About Sergey Rachmaninoff's Sonatas
Rachmaninoff composed only two piano sonatas; the first sonata in D minor Op. 28 which was completed in 1908, and the second sonata in B flat minor Op. 36, which was completed in 1913 and revised in 1931.
The format seems to have caused Rachmaninoff unusual difficulty, and both works went through substantial revisions. The first sonata, an ambitious, sprawling work originally inspired by Goethe’s play Faust, seems to have been a particular source of struggle and self-doubt, especially regarding its form and length. Based on the input of multiple colleagues including Nikolai Medtner, he excised around 10 minutes of material from the sonata before its premiere in Moscow. Despite this, it received a lukewarm response.
The second sonata was well-received at its premiere, but Rachmaninoff remained dissatisfied with its length. In 1931, he made major revisions to the work, shortening it and simplifying technically difficult passages. In 1940, pianist Vladimir Horowitz created a hybrid version of the two revisions with the composer’s consent. Of the two sonatas, the second remains the more popular work.