Born April 1, 1873 near Novgorod, Russia
Died March 28, 1943, in Beverly Hills, California
“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”- Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff showed extraordinary early talent at the piano and entered the College of Music in St. Petersburg at the age of nine. He was later sent to Moscow Conservatory, in part to control his undisciplined behavior. He became one of the world’s greatest pianists, with enormous hands that spanned an octave plus a fifth. Influenced and encouraged by Tchaikovsky, he also pursued a career as composer, in the late Romantic style. The Russian Revolution of 1917 precipitated his permanent exile, and the rest of his life he spent mostly in the United States and Switzerland. He enjoyed a successful career in America, where he concertized, composed, and became one of the earliest recording stars on the new gramophone with Edison Records and Victor Talking Machine. He also produced many piano rolls for the player piano. He died on March 28, 1943 in Beverly Hills, California, a few days after he and his wife became American citizens.
In addition to numerous works for piano, Rachmaninoff also composed 3 symphonies, 3 operas, 2 major a cappella choral works, a choral symphony (The Bells), songs, and chamber music. As a composer, he was known for his lush lyrical melodies, orchestral tone painting, and rich chromatic harmonies, as well as a masterful use of counterpoint and fugue as in the Dies Irae of the 2nd Symphony.
For an excellent film of his life and music, see Tony Palmer’s Rachmaninoff: Harvest of Sorrows DVD