Thursday, March 28, 2013


Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
(1 April 1873 – 28 March 1943)

This Russian composer, pianist, and conductor is considered one of the last romantic composers, who revived the form in the modern era.  Born to a wealthy aristocratic family, his natural abilities with the piano were revealed when he was five years old.  His grandfather arranged for lessons which lasted for a few years until his father was forced to sell their home because he had wasted the family fortune through drinking and gambling.  The family moved to a small apartment in Saint Petersburg, where his sister died from diphtheria.  He began studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and then transferred to the Moscow Conservatory where he distinguished himself as a composer and pianist. 

After the Russian Revolution, he escaped with his family in an open sled to Finland.  He then emigrated to the United States where he signed a contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company.  They set up a house where they entertained guests in the style of the old Russian aristocracy.  He performed so many concerts that he had little time to compose.  It wasn't until he built a new home in Switzerland that his muse returned.  He fell ill during a concert in the US and died of melanoma in Beverly Hills, California, just four days before his 70th birthday. 

Rachmaninoff would reveal:  "I have never been able to make up my mind as to what was my true calling -- that of composer, pianist, or conductor . . . I am constantly troubled by the misgiving that, in venturing into too many fields, I may have failed to make the best use of my life."

The Philharmonic Society of London invited Rachmaninoff to conduct one of his pieces at Queen's Hall; but, rather than do his First Symphony, he decided to compose a new piece.  His writer's block led him to psychologist Nikolai Dahl, who used hypnosis to help him overcome his block.  The result was his most famous work, Piano Concerto No. 2, which he dedicated to Dahl. 

 Piano Concerto No. 3

Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini

Trio Elegiaque No. 1 in g minor was written in memory of the recently departed Tchaikovsky

Aleko was a one-act opera based on the poem The Gypsies byAlexander Pushkin, It was his final composition for the Conservatory of Moscow and earned him the Great Gold Medal. 

The first performance of  Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op.13 was so terrible that Rachmaninoff stopped composing for three years.  Conductor Alexander Glazunov is rumored to have been drunk during the performance. 

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