Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff was born on April 1, 1873, at the family estate in Oneg, deep in the Nogorod countryside. His parents were Lubov Boutakov and Vasily Rachmaninoff. His father, Vasily, was an ex-officer in the Russian army. He had two elder sisters, Elena and Sophia, and an older brother named Vladimir. He had two younger siblings which joined the Rachmaninoff family, a girl named Varvara and a boy called Arkady. Varvara died when she was just a baby. Music was an important part of the Rachmaninoff family tradition. His father and his grandfaher had both played the piano. Alexander Siloti, Rachmaninoff?s cousin, was already an acomplished pianist and was becoming popular by the time Rachmaninoff was born. Sergei was six years of age when he had his first piano lesson from Anna Ornatsky. She was from the St. Petersburn Conservatory. Rachmaninoff seemed to have a natural ability at the piano. Anna recommended that he receive a scholarship at the St. Petersburn Conservatory in 1881. He was but 9 years old when he began his formal lessons at the Conservatory. During the next few years he would skip his classes to play games and ?train hop?, which would eventually result in failure at school.
By this time, circumstances at home had left Lubov and the children with next to nothing because Vasily had pissed away all of the families earnings. With no money and the school threatening to expell her son from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Lubov turned to her cousin Alexander Siloti. They made an arrangement that Sergei could continue to study at the Conservatory, at which point the family moved to Moscow. There Sergei became a student of Nikolai Zverev. Nikolai was known throughout the country as both a teacher and a diciplinarian. Hard daily schedules of long practice sessions soon helped Rachmaninoff settle down and become focused. Over a period of time the dicipline began to pay off as their musical evenings soon attracted many of Russia?s principal musicians. Among some of the more notable guests was Tchaikovsky, whom Rachmaninoff became close friends with. During his career as a musician, Rachmaninoff was greatly influenced by his new found friend, Tchaikovsky. Rachmaninoff had his first introduction to composing at The Moscow Conservatory, There, under the instruction of Sergei Taneyev and Anton Arensky, he obtained a better understanding of counterpoint and harmony and began composing on his own.
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Of his earlier works, some of the more notable are the tone poem ?Prince Rostslav ? and ?First Piano Concerto?, along with some solo piano pieces and several songs. His instructer, Zverev, felt that he was wasting his talents composing at the keyboard. They never reached an agreement, and Rachmaninoff transferred to study under his cousin Alexander Siloti.. Rachmaninoff took his final exams a year early, demonstrating remarkable talents at the piano, and graduated in 1891, a year earlier than expected. During this time he entered an opra entitled ?Aleko? for his exam assignment, which he wrote in just one month. This piece went on to earn the highest possible mark, the Great Gold Medal, and became one of his more well known works. Shortly after graduation he composed ?C Sharp Minor Prelude? which he came to be known for for the rest of his life. In January of 1895, he began thinking of ideas for his first major orchestral work, his ?First Symphony?. It took him eight months to complete this undertaking. It was another year and a half before his symphony debuted in St. Petersburg, five days before Rachmaninoff?s 24th birthday. The performance was a disaster , which left young Rachmaninoff devasted.
He later went on to say of Glazunov, who conducted the premier, ?I am amazed how such a highly talented man can conduct so badly?. It was later believed that Glazunov conducted the dramatic work while piss drunk. Rachmaninoff lacked the confidence to compose anything after the shambles of the First Symphony, although the years following were not without musical activity. During this time he obtained a position conducting for a famous private theatre in Moscow. Still struggling with his ability to compose, he wrote only a few piano miniatures. After being introduced by a friend to Dr. Nikolai Dahl, it was speculated that Rachmaninoff was hypnotized in order to bring back his confidence, but it is more likely that he simply talked to Dahl on subjects like music and the arts. These conversations, along with encouragement from close friends, provided Sergei with assurance and a peace of mind, and he once again began to compose. He began by writing down ideas for his ?Second Concerto? in 1900, and introduced it to the public in October of 1901. He composed most of his life?s works during this time. Some of his more well known were the ?Second Symphony?, the ?Third Concerto?, ?The Miserly Knight?, and ?Francesca Da Rimini?.
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He made a name for himself in London, Leeds, and New York, and his career was at the peak of success as a composer in Russia. By 1917, he and the public both viewed himself primarily as a composer and second as a pianist. Times in Russia were becoming filled with turmoil and entropy, and after the October Revolution in 1917 he found the atmosphere in Russia unbearable, writing at the time; ?Everything around me makes it impossible for me to work and I am frightened of becoming completely apathetic.? Having virtually no money and their family estate at Ivanokva demolished by revolutionaries, Rachmaninoff and his family decided to leave Russia. With a small repertoire made up of his own works, some Chopin, Listz, and Tchaikovsky, he spent the next twenty five years broadening his repertoire and making his living performing piano recitals around the world. He lived in Switzerland for much of the 1930?s, but returned to the United for the later part of the decade. On March 28th, 1943, Sergei Vassilievich Rachmaninoff died in Beverly Hills.
His complete works entailed over forty-five major compositions. My favorite, I might add, is the ?Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini?. While he might not have been the most influential composer of his time, his skills at conveying the emotions behind the pieces he played far exceeded that of most any other man. His works still continue to be heard to this day, and are just as soul-stirring today as they were the day he scrawled the first note onto the now yellowed parchment.
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