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Prelude in C sharp minor (Rachmaninoff)

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Prelude in C-sharp minor (Rachmaninoff)

Prelude in C-sharp minor (Russian: Прелюдия), Op. 3, No. 2, is one of Sergei Rachmaninoff's most famous compositions. It is a ternary (ABA) prelude for piano in C-sharp minor, 62 bars long, and part of a set of five pieces entitled Morceaux de fantaisie; and also known as The Bells of Moscow since the introduction seems to reproduce the Kremlin's most solemn carillon chimes.


Its first performance was by the composer on 26 September 1892, at a festival called the Moscow Electrical Exhibition. After this première, a review of the concert singled out the Prelude, noting that it had “aroused enthusiasm”. From this point on, its popularity grew.

Rachmaninoff later published 23 more preludes to complete a set of 24 preludes covering all the major and minor keys, to emulate earlier sets by Bach, Chopin, Alkan, Scriabin and others.


This work was one of the first the 19‑year‑old Rachmaninoff composed as a "Free Artist", after he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory on 29 May 1892. He performed this new work for the first time at one of the concerts of the Moscow Electrical Exhibition on 26 September 1892. It was printed the following year as the second of five Morceaux de fantaisie (Op. 3), all dedicated to Anton Arensky, his harmony teacher at the Conservatory. Because at the time Russia was not party to the 1886 Berne Convention, Russian publishers did not pay royalties, so the only financial return he ever received for this piece was a 40 ruble (about two months' wage of a factory worker) publishing fee.


The prelude is organized into three main parts and a coda:

  • The piece opens with a three note motif at fortissimo which introduces the grim C-sharp minor tonality that dominates the piece. The cadential motif repeats throughout. In the third bar, the volume changes to a piano pianissimo for the exposition of the theme.
  • The second part is propulsive and marked Agitato (agitated), beginning with highly chromatic triplets. This passionately builds to interlocking chordal triplets that descend into a climactic recapitulation of the main theme, this time in four staves to accommodate the volume of notes. Certain chords in the section are marked with quadruple sforzando.
  • The piece closes with a brief seven-bar coda which ends quietly.
  • Reception

    The prelude became one of Rachmaninoff's most famous compositions. His cousin Alexander Siloti was instrumental in securing the Prelude's success throughout the Western world. In the autumn of 1898, he made a tour of Western Europe and the United States, with a program that contained the Prelude. Soon after, London publishers brought out several editions with titles such as The Burning of Moscow, The Day of Judgement, and The Moscow Waltz. America followed suit with other titles (such as The Bells of Moscow). It was so popular that it was referred to as "The Prelude" and audiences would demand it as an encore at his performances, shouting "C-sharp!"

    Rachmaninoff recorded the piece electrically, on Welte-Mignon reproducing pianos, and on Ampico piano rolls.

  • The prelude formed the basis for George L. Cobb's Russian Rag, written in 1918.
  • In the Marx Brothers comedy, A Day at the Races, 1937, Harpo plays the prelude with such energy that the piano explodes. He takes the harp out of the wreckage and begins to play that, instead.
  • The prelude is an important element of the plot of Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn novel Overture to Death, written in 1939.
  • On Mingus at the Bohemia (1955), Charles Mingus recorded "All The Things You C", a blend of "All the Things You Are" and the prelude.
  • Paul Revere Dick, leader of Paul Revere & the Raiders, based his team's first chart single, the 1961 instrumental "Like, Long Hair," on this prelude.
  • In 1970 the Dutch rock/jazz band Ekseption recorded a song called "On Sunday They Will Kill The World" which is based on the prelude. The song was then covered by gothic/doom metal band Draconian.
  • The song was sampled for the intro of Thelma Houston's 1978 disco song "Love Masterpiece", which was included in the soundtrack to the film Thank God It's Friday
  • The 1989 science fiction novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons opens with one of the main characters playing the prelude.
  • The 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie's used a (broken) playback of it, via stereo system for the incidental, soundtrack music.
  • In 1994, the theme melody of the action strategy game Dark Legions.
  • In the 1996 television show Arthur, the main character Arthur bluffed to his music teacher that he could play the prelude blindfolded. When asked to perform the prelude, he told the teacher he couldn't without a blindfold.
  • The initial part of the composition is repeated throughout the song "Trife Thieves" from Bizarre's 1997 album Attack of the Weirdos featuring Eminem and the original D12 member Fuzz Scoota.
  • The Beastie Boys sampled the prelude in their 1998 song "Intergalactic".
  • The third and fourth measures are used in the song "Face the Flames" from the 1998 album "The Antidote" by The Wiseguys.
  • In 2000, the popular R&B group En Vogue sampled the piece in their recording "Love Won't Take Me Out" on their album Masterpiece Theatre.
  • In 2001, Muse used the piece as an intro for the song "Screenager" on the second CD (Hullabaloo: Live at Le Zenith, Paris) of their Hullabaloo album.
  • The French black metal band, Anorexia Nervosa, included a recording of the prelude (which they entitled 'Hail Tyranny') on their 2001 album, New Obscurantis Order.
  • In the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Emily plays the opening of the prelude.
  • The 2005 Blackalicious song "The Rise and Fall of Elliot Brown" incorporates this prelude throughout the song.
  • Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) is seen playing the prelude in the 2008 episode "The Shape of Things to Come" from the fourth season of the TV series Lost.
  • Mao Asada skated to this piece during her long program at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, earning a silver medal.
  • Canadian progressive metal band Protest the Hero recorded a song on their third album, Scurrilous (2011), entitled "Sex Tapes", which has melodies based on prelude.
  • Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) plays a segment of this piece in the 2011 movie Limitless.
  • In 2011, Jon Schmidt freely arranged the music for piano, drums, guitar and bass. Schmidt made a video of this work, titled Rock Meets Rachmaninoff and "inspired by Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor," with the group ThePianoGuys and posted it on YouTube.
  • The prelude is featured at the climax of the 2012 animated film It's Such a Beautiful Day.
  • In 2014, the BBC Philharmonic performed the piece in an arrangement by Fiona Brice as a prelude to the track Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant. The arrangement was also performed by the Royal Northern Sinfonia in a series of live performances in the United Kingdom in November of the same year.
  • In 2015 a contemporary dance track of this piece was released.
  • Dave Malloy's 2015 play Preludes features a monologue set to the piece, in which Rachmaninoff describes the effect of the piece's sudden fame on him, and his subsequent distaste for it.
  • The music video for Charlie Puth's 2016 song "One Call Away" begins with Puth playing the Prelude.
  • References

    Prelude in C-sharp minor (Rachmaninoff) Wikipedia