Why ‘All By Myself’ sounds uncannily like Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2

12 March 2024, 09:31 | Updated: 12 March 2024, 09:40

Eric Carmen - All by Myself (Audio)

By Siena Linton

How did Sergei Rachmaninov snag a songwriting credit for a pop ballad written decades after his death? The answer lies in his enduringly popular Piano Concerto No.2...

The late American singer-songwriter Eric Carmen’s 1975 smash hit, ‘All By Myself’, features an unlikely collaborator on its list of songwriters.

Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov, better known for his devilish piano works and rapturous symphonic writing, seemingly also turned his hand to power ballads, according to the record’s liner notes.

The catch? Rachmaninov had been dead for more than 30 years by the time the song was released.

A classically trained pianist, Carmen had been working on a new solo, writing four bars at a time. After roughly two months, he had a complete piano interlude – he just needed a song to put it in.

During his writing process, Carmen had been listening to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2, and as he heard the evocative Romanticism of the second movement, inspiration struck.

Read more: Best Rachmaninov works: 10 of the composer’s greatest pieces of music

Eric Carmen’s 1975 pop power ballad ‘All By Myself’ was inspired by Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto.
Eric Carmen’s 1975 pop power ballad ‘All By Myself’ was inspired by Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. Picture: Getty

Rachmaninov’s melody is passed between the piano, flute, and clarinet in his piano concerto, and Carmen used it as the basis for the tune of his verse for ‘All By Myself’.

Using Rachmaninov’s harmonically meandering theme also meant Carmen had to incorporate similar chord patterns beneath his pop melody. It’s an unusual musical feature to hear in a pop song, and one that requires a skilled songwriter, such as Eric Carmen or Sergei Rachmaninov, to pull off.

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Yuja Wang - Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 2

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The trouble was that although Rachmaninov’s music was in the public domain (meaning that copyright laws no longer applied to it) in the United States, that wasn’t necessarily the case in other parts of the world.

After the album’s release, Carmen was contacted by the Rachmaninov estate and together they agreed that, alongside a songwriter credit for Rachmaninov himself, the estate would also receive a 12 percent share of the royalties made from the song.

And so it was that the great Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov came to add ‘chart-topping power ballad’ songwriter to his CV – and had one of his works performed by the one and only Celine Dion.