Letters from Sergei Rachmaninoff: Substantiating Context for his Depression in 1897-1900

Brent Woo, UCLA

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 is notable for having attracted total derision at its 1897 premiere, which plunged the composer into a deep depression lasting three years. At the behest of family and friends, he enlisted the help of psychologist Nicholas Dahl, with whom he commenced a therapy course. Subsequently, he wrote his Piano Concerto No. 2, one of his most popular pieces to this day. Even though it is generally understood that the reception of the symphony was the catalyst for his depression, a close examination of Rachmaninoff's personal correspondence suggests otherwise. The reception of Symphony No. 1 certainly contributed to Rachmaninoff's long-term depression, but it was neither the only factor, nor the catalyst. While its failure was by no means an insignificant event in his life, his depression was precipitated only by later reflection on the event, compounded by physical illness and other incidental events.



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Published: Sunday, August 8, 2010