What Was the Matter with Rachmaninoff?
IN 1927, the British music-hall duo Flotsam & Jetsam recorded a comic song, “What Was the Matter with Rachmaninov?,” in which they lamented the popularity of the once-ubiquitous Prelude in C- Sharp Minor among hapless amateur pianists: “Then there’s another one down the street/Who must be trying it with her feet/She’s the one who gives you fits/Whenever she comes to the difficult bits.” It was not only in music halls, however, that Sergei Rachmaninoff was criticized for being too popular.’ Few classical composers of significance have received so many unfavorable reviews over so long a period of time, and there can be little doubt that Rachmaninoff’s bad press arose in large part from the fact that his compositions were hugely successful with concertgoers who disliked most other 20th-century music.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.