Yaga," in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Mar.5);

  • 1927 - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 4,Op. 40 (original version) in Philadelphia, with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski and the composer as soloist; On the same program was the premiere performance of Rachmaninoff's "Three Russian Songs" for chorus and orchestra (dedicated to Stokowski); A revised (and much shortened) version of this concerto premiered in Philadelphia on October 17, 1941, with Eugene Ormandy conducting and the composer again as soloist;

  • 1949 - Peter Mennin: Symphony No. 4 ("The Cycle"), in New York City;

  • 1965 - Broadway premiere of Richard Rodgers: musical "Do I Hear a Waltz?," with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; The musical had its trail-run premiere in New Haven on Feb. 1, 1965;

  • 1970 - Roger Sessions: "Rhapsody" for orchestra, in Baltimore.

  • 1994 - James Mobberley: Piano Concerto, at the Lyric Theater in Kansas City, Mo., by the Kansas City Symphony, with Richard Cass the soloist and Bill McGlaughlin conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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