The title to this Rachmaninov piano piece may strike the listener as a bit odd, but the story behind it is even odder and has involved considerable confusion. The work is often billed as "Polka on a Theme by W.R.," the "W.R." standing for Wasily (usually spelled Vasily) Rachmaninov, the composer's father. Understandably, many have thus assumed the theme in this Polka was written by Wasily, but it was in fact composed by Franz Behr, and used in his once widely known Lachtäuben, Op. 303. Apparently, the young Rachmaninov had heard the amateur-pianist Wasily play Behr's polka and assumed it was his father's composition.
Rachmaninov's Polka in A flat is actually an arrangement of Behr's, making little attempt to update its nineteenth century expressive language, though the composer does add his own charming touches and a measure of technical challenge. The work is elegant in the salon-like lightness and playfulness of the main theme, lively and mischievous in the sudden accelerations and quirky runs throughout. But what is particularly remarkable -- considering the serious and often gloomy nature of Rachmaninov -- is his humorous, lighthearted manner here, his almost madcap, even slapstick spirit. Even the ending -- a sort of slow, dying statement of part of the theme in the lower register -- is quite amusing.