Rachmaninoff makes the cut

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The Russian émigré composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff was himself the soloist on today's date in 1927 in the first performance of his Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Rachmaninoff had premiered his Third Concerto in New York in 1909, and he'd been thinking about writing another one for over a decade. In the meantime, his life had been disrupted by both the Russian Revolution and the exhausting business of earning a living as a touring virtuoso pianist. In 1926, Rachmaninoff finally felt he could afford to take some time off and put a Fourth Piano Concerto down on paper. In its original form, it turned out to be a much longer work than even Rachmaninoff thought practical. He joked to a friend that its movements would have to be "performed on successive nights, like Wagner's Ring operas." Rachmaninoff made a number of cuts before the Philadelphia premiere, but even so, the new work was not well received, and so Rachmaninoff kept cutting. Audiences and critics still remained cool, and Rachmaninoff eventually shelved the work for a time—quite a time. In 1941 he prepared a "final cut" version, which ended up considerably shorter than his other three Piano Concertos, and recorded it with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

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