Researched and written by Richard Renner
Rachmaninoff’s appearance in Elgin came in the midst of a tour which had started in Detroit on October 12 and had included stops in Paterson, NJ, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, and Rochester NY before Elgin. After Elgin he was scheduled for Milwaukee on November 4, Knoxville on November 9, and Chattanooga on November 13.
The Courier’s October 15 announcement of Rachmaninoff’s concert includes two paragraphs beginning with his claim that modern music “represents only retrogression.” These passages appear in newspaper concert promotions as early as 1933 and were likely part of a standard promotional packet. A Knoxville paper and the Chicago Tribune repeated those passages for their upcoming November 1942 concerts.
Rachmaninoff’s autumn 1942 recital tour appears to have featured two programs. Elgin’s was a shorter program which had also been performed at a Paterson, NJ high school on October 20. According to the Courier Rachmaninoff performed his Prelude in C sharp minor as an encore. In Paterson he offered the Prelude and a Chopin Mazurka.
In other cities – including Chicago – his program included Bach, Beethoven, and a variety of other Liszt works. I’ve attached a copy of an October 30, 1942, article from a Rochester, NY newspaper setting out that program. He was a bit more generous in encores, too. Three, for example, in Ottawa and Rochester.
Regrettably the Courier articles do not mention some aspects of Rachmaninoff’s touring which were distinctive. For example, an October 12, 1942, Paterson news story said he used his own piano at each venue and had four stationed strategically about the country, one of which would be ready in his hotel room upon arrival. A Camden NJ article on October 20 said that wartime transport restrictions might limit his access to his own pianos but that he would not stop traveling with his piano tuner who “remains in the wings throughout the recital.” I’ve attached another story about the piano tuner from a Knoxville paper.
Newspapers also remarked on the special electric muff with which Rachmaninoff kept his hands warm and flexible in cold dressing rooms and concert halls. Of course, the cold hands may reflect the health problems which were becoming increasingly challenging for the heavy-smoking Rachmaninoff by the end of 1942. Rachmaninoff and his wife spent much of the last 25 years of his life on American trains traveling to concerts in communities large and small. His ambitious schedule for the fall of 1942 must have been especially burdensome under wartime travel conditions. Even though Claudia Cassidy found Rachmaninoff’s November 22 recital had “a freshness, a validity so revealing it used virtuosity as a mere vehicle of expression,” the 1942-43 concert season would be his last.
After Elgin he was able to perform his Milwaukee concert on November 4 but deteriorating health forced him to postpone recitals on November 9 in Knoxville and November 13 in Chattanooga. He apparently performed at Carnegie Hall on November 7 and was able to fulfill obligations in Washington DC, Minneapolis, and Chicago later in the month. He started a new tour in February 1943, but his makeup concert in Knoxville on February 17 was his last public performance. He died on March 28, 1943, just days before his 70th birthday.