Sergei Rachmaninoff has knocked off Vaughan Williams in an annual poll to find Britain’s favourite piece of classical music.
The Russian composer’s “Piano Concerto No 2,” which is the haunting theme to Brief Encounter, has been voted the nation’s favourite in the annual poll undertaken by the radio station, Classic FM.
It has pipped Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, the evocative English violin piece, from the top spot.
Rachmaninoff’s stirring piano concerto helped establish the reputation of Russian composer and has remained popular for the 110 years since it was first performed.
It features in David Lean’s 1945 film of lost love which starred Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard as well as Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, which was released earlier this year in Britain.
Darren Henley, the managing director of Classic FM, said that its success in this year’s poll was thanks, in part, to the renewal of interest in romantic music.
“It is the epitome of both the Romantic movement as well as being a truly romantic piece of music. For me, it’s the greatest piano concerto ever written, with an amazing melody that lodges in your brain for days and days. It is just achingly beautiful.”
He added: “There is a lot of romance in the air at the moment, and this piece fits perfectly with the mood.”
Vaughan William’s quintessentially English pastoral piece has led the poll for the last four years, but the list still contains a large number of British pieces, with two Elgar works in the top ten, as well as two from Vaughan Wiliams. Some brass band works were also voted for, lower down the list.
Mozart was declared the nation’s favourite composer with 20 entries in the top 300, which was compiled from over 180,000 votes.
Stephen Hough, a pianist blogger, said: “I’m not surprised at all that Rachmaninoff has come top. The piece contains one of the greatest tunes ever written, and however much some composers run away from this idea, all music needs a great tune, be it the Beatles, Rogers & Hammerstein or Rachmaninoff.
“What’s particularly satisfying is that when Rachmaninoff died many music critics said his music would be forgotten and that many of his works were second rate. It’s very nice that this has been proved wrong.”
He added that playing the piece was “thrilling”, adding that it was “wonderful to experience being surrounded by a sound so lush and rich”.
Compounded by problems in his personal life, Rachmaninoff fell into a depression that lasted for several years. His second piano concerto confirmed his recovery from clinical depression and writer’s block, cured only by a course of hypnotherapy. The concerto was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, a physician who had done much to restore Rachmaninoff’s self-confidence.
Classic FM’s annual poll of most popular pieces. The top 10:
1. Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No 2
2. Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
3. Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
4. Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”)
5. Mozart – Clarinet Concerto
6. Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”)
7. Elgar – Enigma Variations
8. Elgar – Cello Concerto
9. Bruch – Violin Concerto No. 1
10. Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)