Rachmaninoff, Sergey

▪ Russian musician
Introduction
in full  Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff , Rachmaninoff also spelled  Rakhmaninov , or  Rachmaninov 
born March 20 [April 1, New Style], 1873, Oneg, near Semyonovo, Russia
died March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
  composer who was the last great figure of the tradition of Russian Romanticism and a leading piano virtuoso of his time. He is especially known for his piano concerti and the piece for piano and orchestra entitled Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1954). (Click here—> for an audio clip of another of Rachmaninoff's compositions, Étude-tableau No. 5, op. 39 [1916–17]).

Early life
      Rachmaninoff was born on an estate belonging to his grandparents, situated near Lake Ilmen in the Novgorod district. His father was a retired army officer and his mother the daughter of a general. The boy was destined to become an army officer until his father lost the entire family fortune through risky financial ventures and then deserted the family. Young Sergey's cousin Aleksandr Siloti, a well-known concert pianist and conductor, sensed the boy's abilities and suggested sending him to the noted teacher and pianist Nikolay Zverev in Moscow for his piano studies. It is to Zverev's strict disciplinarian treatment of the boy that musical history owes one of the great piano virtuosos of the 20th century. For his general education and theoretical subjects in music, Sergey became a pupil at the Moscow Conservatory.

      At age 19 he graduated from the conservatory, winning a gold medal for his one-act opera Aleko (after Aleksandr Pushkin (Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeyevich)'s poem Tsygany [“The Gypsies”]). His fame and popularity, both as composer and concert pianist, were launched by two compositions: the Prelude in C-sharp Minor, played for the first time in public on September 26, 1892, and his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, which had its first performance in Moscow on October 27, 1901. The former piece, although it first brought Rachmaninoff to public attention, was to haunt him throughout his life—the prelude was constantly requested by his concert audiences. The concerto, his first major success, revived his hopes after a trying period of inactivity.

      In his youth, Rachmaninoff was subject to emotional crises over the success or failure of his works as well as his personal relationships. Self-doubt and uncertainty carried him into deep depressions, one of the most severe of which followed the failure, on its first performance in March 1897, of his Symphony No. 1 in D Minor. The symphony was poorly performed, and the critics condemned it. During this period, while brooding over an unhappy love affair, he was taken to a psychiatrist, Nikolay Dahl, who is often credited with having restored the young composer's self-confidence, thus enabling him to write the Piano Concerto No. 2 (which is dedicated to Dahl).

Major creative activity
      At the time of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Rachmaninoff was a conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre. Although more of an observer than a person politically involved in the revolution, he went with his family, in November 1906, to live in Dresden. There he wrote three of his major scores: the Symphony No. 2 in E Minor (1907), the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead (1909), and the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor (1909). The last was composed especially for his first concert tour of the United States, highlighting his much-acclaimed pianistic debut on November 28, 1909, with the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch (Damrosch, Walter). Piano Concerto No. 3 requires great virtuosity from the pianist; its last movement is a bravura section as dazzling as any ever composed. In Philadelphia and Chicago he appeared with equal success in the role of conductor, interpreting his own symphonic compositions. Of these, the Symphony No. 2 is the most significant: it is a work of deep emotion and haunting thematic material. While touring, he was invited to become permanent conductor of the Boston Symphony, but he declined the offer and returned to Russia in February 1910.

      The one notable composition of Rachmaninoff's second period of residence in Moscow was his choral symphony The Bells (1913), based on Konstantin Balmont's Russian translation of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe (Poe, Edgar Allan). This work displays considerable ingenuity in the coupling of choral and orchestral resources to produce striking imitative and textural effects.

Later years
      After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Rachmaninoff went into his second self-imposed exile, dividing his time between residences in Switzerland and the United States. Although for the next 25 years he spent most of his time in an English-speaking country, he never mastered its language or thoroughly acclimatized himself. With his family and a small circle of friends, he lived a rather isolated life. He missed Russia and the Russian people—the sounding board for his music, as he said. And this alienation had a devastating effect on his formerly prolific creative ability. He produced little of real originality but rewrote some of his earlier work. Indeed, he devoted himself almost entirely to concertizing in the United States and Europe, a field in which he had few peers. His only substantial works from this period are the Symphony No. 3 in A Minor (1936), another expression of sombre, Slavic melancholy, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra, a set of variations on a violin caprice by Niccolò Paganini (Paganini, Niccolò). Rachmaninoff's last major work, the Symphonic Dances for orchestra, was composed in 1940, about two years before his death.

Assessment
      Rachmaninoff's music, although written mostly in the 20th century, remains firmly entrenched in the 19th-century musical idiom. He was, in effect, the final expression of the tradition embodied by Tchaikovsky—a melodist of Romantic dimensions still writing in an era of explosive change and experimentation.

Victor Ilyich Seroff Richard Taruskin

Additional Reading
Rachmaninoff's letters have been collected and published in Russian in Pisma, ed. by Z.A. Apetian (1955), which includes all previously published letters and some newly published ones. Rachmaninoff's Recollections, Told to Oskar von Riesemann, trans. from German by Dolly Rutherford (1934, reissued 1979), are reminiscences by the composer about his life and work; the last chapter is Riesemann's analysis of Rachmaninoff's qualities as a composer. Sergei Bertensson, Jay Leyda, and Sophia Satin, Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music (1956, reissued 1965), is a comprehensive biography whose preparation was assisted by the composer's cousin and sister-in-law; it is especially useful for its description of the composer's years in the United States. Other biographical studies are Patrick Piggott, Rachmaninov (1978), including detailed musical commentary and critique; Barrie Martyn, Rachmaninoff: Composer, Pianist, Conductor (1990), drawing extensively on archival and Russian-language sources, with a discography; and Geoffrey Norris, Rachmaninoff, rev. and updated ed. (1994).Richard Taruskin

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Rachmaninoff, Sergey (Vassilyevich) — born April 1, 1873, Oneg, near Semyonovo, Russia died March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills, Calif., U.S. Russian born U.S. composer and pianist. He studied at the St. Petersburg and Moscow conservatories. After playing his first concerto for his… …   Universalium

  • Sergey — (as used in expressions) Bubka Sergey Diaghilev Sergey Pavlovich Eisenstein Sergey Mikhaylovich Kirov Sergey Mironovich Sergey Mironovich Kostrikov Korolyov Sergey Pavlovich Sergey Aleksandrovich Kusevitsky Obraztsov Sergey Vladimirovich… …   Universalium

  • Sergey Rachmaninov — Sergueï Rachmaninov Sergueï Rachmaninov Naissance 1er avril 1873 Semionovo, Russie Décès …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sergey Rachmaninov — Der junge Rachmaninow Sergei Wassiljewitsch Rachmaninow (russisch Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов, wiss. Transliteration Sergej Vasil evič Rachmaninov; er selbst benutzte als Umschrift seines Namens Rachmaninoff; * 20. Märzjul./ 1. April 1873 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Rachmaninoff — biographical name Sergey Vasilyevich 1873 1943 Russian composer, pianist, & conductor …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Sergei Rachmaninoff — Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoffref label|A|a|none ( ru. Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов, Sergej Vasil’evič Rakhmaninov , OldStyleDateDY|1 April|1873|20 March ndash; 28 March 1943) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He was one of the… …   Wikipedia

  • The Bells (Rachmaninoff) — The Bells ( ru. Колокола, Kolokola ), Op. 35, is a choral symphony by Sergei Rachmaninoff, written in 1913. The words are from the poem The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe, very freely translated into Russian by the symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont.… …   Wikipedia

  • Trio élégiaque No. 1 (Rachmaninoff) — Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor is a composition for piano, violin and cello by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The trio was written on January 18–21, 1892 in Moscow, when the composer was 19 years old. The work was first performed on January 30 of the same …   Wikipedia

  • Russia — /rush euh/, n. 1. Also called Russian Empire. Russian, Rossiya. a former empire in E Europe and N and W Asia: overthrown by the Russian Revolution 1917. Cap.: St. Petersburg (1703 1917). 2. See Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 3. See Russian… …   Universalium

  • concerto — /keuhn cher toh/; It. /kawn cherdd taw/, n., pl. concertos, concerti / tee/. Music. a composition for one or more principal instruments, with orchestral accompaniment, now usually in symphonic form. [1720 30; < It, deriv. of concertare; see… …   Universalium

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