Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 — The monster piece takes center stage in 'Shine''s plot

There are really two villains in Shine — David Helfgott’s monstrous father and Rachmaninoff’s monstrous Piano Concerto No. 3. The young Australian pianist feels such pressure to conquer ”Rach 3” that he cracks and lands in a mental institution. Is it really that hard? ”I can’t think of anything that’s harder,” says Mark Carver, a Carnegie Mellon University faculty member and pianist who’s never played it but swears he could. ”There’s just fistfuls and fistfuls of notes. Some idiot even counted how many, and there’s over a million.” Sergey Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer of the 1909 piece, himself struggled with mental problems, which some music theorists say contributed to the breathless density of his style. ”The piano is going at a full virtuoso clip for three quarters of an hour,” explains Rach 3 veteran Jerome Lowenthal, chairman of the piano faculty at Manhattan’s Juilliard School. ”It’s like one of those athletic milestones — the four-minute mile.”

Sure, but would it drive you crazy? Dudley Moore thinks it’s possible. ”You’d have to get into some sort of rage with it,” says the actor/pianist, currently in Helfgott’s homeland on a concert tour. Has he tackled it? ”No, I haven’t. I imagine it would drain the lights out of most people,” Moore says. ”But I could.”

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