10 KEY facts about Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff

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1. Versatile talent

Sergei Rachmaninoff first made a name for himself as a great composer, but he was also excellent as a pianist and conductor. “I have never been able to guess what my true vocation is, who I am – composer, pianist or conductor … Sometimes it seems to me that I am first and foremost a composer; sometimes I think I can only play the piano. While most of my life is already behind me, I am constantly tormented by suspicions that after trying my hand at many roles, I may not have lived my life in the best way. According to the Russian proverb, I tried to “kill three birds with one stone” “, Rachmaninoff confessed.

2. Background music

Born April 1, 1873, into an aristocratic family, Rachmaninoff began playing the piano at the age of four. Apparently music was in his blood. Sergei’s grandfather, Arkady Rachmaninoff, was a professional musician who studied piano with the Irish composer John Field, the inventor of the nocturnal.

When Sergei was nine years old, his family moved from the Novgorod region to St. Petersburg, where the boy enrolled in a conservatory. Rachmaninoff learns quickly, but often skips classes, so it is decided to send the gadabout to Moscow and put it in a private boarding school. There, under the direction of the famous pianist and teacher Nikolai Zverev, who maintained strict discipline, Rachmaninoff practiced the piano for hours. The plan worked, and the young man will soon graduate from the Moscow Conservatory with honors.

3. Great sense of humor

One of the greatest violinists of all time, Fritz Kreisler, once performed a sonata by César Franck with Sergei Rachmaninoff at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The talented violinist confidently played without musical notes when suddenly his memory let him down. Kreisler moved closer to Rachmaninoff and eyed his partner’s notes nervously, trying to spot the best possible move to reach the pianist.

– “Where are we ?! Where are we ?!” whispered Kreisler in despair.

“At Carnegie Hall,” Rachmaninoff retorted, without thinking and slowing down.

READ MORE: Top 10 Greatest Russian Conductors

4. Huge pair of hands

“Rachmaninoff was created from steel and gold: steel in his hands and gold in his heart” the famous Polish pianist Josef Hofmann once made the famous remark. While his description may seem like an exaggeration, it is quite safe to say that Rachmaninoff had very long fingers and huge hands, perhaps the tallest pair in everyone in classical music.

The pianist, who was 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall, had a wingspan of about twelve inches. He could put the index finger of his right hand on the C key, hitting the G key with his thumb. Rachmaninoff had mastered the art of playing the piano to such an extent that when he appeared on stage, he sounded like he had ten hands.

In the early 1900s, Rachmaninoff performed regularly in Europe as a pianist and conductor. In 1907 he participated in historic concerts organized by the Russian dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris and in 1910-1911 he gave concerts in the United Kingdom and Germany.

5. King of doubt

Throughout his life, the composer suffered from a permanent lack of self-confidence.

He was born terribly self-critical. Even after his “Prelude in C sharp minor”, written in 1892 when Rachmaninoff was only 19 years old, catapulted the composer to world fame, he remained trapped in a cycle of doubt and self-criticism. “I am tired, sometimes it is unbearable for me. In one of these minutes, I’m going to rack my brains. said the genius composer. In 1903, Rachmaninoff married Natalia Satina, who was his first cousin, and things started to improve. “The wife of an artist must tell her husband three things: that he is a genius, that he is a genius, and that he is a genius. Rachmaninoff remarked, with a touch of irony.

6. Turn to hypnotherapy

Prone to doubt and guilt, at the age of 22, Rachmaninoff lost self-confidence after the premiere of his “Symphony No. 1”. The conductor, Alexander Glazunov, was drunk on the opening night in 1897 and spoiled the performance. Rachmaninoff’s symphony drew negative reviews and the composer sank into depression. He didn’t write music for three years, having convinced himself that he was no good. Fortunately, Rachmaninoff agreed to contact a well-known Moscow doctor named Nikolai Dal, who helped him cope with anxiety and depression. The hypnotherapy worked wonders and the skeptic was able to overcome his fears and started making music again.

7. Composed the “greatest piano concerto”

Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” is, according to renowned concert pianists such as Nikolai Lugansky and musicologists around the world, the “The greatest piano concerto ever written”.

Composed in 1909 and written for solo piano and orchestra, it premiered in New York City during Rachmaninoff’s tour of the United States. “I am a Russian composer and my homeland has left an imprint on my character and my opinions. My music is the fruit of my character and, therefore, it is Russian music ”, Rachmaninoff said.

READ MORE: 7 Classical Music Songs By Sergei Rachmaninoff Everyone Should Know

8. Virtuoso pilot

Rachmaninoff was a reducer with a capital “G”. The composer received his first car – a red “Lorelei” – as a gift from his wife and two daughters. Rachmaninoff nicknamed his sports car “Laura”.

Sergei Rachmaninoff and his relatives in the Tambov region in 1912.

According to the recollections of the composer’s friend, pianist Alexander Goldenweiser, Rachmaninoff was a virtuoso conductor. He even had his own theory on the benefits of driving. “A good conductor naturally has to be a good conductor. Both the motorist and the driver need an iron will, focused attention and constant presence of mind. To these qualities, the conductor has only to add some musical knowledge. he once said.

Due to numerous technical problems, Rachmaninoff quickly fell out of favor with his “Laura” and got hold of a new Mercedes. He had a good taste for cars and liked to drive fast. All of his cars were insured against just about everything, including fire, collision and vandalism. While living in his summer residence, Villa Senar, Switzerland, Rachmaninoff and his family made long road trips – to Bayreuth, on the Red Main in Bavaria and to Paris. Even during his treatment in a sanatorium in Baden-Baden, Germany, Rachmaninoff did not part with his car. En route to Aix-les-Bains, France, with his wife Natalia, Rachmaninoff said. “It’s only 344 kilometers away. The car will be with us. If something happens, we will be leaving in no time, having developed the maximum speed.

READ MORE: How the “Russian arm” took the film industry by storm

9. Immigrated to the United States

Rachmaninoff greeted the so-called February 1917 revolution without much optimism. Fearing that because of the collapse of the old system his artistic activity as a pianist and composer would be hijacked, he took advantage of the offer from Sweden to give a concert in Stockholm. In December 1917 Rachmaninoff toured Scandinavia, from where he never returned to Russia. In 1918, his family settled permanently in the United States. Rachmaninoff’s talent was appreciated abroad.

In America he was considered a world-class pianist and had to give a cycle of concerts to earn a living. And yet, despite a huge success, it felt like a foreign land, and Rachmaninoff’s work as a composer was put on the back burner for a while. He didn’t compose anything for almost eight years.

“I was born a non-performer and therefore I endure the hardships that are inseparable from this title. Five years ago, when I started playing, I thought that I could achieve satisfaction in the piano world: now I am convinced that it is impossible ”, Rachmaninoff wrote in 1923.

It was not until 1926 that the “Piano Concerto No. 4” came out of its pen. The nostalgia for the air of the motherland, of his native Russia, gave birth to a formidable tragic power, which reached its climax in “Symphonic Dances”, his last great piece of music, composed in the United States in 1940.

10. Helped the Red Army

When the Great Patriotic War broke out in 1941 and Rachmaninoff saw how much Russia was suffering from it, his mind was filled with worry and concern for the people. The composer sent at least four thousand dollars (the equivalent of about $ 74,000 in 2021) to the Russian military. Fighters have been built with this money. The pianist also called on Russian emigrants abroad to unite their efforts and help the Soviet Union in its fight against fascism, which even earned him the nickname “Red Rachmaninoff”. This movement also changed the attitude of the Soviet government towards Rachmaninoff. Relations have warmed up noticeably. Rachmaninoff, who did not accept American citizenship while living in America, visited the Soviet embassy and wrote a request asking Soviet authorities to allow him to return home as soon as possible. He received no response. It was only then, feeling unwell and battling cancer, that he finally made the decision to become a U.S. citizen, in order to better support his family.

Sergei Rachmaninoff's home in Beverly Hills.

Sadly, Rachmaninoff never saw Russia again and died in 1943 in Beverly Hills, California.

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