So my little bungalow in the Garden of Allah was a peaceful retreat. It was the best place to practice I ever had—until a piano player moved into a bungalow across from mine and shattered the peace.
I was looking forward to a solid weekend of practice, without interruptions, when my new neighbor started to bang away. I couldn’t hear anything below a forte on the harp. There were no signs the piano banging was going to stop. It only got more overpowering. This character was warming up for a solid weekend of practice too.
I went to the office to register a complaint. One of us had to go, I said, and it wasn’t going to be me because I was there first. But the management didn’t see it my way. The new guest, whose playing was driving me nuts, was Sergei Rachmaninoff. They were not about to ask him to move.
I was flattered to have such a distinguished neighbor, but I still had to practice. So I got rid of him my own way.
I opened the door and all the windows in my place and began to play the first four bars of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor, over and over, fortissimo. Two hours later my fingers were getting numb. But I didn’t let up, not until I heard a thunderous crash of notes from across the way, like the keyboard had been attacked with a pair of sledge hammers. Then there was silence.
This time it was Rachmaninoff who went to complain. He asked to be moved to another bungalow immediately, the farthest possible from that dreadful harpist. Peace returned to the Garden.
I didn’t really know until much later how sharp my intuition had been. I found out that the great pianist and composer detested his Prelude in C-sharp Minor. He considered it a very Minor piece of work. He was haunted by it everywhere he went, by students who butchered it and by audiences who clamored for it, and he wished he’d never written it. After playing the damn thing nonstop for two hours I knew exactly how he felt.
—Harpo Speaks! by Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber, p 284-285.
I suppose this would be inevitable then. Harpo plays Wreckmaninoff.
Here’s what the Prelude in C-sharp Minor is supposed to sound like–because this is a recording of Rachmaninoff himself playing, recorded on the piano roll of a Bösendorfer Reproducing Piano.
And yes, Harpo really did play the harp. This is his own composition, Guardian Angels.
Harpo Speaks! by Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber. Limelight Editions, 1962. Hal Leonard Corp., 2004, p 284-285.
Image attributions: Harpo Marx playing the harp, around 1926. Vandamm Studio, courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpo_Marx_playing_the_harp.jpeg
Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1936 or earlier, photographer unknown, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rachmaninoff_playing_Steinway_grand_piano.jpg