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Four Preludes - orchestrations of Rachamaninoff Piano Preludes

2011. Duration 17' approx.


I. Op.23 No.10 in G flat major

II. Op.23 No.5 in G minor

III. Op.32 No.10 in B minor

IV. Op.32 No.3 in E major


First performance March 2011, Hertford Theatre, Hertfordshire

Hertford Symphony Orchestra, cond. Gerry Cornelius


Arranged with kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes Ltd.



Piccolo, Flutes 1 & 2

Oboes 1 & 2, English Horn

Clarinets 1 & 2 in B flat and A, Bass Clarinet

2 Bassoons, Contrabassoon


4 Horns

3 Trumpets

Bass Trumpet in C*

4 Trombones (3 = bass; 4 = Contrabass)*



*Bass Trumpet & Contrabass Trombone are cross-cued in other parts; the piece may be performed without them if necessary.


Timpani (3 drums)

Percussion (5 players): Timpani 2 (2 drums), Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Tenor Drum, Tam-tam, Suspended Cymbal, Pair Cymbals, Triangle, 2 Tambourines, Bell Tree, Finger Cymbals, 4 Crotales (C#6, E6, F#6, B6), Ratchet







Programme Note

The idea of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes for solo piano being played by a full orchestra has always appealed to me. These orchestrations are constructed such that compositional elements are present in each movement: in other words these orchestrations were never intended to be a basic transcription from one medium to another. The piano versions are musically altered in several places. This might take the form of re-spacing notes in certain chords, or extending a passage by a few bars ensuring the music can be allowed to ‘breathe’. This makes more sense structurally and aesthetically having placed the music in its new orchestral guise. A large orchestra is employed for the suite: there is a percussion section of five players, celesta and harp, and also bass trumpet and contrabass trombone have been included to widen the sound palette with their unique and valuable voices.


It was also decided not to transpose the Preludes into different keys, since doing so would certainly alter the character that comes from the particular tonalities Rachmaninoff selected for each of his Preludes.


During the process of arranging these pieces for orchestra it should be stressed that an attempt to wholly recreate the stylistic features of Rachmaninoff’s orchestral music was not sought after. An orchestra cannot copy effects that can be produced by one pianist exactly, so new realisations of characteristic piano writing were required rather than an approximation. The resultant colourful scoring represents a combination of Rachmaninoff’s implied orchestration and those of the present orchestrator.


The opening Prelude in G flat major (for somewhat reduced forces) is a tranquil and serene nocturne with an expressive melody heard in the strings and solo woodwind.


The popular G minor Prelude already exists in orchestrated form by other composers, due to the irresistible opportunity composers have in distributing the motto rhythm (quaver-semiquaver-semiquaver-quaver, the rhythm of the name Rachmaninoff) around the ensemble. The slower central section is presented as a kind of fantastical interlude, a contrast to the insistent martial character of the rest of the movement.


The B minor Prelude is interpreted here as a funeral march, with two timpanists being used for extra weight. The funereal mood becomes more passionate, working towards a huge climax which subsides quickly. The next section in the piano version is a cadenza, which provided a wonderful chance to explore Rachmaninoff’s modal harmonies orchestrally. Some of the textures here are quite unlike the original and the use of glittering percussion (finger cymbals, crotales, glockenspiel) with harp, celesta and string harmonics produce a glassy and fragile sound, leading to a reprise of the more sombre opening material.


In the final uplifting E major Prelude counterpoint is prominent, as is antiphony between orchestral sections. The movement concludes the suite emphatically: the whole orchestra plays the tonic chord fortissimo then decays to pianissimo, as opposed to the original ending which simply remains quiet.


Directs to VIDEOS page for YouTube link to 2011 performance (G minor)

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