Music: Devilish Discords

At 24, Sergei Rachmaninoff had already arrived as a composer. But the night his first symphony had its premiere he was full of fright. Recalling it years later, he wrote: "I stepped out to the fire escape to hide. There I remained throughout the performance. . . . Soon I found myself on the Nevsky Prospekt, where I wandered aimlessly. . . ."

Next day, the critics were merciless. Composer Cesar Cui called the symphony's discords "devilish"; Rimsky-Korsakov told Rachmaninoff, "Forgive me, I do not find this music at all agreeable."

Rachmaninoff put the score aside, and for three years couldn't write...

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