Brookside Center for Counseling and Hypnotherapy


Remembering Dr. Dahl: Hypnosis Saves Rachmaninoff

by Maurice Kouguell, Ph.D., BCETS. 

A few years ago I became curious about how I developed my interest in hypnosis. I sat in my recliner and proceeded to go back in time. I relived my teen years when I read all the books in the school library related to hypnosis. There were not too many. I remembered clearly the covers as well as the smell of mildew. There were works by Charcot, Janet, Mesmer, Bernheim and Freud. I let go of that time and went back to several milestones in my life and finally, to the age of three when the memory became very clear. During this regression, I clearly heard the word gypnose repeated time and time again. I saw myself sitting on the floor on a magnificent, colorful, luscious Persian rug in our living room in Beirut, Lebanon. I remembered the pedals of the grand piano. Suddenly I smelled my father’s pipe tobacco and remembered the container with the brand name "Capstan."  Sitting in an arm chair across from me was a white-haired gentleman with a Van Dyke beard and a raucous voice. I remembered him in a dark navy blue suit with dandruff on his jacket. Whenever he came to dinner, fish was served and I remember him saying, “Now I eat fish - when I die I want the fish to eat me." He wanted to be buried at sea.

During those days, we lived in Beirut, Lebanon where my father was the founder and Director of the Institute of Music at the American University of Beirut.  Music was an important part of our lives and there was always music at home. Both my parents were concert pianists. My older brother Alex was a gifted cellist who appeared as a soloist with symphony orchestras as a teenager.

The white-haired gentleman with the Van Dyke beard was Dr. Nicolai Dahl. He too had fled Russia in the early twenties during the Revolution and settled in Beirut as had my parents. I was told that he had known of my parents, both of whom had been musical child prodigies. I must have been about three years old during those evenings of dinner and music. My parents and Dr. Dahl used to exchange anecdotes of encounters with Glazunov, Rimsky Korsakoff, Prokofieff, Heifetz, and Milstein--to name just a few. However, when Rachmaninoff's name would be mentioned silence would fall and the stocky gentleman would then tell us stories about Sergei. I remember clearly his use of the word gypnose. (There is no sound of the letter H in Russian.)

I had grown very fond of him. He gave me my first toy violin. I decided to switch careers from being a very mediocre piano player to becoming a string player. This gentleman was Dr. Nicolai Dahl.
One day Dr. Dahl stopped coming to our home. When I asked my parents about him I never received satisfactory answers.

Since I am fortunate to have an older brother, I was able to confirm the details of my regression. As a child, I used to enjoy turning pages when my parents practiced their repertoire. One day as my mother was practicing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, I noticed the dedication to Dr. Dahl and I asked her if this was the same Dr. Dahl who used to come to our home. It was only then that I found out that Dr. Dahl had died and I felt a real loss.

Dr.Dahl was a psychiatrist and one of the most prominent hypnotherapists in Russia. It was due to his work with Rachmaninoff that the composer recovered  from his depression and went on to compose his immortal works. The Piano Concerto No. 2 had been dedicated to Dr. Dahl.

In the book Sergei Rachmaninoff, written by Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leida, a footnote on page 96 reads as follows:

The Second Concerto was dedicated to Dr. Dahl. On at least one occasion his contribution to his work was publicly recognized.  In 1928 he was playing in the orchestra of the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. After a performance of this Concerto with Arkadie Kouguell as soloist and conductor, the audience informed of the dedication and of Dr. Dahl's presence, would not be content until Dr. Dahl rose from his seat and bowed.

When it came time for me to play a full-size violin my father gave me Dr. Dahl’s violin which he had left to the family. I remember clearly the sticker inside which stated that it was the possession of Dr. Dahl. Many years later when I left Paris, after having graduated as a violist from the Ecole Normale de Musique, I left the instrument there to be given to a scholarship student.

These memories had been haunting me until just recently when I realized how interesting it was that Dr. Dahl had aroused my curiosity in hypnosis and that our connection went beyond that. Both of us played the viola. The viola is the inner voice par excellence in any group and all good violists are known for their talents at listening.

The following is a reprint from the notes written by Martin Bookspan on the record album Vox Box containing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor Opus 18.

The year was 1897 and the place was St. Petersburg. The occasion was the premiere of the First Symphony of the twenty four year old composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff. It was a complete fiasco; Rachmaninoff himself described how he sat in rapt horror through part of the performance and then fled from the concert hall before it had ended. At a post concert party which had been arranged in his honor for that evening, he was further shaken and ill at ease but the crowning blow came the next morning when the reviews appeared in the News. Cesar Cui wrote: "If there was a conservatory in hell, Rachmaninoff would get the first prize for his symphony, so devilish are the discords he places before us."

This combination of events was too traumatic for a personality as sensitive as Rachmaninoff's. He was seized with a fit of depression and apathy from which he could not rouse himself. For two long years it lasted. Finally, friends persuaded him to see one of the pioneers in the field of autosuggestion, Dr.Dahl.

Rachmaninoff, in his memoirs (Rachmaninoff's Recollections, told to Oskar von Riesemann), tells the story:

My relations had told Dr. Dahl that he must at all costs cure me of my apathetic condition and achieve such results that I would again begin to compose. Dahl asked what manner of composition they desired and had received the answer, ‘A concerto for pianoforte,' for this I had promised to the people in London and had given it up in despair. Consequently I heard the same hypnotic formula repeated day after day while I lay half asleep in my armchair in Dr. Dahl's study, 'You will begin to write your concerto ....You will work with great facility ...The concerto will be of excellent quality ....' It was always the same, without interruption. Although it may sound incredible, this cure really helped me. Already at the start of the summer, I was composing once more. The material accumulated, and new musical ideas began to stir within me - many more than I needed for my concerto. By autumn I had completed two movements (the Andante and the Finale) ...These I played that same season at a charity concert conducted by Sikti .... with gratifying success .... By the spring I had finished the first movement (Moderate) ...and felt that Dr. Dahl's treatment had strengthened my nervous system to a miraculous degree. Out of gratitude I dedicated my Second Concerto to him.

Nicolai Dahl,  thank you for touching me.


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