“I was homesick,” he confesses. “I had been in the US for two or three months, I was 18 years old, away from my parents for the first time, so far from home.” Many adolescents experience bouts of melancholy, but Daniil Trifonov, born in Nihzny Novgorod in 1991 and recently arrived in Cleveland, was no ordinary teenager. Trifonov transformed his feeling of longing into musical inspiration and, touched by the “musical poetry” of one of the most beloved composers of his homeland – Rachmaninov – began composing.
The result was an original, five-movement work for solo piano, rich in virtuosity and lyricism, expressing Trifonov’s nostalgia for his roots. Trifonov dedicated the piece to his mentor Sergei Babayan. He called the piece Rachmaniana – “a kind of homage to Rachmaninov”, reflecting the “pianism” and “nostalgic yearn- ings” Trifonov shares with his older compatriot, who also had made a home in the New World. “I like to think,” reflects Trifonov, “that I feel a particular cultural identification with Rachmaninov. I relate to his Russian character, as well as his love for the language of musical Romanticism.”
More than just a 19th-century aesthetic movement, Romanticism reflected an ethos that placed the artist at the very centre of the creative universe. His emotions became the subject of creativity itself – musical expression turned into a portrait of the artist’s soul. The piano was ideally suited to the expression of Romantic sensibilities, with composer-performers from Chopin to Schumann and Liszt to Scriabin pushing the boundaries of technique, colour and harmony while embarking on ever more intricate journeys of spiritual introspection. Trifonov remarks: “Although Rachmaninov was heir to the 19th-century tradition of great pianist-composers, he lived into a different era. He was the last of the Romantics.” Born on an estate near Veliky Novgorod in 1873, Rachmaninov was an old-school gentleman of refined manner and sensitivity who had trouble adapting to the 20th century’s changing, often brutal Zeitgeist. His sense of loss was compounded in 1917, when he was compelled to flee Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, eventually settling in the US. His longing for the apolitical rapture of Romanticism and for his homeland was tinged with what Trifonov calls “a Russian sense of melancholy. His music is tender, yet restless – it’s very Russian, this painful but warm nostalgia mixed with a kind of fatalism.”