Rachmaninov - Prelude in C sharp minor

The young Rachmaninov knocked out this pianistic pinnacle aged just 19 years old. Why has it managed to remain a favourite for such a long time?

After he emerged from the Moscow Conservatory as a composer in his own right in 1892, young Sergei  Rachmaninov set about composing one of the piano repertoire's most enduring solo pieces. Taking his cue from prelude masters like Bach, Chopin and Scriabin, the young Russian goes straight for the jugular.

It begins eerily, with solemn and almost funereal chords, but the rate at which it warms up and becomes dementedly intense is just incredible. A good performance will usually see the pianist dripping with sweat before too long, and with hands spreadeagled up and down the keyboard.

Unbelievably, the chords are so thick in the prelude's main theme that writing it down required four staves to write it down - twice as many as normal. So if you're sitting close to the piano when its being played, see if you can sneak a look at the sheet music. Oh, and pack some earplugs.