Somewhere in Time and Rachmaninov

Just one little variation…

This is Variation No. 18 of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. You can follow along with the score.

The story of Rachmaninov’s life is much too long to even attempt to describe here, but we can safely say that he was one of the last Romantics. At the time he lived it was in vogue to throw out the beautiful harmonies and sweeping Romantic lines of the 1800s, but a few composers bucked the trend. Today we see this Romantic tradition alive in the music of great composers who write for movies, most of all in John Williams.

Rachmaninov (April 1st, 1873 – March 28th, 1943) lived to the middle of WWII, far beyond the limit of what is normally used to define the Romantic period, which is yet another reason why that period is really alive and well right up to this very moment.

He wrote this composition late in his life, in 1934, only nine years before his death. He was one of the greatest pianists who has ever lived.

Somewhere in Time…

To show how Romantic music is timeless, here is the theme from Somewhere in Time, a movie that appeared in 1980, composed by John Barry. This movie was a “sleeper”. It was never particularly successful at the box office, but it did star “Superman”, Christopher Reeve. Rachmaninov’s famous theme was used in the same movie, to set the same mood.

If you listen carefully you will hear that one does not sound more modern than the other. Rachmaninov’s music is more masterful, but it could have been written this year by John Williams. 

And here is Rachmaninov, playing himself…

This is the recording by the master, the whole piece with the theme and all the variations. You don’t want to listen to this with earphones or  a really expensive sound system, because the sound is now ancient, but the playing is fantastic.

Here is just one very modern recording…

You can find many others on YouTube. Most people will prefer the more modern sound, especially for the orchestra. You can find countless other videos of Yuja Wang playing this and many other things. She is today a superstar. You may want to watch some of her videos where you can see her playing.



8 thoughts on “Somewhere in Time and Rachmaninov

  1. Definitely, agree with all the comments above on Rachmaninov, l love Paganini with its nice soothing sound as it drew me in along with its great orchestra in really making it sound even greater. Also Amazed at how he wrote this just a year before world war 2.

    1. Safath, that’s a good catch about timing, but actually he first performed this in 1934, I think. Rachmaninov died in 1943, and he was still performing up to around 1943. Even so, that sounds like a long time ago, but the kind of music he was composing is very much like a lot of modern film music.

  2. I must say that of the four recordings, I was partial to the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganani” – the richness of it. Listening the old recording with Rachmaninoff playing, the crackles soon disappear as one gets absorbed by the playing.

  3. When I listened to this on an electronic device, I heard all the clicks, so maybe it is better heard on something else. Regardless, it stills sounds amazing and will be timeless to some.

  4. “This is Variation No. 18 of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. You can follow along with the score.”

    This is a great idea. Thank you for posting. Such beautiful music.

    I was so inspired by “Somewhere in Time” I had to go to the piano and play it.


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