Beyond Faust: How Liszt's Sonata in B Minor, S.178 Provided a Model for Rachmaninoff's Sonata in D Minor, Op.28


The Sonata No.1 in D Minor, Op.28 is one of Rachmaninoff's most neglected major works with comparatively few recordings in existence compared to his Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat Major, Op.36. Rachmaninoff completed the work in 1908 and performed it for only five years before removing it from his repertoire in favor of his Second Sonata. The First Sonata has long been viewed through the lens of it being a programmatic work based on the story of Faust, as explained by the composer to pianist Konstantin Igumnov who gave the premiere. What has been overlooked in scholarly research on the sonata is its resemblance to Liszt's Sonata in B minor, S.178. Scholars have recognized that Rachmaninoff's First Sonata follows the same programmatic sequence as Liszt's A Faust Symphony in three character pictures, S.108, but all commentators have missed the striking similarity to the B Minor Sonata. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Liszt's Sonata was understood as having a program associated with the story of Faust although Liszt never confirmed this. Rachmaninoff did not publicly reveal a program for his First Sonata and was reluctant to reveal it to Igumnov although every subsequent writer has viewed the sonata exclusively in the light of the Faust narrative. This document examines some of the techniques Rachmaninoff used in the composition of his First Sonata. Chapter one provides a brief introduction to the sonata and gives context to the work including the difficulties Rachmaninoff had in bringing it to fruition. Chapter two gives an overview of the Liszt Sonata's historical context and shows how Liszt decided to break with formal traditions in its composition. The central theme of this document is in chapter three, where there is evidence shown of direct modeling in Rachmaninoff's First Sonata in the Allegro moderato, and Rachmaninoff was strongly influenced by the Liszt Sonata in the subsequent movements. Chapter four demonstrates how Rachmaninoff modeled his Concerto in F-sharp Minor, Op.1 on Grieg's Concerto in A Minor, Op.16, which sets precedent for him borrowing structural and thematic ideas from other composers.

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Grieg, Liszt, Piano, Rachmaninoff, Sonata In B Minor S.178, Sonata In D Minor Op.28