Sergei Rachmaninoff was a famous Russian composer and pianist born in Semyonovo on April 1, 1873. In his life he wrote a total of 64 pieces of music, including six collections, prior to his death on March 28, 1943, in California.
Rachmaninoff began learning music from his mother at the age of four. His family later moved to St. Petersburg, where he studied at the conservatory. It wasn’t until they moved again, this time to Moscow, that the pianist really came into his own. He wrote a one act opera named Aleko, as well as a small set of piano pieces while studying in Moscow with his fellow students under Nikolai Zverev. In 1892 when he was nineteen he wrote his first concerto. He would revise it in 1917 but the composition set the tone for the rest of his works. It featured one primary thing that all of his later work would as well: great leaps and alternating octaves that combine with large chords to sound like a massive bell.
He wrote his first symphony in 1897 but it failed to impress critics. This was blamed on the conductor Alexander Glazunov. After this Rachmaninoff was inconsolable for some time. However, in 1900 he recovered his confidence and wrote another concerto, this one a success. Two years later he was married and his music was doing quite well, possibly because he insisted on playing the more dynamic parts himself. In 1908 he moved to Italy and then to Dresden when the political situation in his homeland became unstable. He made his first American tour in 1909 with his third piano concerto. In 1917 he emigrated to New York to avoid the Russian Revolution. While he was there his homesickness lead to several of his more popular works, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3, and his Symphonic Dances. He became ill in 1943 while touring and was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer. In his last performance before his death he played a funeral march by Chopin.
Rachmaninoff is considered to be one of the greatest modern composers and was a highly skilled pianist. His work is elegant and yet slightly bombastic. It is characterized by a range of chords without clashing or sounding dissonant. He was highly driven and always determined to play each piece with technical perfection. This was in stark contrast to his first symphony’s conductor and probably the reason why the rest of his work was so much better received. He also possessed legendary rhythmic drive and had rather large hands, which allowed him to cover larger portions of the keyboard. It is impressive on some level that anyone with such large hands could play the piano with as much grace and subtlety as Rachmaninoff did.
Many people believe that these things combined were what made his playing so good, although there is no doubt that the reason his compositions were so wonderful was that he was a brilliant composer who could create beautiful scores of music. He was also noted for being an early adopter of music recording. He recorded piano rolls, wax cylinders, and gramophone records of his own playing throughout his life.
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