Now we will get into the mwuhaha or evil laugh genre of classical music (that’s a genre I made up if you couldn’t tell). This genre I call mwuhaha since it goes well with evil laughs and ominous or foreboding situations. In this post we will deal with Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor, which falls into this genre.
Part of the reason this piece is in the evil laugh genre is because it is in a minor key. Music in minor keys can sound scary, ominous, foreboding, sad, etc. You will likely hear music in minor keys during scary scenes in movies. Lord of the Rings uses a lot of music in minor keys, especially in scenes where people die, and scenes that take place in Mordor. You will also hear tons of music in minor keys in horror movies. It sometimes tells you that something bad is about to happen, or gives you the idea that a character is a bad guy.
So now that we got the idea of a minor key, let’s talk about Rachmaninoff. He was a Russian composer (first name Sergei) who composed at the very end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. He had big hands, and liked to write ridiculously gigantic chords in his music, which unfortunately, the pianist with smaller hands cannot reach to save their life (like me).
He also had a gift for writing melodies. In his Variations on Paganini, he had the clever idea to turn the melody upside down in the 18th variation and the result was GOLD. It was an instant hit. Listen to it and try not to melt into the floor. Also listen to the first movement of his second symphony and notice how it flows. For some reason (02:11) reminds me of Lord of the Rings. And if you listen to the second movement of his 2nd piano concerto it is the melody used in the verses of the song All by Myself.
To follow along with the rest of this post, watch this video of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor (it’s only 4 minutes). This recording is from a piano roll recorded by Rachmaninoff, so this is Rachmaninoff’s own interpretation:
-The foreboding DUN-DUN-DUN part at the beginning, as you will notice, repeats throughout the work, and provides the foundation for it.
-The beginning part of the work until (00:06) is a quiter and smaller (only about 6 notes are played at once) than when it is repeated at (02:17) This prelude is nicknamed “The Bells of Moscow”. If you listen carefully it sounds like church bells in a darker key (mwuhaha). The ppp in the music means they have to play really quietly. Since this is the mwuahaha genre, it means the bad guy is sneaking along in stealth mode.
-The middle section (01:41:-00:00) builds up tension and starts to get louder until (02:09) when it just explodes and leads in to the main theme
-The end of the work (from 02:17) is a bigger and louder version of the beggining, and changes a little. The ffff in the score means to play as loud as humanly possible. This is the part when you need big hands since you play 8 notes at a time and you only have 10 fingers.
-It ends quietly with ominous chords (03:04)