There he attended the Saint Petersburg Conservatory until he
moved by himself to Moscow at the age of fourteen where he enrolled in the
Moscow Imperial Conservatory. His parents arranged lodging for him in the house
of his piano teacher, Nikolai Zverev. At the Conservatory, Rachmaninoff showed
prodigious skill in both piano and composition. However, he and Zverev fell out
after Rachmaninoff showed a decided inclination for composition instead of the
piano. He then began to study piano under Alexander Siloti, his cousin and one
of the great pupils of Franz Liszt. During his time as a student he also met
Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky became an important mentor and influence
for the young composer. When Tchaikovsky died suddenly in 1893, Rachmaninoff
dedicated his second piano trio in his memory.
Following Tchaikovsky's death, Rachmaninoff began to develop
a more individual style of composition, marked by passionate, lyrical melodies
and rich harmonies, exhibited strongly in his First Symphony. On March 28th,
1897, the First Symphony was premiered in the "Russian Symphony Concerts"
series. While the performance suffered considerably from poor preparation and
neglect by the orchestra's conductor, Alexander Glazunov, Rachmaninoff took the
brunt of the sharp criticism the work received. César Cui was perhaps the most
brutal in suggesting the symphony would be applauded by the "inmates" of a
music conservatory in hell. The cold reception of this first symphonic attempt
sent Rachmaninoff into a severe depression. For the next three years he
suffered from writer's block and composed virtually nothing. In 1900, he began
an autosuggestive therapy course with psychologist Nikolai Dahl, a proficient
but amateur musician himself. With time, Rachmaninoff regained his confidence
and a year later he composed his Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. The work received
a tremendous reception compared to the First Symphony and has become one of the
most popular and oft-performed concertos in the repertoire. Some years later in
1909, he made his first tour of the United States as a pianist. The Third Piano
Concerto was composed specifically for the tour and the success of it made him
a popular figure in America.
The 1917 Russian Revolution brought an end to Rachmaninoff's
Russia and he lost his estate and livelihood. On December 22nd of
that year, he left St. Petersburg for Helsinki with his wife and two daughters.
He spent a year in Scandinavia before departing for New York in November 1918.
Once in New York, his career as a performer overtook his career as a composer.
His busy schedule allowed little time for composition and consequently between
1918 and his death 1943 he completed only six compositions. Between 1932 and
1939, he spent summers at a new home he built on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Once
again in Europe and reminded of his old estate in Russia, he was able to find
time to compose again and completed one of his best-known works: the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Following a concert tour in 1942, Rachmaninoff was diagnosed
with advanced melanoma. He and his wife became American citizens on February 1st,
1943 and less than two months later Rachmaninoff died at his home in Beverly
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