Classical Haiku: Sergei Rachmaninoff

Far too many notes?
Not for the great pianist
with hands like giants’.

Whenever I think of Sergei Rachmaninoff, I always also think of Thing, the disembodied hand from the Addams Family television series.

Thing had a real flair for language. He (the hand was, in fact, that of a man) could say just about anything with those animated fingers. He could do just about anything, too, including change television channels, place a phonograph needle on vinyl records, and, in one of the Addams Family films, race through hospital corridors. And all that, if you’ll forgive me, single handedly.

Rachmaninoff had famously large hands. These hands were a blessing and a curse – a blessing for Rachmaninoff in the same way that Shaquille O’Neal’s height is a blessing for him and the Boston Celtics, a blessing in that Rachmaninoff channeled his gift for composition through his long, slender fingers to create some of the richest and most beautiful piano music ever composed. But therein also lay the curse for the long line of pianists now vexed by his difficult music.

I have read that each of Rachmaninoff’s hands could span a 13th, well over an octave and far more ground on the keyboard than most mere mortals’ hands can cover. As the saying goes, when you’ve got it, flaunt it. Rachmaninoff did, composing piano music with chords that made full use of his large finger span, but that pianists of smaller proportions have to finagle ways through. And let’s not even talk about the passage work, the flurries of rapid notes that, I’m guessing, could trip up even the talented and nimble Thing.

Today’s Classical Haiku is for Rachmaninoff, who could do anything with his hands. Then again, maybe that was no great accomplishment: he had two of them.

Comments