Sergei Rachmaninov was born in 1873 in Oneg, a family estate
in the Novgorod district. Originally wealthy, the family was reduced to straitened
circumstances by his fatherís extravagance. Oneg was sold to pay the debts, and the
family moved to St. Petersburg; not long after that, Sergeiís parents separated.
Rachmaninovís musical talent manifested itself rather early. He was sent to St.
Petersburg Conservatoire to study with professor Demyansky, who did not quite recognize
his abilities. Sergei wasnít very keen on his studies; he failed many courses and the
Conservatoire was considering expulsion.
In 1885, Sergeiís cousin Alexander Ziloti, a famous pianist and a pupil of Liszt,
suggested sending him to the Moscow Conservatoire, to study with Nikolai Zverev, a noted
pianist and a strict teacher, whose regimen required that the boyís piano practice
should begin at 6 a.m. Living with Zverevís also gave Rachmaninov the opportunity to
meet such important musicians as Anton Rubinstein and Peter Tchaikovsky.
In 1888 Rachmaninov started taking composition lessons with Sergei Taneyev and Anton
Arensky; his piano professor in the senior division of the Conser-vatoire was Alexander
Ziloti. He graduated in 1891 (piano) - 1892 (composition) and was awarded the Great Gold
medal; his opera Aleko, written for the final examination, was performed at the Bolshoi
Theater in 1893. Among the compositions of this early period were the First piano
concerto, Trio Elegiaque No. 1, Phantasie pieces op.3. In 1893, in a very short period of
two months, he wrote Trio Elegiaque No. 2 to commemorate Tchaikovskyís death.
Tchaikovsky had a large and helpful influence in his life.
In 1897, the premiere of his First Symphony was a disaster, because of the inadequacies of
Alexander Glazunovís conducting, and Rachmaninov fell into a deep depression; for three
years after the incident, he composed almost nothing.
In autumn 1897, he took a post of a conductor at the Moscow Private Opera Company. His
conducting activities were very successful; he also made a loyal friend, the great Feodor
Schalyapin, a singer at the Private Opera.
During this period, Rachmaninov consulted Nikolai Dahl, the pioneer Moscow hypnotherapist.
He restored Rachmaninovís self confidence and enabled him to write the Second piano
concerto (completed in 1901), which was performed with a great success.
The next sixteen years were the happiest and most productive in his life. He composed the
Cello sonata (1901), Preludes op.23 (1902), two operas (The Miserly Knight, Francesca da
Rimini, both 1904), many romances. He also continued to give concerts as a pianist and
conductor. In 1904-06, he conducted at the Bolshoi Theater. Among the works written after
1906 were his Second Symphony (1907), the symphonic poem Isle of the Dead, Third piano
concerto (both 1909), Preludes op.32 (1910) and two sets of Etudes-tableaux (op.33, 1911;
In 1917, Rachmaninov with his family left Russia for Scandinavia. In 1918 they arrived in
New York. Since then, he mainly stayed in USA, though he spent periods in France and
Switzerland. He abandoned composition for many years because of the aching nostalgia he
felt for Russia; he missed his homeland and the Russian people - the sounding board for
his music, as he said.
During this period, he was very active as a pianist, giving lots of concerts on both sides
Rachmaninov returned to composition in 1926, finishing his Fourth piano concerto. In 1931,
he wrote Variations on the theme by Corelli; it was followed by Rhapsody on the theme by
Paganini (1934), the Third Symphony (1935-36), and Symphonic Dances (1940).
A reserved man, who lived rather an isolated life, he was always compassionate and ready
to help. After 1917, he sent money and food to thousands of people in Russia (most of them
he did not know personally), as well as those who lived in emigration. When the Second
World war began, he played for the benefit of the Soviet soldiers. But he never spoke
about it himself.
Rachmaninov died in his home in Beverly Hills, California, in 1943.