Thursday, January 13, 2011

Music and Identity: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

My coming out process is inextricably linked, as I have written here here, here and here, with recovering and affirming my identity, part of which involves reviving my interest in and love for music and writing about compositions that have “spoken” to me.  In this regard, my mother used to say that she and I would sit together, when I was quite small, and listen to classical music.  I can’t really remember doing that, but I do remember that she had a record that included this piece, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43, Variation 18), as well as other works by Sergei Rachmaninoff.   And I do recall her playing this record when my Dad wasn’t around; he couldn’t abide classical music.

So, I guess you could say that this Rhapsody was probably one of the first pieces of classical music to which I was exposed.  I recall thinking it was very beautiful, but it wasn’t until many years later that I grew to love it.  This was due, in part, to the use of the piece in the movie Somewhere in Time, which I first saw several years after it had come out.

The video below features a performance by the Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra, from Gwacheon City, Korea, near Seoul.  The performance, considering the age of the performers, is amazing.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Korea and its culture, one of a number of affinities I cannot really explain: I’ve passed through Incheon Airport four times, but have yet to see anything of the country.  I found the following background material on the Gwacheon City Youth Orchestra which will perhaps augment an appreciation of the video clip:

“Originally launched as a private orchestra, Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year [2006]. Five years later, the Gwacheon city government recognized the group and made it the city orchestra. The players are not paid a salary, but are considered “semi-professional” in the sense that they are likely to go on to careers in music. When the orchestra began, its members were mostly elementary, middle school and high school students. But after the orchestra started auditioning its members and offering them scholarships, a great number of college and music-school students joined the group.

“Kim Hyeong-jun, 20, the first violinist, is the only one who is not going to a music college ― he’s a law student. He joined the orchestra when he was the sixth grade, and never missed a practice session, even when he was a junior in high school (typically, the busiest year for Korea’s high school students).

“There are four city youth symphony orchestras in Korea ― Seoul, Busan, Gwacheon and Ulsan. One in Seoul was established in 1984, Busan’s in 1994 and Ulsan’s in 2001. Only the orchestras in Seoul and Gwacheon have permanent conductors.  Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra has an annual budget of about 500 million won ($520,000); it gives about 2 million won in scholarships to its 110 members, and holds 13 concerts a year. During the summer, its members also attend a camp training session.” [Source: Joongang Daily]


  1. Love, love, love Rachmaninoff and "Theme". I, like you, have an abiding love for many types of music and that music has touched my life greatly. (I feel very fortunate- my little brother is a concert pianist and began playing when he was 5. It is because of him and his dedication to learning the classics of music, including Rachmaninoff and Liszt, that I have such a love for many of the classics.) I will have to listen to this piece when my computer does not lock me out of such videos. Thank you!

  2. @Duck - I hope you get to watch it soon. Course, I was intrigued by this particular recording cause of my Korean affinity. (Going to do a post about "affinities" sometime.) That being said, it is a wonderful performance. Has your brother done any recordings?

  3. Thank you for asking. Yes, he has. He was a guest performer at the Assembly Hall and that has been recorded. He also did his Doctorate on "The mathematics of Ravel" and has performed/recorded several Ravel songs. He also won a Rachmaninoff concerto competition at BYU and performed and recorded with the symphony. He and his wife (she is also a concert pianist) are professors at BYU-Hawaii and have traveled and recorded Internationally as part of their work.

    I look forward to hearing this piece. Thank you, again. :)

  4. I've played this too (not with an orchestra, just for fun) and I like it a lot. This famous theme is actually only a small part of the Rhapsody, most of which sounds nothing like this bit. I always envied Rachmaninoff's melodic gift. His 2nd and 3rd piano concertos and 2nd Symphony are my favorites.

  5. I LOVE Rachmaninoff ... had his music play at my wedding: Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor, Op. 18-2 Adagio Sostenuto ... Vladimir Ashkenazy. Intense and beautiful.


    love this...

  7. Okay, enough already! Between the photo at the top of your post and the Rachmaninoff at the bottom (I too am a PC #2 fan) I am now IN THE MOOD! All I want to do is hug and hug and hug, and kiss and kiss and kiss...Somebody please help me! My telephone number is 555-555-5555.