Sergey Rakhmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto was written at a time when his talent had finally been freed of doubts, self-restrictions and external obstacles, had fully matured and strengthened. Starting with the 2nd Piano Concerto in 1901, brilliant new compositions, frequently more than one, appeared every year. This phenomenal burst of creativity was not impeded even by Rakhmaninov's intensive performing and conducting commitments. The 3rd Piano Concerto was written in the summer of 1909, when the composer was 36 years old. In the music of Concerto one can distinctly hear not only the maturity of a Master, but also a new scope, breadth, freedom...
The concerto was first performed in New York on 28 and 30 November 1909 during Rakhmaninov's American tour. The Russian premiere, performed by the composer, took place in Moscow on 4 April 1910. The concerto is dedicated to the outstanding Polish pianist Jozef Hofmann, whom Rakhmaninov met during a tour of Russia (their acquaintance subsequently continued in the USA). Hofmann expressed his feelings for the composer most vividly in this heartfelt epitaph:
Rachmaninov was made of steel and gold:
Steel in his hands, gold in his heart.
I cannot think about him without tears.
I not only admired him as a great artist,
But loved him as a man.
The 3rd Piano Concerto is one of the composer's most "Russian" works. It is often called a "concerto-song" or a "poem about the Motherland". The musical narrative - dramatic, with tragic episodes - is always lyrically painted, and can be likened to a "struggle between light and shade". The "conquest of the world" in the Finale is a genuine hymn of joy that found a particular resonance in the atmosphere of Russia at the end of the first decade of the 20th century. The middle movement, the Intermezzo, is an enigma and, to a large extent, a portent of the future (not only the "denouement" of the Concerto, but also the composer's later works) - a very personal expression, music which is, in a fantastic way, an interweaving of the present and memories of the past.