The Healing of Sergei Rachmaninov by Martyn Wade

Contact Us

Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 28 November 2012
Even if you don't know Rachmaninov's music well, most filmgoers with a knowledge of British films will remember the swirling chords that accompanied David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945). I first encountered the Second Piano Concerto when I was a student, when my mother gave me a cassette tape of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing the First and the Second Concertos (even though I subsequently developed a fondness for the Third).
However the process of creating such a well-loved piece of music was not easy.  Martyn Wade's play portrayed Rachmaninov (Jamie Glover) as a tortured soul, perpetually scarred by the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony.  Conducted by Glauzonov (Stephen Critchlow) at breakneck speed, with several unnecessary cuts inserted into the score, it was greeted with a loud chorus of disapproval from critics of the time.  From then on Rachmaninov felt that he was no longer good enough or capable enough to create great music, despite having won a gold medal during his early career.
He was only set back on the creative path by the gentle promptings of psychiatrist Dr. Dahl (Ian Masters) - something of a musical aficionado himself - who gently but firmly helped Rachmaninov recover his self-belief.  The Second Piano Concerto was composed in a comparatively short time, and received a rapturous reception. However success came at a price.  Rachmaninov's erstwhile lover Anna (Lydia Leonard), to whom he had dedicated the First Symphony, felt that he had somehow sacrificed his integrity in favour of outward show.
Martyn Wade's play explored the difficulties of artistic creation: sometimes the creative juices flow unfettered; on other occasions writers and other artists are simply bereft of ideas.  They are also emotionally fragile creatures - a bad review can destroy their morale and render them incapable of writing further.  Jamie Glover - a recognizable radio voice these days from a variety of productions - characterized Rachmaninov as a tortured soul, in spite of his eventual success.  The director was Cherry Cookson.