Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring Waters’ Op. 14 No. 11 Arranged for Solo Piano by Ji Liu

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About Sergei Rachmaninov

Russian composer, pianist and conductor Sergei Rachmaninov was born in 1873. His musical education began when his mother gave him his first piano lessons. His parents separated after his father squandered the family’s wealth and the young Rachmaninov moved with his mother to St. Petersburg. With her increased domestic responsibilities, she struggled to aid Rachmaninov with his education and he subsequently failed all his general study exams. On his uncle’s recommendation, Rachmaninov moved to study at the Moscow Conservatoire. He studied with Nikolai Zverev, an influential piano teacher who insisted that his pupils live in his house and follow the strictest of regimes; studying music, languages, literature and high society manners. Zverev discouraged Rachmaninov’s desire to compose, and this led to a 3-year estrangement. Rachmaninov took his final performance and composition exams a year early, graduating with the highest possible marks. 

About Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring Waters’

After his graduation, composition came easily  to Rachmaninov. ‘Spring Waters’, the penultimate song of his opus 14 set, was composed in 1896 while he was still working on his first symphony. It is based on Fyodor Tyutchev’s poem, enthusiastically announcing the arrival of spring. Rachmaninov matches the text character with the sweeping figurations depicting the mighty force of nature, the unstoppable growth of new life, and an unabating build to a triumphal end.

Ji Liu on Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring Waters’

Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring Waters’ has always been one of my favourite songs by the composer. The idea of transcribing it to a solo piano piece had long been haunting my mind until the preparation of my fourth recital album, ‘Fire and Water’, in 2017. The transcription itself then came into fruition while I was finalising the track list, as the passion of the original song and the Rachmaninov-associated ‘water’ component reflects a perfect metaphorical combination between the two elements. 

While I was examining the composer’s original song, I noticed that even though it was a work for voice and piano, the piano accompaniment part still played a vital and indispensable role in completing the entire musical experience. As one of the great composer-pianists, Rachmaninov’s understanding and instinct for writing piano music shone through the piano part, which supports and backs up the singing melody perfectly. 

Therefore, I strongly felt and believed that my transcription should keep the originality of Rachmaninov’s writing style as much as possible, since the piano part from the original song had been so well written. During my compositional process, I always pondered how Rachmaninov would possibly write it as a solo piano piece. As one can see from this arrangement, I tried to maximise the expression of both musical parts on the keyboard by combining the singing and piano part and expanding the piece into a more pianistic and ultra-romantic work with a brilliant Rachmaninovian ending. 

This piece is dedicated to Mrs. Doreen Tabor MBE; one of the kindest, most thoughtful and warm-hearted people I’ve ever known and a great patron of classical music and the art world. We share our passion for Rachmaninov’s music, and I am utterly grateful to Mrs. Tabor and the Tabor Foundation for all the unconditional, constant and generous support I’ve received throughout my musical development.

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