Polka italienne

Sergey Rachmaninov

Polka italienne in Eb minor / major

TN. ii/21

About this work

This piece likely dates to 1906, the year Rachmaninov had resigned his duties as conductor at Moscow's Bolshoi Opera, where he had served since September 1904. Two of his operas, The Miserly Knight and Francesca, had premiered there in January 1906, but owing to growing political unrest, Rachmaninov left Russia and spent a brief time in Italy. It was probably there that he wrote this attractive bon-bon.

While the piece divulges many stylistic traits of Rachmaninov -- not least its considerable technical challenges -- its joyous, playful mood, as well as its slapstick character and perky rhythms, resembles little else in the composer's solo piano output. This is Rachmaninov in the salon, tipping his hat to the lighter, more folk-ish side of Liszt -- albeit, with an Italian twist. Then, too, while the polka rhythms are not ragtime, the spirit of Scott Joplin, a composer whose music Rachmaninov could not then have known, seems not far away, either. The main theme is comical in its chipper stomping and bouncy flow of busy notes. The music scampers as much as it dances, its mood betraying not the least concern about mother Russia's politics or other personal worries the composer might then have experienced.