Rachmaninov – Piano concerto n.2 mov. 1 [analysis]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Nov 6, 2020

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.

Table of contents


One of the most iconic pieces of classical music, Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto was first intended for a London concert in 1899. However, in that same year, Rachmaninov had suffered a mental breakdown and was suffering a creative block after the disastrous premiere of his first symphony. 

His confidence as a composer was severely impacted, and he became a patient of Russian physician Nicolai Dahl.

To him, the second piano concerto was dedicated.

The first movement of the concerto was completed in 1901, while the other two had been written in 1900.

Scheherazade by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter (1844-1913)

Rachmaninov at the piano, early 1900s

Rachmaninov piano concerto n.2: an analysis of the 1st movement

Exposition: first theme

The structure is a sonata form, beginning with an introduction of the piano. The first 8 bars are essentially rooted around the subdominant (the F) with chromatic alteration on each chord. Until the last of these 8 bars, when we finally get the dominant leading to C minor

Rachmaninov - piano concerto n.2 - analysis - ex1

The piano accompanies with arpeggios the warm and dramatic theme played in unison by the violins, violas, and clarinet. Notice the orchestration: the violins are playing in the lower register, while the violas and clarinet add the warmth and dark quality to the entire phrase.

Rachmaninov - piano concerto n.2 - analysis - ex3

Technical tip

It goes without saying but leave the pianist alone in the introduction.

Once you start conducting, your arms should be around your waist level: body position and baton placement are really important as they add the proper weight and character to the music.

The second part of this main theme is signaled by the cellos, with a beautiful phrase continuing the same tone

Rachmaninov - piano concerto n.2 - analysis - ex4

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There is a great thesis here on all Rachmaninov’s piano concertos.


Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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