April 1, 1873 - March 28, 1943
Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the most important composers in Russia in the early 20th century. He was a wonderful pianist, and some of his most important compositions were written for that instrument. He studied first at the school of a very difficult taskmaster, Nikolai Zverev, who made his students work for 16 hours each day. He then went to the Moscow Conservatory, where he won the Great Gold Medal in 1892.
Despite this fine training, and encouragement from Tchaikovsky, who was Russia’s most famous composer at the time, Rachmaninoff’s career moved slowly. When his first symphony was performed, absolutely nobody liked it. He lost confidence and found himself unable to compose. He finally went to a hypnotist, who repeated over and over to him, “You will write your Concerto – You will write your Concerto….” He did, producing his famous Piano Concerto in c minor, which is his most popular work. He went on to compose several other concertos plus symphonies, piano works and songs. Another well-known work is the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninoff left his home country, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States. He toured often, conducting and performing. His astounding abilities on the piano won him high praise and great fame. He had a phenomenal memory and could hear a piece of music and play it back not only the next day but years afterward. Fortunately, Rachmaninoff recorded much of his own music, so we can still hear his performances today. He died in California at the age of 69.
See other composers from the Romantic period