Monday, 12 September 2011

How to play Rachmaninov's Prelude in G Minor: tutorials, tips, masterclasses Opus 23 No.5

 The Opus 23 preludes were dedicated to Rachmaninov's first cousin,  Alexander Siloti, and musicologist James Frazier notes that they owe much of their style to the second piano concerto (especially in the luscious B section).  Ashkenazy on the preludes: they contain  “an unmistakable Russian intensity, strong lyrical melodies, and changes of character that range from sublime sweetness to passionate virtuosity.”
Thailand based British expatriate pianist Paul Barton adds, that you get all these attributes in one go with the G minor prelude. In Paul's Youtube tutorial he describes the G minor prelude as a Paradox like so much of Rachminov's music - it's about staying in control while letting go at the same time; the immense technical challenge of playing the notes vs. at time soaring, passionate music, seeming desperate to escape from them. Written in 1901,  this prelude is second in  popularity to the C Sharp minor (opus 3) Prelude but Paul is convinced that popularity of the G minor is increasing.  Paul has clearly read Angela Glover's work and quotes from legendary pianist Josef Hoffman - anyone who could write this (prelude) must be noble.  Paul describes the form of this prelude like a Classical Rondo with A-B-Transition-A form and  the character of the 'B' section as ephereal, poignant with a Spanish flavour and feels like an improvisation [Thiollier].

Paul Barton's tutorial and tips of how to practice and play the G Minor Prelude

Excerpt of Paul Barton's tips:
  • First learn the notes. Try to resist playing at full speed to keep the musical ideas and enthusiasm fresh.
  • Avoid any tension in your arms, shoulders and wrists
  • Section A - Play Chords and Change Position [3:00] Play the first chord in any group which is repeated. Play it once so avoid repeating them first of all (rather than 3 times as indicated), in order to make the shape of the chords and to be able to change position, 
  • It's a great piece to work and focus on,  you can work on chords in one section then appegios in another.
  • Middle section or 'B Section' which creates a 'trio effect' - overemphasize in your practice the countermelody (so you can bring this out later) [10:30]
  • There are no pedal markings indicated in the score (so you'll need to balance the clarity of the melody in relation to the staccato chords)
  • In the B section, if you can't reach all the notes as Rachmaninov had extremely large hands, drop a note but retain those notes in the chord that retains the best colour.
Rachmaninov plays the G Minor prelude himself - notice how he gives equal emphasis to the thick chords in Section B (as opposed to bringing out the fifth finger top melody line)

Rachmaninov Plays Rachmaninov--Ampico Recordings (1919-29)

Paul Barton's favourite performance of the G Minor Prelude is by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Prelude in G minor, Op.23, No.5

Further resources


  1. This prelude helps me to see Jesus Christ as resurrected and empowering my life. It is only by being a bondslave to God (to Christ) that we can truly live eternal life. I used to be boudhist, atheustic,and grew up in the anglican church (where thus overcoming life is never preached and where they do unscriptural things like non-immersion baptism). The key to eternal life is BEING A BONDSLAVE to Jesus. If the Holy Spirit tells me not to play this prelude, then I must obey. For the moment He is not telling me this, I feel. Listen to Zac Poonen or Santosh Poonen to know how to get eternal life. It is what Romans 1:17 and Luc 17:6-7 talk about. We must have QUALITY faith. The kind of quality that sees overcoming sin (by God's grace - not our own effort, since we can never overcome sin by oue own effort) as the key to eternal life. You need faith to do this - but it in tirn inspires faith. Mr Barton - you must get rid of notions of Eastern religion: it is all a very subtle trap of Satan. I love you (as a Christian) and want to set you free. What I am saying is absolutely true. Very few find the way to eternal life. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through Him. Most 'Cgristians' don't know how to find eternal life - because they only know Mercy and not Grace. If you want to know more, give me an email:

    1. Helper, how blind you truly are. Jesus likely never existed. There were several historical writers at that time, and they covered the reign of Herod, the Roman Empire, and the Sanhedrin court in extreme detail. Yet, none ever mentioned Jesus. If he caused such a stir, why did no one even mention him? Because he is a myth, the most likely source of which is the story of Yeishua ha Notzri in 80 BC.

      Man created the concept of god many centuries BC in a vain attempt to explain what was then unexplainable. The god of Christianity is a direct "descendant" of those mythical gods, especially El, Elohim, and El Shaddai.

      Mark wrote the first gospel some seven decades after the supposed life of Jesus, copying much of what he wrote. In fact, he mistranslated the word "Notzri" as "Nazareth", claiming that Jesus was from Nazareth - but Nazareth didn't even exist back then. Had he known Jesus as he claimed, he would not have made that mistake. Obviously, he never met Jesus, and considering that the other gospels were written even later, neither did any of the other writers, despite what they claim. And that just goes to prove that they made it all up.

      Furthermore, nothing in the Bible is original or unique. Every story in it, from the magic garden, to the concepts of heaven and hell, to the miracles of Jesus are all borrowed from ancient myths and older pagan religions.

      If you want to be truly free, shed the bonds of man made, myth and superstition based religion. There may be a creator, but the god of Christianity, the Bible, Jesus, and religion in general are creations of man.

    2. I love the tutorials that Paul Barton provides on YouTube. Seeing all the different methods available to learn this piece is really helpful. John Deveridge also provides a good tip on playing doubles while keeping the wrist loose on YouTube.
      I really don't see how a religous debate is relevant to this site...more on piano please

  2. The tutorial video is broken. Can you replace? :)