Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 - 1943)

“Music is enough for a lifetime but a lifetime is not enough for music”

~ Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)

Sergei Rachmaninoff was born on the 1 April 1873 and is widely regarded as a brilliant pianist and one of the last great composers of the Romantic era.

Born into a family of Russian aristocracy, his early influence was Tchaikovsky’s music. Rachmaninoff was famous for having exceptionally large hands, a technically flawless piano technique where his playing was marked by precision and accurate staccato yet maintaining complete control of melodic lines and rhythmic textures.

His music is often described as “dark”, ‘haunting” and yet possesses an innate beauty in harmonic structures and beautiful melodic lines. Subtle counter-melodies add colour and vigour to his piano compositions, often played interchangeably by both hands and this trademark often presents new challenges to each pianist to expound and interpret these sub-melodies in new ways to make the piano “sing”. His orchestral works are well-known for its “conversations” between different sections of the orchestra. Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no. 2 in C minor is perhaps one of the greatest ever written.

During the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninoff left St Petersburg for Helsinki with his wife and two daughters on an open sled with only a few notebooks and some of his own musical compositions. He later settled in New York in 1918 and accepted the gift of a Steinway piano.

It was in the basement of New York’s Steinway Hall that Rachmaninoff befriended the great pianist of the 20th century Vladimir Horowitz in 1928. Horowitz deemed the meeting as a dream come true where he referred to Rachmaninoff as “the musical God of my youth”.

Final resting place of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Valhalla, New York, USA

Rachmaninoff died of melanoma on 28 March 1943 in Beverly Hills, California and although his wish was to be buried in his estate in Switzerland, the conditions of the Second World War made his request impossible.

He was eventually laid to rest on 1 June in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

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4 Responses to Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

  1. Another one of my favorites! I especially love his piano concertos nos. 2 and 3 (and now, the Chopin piece is over and the 1st movement of Rachmaninov’s piano concerto no. 2 is playing – I’m not kidding! :D ) and the prelude in C sharp minor (Bells of Moscow). I still know far too few pieces by Rachmaninov!

    • Chopinand says:

      Hi Kath,

      The piano concertos nos. 2 and 3 are legendary. There is also a Lang Lang interpretation of the no. 3 when he was younger. I think the recording was around 2002 and it was a truly amazing performance. I have another recording of the no. 3 by David Helfgott but I found his interpretation a little “haphazard” and somehow was not quite one with the orchestra.

      • I once listened to the 3rd piano concerto live. In Schleswig-Holstein (federal state in northern Germany where I was born and grew up) there’s an annual music festival each summer, and during the past years, it always focused on composers from a certain country. My parents and I went to this concerto that was Tchaikovski’s 5th symphony and Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto two or three years ago when the focus was Russia. It was the Mariinsky Orchestra under direction of Valery Gergiev playing (and it’s a shame that I’ve forgotten the name of the pianist, but he was really good). Magic!

  2. Scott Wolfinger says:

    I enjoy reading your posts…..thank you

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