January 20, 1920: Sergei Rachmaninoff performs at the Duluth Armory

Sergei Rachmaninoff. (Image: Public Domain)

On this day in Duluth in 1920, composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff performed at the National Guard Armory at 14th Avenue East and London Road. Rachmaninoff’s program in Duluth included Mozart’s “Variations,” Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Cappriccioso,” Chopin’s “Scherzo,” and his own “Valse, Opus 10” and “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.” The News Tribune described his “Prelude” as “most popular composition known to all piano students the world over—and is the signal for instant applause whenever it appears upon his program. In many places, in fact, audiences become hysterical with delight.” The day after the performance a Duluth News Tribune critic gushed about the Russian pianist in a series of often acrobatic sentences as complicated as the performance he was trying to describe. Here is how it began: “Many of us remember reading years ago a reporter’s story (as we recall by Will Carleton) vividly picturing ‘How Ruby Played’—being a description of a Rubenstein concert as it affected a man who knew very little about music. And now comes Rachmaninoff, greatest of the active pianists of our generation, interpreting music to initiate and uninitiated alike in a manner which he learned not from his old master, Siloti, probably the greatest pianist of all his Russian countrymen, but which in some manner has passed to this unassuming but tremendous personality from Siloti’s own master at the Moscow Conservatory, Nicholas Rubentstein himself.” That’s 103 words, and he didn’t mention that Rachmaninoff played a concert in Duluth. he also didn’t mention whether the audience became hysterical. You can read his entire review here, and listen to Rachmaninoff  himself perform the piece here. Please let us know if you become hysterical.

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