In a show about pervasive writer’s block, it seems fitting that this Romantic composer’s tale be inundated with his compositions. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s influence can be found in themes and melodies that extend past Preludes’ titular song.
Notice the song Natalya, sung by the character of the same name, shares its melody with the first phrase of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This concerto was completed the year before Sergei’s marriage to Natalya and serves as an interesting dichotomy to its use in the musical at a moment when Natalya is experiencing incredible frustration with Sergei. When teaching her piano students, we hear Natalya singing from offstage in Vocalise, a song full of Natalya’s vocal movements, which shares its name and melody with Rachmaninoff’s composition Vocalise.
It is not only Rachmaninoff’s melodies that add to Preludes. The theme of white lilacs permeates the young composer’s life. He shares his feeling about receiving weekly gifts of lilacs in a song that shares its melody with Rachmaninoff’s Lilacs from his collection of 12 Romances. The image resurfaces throughout the piece and is especially poignant during a moment when Rachmaninoff is reflecting on his experiences in therapy with Dr. Nicolai Dahl.
One piece alluded to only truly in name, Preludes’ The First Symphony reflects the horrors of the real-life events surrounding the premiere of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony. This moment, which fuels Sergei’s later writer’s block, conveys the embarrassment and dissatisfaction of the evening without giving justice to the beauty and dynamics that is Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1.
While you are enjoying Dave Malloy’s Preludes, listen closely, and you’ll experience the glory of Rachmaninoff as you watch Rach work through his creative lull.